A Princess Dream Come True

Our court from 1991. I am second from left on the bottom row. This was taken about a month before our Nisei Week Pageant and Queen selection.

Over two decades ago, my first seemingly dreamy and unattainable goal was to be involved in a yearly Japanese-American festival in Los Angeles known as Nisei Week, which was established back in 1934.  Aside from a period of seven years between 1942 and 1948, during which World War II raged and carried a solid and jarring impact on the Japanese-American community, the Nisei Week festival has continued to run throughout the decades.

As a child, I remember seeing the Nisei Week Queen and court each year, and it became a dream of mine to be selected as a court member when I got older. However, I got sidetracked by life and didn’t bother to enter the  competition for the local queen selection until the year I turned 25.  I was stunned when I was chosen as the Queen of my community center (the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Community Center, or SFVJACC) for that year.

Once I was selected, I spent the next three months in regular meetings with the queens from the other eight participating communities, meetings in which we would practice all the routines for the beauty pageant which would mark the beginning of that year’s Nisei Week. We competed in that pageant for over 1,000 audience members in a 3 hour event, and though I didn’t win the Nisei Week Queen title, I was happy with being a Nisei Week Princess. We rode on floats, visited businesses, and fostered good will throughout the Japanese-American community.

August 16, 2015: Nisei Week Queen and Court on the float of Nisei Week Japanese Festival Parade at Little Tokyo in Downtown Los Angeles.

When we were on stage, on parade floats, and on visitations, we would wear our sashes, a definite marker which identified us all as queen and court.  On some occasions, we would wear our crowns, and were either clad in matching dresses, or in kimono.

Queen?  Princess?  I guess so, at least in pageant terms!

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White Rice

white rice
Anyone who grew up in a household which was managed on a shoestring budget can relate to the concept of adding an inexpensive, bulky carbohydrate to meals to increase their volume. My entire childhood was punctuated by the ubiquitous presence of glutinous Japanese sticky rice. In fact, the only times I did not consume white rice with dinner were when my mom decided to heat up Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese, Stouffer’s Lasagna, or pot pies (Swanson and Banquet were the two brands she bought…she ended up purhcasing whatever was on sale). When we had the mac and cheese or the lasagna, we would split the dinner, and she would serve frozen veggies on the side.

All of our other meals featured a mound of white rice which occupied the majority of the plate’s surface. If we had broiled hot dogs, there was rice. Scrambled eggs and rice. Broiled chicken and rice. Vienna sausage and rice. Pan fried SPAM and rice. The occasional steak or lamb chop treat and rice. Sukiyaki (one of only two dishes my mother knew how to cook) and rice. Meatloaf (the other dish my mom could make from scratch) and rice. I even had Campbell’s soup with rice, and was so accustomed to eating soup with rice, that I was always thrown off when I would go to a classmate’s house and encounter soup being served as a precursor to the main course, not the actual main course, and sans rice.

Despite the fact that I was raised in a very low income household, and ate processed foods almost constantly, I was a very happy child and never felt that I was being deprived. I was more astonished and disgusted by the ultra wealthy children I went to school with, because I thought they lived in a false world, one which was based almost exclusively on possessions and financial wealth. A number of my classmates were pretentious, unpleasant brats who were so brainwashed with a sense of entitlement that they probably got kicked around by life when they had to navigate through it on their own.

White rice was such an important part of my life that once I moved out of my mom’s as an adult, I quickly got a rice cooker. I was so unhappy with the small Hitachi cooker I got, that I almost ran cartwheels when someone gifted me with an 8-cup National cooker (that cooker is still with me, almost 30 years later). For those of you who are Japanese, you can probably relate to that need to have a National, Tiger, or Zojirushi cooker! The nicest Zojirushi rice cookers are quite fancy now, as you can see here:

zojirushi fancy

And yes, I still covet a Zojirushi rice cooker!

Now that I am very carb conscious, I avoid white rice on most days, but there are carb spike days in which I allow myself to indulge in jasmine white rice. Why? Because white rice is one of my main comfort foods. It ties me to my Japanese heritage, and it reminds me of my humble upbringing.