By Sarah Fujimoto
In order to redefine culture, one must understand what culture was before. In order to move freely into my future I must understand my past and how it is affecting my present.
As I walked recently through the Chinatown area of Philadelphia something felt at home. Being a fourth generation Japanese American, I have always wondered what my culture meant to me, feeling somewhat conflicted about it inside. Am I American? Am I Japanese? Or am I human?
The vast amounts of murals that fill this city describe culture in different ways. The mural upon entering Chinatown describes the conflict of cultures, trying to hold onto something that is slipping away, and trying to keep out others that want to push you out to start something different or perhaps better. Everyone has a story to tell; everyone has been through many experiences and stories in their lifetime. Yet I wonder if conflict, ownership, and boundaries arise when it becomes a matter of proving rather than sharing, competing rather than cohesive victory.
When I look at another person through eyes that filter and put them into categories according to economic status, race, ethnicity, or any other mold or form that I perceive them to be, I limit love in my life and their life. In a sense I objectify and dehumanize them, preparing a breeding ground for unjust treatment.
I believe we are called to something greater, something that doesn’t exalt oneself, but seeks to serve, and to see the best in people. Unhealthy conflict brings division, and divided we fall. There is victory in unity. There is a need for greater unity amongst humanity, a momentum that has begun that will die down if we do not continue to see the best in others and serve this world with the purpose we have been given as a gift. I have been seeing areas of my life lately where the gift was no longer a gift but an obligation to be met. A demand. Demands bring you to the end of yourself, and in weariness surrendering to a much greater hope than myself and its plans or actions separate from a sustaining force.
You see, love is stronger than death. I have been reflecting lately on a passage in Song of Solomon that describes that it was love that did not keep Jesus in the grave. It was stronger than the death that was in that grave. It was so jealous, so strong, and powerful that it brought life and resurrection.
Though at times it feels areas of my life are dying off, I am truly living. Though surrendering becomes harder then easier, oblivious at times to my own coping mechanisms that keep me from loving and being free, I am being resurrected. Though it takes effort and at times active surrender to work through conflict with others as well as cultural barriers, I must die to the areas that honor self and honor a closed perspective. I believe an open perspective sees the beauty in difference and the humanity that exists in each of us. Why do we strive to be the same when we were created different and unique? We are each accepted just as we are.
Until my walk through Chinatown it had been awhile since I had been around a lot of Asian people. Something felt very at home for me as I walked, yet also a slight bit off. It is interesting how something can be very close to something you know very well but not exactly right on. Culture intermixes and is affected by people. It changes, yet it stays the same. There are many threads and definitions. I must seek to remain grounded, yet open to change.
The other night I had a vision of a field. The coloring of it represented the season of harvesting, and I sat gathering in the middle of the field. A harvest is of much value, and must be protected from any lingering parasite from the outside. I saw myself pushing at the boundaries, against the distractions, and against the mindsets that would keep me from the harvest in front of me. Resisting them, I find solace in what satisfies–which is the field I sit upon. I don’t push in fear as I once did, swinging to the other side of a dramatic pendulum in order to survive, but I swing to the opposite side of obedience. For the time being it is extreme because the trials against it are testing what desires I choose against–what I know is right and truthful–and I must withstand and stand. It is my choice, yet it is not by self-will; for I know that willpower is nothing alone, and it must be fueled by a burning fire that comes from surrender to the flame of burn. Burn. Send the fire and let it burn.
Sarah currently resides in an inner city community in West Philadelphia. She is attending Eastern University in St. Davids where she will be getting her Master of Arts in International Development this June. She enjoys exploring, learning, sewing, creating, dance, youth, writing, drawing, music, and painting.