Turning Complexes into Power for Positive Living
As if foreshadowing a story, various past frustrating experiences and negative emotions can plant seeds that will blossom later in life. Originally from China, Ms. Cho Kaku has turned her mixed feelings about her parents and her complex about her origins into the power to live a positive life. We asked her about her current efforts and her awareness of the issues she faces because of her with immigration background.
A childhood of wanting to hide my origins
Ms. Cho, a native of China living in Osaka Prefecture, is currently a mother of two children. She is currently living a fulfilling life, giving lectures as a foreign representative at local international exchange meetings and planning parent-child salons for people with immigration background.
She explains the purpose of holding the event, “At the Parent-Child Salon, I want parents and children with immigration background who are isolated from their surroundings to feel refreshed by interacting and talking about their problems while having fun. “
Her childhood experiences have influenced her to continue working with people with immigration background, just like herself.
Born in Harbin, Ms. Cho came to Joetsu City, Niigata Prefecture, with her parents when she was seven years old. In 1997, foreigners were so rare in the region that it was even reported in a local newspaper. Since she was the most fluent in Japanese among her family members, her parents often asked her for help.
“When I first came to Japan, I started translating school announcements for my parents. I remember the first field trip I went on, I didn’t know what to bring, like a backpack instead of a school bag, or that I needed a hand towel. But one of my classmates from the neighborhood came over to my house with his father and helped me out by providing me with a backpack, a leisure sheet, and a towel to use as a hand towel. “
In addition to the problem with her Japanese language skills, her parents, who work as temporary workers at a factory, were too busy to deal with the school. As a result, they almost threw everything at her, and she was able to do everything on her own. But there is a limit to what an elementary school student can do. She was often warned about how many things she forgot.
“I did what my parents were supposed to do, and it was hard for me to take on all the responsibilities. By the time I was in my fourth year, I felt embarrassed to be different from the people around me and wanted to hide the fact that I was from China. It was also the time when the media was strongly bashing China, and I started to feel alienated somehow. I didn’t like China being mentioned in history class, and I had a coughing fit from the stress. I even asked my parents not to talk to me in Chinese outside the house. “
Her parents also seemed to feel alienated from society because of their inability to speak Japanese. Perhaps because of this stress, her parents would sometimes get into a tiff the day before school exams, and her mother would complain about it. Her mother would sometimes complain about this, and her feelings toward her parents became stronger: “I wish they would think more about me. “
She felt emotionally burdened by her position in her family, and felt guilty about being from China. With these mixed emotions, she said that she already wanted to leave her parents when she was in middle school.
Affirmation of myself as I am through volunteering
On the other hand, her parents were enthusiastic about her education. Ms. Cho had dreams of becoming a diplomat in the future, and wanted to study international politics at a university in Tokyo. At that time, her parents were in a difficult financial situation due to a temporary job cut, but they encouraged her to go on to higher education.
“Actually, when I applied for high school, I was accepted to a private boarding school away from Joetsu City, but my parents quit their jobs before I could enter, so I gave up. I think my parents felt guilty about that, so they wanted me to go to university.”
She said that she wanted to leave her parents, but was grateful to them for their hard work. Although she was not accepted into the department of international politics, which she had hoped to study, she was successfully accepted to study law at a university in Tokyo.
It was during this period that her ideas about the future and life began to change dramatically. What had the greatest impact on her was her volunteer work at Multicultural Center Tokyo that supports children with immigration background. There, she consulted with children of Chinese origin and taught them how to study, which changed her consciousness.
“I hadn’t had a chance to speak Chinese since I moved away from my parents, and to be honest, I’ve always wanted to speak it. When I joined the volunteer program, I realized that my Chinese could help others. Some of the children said they wanted to be like me, and as I encouraged them, I felt like I had found a place for myself.”
The children she was taking care of were mainly those who came to Japan after junior high school, and their circumstances were different from hers, who had grown up in Japan since childhood. However, as she was a university student and they were not so far apart in age, she enjoyed interacting with them as if they were her friends.
Eventually, the negative feelings she once had about being from China disappeared and took a positive turn. She said that she felt a sense of usefulness, not “as a Chinese” but “as who I am. “
“No matter how much I try to deny it, I can’t remove the part of me that is from China. I think it was the first time that people accepted me for who I am.”
Incidentally, she also met her current spouse through her volunteer work at the Multicultural Center Tokyo. For Ms. Cho, this period was a turning point in her life in every sense of the word.
Another memorable experience during my college years was volunteering at the Multilingual Support Center, which I joined right after the Great East Japan Earthquake. I was involved in the work of sending out translated articles via SNS to foreigners who could not immediately understand the news in Japanese, and it kept me very busy. After the disaster, as if motivated by something, she went to Shiga Prefecture where the headquarters was located and stayed there for almost a month while other volunteers disappeared within a few days.
“I had nothing to do since my part-time job was also closed due to the university’s cancellation of classes. When I felt like I had to do something because it was an emergency, I found a call for volunteers, so I thought I had to go. I didn’t think about where I would live or how much money I would have to spend, I just had a sense of mission. However, perhaps it was because I had to shop for food at a bakery near the headquarters or bring in food, but I got sick and contracted sudden deafness. I also got homesick, which I didn’t have when I came to Tokyo.” It seems to have been a very harsh environment.
Despite this, she was able to keep going because she had fun things to do, such as going to Kyoto with her fellow volunteers to see cherry blossoms and staying at their homes to eat their home-cooked meals.
Helping Isolated Parents Helps Children, Too
She started to think seriously about her future when she was in her third year of university, when the job hunting started. Her dream of becoming a diplomat had already disappeared, but she knew that she wanted to find a job that would allow her to utilize her Chinese and English skills.
“After entering university, I was free to do many things, so I didn’t think much about my future. However, I did take the Chinese Language Proficiency Test (Level 1) and the Legal Proficiency Test for Business Practice while I was still in university. I applied to several companies, including a trading company, and was finally hired by a manufacturer in Chiba as a sales representative, including overseas market development. “
Her wish to make use of her language skills was soon fulfilled. At the international exhibition she was assigned to, she used both Chinese and English to explain products to foreign visitors, and her reputation at work grew. She also had opportunities to go on business trips to Guangzhou and Shanghai in China, which kept her busy but fulfilled. There were times when she was so tired from working overtime that she overslept and almost missed her flight, but she was able to turn the joy of overseas business trips into energy and do her best.
After that, I left the company when I got married, and now I am engaged in activities to support people with immigration background in Osaka, as mentioned at the beginning of this article. She decided to support fathers and mothers with immigration background because she has seen her own parents suffer in the past.
“When I was a child, I was isolated because my mother had a language problem and did not open up well to others. She didn’t have any other mothers to confide in, and her parents had a bad marriage, so it was hard for her to take her feelings out on me and be dependent on me. So I wanted to do something about the same kind of problem. Helping people like my mother in the past also means helping children like myself. I think if parents can connect with each other, their frustrations will be less likely to be directed at their children.”
Recently, due to the new coronavirus, it has become increasingly difficult to connect with others. It is difficult for parents with immigration background to maintain their mental stability because of their limited Japanese language skills and the fact that it is difficult to make friends with other mothers because of their foreign appearance. The idea behind the parent-child salon was to break through such a situation.
The event was planned with the help of her fellow volunteers from her days at the Multilingual Support Center for the Great East Japan Earthquake. If Ms. Cho had grown up with the same negative feelings about her parent-child relationship and her own origins as she did in her childhood, she would not have been able to meet these people.
The relationship with her parents, which she used to suffer from, and the sense of alienation caused by her immigration background were the reasons why she was able to realize her own value, become aware of the issues, and meet her fellow. Her experience is full of hints for young people who are struggling with similar situations to make the most of their lives.
Interviewing and writing: Hiroshi Yoshida