4/5/19 Interview with GW Student Okinawa Essay Contest Award Recipient

Nina Udagawa, a sophomore majoring in International Affairs at GWU, is the 3rd Place Award recipient of the Okinawa Essay Contest for her essay: “The Okinawan Amerasian Identity—A Vanguard for Japanese Multinationals.” The award includes a trip to Okinawa to meet with professors and students there and gain some inspiration for further research.
Read our exclusive interview with her below: 

1. Please provide a brief abstract paragraph describing the content and main argument of your essay.

My essay looked into the transformation of the Okinawan Amerasian identity over time and the various movements which allowed those in the community to live more comfortably as years passed. To provide some context, an Amerasian is individual who has a U.S. military service member and a local Okinawan as parents. Okinawa is home to many Amerasians because of the prominent US bases in the region. The perception of this identity changed over time; in the immediate post World War II era, Amerasians were killed for being a product of shame, however, the current Okinawan governor was elected by his own people to represent their voice. My essay compartmentalized such transformations in three main sections. Firstly, local organizations appealed and successfully gained the government’s assistance in recognizing the rights of abandoned mothers and Amerasians in the 1970s. Secondly, the discourse surrounding the need to create a safe space for Amerasians emerged through the set-up of the AmerAsian School in the late 1990s. The third, and current phase is about self-affirmation. Although the internet has sparked discussions between the Japanese multicultural community, Okinawan media picked up such discussions and brought them to a wider platform. My thesis argued that  one commonality of the resolution of issues that Amerasians faced was the local support for grassroots activism. This positive response and enacted policies reverberated nationwide, allowing many Japanese multicultural people to live more comfortably. I end my essay with questions regarding the place of multicultural Japanese people in the nation’s society.

2. What motivated you to pursue research on Okinawa?

I have always enjoyed writing papers and pursuing research in the social sciences. My research for this task was topic-motivated. This was because Denny Tamaki, who was elected as governor of Okinawa in October 2018 is an Amerasian. His election sparked a lot of discourse on the Japanese multicultural, along with American identity in society. I came across these many articles when reading the news and started looking into the history of the identity. I already knew about this research topic and wanted to acquaint myself more with the Okinawa collection at Gelman. This was because I heard from professors that it was one of the few collections based on Okinawa in the world. After being exposed to primary sources and personal narratives of those in the 70s and 80s who were mothers of Amerasians who attempted to make Okinawa more accommodating for their children, I was drawn to my topic.

3. What did you learn about Okinawa through this essay contest that you would like most to share with others?

I learned the essence of community in Okinawa through this essay contest. These various movements solving the issues present for Okinawan Amerasian people in Okinawan society showed me that a strong sense of community was a strong reason for such nationwide changes. Many of the advocates for Okinawan Amerasian identity were backed by support from their surrounding communities. Although supporters and prefectural officials were not Amerasians themselves, they showed interest and understanding in the need for legislation or a safe space for Okinawan Amerasians. Therefore, I want to share the importance of the sense of Okinawan community in shaping perceptions towards multicultural Japanese people today.

4. Did you use any GW resources during your research? If so, which ones, and how helpful were they?

Yes, I used the Okinawa Collection at the Global Resource Center in Gelman which was extremely helpful. This gave me a lot of access to newspapers from the 90s which was insightful in understanding how efforts for Amerasians were projected onto the community. I was also recommended a number of books and resources by the Global Resource Center staff and professors which were also extremely helpful in finding sources and ensuring my information regarding the bases was accurate.

5. What do you plan to do during your trip to Okinawa? Are there specific research questions you would like to address while there?

I have always been fascinated by Okinawan culture and am very excited to experience it firsthand. I am currently writing a paper about identity politics in Okinawa for my Japanese politics class, so it would be interesting to talk to people about the importance of the Okinawan identity and what it means to the people of the prefecture.. From what I’ve researched so far, it seems that many Okinawans are extremely proud of their unique culture, so I am sure that experiencing that for a week will be exciting.

6. How has this essay contest contributed or shaped your current academic and professional aspirations?

This essay contest showed me that I really enjoy research and that it is something I would like to continue to do. Although I balanced this research and school work, I felt myself allocating any free time to this essay because I was very passionate about it. I am also interested in the field of U.S.-Japan relations, and this essay showed me the importance of people-to-people connections and civil society in creating social change. It lay an important foundation in furthering my knowledge on how social movements work in Japan.

7. Do you plan to integrate your research about Okinawa with your future research and/or career path?

Absolutely! As a multicultural Japanese person myself, I have always been very interested in the community I have been a part of and our place in Japanese society. In 2016, I gave a TedTalk titled “Double not Half, Reevaluating Cultural Identity” which was about my experience growing up in Japan as one who is half Japanese. I have since been questioning and looking into the idea of what it means to be Japanese, and the importance in answering this question for those of my community to find their place in society. I definitely want to continue my research in this field. Looking into the Okinawan Amerasian identity was crucial in understanding where a lot of this movement originated, and how it had evolved throughout the years. Therefore, I am sure if I continue to delve into this topic, Okinawa and the Okinawan Amerasian identity will continue to surface.

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