“Mr. President, I have a talk with you, as an American-Okinawan Uchinanchu...
"Mr. President, I have a talk with you, as an American-Okinawan Uchinanchu to an African American."
Fija Byron, an Okinawan traditional musician who was born in Okinawa-city located right next to Kadena Air base. He hardly knew his father who was an American serviceman.
In his childhood, he neither spoke English nor knew American culture. Instead he grew up like other Okinawan kids. Yet, he has confronted lots of hardship because of the way he looks. Misunderstanding, prejudice and people’s ignorance have forced him to ask the question, “who am I?”
“I assume President Obama also has a similar experience to me as an African-American.” says Fija Byron, who sees himself in President Obama who is similarly racially diverse.
When Byron was 22 yrs old, he made his first trip to the US to discover his American ancesstors and search for a place of belonging. He learned English and tried to assimilate into US culture. Yet, what he found there was that he was simply treated as a foreigner. After two years, he returned to Okinawa and started learning the Okinawan language Uchinaguchi, playing sanshin (Okinawan musical instruments) and singing folk songs of Okinawa to discover his Uchinanchu identity rooted in the islands where he was born.
“What I want to say to President Obama is that we Okinawan people should decide our own future. The autonomy of Okinawa should be respected.”
Once upon a time, Okinawa was the Ryukyu Kingdom, independent from China and Japan, and its rich culture flourished through trade with other Asian countries. Yet, after 1609, Ryukyu was invaded by Satsuma and governed as a part of Japan. Okinawa has been deprived of its autonomy and people have often been forced to deny their own culture and identity.
After World War II, Okinawa was under the control of US military and still now, voices of Okinawa fail to reach the US and Japanese governments.
“We are keen for genuine autonomy. I appreciate the US as “the United States of America” where self-governance is exercised.”
“Our will has already been shown. We do not need any new military bases in Okinawa. Please respect our decision.”