My nisei grandparents' story of how they met started off in the way that it seems many relationships start even to this day…
They met through mutual friends.
More specifically, my grandma was supposed to be “chaperoning” her older sister’s date, and my grandpa attended this date as his buddy’s “wingman.” Apparently, this date worked out for more than one couple, as this unintentional double date resulted in two marriages.
Like my paternal grandparents, my parents also met through mutual friends. Perhaps their first encounter was not unintentional like my grandparents’, but nonetheless, my parents ended up together because of some social gathering with their predominantly Japanese American group of friends.
As my parents and their friends started their own families, many of their friends were now being referred to as “auntie” and “uncle” by their friend’s children. Referring to my parent’s friends as “auntie” and “uncle” has continued through my young adulthood, and will continue even as I, eventually, am referred to as “Auntie Kayla” by my friend’s children.
Why is it that for so many of our parents, and grandparents, meeting through JA social events/organizations and their mutual friends resulted in lifelong partnership?
Well, here are a couple of my theories:
- It’s comfortable.
- Where else would you meet someone?
Here’s my hot take on my first theory:
Meeting a new person, whether it be a co-worker, mentor, friend, or future partner, typically goes smoother when there is mutual ground to be discussed. Having mutual friends is one of the easiest ice breakers as the mutual friends are typically the ones breaking the ice. Being able to discuss a mutual friend, friend of a friend, or even relative brings a level of comfort to a conversation.
Additionally, when meeting a potential partner that has a similar upbringing because of the community you both were raised in is one less deep conversation that you both would need to have prior to entering into a relationship. Introducing your partner to your family for the first time and not having to explain the nuances of “typical” JA family interactions is one less stressful conversation/topic to have to discuss. Comfort. The level of comfort in knowing that when you meet each other’s families for the first time, you behave towards their family as you would your own, and vice versa. Perhaps you are a bit more attentive to your table manners, but your partner does not have to be concerned of whether or not you will attend the family potluck empty-handed.
Attempting to explain the nuances of the JA community to someone who was not raised in a community in which families are connected through multiple generations, is quite challenging to say the least. Similarly, there is comfort in not needing to learn another’s culture. I would imagine that there is a significant amount of effort that is required in learning your partner’s culture and its nuances. Being in an unfamiliar/uncomfortable situation because of cultural differences is a challenging feat not all are willing to confront, and that is okay.
Also my second theory:
Where else would you meet someone?
Phase 1: If your childhood/adolescent years were similar to mine, you were raised in a basketball gym. Sundays were for league games, one night a week was spent at a middle/high school for practice, and some weekends were spent playing in the different tournaments. Many JA kids enter into their first relationships with someone that they met through mutual basketball friends, church friends, or school. Growing up in Torrance, for most basketball playing JA kids that was your dating pool– basketball, school, and maybe church. Perhaps by your junior or senior year of high school you are able to drive, but for the most part your dating pool is dictated solely based on extracurricular activities.
Phase 2: College/early adulthood. In my parents' generation, Asian Greek Life was their social counterpart for my generation’s Nikkei Student Union/Tomo No Kai. As some of you may know, I was quite involved with the Nikkei Student Union at UC Riverside and later the Intercollegiate Nikkei Council. Many relationships formed between individuals involved with JA/Nikkei/Asian focused organizations as that is where many of the students spent their social hours. When a majority of the available social hours are occupied by a particular organization, this unintentionally becomes the dating pool. In this particular phase, some relationships result in long-term life partnerships, and some are only meant to be seasons. Regardless of the outcome, the convenience of being involved in the same, or similar, organizations is what creates the opportunity to form said romantic relationships.
Phase 3: Adulthood. This is the phase in life in which my parents, and many of their friends, met their life-long partners. If individuals are single during this particular point in their lives, many begin to “seriously” look for a potential spouse. Attending parties, outings to bars, and miscellaneous community events seemed to be the approach my parents and their friends took to meet their spouses. At this particular point, most people’s dating pools seem to be their colleagues or their friend’s friends.
Will the Japanese American community continue on because of romantic relationships formed through various JA community organizations, events, and friend groups?
Perhaps. I wish there was a straightforward answer, but unfortunately I do not have the ability to predict the future. If patterns continue from previous generations, there will be a large percentage of individuals who remain in the comfort of choosing a partner with a similar upbringing from the JA community. However, with each generation it seems as though more and more Japanese Americans are entering into relationships with people of other ethnic descent.
There is not a definitive equation (to my knowledge) of how to predict if the longevity of the JA community will be based on romantic relationships that form through community connections. Proactive preservation of Japanese American history, and organizations seem to be the most sure way to assure the continuation of the JA community, regardless of the ethnic background of the individuals who choose to assist in the preservation of the community.
I am thankful for the Japanese American community, and for my wonderful "aunties" and "uncles" who have helped raise me, and teach me about community. My parents, family, and their friends have taught me invaluable lessons regarding the importance of community, and how to be proud of my Japanese American heritage. I may not know, or understand, the exact reasoning as to how so many of my parent’s friends found their life-long partners in their friend’s friends, but I am grateful for this village that raised my "cousins" and me.