Forging new bonds
In 1945 Hugh MacLennan wrote a novel, Two Solitudes, whose protagonist, a fictional character named Paul Tallard, struggles to reconcile the differences between his English and French Canadian identities. The phrase “two solitudes” has come to define the French/English divide in Canada—two cultures and two languages coexisting uneasily within one country.
There are times when the dynamic of the Canadian Nikkei community seems to embody that same principle: a divide between the English-speaking—those who can trace their roots back to the pre-war issei, and the Japanese-speaking, or shinijusha—those who have arrived more recently.
To be sure, there are those who straddle the two worlds comfortably, generally those who are proficient in both languages, but for the most part there is a gulf that sometimes appears unbridgeable. It is a gulf that is born of the inability to communicate effectively and a world-view that is markedly different, based on the country of one’s birth.
In the seven or so weeks since the 9.0 earthquake and resulting tsunami battered the Tohoku region of Japan, that gulf has narrowed as both communities have come together in their shared concern for Japan, a country facing its greatest crisis since World War Two. Working together, sometimes hand in hand, Nikkei of all backgrounds have forged a bond that has been strengthened by a shared experience and a shared goal—to not only raise funds for the victims of the earthquake and tsunami, but to show a level of care and compassion that is felt across the Pacific Ocean.
Over the past seven weeks, as I have gathered stories for The Bulletin and helped put together the Ganbare Japan! concert, there is one thing I have heard over and over: the gratitude of the Japanese-born to those Canadians, Nikkei and non-Nikkei alike, who have shown so much compassion and put so much of themselves into the relief efforts, whether through donations of money or time , or both.
Sometimes it takes a tragedy to draw people together and if these new-found bonds can remain strong then we will all be the better for it.
May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada check out the explorAsian website at vahms.org for a list of events around the Metro Vancouver area.