Kincaid, A Small Place
I have a grandmother who is like a lot of people here. Her bedroom walls are covered with Harry Belafonte posters. The photograph of herself that she passes around first is a brownish one of when she was young, straddling a motor bike and turning her head slightly to the side to show off her Audrey Hepburn hair from Roman Holiday.
She likes the woman she became in her twenties, a woman who knows the words to “Day-O” and the titles (translated) of the big American and European films. She dreamed of dancing professional ballroom.
When I wanted to be more Japanese, I called to ask about her life as a child. The life I wanted to imitate was the life she gave up with elation when American troops brought their radios and things.
I have a grandfather who is like a lot of people here. He asked about the friend I came home with a few summers ago. “She…likes sandwiches, doesn’t she?” he asked with a hollow laugh in his voice. I guess she does. He was thinking of how she left rice in the bowl at every other meal, which I agree was rude. Anyway, he likes sandwiches, too, but he won’t admit it.
He had friends who died in the war. He had friends with whom he debated the fate of the Japanese language. A match is not a match if that’s what the Americans call it. What do we need their word for? It’s a surikosuri hibana hassouki. A scrape-and-rub spark-producing device.
What do you care about my grandparents? Once again, they’re like a lot of people here.
My grandfather keeps quiet; he loves his home and lets me come to him to hear about it. Unless you flew all the way here to hear about yourself, the ones like him are the ones you should meet. Not that you have to (or should) listen about how stupid Soviets are and how indecent American women are, but anyway,
the xenophiles, like my grandmother, are the ones you’re likely to meet. My mother’s generation takes after them. She herself left Japan for the United States at seventeen, looking for some freedom, some color. Women my mother’s age like magazines with titles in English, French, Italian, Spanish. Magazines that advertise skin lighteners, undergarments modeled by foreigners who, as everybody knows, are more beautiful than our women. Magazines with disastrous English sprinkled into the text. It’s English, and that’s what matters.
I can’t tell you what to think when you come to Osaka and see young people with hair dyed lighter than yours. It won’t matter what I tell you, anyway, because you’ll be busy with people staring at you, fussing over you, practicing their English on you. I’m proud of my country’s hospitality, and I’m glad to say you’ll surely have a good time here. You’re not getting anything cheap or cheating anyone. What’s the matter, then?
I remember two blonde young American women laughing and holding a loud conversation during a Tokyo-Atlanta flight. They’d walked into the dining room at the hotel and the Japanese had started clapping for them. They’d felt like movie stars. “I was like, whoa, I’m just an American! But it was cool. I could get used to that. I’ll definitely be back. I’ll definitely be back.”
No wonder people my age pay I don’t want to know how much for Abercrombie and Fitch. No wonder even adults were sporting Teletubbies merchandise one summer. No wonder about my grandmother. No wonder about my grandfather. Please think of them both when you’re here, because they’re like a lot of the people.