‘Your Memoir,’ a volunteer, non-profit organization, helps translate memoirs for elderly Issei who want to leave a legacy for posterity
By CAROLINE AOYAGI, Executive Editor
Although most high school seniors may be preoccupied with the latest fashion trends, the newest techno gizmos, or who their prom date will be, Nicole Adams is busy working on her non-profit organization, “Your Memoir.”
Adams, 17, started “Your Memoir” as a freshman, applying her bilingual skills in Japanese and English to help elderly Issei translate their memoirs for their English-speaking children and grandchildren.
“I believe that memoirs are a way to not only leave your legacy behind, but an opportunity to share intimate feelings with your posterity long after one is gone,” said Adams, who currently attends Gunn High School in Palo Alto, Calif. “I have found that many older Japanese generations do not always share their inner feelings with others and I think that memoirs can help fill the gap between the different generations.”
Born in Tokyo, Japan to a Caucasian father and Japanese mother, Adams and her family moved to California when she was two years old. Raised in a family that spoke both English and Japanese, Adams, like most Shin Issei and Shin Nisei kids, regularly attended Saturday morning Japanese language school and even attended school in Japan during some summers.
“I speak Japanese as well as a Japanese student my age, but I do not read nor write as well,” she said. “We always spoke both Japanese and English at home; my mother would talk to me in Japanese and my father in English. Since my father doesn’t speak Japanese, it was a bit more difficult when all three of us were together, like at the dinner table.”
Adam’s idea for “Your Memoir” happened by chance. Her mother was attending a Chinese painting class when her classmate, Miyuki Oka, mentioned that she had been writing her diary and was looking for someone to translate the text. Adams soon volunteered to help translate Oka’s 76-page memoir.
It took three years but Adams was able to complete the translation of Oka’s work, which includes sections on her childhood memories, her family’s immigration to the United States, and the tragic death of one of her sons.
Oka sadly passed away this past spring at the age of 80, just two months after Adams was able to show the completed translation to Oka’s children. At Oka’s funeral, the priest read parts of the translated memoir.
“They are very grateful of my work,” said Adams of Oka’s children. “The priest at her funeral based his speech solely on her memoir, and a quote from her writings was printed on her funeral programs.”
Adams has gone on to translate two more works through “Your Memoir” and is hoping to outreach to other Issei who may be looking to leave a legacy for their descendants.
“I think it is important for these Japanese immigrants to share their life’s story with their posterity and beyond,” she said. “One can tell stories and convey messages orally, but it is not the same as leaving thoughts in writing. Through writing, one can clarify one’s feelings in depth and the readers can refer to it many times throughout their lives.”
So far Adams is the sole translator for “Your Memoir” although she admits to getting her mother’s help from time to time when she comes across a particularly difficult word or phrase.
“I did most of the translation, but often I had difficulties reading the Japanese characters,” she said. “Sometimes it is easy to read but not always as easy to grasp the meaning unless some of the Japanese traditions and cultures are explained to me by my mother.”
She added, “My parents think [‘Your Memoir’] is a wonderful idea. It is not only community service but it helps me to understand my own cultural background.”
Although “Your Memoir” keeps Adams busy, she is also a talented tennis player who is ranked in the top ten in Northern California and regularly competes in tournaments. It’s during break periods at these tournaments that she finds time to work on her translations.
“My passion is tennis, but aside from that,” she said, “I also love to play piano for relaxation, snowboard, read fiction such as J.D. Salinger and `Jane Eyre,’ and work out.”
Soon Adams will graduate from high school and she already has her eye on several universities both in California and on the East Coast. Although her already hectic schedule is sure to intensify, she is committed to continuing “Your Memoir.”
“I would definitely like to continue with ‘Your Memoir’ when I go to university,” she said, “so it is important that the institution I choose has an environment which encourages and nurtures volunteer efforts.”
Added Adams, “I think it is important for my Japanese cultural background to be preserved and although I am half-white and live in America, I value my Japanese roots and ancestry.”