This is from my speech at the Graduation Ceremony of the Asian Pacific Islander and Desi American students at New York University on April 22 2021.
Thank you, Elizabeth and Kenzo.
My name is Aine Nakamura. I graduated from the MA program at the Gallatin School in 2020, having been mentored by Elizabeth Hoffman. I am a singer, composer, and performer. I have generated my idiosyncratic performance grammar of voice and body. During my studies, I was supported by the Asian Pacific and American Institute at NYU for my presentation of my art, and for my research of ritualistic songs in Okinawa and Yaeyama. [...] Last year in the midst of chaos, I could not attend the graduation ceremony and I contacted Dara that I wanted to attend this year to meet the community. It is my honor to speak today.
Since 2016 in NY, I was often verbally attacked and spit on; I have come to know now that what I have experienced were “hate crimes” although I am a little hesitant to say the word as the notion that I was (and am) hated takes away my stability somehow. I would be first angry about the discrimination and gradually become sad as I was reminded of the social issues of this country. However, I must admit that I always had a doubt whether I was really a member of this society, until I performed in NY several times and gained my confidence in my presence.
I have always been a quasi person or outsider in the United States and in Japan. Having been born in Pacific Northwest and raised there and in Japan, “Jap” and “shrimp” were the words I heard from other children in the States, and “someone from America,” the “enemy country,” from elderly in Japan. I wondered what the border between the two nations was. As I grew older, I started to learn about the war, exploitation, sexual exploitation, and forced labor. Peace became my internal theme.
After a decade gap from my undergrad studies in Japan, I decided to educate myself again in music. My voice is my “offering” as one of my mentors Janet Lawson would say. However, once I look at my voice as my body, I find myself in everyday politics: okusan means someone in the back and wife, and shujin, a dominant person and husband. How do I claim that I am a woman of this earth, and not okusan to my family? I try to ignore each unnecessary element of my transnational body and I often sink, overwhelmed, by the complexity of it. In order to seek free expression and move closer to my woman artist identity, I flew back to my first country and attended Jazz and Contemporary Music at The New School, and later NYU.
My artistic quest and my MA studies have meant a search for my own language to express self, which cannot be told simply through one disciplinary or cultural frame. Because of my appearance, I would not be able to avoid any judgement or assumption from the audience that anything I create, find, or say may be based in an “oriental” Asian world. However, I protect and nurture my intellectual and spiritual space based on my own personal stories; the world I am in or create, or what I offer, is not a singularity but a multiplicity, and I acknowledge my complexity and ambiguity.
I also gained and continue to cultivate the skills to critically think and speak: it has been a true asset for me as a woman, having had experienced a silenced place, to be able to voice and be confident about it.
In mid-March 2020, I experienced again harsh verbal attacks in the subway right before a documentation of my work. In the first take, “my voice as my body” ended the work with a fear I felt in my body. In the second take however, my voice chose kindness over fear; as a result, my voice healed my body.
I remember my baby sitter Ellen who was a Japanese American hoping and waiting for the apology by the US government about her family’s experiences of incarcerations, would often say to me and my sister, don’t talk back, work hard, work hard. That mentality stays with me, and I am adding more, my voice and resilience, my self care, health and embracement, and hopefully care for others for our new language.
Actor Anna Deavere Smith, who encouraged us to “reach out from” our personal stories, said that all artists are leaders of soul. As I sense humanity and my intention of my art connecting, I reach out from my transnational woman’s body and spirituality, seeking those sensible sounds, which have not been amplified, and those creativity in me, which have not been notated in one aesthetic, crossing boundaries.
Congratulations to us and all.