By David Yamaguchi
The North American Post
In recent months, I have held several conversations with friends regarding exchange student hosting. The first was in December with a friend who lives near Green Lake. The home he shares with his wife has long been the “transition” house for foreign high-school exchange students starting or ending home-stays set up through the American Field Service (AFS). He shared a new issue with me then. The north-Seattle public high schools are full, to the extent that they are no longer accepting exchange students. The one school still accepting foreign students is Rainier Beach (RB), in southernmost Seattle.
At the time, my friend had one female student who would be making long commutes by bus from his home to RB unless he could find a suitable south- Seattle host family for her. While he did so eventually, the larger unresolved issue is that, while north Seattle overflows with such households, south Seattle does not.
Written between the lines here is a deeper conversation on social equity. Northern families want foreign students because of the positive influences they can have on their children. Especially when the visiting student is a few years older than a family’s kids, he or she can open their eyes to the larger world. For empty nesters, there is similarly the “spark” that the visiting youth can add to the doldrums of life.
Of course, hosting a foreign student costs time and money as well, which apparently northern households can afford, but southern ones cannot. A second consideration is perceptions of minority households, prevalent in south Seattle, by foreign families. Are minorities capable of providing “an American experience” like Caucasian ones?
Into this setting then, steps Molly Angeles. Molly just completed hosting her second and third of three exchange students from Japan. The first was one introduced to her by her son, Brysen Angeles, of the Massive Monkees break-dance group. There was an older Japanese student practicing with them who would need a place to live for two months. The latest two were Fukui-prefecture high school students, Aki Fujiwara and Akari Terao, who just completed two weeks at RB.
To describe Molly, by day she is a hair stylist. She attended Franklin High. Both of her parents were immigrants: her father from the Philippines, her mother from Japan. Like most such children of immigrants, Molly speaks only a few words of Japanese, but understands mor e than she speaks. Wit h this modest background then, what kind of experience could Molly provide the girls?
I joined the three at Friday dance class, where we were wrapping up a cha-cha series (crashdancers.net). I found both Aki and Akari shy and quiet.
Motherly Molly advised me, “David, they are 17. Hold them in open position (hand to hand), as closed (hand and shoulder-blade) will be uncomfortable for them.”
Later, I tagged along as Bev Kashino walked them through the museum-exhibit rooms at the Nisei Vets Hall, which the dance group rents. As I had never been on one of Bev’s tours, I found it cool that she could say, first-person, “Here’s my dad as a high school football star… This is my mom’s scrapbook from camp…”
The next afternoon, I caught up with Molly and the girls, eating nachos and guacamole in the snack bar at Jefferson golf course. The three were resting after spending the morning at Snoqualmie Falls. The falls are interesting for Japanese, as Japan lacks the big rivers we have.
After the snack, another friend of Molly’s, Tyler Kato, was waiting to coach the girls in hitting golf balls on the upper deck of the driving range. Tyler is an accountant and former youth golf champion.
As I did not previously know Tyler, I was first struck by his gentle Japanese coaching style.
“Aki-chan, Akar i-chan, bakku mijikaku shite… Chikara tsukawanai de… Rerakusu, rerakusu… Kini shinai. Daijobu. Mou ikkai…” Make the backswing short. Don’t use force… Relax, relax… Don’t mind. It is okay. Once again…
“Aki-chan, ima sugoku yokatta. Umai yo,” said Tyler. Aki, that was really swell. It was sweet.
During such coaching and practice, Akari, at least, “got it.” She could make the ball “click” cleanly off her iron.
But it was the continuing train of men—middle-aged, old, white, black, Asian—who walked up the stairs to greet, shake hands with and hug Tyler, that clued me in to the fact that Tyler was not just anyone. Apparently, word was going around the clubhouse that “The Man” was up on the second deck.
There was also the funny, nonchalantly hip way Tyler greeted his fans.
“You guys lookin’ for a lesson?”
Throughout the hour, we had not seen Tyler hit a single ball. It was only the goading of the men that at last made him set a ball for himself. He pulled a driver and took a practice swing.
“You still got that swing!” one of the men commented.
Then, with the quiet body of a statue, Tyler “SMACKED dat ball!” He was like a TV golf pro!
“Validation!” the man hooted.
“Doko ni itta ka wakaranai!” exclaimed one of the girls. We can’t see where it went.
“I know! It’s too far… Okay, you gotta do that again,” said Molly.
Molly called us to stand behind Tyler, to better follow a second ball. We lost sight of that one, too.
As the girls were from Fukui, over the nachos I had asked them if they knew Takefu and Takefu Higashi Koukou. These are respectively my late aunt’s village and the local high school where, courtesy of her connections as a retired teacher, I spent a day as a guest English teacher on my first trip to Japan.
It was Akari’s school. And so, by chance, I knew exactly the ojiichan-obaachan-tambo (grandpa, grandma, rice fields) environment where at least one of the two was from. Takefu is so small that a shopkeeper at the train station told me on that trip, “Everyone has been waiting for you…” On the outskirts of the fields, there are graveyards so ancient that trees are growing up between the stones. No living descendants remain to care for them. It is a long way from the tambo of Fukui to the bright lights of Tokyo and, from there, to the United States.
North-end Caucasians, Molly, Bev and Tyler are not. Yet I believe that the three rocked the rural students’ worlds by showing them glimpses of self-reliant, confident women and of Nikkei history and life. They shared something not achievable by white families: role models of people, who look like them, contributing positively to society.