Kenji (Fort Minor)


Mike Shinoda, of Linkin Park and Fort Minor fame. Photo: Internet

I always liked this quote from Mike Shinoda, having seen it on (of all places I admit) Wikipedia. There’s so much truth in it you can relate to as a member of a diasporic community – that you exists in both spatial and non-spatial locations.

Shinoda has a mixed ancestry – Japanese from his paternal side, and German-English on his maternal side. Some sources say that he is a third-generation Japanese American (while others say that his father is a third-generation Japanese American.) Mike Shinoda released the song “Kenji” on his Fort Minor album The Rising Tied, giving us a glimpse of not only his family’s struggle in the United States during WWII but also of some 100,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry who were incarcerated (imprisoned) in over 60 internment camps. There is no doubt that the War in the Pacific (namely the attack on Pearl Habour) and the subsequent Japanese Internment was a “watershed moment” (to borrow a phrase from one of my research advisors) and became etched in the narrative of the Japanese diaspora in the United States of America.

My father came from Japan in 1905
He was 15 when he immigrated from Japan
He worked until he was able to buy respect and build a store

Let me tell you the story in the form of a dream,
I don’t know why I have to tell it but I know what it means,
Close your eyes, just picture the scene,
As I paint it for you, it was World War II,
When this man named Kenji woke up,
Ken was not a soldier,
He was just a man with a family who owned a store in LA,
That day, he crawled out of bed like he always did,
Bacon and eggs with wife and kids,
He lived on the second floor of a little store he ran,
He moved to LA from Japan,
They called him ‘Immigrant,’
In Japanese, he’d say he was called “Issei,”
That meant ‘First Generation In The United States,’
When everybody was afraid of the Germans, afraid of the Japs,
But most of all afraid of a homeland attack,
And that morning when Ken went out on the doormat,
His world went black ’cause,
Right there; front page news,
Three weeks before 1942,
“Pearl Harbour’s Been Bombed And The Japs Are Comin’,”
Pictures of soldiers dyin’ and runnin’,
Ken knew what it would lead to,
Just like he guessed, the President said,
“The evil Japanese in our home country will be locked away,”
They gave Ken, a couple of days,
To get his whole life packed in two bags,
Just two bags, couldn’t even pack his clothes,
Some folks didn’t even have a suitcase, to pack anything in,
So two trash bags is all they gave them,
When the kids asked mom “Where are we goin’?”
Nobody even knew what to say to them,
Ken didn’t wanna lie, he said “The US is lookin’ for spies,
So we have to live in a place called Manzanar,
Where a lot of Japanese people are,”
Stop it don’t look at the gunmen,
You don’t wanna get the soldiers wonderin’,
If you gonna run or not,
‘Cause if you run then you might get shot,
Other than that try not to think about it,
Try not to worry ’bout it; bein’ so crowded,
Someday we’ll get out, someday, someday.

As soon as war broke out
The F.B.I. came and they just come to the house and
“You have to come”
“All the Japanese have to go”
They took Mr. Ni
People didn’t understand
Why did they have to take him?
Because he’s an innocent laborer

So now they’re in a town with soldiers surroundin’ them,
Every day, every night look down at them,
From watch towers up on the wall,
Ken couldn’t really hate them at all;
They were just doin’ their job and,
He wasn’t gonna make any problems,
He had a little garden with vegetables and fruits that,
He gave to the troops in a basket his wife made,
But in the back of his mind, he wanted his families life saved,
Prisoners of war in their own damn country,
What for?
Time passed in the prison town,
He wondered if they would live it down, if and when they were free,
The only way out was joinin’ the army,
And supposedly, some men went out for the army, signed on,
And ended up flyin’ to Japan with a bomb,
That 15 kilotonne blast, put an end to the war pretty fast,
Two cities were blown to bits; the end of the war came quick,
Ken got out, big hopes of a normal life, with his kids and his wife,
But, when they got back to their home,
What they saw made them feel so alone,
These people had trashed every room,
Smashed in the windows and bashed in the doors,
Written on the walls and the floor,
“Japs not welcome anymore.”
And Kenji dropped both of his bags at his sides and just stood outside,
He, looked at his wife without words to say,
She looked back at him wiping tears away,
And, said “Someday we’ll be OK, someday,”
Now the names have been changed, but the story’s true,
My family was locked up back in ’42,
My family was there it was dark and damp,
And they called it an internment camp

When we first got back from camp… uh
It was… pretty… pretty bad

I, I remember my husband said
“Are we gonna stay ’til last?”
Then my husband died before they close the camp.




The practice of endogamous marriages amongst third and fourth generation Pakistanis in Singapore is very rare. Endogamy – the custom of marrying within a particular ethnic group, social class, caste or tribe – and arranged marriages (needless to say) is still fairly common in Pakistan, more so in the rural areas.

In Singapore back in the day, it was not uncommon for established migrants to marry off their daughters to newer migrants from the same ethnic background or caste. Some migrants were adamant that their sons and daughters married someone from within the same ethnic background, or at the very least, the son or daughter of another Pakistani. The declining number of Pakistani families in Singapore from the 1970s (and other factors which we will not discuss for now) meant that it became increasingly difficult for the Pakistani patriarch here to enforce endogamy.

So it came as a pleasant surprise when one of my interviewees (a 3rd generation Pakistani) brought along her fiance (also a 3rd generation Pakistani) for our interview. And today, I had the great opportunity to witness them tie the knot! But of course, I was also observing the ceremony as part of my ‘field work’. It’s not always of course that you get invited to such a wedding.


The Wedding venue (The Landmark, Village Hotel Bugis). Photo: Author

It has to be said though that the unique thing about these two is that they are mixed themselves – Malay on their maternal side and Pakistani on their paternal side.

So how different was the wedding from any other wedding you will witness in Singapore?

For one thing, the wedding set-up was easily recognisable. There was the wedding dais, the decorations, the tables and chairs, the flowers, the red carpet. It was not the first time that I had been invited to a wedding at this particular hotel restaurant, so there was definitely nothing uniquely ‘Pakistani’ about the place or set-up. The marriage was solemnised by a local kadi who delivered the marriage sermon and carried out the wedding formalities entirely in Malay. The guests present were tuned in eagerly and you could tell that whatever their ethnic origins, they understood Malay well. Even the aqad nikah between the father of the bride and the groom was in Malay.

The thing that stood out was of course you could tell that at least half the guests present during the nikah did not look Malay. It was highly likely that they were of Indian or Pakistani origin – exactly and in what proportions I could not tell for sure. The other thing that was different was the choice of traditional attire by the bride and groom, their families as well as their invited guests. The dress code as encouraged on the wedding invitation was ‘traditional’. I saw the men in their Sherwanis and Kurtas while the women in their Lenghas. I also saw a fair share of Pakols and Jinnah caps too amongst the men. And finally, when you have a live band playing and singing to classic Hindi hits from the days of Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar, you get a sense that this is not a Malay wedding.

In essence, I think wedding ceremonies amongst the different Muslim communities in Singapore are quite alike. The wedding of an Indian Muslim family in Singapore is likely to be more similar to the wedding of a Malay family in Singapore than a wedding you would witness on the Indian subcontinent. I actually had the opportunity to be part of a relative’s wedding when I visited Pakistan in 2012. It was held in the village and bride’s family (who I am related to) hosted over 40 or more ‘delegates’ from the groom’s side. What’s interesting is that as part of the custom, the groom’s side has to complete a series of challenges before they can reach the bride. A little similar of course to our local concept of the ‘hadang’ but over there, the groom will have to include his best marksman in his delegation, as it’s likely they’ll be asked to shoot a near impossible target (like a can strung from a tree). Until these challenges are completed, they cannot proceed.

It’s probably a good thing you cannot carry firearms in Singapore. As a groom, it’s one less of an impossible task to complete before you meet your bride. I’m sure the men who have been through it will agree..

A Life Beyond Boundaries (Benedict Anderson)


Photo: Internet

This line from Benedict Anderson’s autobiography – A Life Beyond Boundaries – somehow resonated with me, the literature part of me at least. It gives that much depth of character to individuals who create works of art and expression. I think about the stories I’ve listened to while talking to interviewees – you know, stories too are a form of expression – and reflect upon the complexity of their characters. It’s just something I tend to do. I don’t need to I suppose, but it gives life to these stories they share.

I picked up A Life Beyond Boundaries by chance actually while looking for Imagined Communities by the same writer. A course-mate had recommended me to look at Imagined Communities for my research as it discusses the idea of solidarity without actually being a spatial community (one that actually meets). Anderson posits it as one of the main thrusts behind nationalism. While I wait to get my hands on Imagined Communities, I’m reading A Life Beyond Boundaries, and it is proving to be a wonderful read. It gives profound insight into the life and character of Anderson while at the same time discussing some of his scholarly ideas, without too much scholarly jargon in the mix. It actually seems a pretty fluid and entertaining read.