Minding the Gap
“Yuri began crying and said in a sorrowful voice, ‘I don’t want stereo. I want terebi.’ She sounded so miserable that my spirit sunk... I wonder if not having a TV makes it hard at preschool. What is the point of being so proud about ‘not buying a TV’ if it makes her feel like that?”
—from my father’s journal, dated June 20, 1964
I grew up without a TV and still don’t have one today. My parents made the choice, and this has been my normal as far as I could remember. When I read my father’s journal, however, a flood of memories came back. 1964 was the year of the Tokyo Olympics. In anticipation for the big event, every family seemed to have bought their first TV. Soon, a TV sat at the head of the dinner table in every typical Japanese household.
The hardest part for me was the conversation with classmates. They always talked about what they had watched on the TV the night before, and I tried hard to pretend as though I had seen them. If I ever had a chance to watch a show at a friend’s house, I would remember the details so that I could talk about them.
As I grew up, I picked up my parents’ attitude that there was not much to learn from popular culture. I carried this attitude with me to the United States. When, nineteen years after I came to this country, I began working at a Unitarian Universalist congregation as a music leader, I was still relatively unscathed by—or ignorant about—American pop culture.
I had the skills required for the job: a classically-trained pianist. Yet I painfully felt my deficit in the knowledge of the dominant culture of the congregation. Not having a TV was definitely a part of the problem. But generational and cultural gaps due to living across the globe during my formative years were far greater. I felt deeply ashamed of myself and I reverted back to my younger self, from decades ago, to fit in.
Today, I know that I’m not the only one in my community who doesn’t live by the norms of predominantly white, upper middle class, economically secure, highly educated, politically liberal people. The assumption that all people remember the same set of events, or enjoy the same set of things, puts enormous burdens of assimilation onto members of marginalized communities. If we want our congregations to become more multicultural, members of the dominant culture have to do better: learning from others’ experiences; and being willing to listen, follow, and change.
Dear God, help us see the beauty in each person: not only the part we like but also the part we don’t know or are afraid of. Give us strength and courage to face the challenges of unknown so that we can create the beloved community that nobody has ever experienced before. Amen.