Thursday, June 15, 2023

A Poem That Brings Back Memories


So I bought Amy Uyematsu's  book "30 Miles from J Town".  

This poem really hit home and reminded me of what it was like to live in East L.A. and hear about the "rowdy" yes, that's the word we used in those days, for  "bad boys".  We heard stories about how rough the JA boys from Dorsey, Manual Arts, L.A. High were. I remember the Buddha Bandits being talked about. Randy would know more of this first hand as he bowled and hung out at Holiday bowl. I was familiar only a bit with the westside as mom worked on Crenshaw at Meat Packers outlet and she would sometimes take me shopping at the dept. stores at the Crenshaw shopping center. That was in the late 1950's. I remember the tougher girls that we knew at Roosevelt would go to dances on the westside. They were not the girls we were close to but we were friendly with them. I only went to Parkview once with cousin Pati and that was the year I was at Cal State L.A. and met some crenshaw guys that were students. they were not the bad boys that people talked about. One was Edwin Tom Yoy. His parents owned a chinese restaurant in the Crenshaw area. He was a great dancer. Pati went with me to the xmas party dance. Anyway I love this poem. It really captures so much of what I felt growing up on the eastside. Here is the opening poem.  

To All Us Sansei Who Wanted to Be Westside

It didn't matter where we lived
within a hundred miles of LA-
if you were Japanese growing up here
in the sixties, you weren't really Buddhahead
unless you knew about the Westside,
Dorsey High School, dances at Rodger Young
followed by pork noodles at the all-night Holiday bowl,
gangs called the Ministers, Baby Black Juans,
Buddha Bandits, and the boys who joined them
with the usual names, Kenny, Ronnie, and Shig.

By high school it was already too late for me.
I was from Pasadena and never got over
being force fed a bleached blond culture
of cheerleaders, surfboards, red corvettes
letterman jackets I was never asked to wear.
Somebody had decreed the only places
you could stay Japanese and cool were the Westside,
Gardena, a few neighborhoods on the Eastside, each
with their own reputation-
hardly anyone from the outside ever got in.

This didn't stop me from hoping.
My sister and I made the long drive
into town on saturday nights, thinking we'd get lucky, get picked
out of the crowded dance floor
by a pretty boy in a preacher jacket.
his hair in a 3 inch front,
so in profile everyone knew he was Westside
and could put on an almost black, South Central strut
whenever he wanted to.

I guess you could say even I had my chances
at least before they heard me talk,
I was often mistaken for a girl who'd been around,
I had that mature look-
imitated sansei chicks with rattled hair,
glued on eyelashes, shiny adhesive slivers taping
eyelids round like black-eyed lacquer dolls.
But as soon as a Westside boy
asked my name, where I lived
I sounded just like any other hakujin,
"No, I'm not related to Billy Uyematsu,"
whose dad ran a fish shop on Jefferson and 8th,
no sense in lying when my lack of dialect
revealed too many years in white classrooms.
But I really gave myself away when we slowdanced-
no one had ever taught me how
a genuinely rowdy sansei could slowdance
though she barely moved her legs.

I envied Linda Watanabe who had gone
to my Sunday School. She was mean enough
to hang out in the bathroom at Parkview Auditorium
eager to fight, along with the toughest Westside girls
amusing themselves as we scurried by.
Then she started going out with blacks
and our parents told us to stay away.
When Linda got pregnant, her family said
she was going to visit her relatives in Japan.
It became a frequent inside joke,
another sansei daughter spending her summer
back in the old country.

I never got my Westside boyfriend
though I acquired a permanent taste for romance,
dark men, harmonizing to groups so smooth
only they could get away with calling themselves
the Stylists, Flamingos, Delphonics,
Rosie and the Originals.
I went to concerts where we were the majority,
like the time Mike Sato from Gardena
took me to hear Smokey sing, "Ooh baby, baby."
long before it was a Rondstadt remake, or I danced
to "Are you angry with me, darling" as the real Little Willie G
of Thee Midnighters stood no more than ten feet away. And now,
over twenty years later, when I meet other sansei
they'll say, "Didn't you grow up on the Westside?"-
and a girl doesn't get asked that
unless they think she's got some degree of cool.

Amy Uyematsu, written in the '80's and included in Gidra's 20th anniversary edition; opening poem in her first book 30 miles from J-town.1992

No comments:

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin