There is an old Blues standard called “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. It was written by Jimmy Cox back in the twenties and recorded by many artists over the years. The lyrics tell a story of someone, who was riding high and spending money like there was no tomorrow and then hit hard times. When he ran out of money he also ran out of friends. Like many of the great Blues songs of the last century, it is about people going through tough times. It seems that whenever there is a wave of immigration by a large ethnic group, the first generation arrivers to the North American continent have to establish themselves, which is usually quite different and tenuous. As time goes by, it seems that each subsequent generation has it a little better than the previous one. I believe the Japanese Americans of the new millennium are much the same in the fourth and fifth generations of Yonsei and Gosei if you prefer have far better economic and educational opportunities than the Issei and Nisei ever had. There is an old Japanese term, Gaman, of Zen Buddhist origin which means “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.” Most of us have had situations in our lives wherein we have dealt with tough times and circumstances and this rings true to just about everyone I know. My good friend and fellow musician Kevin Boyd had seen his share of ups and downs in his business career. Although he is doing fine these days with his job and family life he went through a tough patch back a few years ago. He used to tell me that “one is at their best when one is at their worst.” The true meaning is of course that when times are really bad you have to dig down inside yourself and find your strongest survival energies to get through tough times. I have personally found this to be a useful concept.
Deems Tsutakawa is a local Sansei musician. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org