After the results of the election came in, I couldn't help but feel like giving up. It was difficult to go to work at my day job and I felt a strong impulse to close the doors on my little business.
As some of you may already know, I’m the owner and creator of an apparel line called 6 Degrees of Hapa, and my tagline is “celebrating mixed cultures, diversity, and spreading a little Hapa pride.” What has always been a fun and exciting part of my business suddenly seemed incredibly hard to do. I just couldn’t imagine going to an event, setting up my pop up shop, and selling anything to anyone. The possibility of even harder economic times and the ghost of a pinch on people’s wallets made me feel guilty about tempting shoppers to spend money.
But when I told my mom I felt like closing up shop for at least the next four years, she replied, "Closing your business is what he wants."
And she’s right.
So this Saturday I went out and with the help of my parents did my second to last pop-up of the year in San Jose Japantown. Let me tell you--it's such a compliment to have people come up, look around my pop-up and feel a connection to me, my family, and my business. I was so heartened to see people wearing safety pins and getting a chance to talk with the other vendors and shoppers. Though very few said anything outright about the election (I should have remembered my safety pin), it was obvious that there was a sense of unity and resilience. No one had to come out to support local artisans this weekend. But they did.
In the Japanese American community (sometimes called Nikkei), I feel that one of the reasons this election’s stakes were so high is because many of us have all either by two degrees or less known what it is like to be strangers in this country that we call our home. Many of us have faced discrimination, racism, and displacement in some form or another. The U.S. internment of Japanese Americans is one of the darkest examples of this and its impact is still felt and discussed today within the Nikkei community. It’s hard for me to imagine where this country is going if we do not do our part and after talking to those who came to the show this weekend, I think they feel the same.
When I look at this election, I can’t help but think of my family who immigrated to the U.S. Like many Japanese Americans, my family has a history of illegal immigration. I would not be here today if my great grandfather had not made the decision to come to the U.S. regardless of the consequences he might face for doing so illegally. My great grandfather’s name was Yoichi. He worked as a farmer all over California, and during World War II, he along with many relatives of mine were forced into internment.
Despite all that the Nikkei community has faced, we have shown resilience. Going to San Jose Japantown and participating as a vendor in a fundraising boutique for the Japanese American Museum of San Jose yesterday reminded me of that. It was also so striking to me to see just how ethnically mixed the Nikkei community has become and how inclusive it is. Just go check out JAMsj’s Visible & Invisible: A Hapa Japanese American History to really understand how far we’ve come.
Opening up my pop up shop this weekend despite everything that has happened this week made me realize that my little business gives me the opportunity to put more good into this world when we really need it. One of the best parts of any pop up for me is when someone comes up and says, “Hapa? That’s me!” (Or) “That’s my daughter/son/friend/whole family!”
One of my goals in starting 6 Degrees of Hapa was to create a business that gives those who identify as mixed a way to embrace their heritages without feeling a need to pick just one. And hearing people express that my business is in fact doing that makes me both hopeful and proud. So yes, I’ll keep my little shop going strong because I know that what it stands for, diversity, family, friends, and how we are all connected is so very important right now.