Many times when we hear news of a supreme court decision in the United States they mention the "Framers of the Constitution" a term used to denote the original people who laid pen to paper with the intent to create a document in which all law could be derived. In the late 1700's I'm sure that the forefathers of this country could not have possibly imagined the world as it exists today. It is an interesting concept to apply the perceptions we have of our actions as being the same as those who came 238 years before us.
When applying this same train of thought to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai of today I truly wonder if the organization has become what the original pioneers who founded it had imagined it would one day become. As many of us are aware 1st generation (Issei) held strong cultural ties to the homeland upon their arrival in America. They carried on the traditions of those who came before them as they had been taught to do by their parents and grandparents. The cultural aspects of living in America were not the focus of their endeavors. Their children (usually born in America) were the second generation of immigrants known as Nisei. These Nisei held closer ties to their parents beliefs and participated in the cultural aspects of their parents homeland. However, they also took on aspects of the country in which they lived and their metamorphosis had begun in their assimilation as Americans. The Nisei lived in a situation where they experienced the best of both worlds. Their children however, normally wanted nothing to do with the culture of their grandparents country. Often times they even lost the ability to speak the Japanese language. With little exposure to the cultural activities of their grandparents they had no interest in understanding customs and courtesies of their lineage. They were fully assimilated Americans in most cases who regarded themselves as Asian Americans not as uchinanchu. Known as Sansei they had lost interest in the tales they had hear as a child and just wanted to live their own existence.
I believe this generational shift is important to understand to help keep the Okinawa Kenjinkai thriving in future generations. Here is some information I found on the original pioneer Okinawans that came to the Chicago area.
Our heritage began with the Chicago "Friends from Okinawa" Society and the first Okinawan to come to the Midwestern city of Chicago, Kojun Aniya. Aniya came to the United States in 1902. In hopes of becoming a photographer, he enrolled for a number of years in a photography school in Effingham, near Chicago. When he finished, he settled in Chicago, where he was active as one of the original pioneers for the rest of his life. He died in 1956.
Then there was Kintaro Yogi, a native of Shuri, who was sent over in l9l5 by the Okinawa Chozo Shokuryohin Kai (Okinawa Preserved Foods Co.) to the Swift company as a research officer to study the American hog-raising industry, especially in the area of canned foods like ham. Although he came for a fixed term of three years, he ended up settling here. He was an original Okinawan pioneer that was active in the service of the Japanese community in Chicago.
Officers for 1968 - President: Tokujin Asato. Vice-President: Jose Bishop (born in Hawaii and raised in Okinawa). Treasurer: Herbert Ogawa. Secretary: Alex-Gonzales (from the Philippines, served as a soldier in Okinawa). They operated on a very lively family membership system, with forty-five families. Mrs.-Ogawa taught Okinawan dance, and Kamekichi Uchima had a group interested in Okinawan singing.
New Officers, April 1973 - President: Ken Hirata. Vice-President: Shig Kaneshiro. Treasurer: Herbert Ogawa. Secretary: Mrs. Asako Uchima. A scheme for taking a group to visit the Okinawan Marine Expo was investigated.
Since the early days the primary purpose of the Okinawa Kenjinkai has been to assist those in need and provide fellowship amongst the uchinanchu people in the Chicago and surrounding areas. Through participation in dance, music, and eisa the group has become polarized in its purpose for being. There are those who believe that the primary purpose of the Kenjinkai is performing to promote Okinawan culture to the community and there are others that are on the other end of the spectrum who would rather not perform and are in the group for fellowship between uchinanchu people and others from around the world. Currently the Kenjinkai promotes two annual events that seek to promote fellowship. The annual Okinawan Shennen Kai (New Years Party) and the Summer Okinawan picnic. Both have seen a decline in participation since many of the older members are passing away and the younger generations many times have a completely different outlook on what's cool and fun to do. We have many people on our membership list that are rarely seen. Many uchinanchu that have assimilated into American culture and fail to maintain their cultural ties. Politics seems to be involved in many of the defections we have seen over the generations. People are split on who should be allowed as members and on issues back in Okinawa like US Military bases. In the beginning the members believed in a common cause and worked toward helping out those in need back in Okinawa and here in the United States after internment. We need to reestablish our connections to building friendships.
I believe that this is what's missing in todays Okinawa Kenjinkai and that the solution is to have more groups that meet for reasons other than performing. Don't take me wrong, performing is a good thing, it's just not every members cup of tea. Fellowship was a BIG part of the ideology of the original Okinawan pioneers who formed this organization. I love going to performances and watching the talented people who do participate in them. But, there needs to be other activities to promote friendship with one another. I personally think a men's group should be formed to participate in activities like fishing trips or other things of interest to the members. In the beginning meetings were small and occurred at individuals homes. I believe there are many out there who want to learn traditional arts and crafts but have no desire to get up on a stage in front of a group to show their abilities. The Kenjinkai should also be there for them too.
Today we are at the cross roads of what we will become. Our 50th anniversary will be held in 2016. Many of the generational families are headed into their fourth generation. With that generation we hope to create a spark of interest again as to what their true cultural heritage is. If you are a member or a former member please consider re-igniting the flame you once had for this organization. If you are of Okinawan heritage and feel compelled to join us please do. We need fresh ideas as well as participants. Our annual picnic will be held on July 26th this year. I sincerely hope to see many new faces in the crowd this year. I love you all and feel as if I must have been an old soul somehow connected to Okinawa in the past. I feel blessed and hope the Kenjinkai will continue for many generations to come.