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Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011

HAVE YOUR SAY

Remembering a supporter of refugees; discrimination a part of human nature

In memoriam: Father Kasuya

Beloved Catholic priest Father John Koichi Kasuya passed away on Feb. 9 at a house for retired Catholic clergy in Japan, aged 87.

When I received the news from Mr. Hoa Do Trong, one of the first and foremost leaders of the Vietnamese Catholic refugee community in Japan, that evening, I felt as if I had lost my own dad.

I still remember the first time I met Father Kasuya at the Shinagawa International Refugee Assistance Center (Kokusai Kyuen Senta) more than 20 years ago. I addressed him with my limited Japanese as "Chichi," meaning "Dad" in Japanese. He smiled gently. Later I realized I should have called him "Shimpu-sama" ("Holy Father" — the way Japanese Catholic believers address Catholic priests).

The tsuya (wake) was held from 6 p.m. on Feb. 13 and the ososhiki (funeral) at 11 a.m. on Feb. 14 at Tokyo St. Mary's Cathedral (the Cathedral Church of the Archbishop of Tokyo) in Bunkyo Ward. I am sorry I was not able to alert all the refugees in time for the two ceremonies, but I hope many of you have heard of the news of our Father's passing away via other channels.

I am writing to express how we Vietnamese refugees in Japan love and are grateful to him for what he has done for us. We do not know much about him, except that he came to our help more than 20 years ago when the first groups of Vietnamese refugees landed in Japan, a country not accustomed to receiving and helping refugees from other countries. He was more like a caring, protecting father to us all, Catholic or not, than a priest who practiced social work or charity.

Through him, we came to understand and love Japan as a people, not only his Catholic Church. He often worked with Sister Tanaka, who also passed away some years ago. This writing is also in her memory.

There are also many other Catholic priests and nuns still alive and working, and others that have retired or passed away — Japanese and foreign missionaries who have been caring for the refugees and foreigners in Japan with their whole hearts and all their love, helping us rebuild our lives in Japan and integrate into society.

These people represent some of the most beautiful values of Japan as a hospitable and caring country and people, more powerful in communicating Japanese values and beauty to foreigners than any number of ambassadors or emissaries Japan could ever send overseas.

Father, may you rest in peace, as God will reward you for what you have done for us foreigners and refugees. Please pray for us and continue to protect us from heaven.

HIDEO KATO
Tokyo

Discrimination in our nature

Re: James Llewelyn's letter headlined "English speakers 'ranked' " (Have Your Say, Jan. 11):

Japan cannot boast the same advantages of multiculturalism that our own home countries might. As such, with nothing to balance stereotypes, racial discrimination is a harsh reality that only those who have suffered it can realize.

However, the sooner one can accept this truth, the sooner one can overcome it. Speaking from my own experience as a Chinese-Australian English teacher, there was an incident during the first week of classes that may have been spurred by prejudice.

A student took an open disliking to me, insinuating that I wasn't a native teacher and was, therefore, inept. Although this was a rather extreme occasion, racial discrimination does exist and it would be ignorant to argue that it doesn't. However, I would hesitate to call the student (and by extrapolation, Japanese people) racist. Rather, I would say human nature itself is.

It's about fulfilling expectations. Can you imagine an ad in your home country for Japanese lessons with a native instructor, but they appeared Nordic? No matter how good the instructor was, they would never be considered the real deal.

It's like an Indian chef presenting French cuisine. No matter how good the food is, even if it's better than a genuinely French-looking chef's, it will never be considered fully authentic. You can easily admit it's delicious, but there will always be a niggling doubt that you hate to admit, while the French-looking chef enjoys full authenticity without any of this skepticism.

Now, of course it would be foolish to suggest that Caucasian teachers are hired only on the basis of appearance, but won't you admit that it certainly "sweetens the deal"? In fulfilling preconceptions of what a native English speaker should look like, is not an attractive, blond-haired, blue-eyed applicant viewed upon more favorably than someone of, say, Middle Eastern appearance, especially if the hirer is Japanese? And cannot this principle also be applied to preferred accents of English, where North American or British will generally be favored over others? Is this any more wrong than our preference that a native Japanese teacher appear Asian?

People, quite simply, will always have racial prejudices and preconceptions of what one should look like.

It's all a matter of perception, and prejudice is a sin no one can claim innocence of in any country, of any background, in any field.

An employer could pass over an applicant for any number of reasons, and physical appearance, unfortunately, must be conceded as possibly being one of them. In all things equal but appearance, English-teaching here is no different, and it's the one that looks the part that gets the job. It's sad but true.

I'm very grateful to my own company for not discriminating against me and other Asian English teachers, but I know well enough that this is the exception. Applicants for other companies haven't been so fortunate.

However, by being distrustful of others motives, we become exactly what we're wary of, and the prejudice perceived could be within. Brooding on these niggling, negative feelings only serves to stoke resentment, and it's exactly this hate that fuels the racism in both our minds and reality. Instead, we must try to elevate not only how we are perceived ourselves, but also how we perceive others. It is the only way to fight prejudice, real or not, and frankly, all we can ask for.

ANDREW LAU
Nagoya

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