There’s a vibrant group of Japanese-Canadian immigrant women who meet to share the Way of Tea in Whitehorse and who are bonded together by their desire to maintain some of their cultural practices. I enjoy being part of this group, but I struggle with understanding their conversations, and I feel awkward about being the only Canadian-born, non-Japanese speaking member in the group. Neither my siblings nor I are fluent in Japanese.
I always imagined that in other families kids could talk to their parents about things that were really important to them. I recall times when I would haul out the old photo album and ask my mother about some of the pictures taken during her early married life in B.C. Because of the language barrier – her limited English, and my almost non-existent Japanese – it was frustrating trying to uncover the hidden history.
The story became real when my parents came to visit me in Vancouver, and my dad insisted on visiting the old family home. He found it, and amazingly, the house was to be torn down the next day. My mother wandered outside, while the rest of the family explored inside. I wanted to know more about her experience. How she managed to cope when she first came to Canada. What did she do when dad was sent to a work camp, while she was left alone with the toddler?
I felt the limitations of my Japanese language skills more profoundly when my dad died. It was difficult to talk about preparations for my dad’s funeral. And in the end, my mom opted for a Christian funeral, although my dad was a Buddhist.
Mom had a stroke in 2005, as a result of complications after some dental surgery. I kept thinking, if only I had been able to probe more deeply, and ask her how the pain in her leg was different from her usual arthritis. I mentioned it to the home care nurse and to the doctor, but they didn’t explore the possibility of a thrombosis that eventually led to her death. We arranged a Buddhist funeral for my mother with a bilingual minister from Toronto. He helped us through the grieving process.
When both my parents died, I told them, but wasn’t able to fully express, how much I loved them and how much I appreciated what they had sacrificed for our family. As I observe and enjoy the company of the women, I am reminded of my mother and her women friends. I realized that although I’m not fluent in Japanese, I have absorbed some of the important cultural lessons of my parents. I’m drawn to the tea ceremony because it’s my way back to my mother and my roots.’
Lillian Nakamura Maguire created The Way of Tea in Whitehorse as part of a three-day workshop held by the Multicultural Centre of the Yukon and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. The full collection can be accessed on the Pier 21 website section, Digital Storytelling Workshops.
Digital Storytelling Workshops offer a safe and supportive environment where newcomers can reflect on their immigration experiences and shape their own story. These personal experiences of migration provide an important learning resource for present and future generations of Canadians.