“I Wish I’d Seen My Nisei Father Dance” by Amy Uyematsu

Amy Uyematsu


Before the war nisei were so much cooler
than we sansei kids give them credit—
after all they could listen to Meiji-farmer folk songs
and siblings practicing violin and shamisen
while finger-snapping to Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman,
and Old Blue Eyes on the radio.

Dad swears the girls were prettier in his day—
he drove a tan convertible, thanks to a father
who got rich selling flowers in the ’30s,
with extra pocket money that got him
into trouble with poorer yogore,
his Boyle Heights friends protecting him.

I’ve been told my father was popular
among the girls—not for his looks,
but because he could really dance—
the swing, fox trot, a mean jitterbug.
Was he ever called a “jive-bomber”
or “cloud-walker” for his nimble feet?

Dad was going to school in Chicago
when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor
and within 24 hours, the FBI
was escorting him
from the college dormitory
to a train back to California.

Lucky for him, he didn’t stay long
in Manzanar with his family.
He worked potato farms in Idaho,
got into college in Lincoln, Nebraska,
met my 19-year-old mom, prettier
than any girl he’d ever danced with.

And after the war nothing could
stop the nisei from still having their dances—
not new babies and bills, neighborhoods
that wouldn’t let them move in. I’ve seen
the photos, Dad and Mom all decked out
in wide lapel suit and full-skirted dress.

from Rattle #52, Summer 2016
Tribute to Angelenos


Amy Uyematsu: “My grandparents settled in Los Angeles between 1910 and 1920, and I was a post-World War II baby boomer—so I’ve seen this city go through many transformations. One thing that hasn’t changed is the Pasadena Freeway, with its small, curving lanes and beautiful mountain backdrop. When I was a high school senior, I got to drive that freeway from Sierra Madre to downtown L.A. for Saturday night dances with several hundred sansei (3rd-generation Japanese Americans). You could say I learned how to drive on that freeway.”

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