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The Activist

June 25, 2019

The Activist

by Bill Watanabe

The Beat Goes On

My daughter was about to have a baby and she asked me what my grandchild should call me – I said “grandpa” would be OK, and I even liked “ji-chan” but definitely did not want to be called “gramps”!  Then it happened – my wife and I became first-time grandparents and it has been a blessed event in our lives.  At the hospital we were happy that our granddaughter had the requisite number of toes and fingers, and everyone (even the nursing staff) expressed joy when she did a major poop on her second day outside the womb (who knew pooping could be such a source of joy?).

Many years ago when our daughter (our only child) was born, the feelings I had of being a parent were so extraordinarily different that the only way I could describe was to say it felt “meta-physical” – I felt suddenly connected to all of humankind and to all the past ancestral generations and also to all of the future generations to come.  I had that feeling again at the birth of my granddaughter – that she represents another link in the chain of our homosapian past and future.

While I was meditating and reflecting on this, I remembered another childbirth that took place about 30 years ago while I was the Executive Director of the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC).  I was working closely with a wonderful young woman named Yumi Tsukahira who was heading up a community-based project (part of a coalition called the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council or “A3PCON”) to assist Asian American elderly and LTSC was an active member of this project.  I can say without reservation that Yumi, as a faithful Christian, was one of the kindest and gentle of human spirits – I don’t recall she ever spoke a negative word about anyone or anything (even if they deserved it) and it was a joy just being in her presence.   All of us were happy for her when she announced she and her husband were going to have a baby – and it was a tremendous shock of grief and disappointment when we heard the tragic news that she had a difficult delivery and passed away.  The only silver lining to this dark gray cloud was that the new-born baby that Yumi never got to see had survived and would be cared for by a loving father.

I was moved to write some prose in memory of Yumi which was printed in an issue of Gidra Magazine back in the 1980’s and it went as follows:


The Activist’s Gift

Yumi was an activist

At least, as I knew her

As such, she embraced hope

And was a giver of life


She joined with others

Plotting the salvation of an unfair world

Her smile was warmly bestowed at all times

Giving life to endless meetings

And breath to inert agendas

To help make real the corporate dreams

For the sake of the children of our future


Yumi was expectant, as were we all

When she postponed her causes

In hopes of becoming a mother.

She never saw this hope fulfilled

When her last breath

Was given for her newborn son


She would have understood, I’m sure

That to give life, sometimes

One has to give up life

And hope beyond the confines of reason


Jesus knew that too

Proving that the final fruit

Can be, in the end,

The greatest gift of all.

One day, about 25 years after Yumi passed away, I was at an Asian American community gathering and I met a young man who was working for an A3PCON project to help people live healthier lifestyles and I found out his last name was Tsukahira!  I asked this handsome young man if his mother was Yumi and he said yes.  I got choked up as I grasped at the thought that this was Yumi’s son, her gift of life, and I marveled at the fact that somehow and in some way, Yumi’s spirit of community activism was continuing through her son.

I don’t know what the future holds in store for my granddaughter but it is my hope that she and others of her generation will be strong and wise and become activists, to work, in their own way and measure, for the salvation of an unfair world.

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