Densho Digital Repository
Seattle JACL Oral History Collection
Title: Sharon Sobie Seymour Interview
Narrator: Sharon Sobie Seymour
Interviewers: Kristen M. Eng, Bill Tashima
Date: December 15, 2020
Densho ID: ddr-sjacl-2-27-8

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KE: Yeah. Okay, so next question. What was it like to be the first hapa president? Did you face any challenges?

SS: Oh, okay, can I write this? So, I think it's going back to, I think it goes back to that same thing of change. The word "hapa issues" came out a couple years prior. "hapa issues," and we had started doing panels. I sat on a panel a couple times. And I know that -- and I'm not trying to be flippant at all -- that there were people who were sincerely concerned about their grandchildren. "How are they going to live in this world as a person who's biracial?" which blew me away that it was an issue. I mean, I know I have my own issues, but it was really something that kind of opened my eyes a little bit more. I think... I made a comment -- I don't know if you remember this, Bill, I probably shouldn't have made this comment. I tend to be a smart aleck. And I tried really hard to hide some of that while I was president, but I'm sure it snuck out. I did say that... we were talking about intergenerational things. And I was trying to talk about multiethnic people and all this sort of stuff. And one time I said, "In twenty years, this community and this board will look more like me than like you." And I thought it would get a laugh. It got no laugh. I was kind of, I was being a little flippant. I was just like... and it sunk, man. That sucker just hit and sunk. And, thought, "Okay, all righty. It's not funny to anybody." And so...

BT: Oh, I thought you meant the color of our hair. Shoot.

SS: [Laughs] So I just thought... and the thing is, it does. So, I kind of was right. I think the board looks more like me than anything else, as far as just all the different mixtures and all of that. It was, there were challenges. There were absolutely challenges. I think the hardest thing is validity of where you belong. It's kind of like... so when I'm in mainstream America, surrounded by mostly Caucasian, I am considered half Japanese. When I'm in the Japanese community, I'm considered half white. And so, it always made me feel like no one wanted to own me. "Why can't I be in the Japanese community? Half Japanese, dang it." Because that's the thing that makes you different, so that's what people notice. But you always feel like you're not enough, or I did. I don't want to say always because everyone's not like me. I always felt when I was in -- and it's still like that -- in mainstream I represent the Asian community. It's like, "Wow, that's amazing." And then when I'm in the Japanese communities, a lot of people don't even know I'm Japanese. They think I'm some nice Italian girl helping them out. And so I don't see myself that way when I'm doing stuff, but every once in a while, it kind of comes and hits me. And I think that year it hit me. That I really didn't know, I really wasn't kind of Japanese enough to know. And so that was challenging.

I also was raised a very different way. I wasn't raised in the Asian community. My dad was a major influence, he influenced me a lot. His personality shot straight from the hip, master sergeant, told you what was what, why, and you never had to guess what he thought. He was always honest. Extremely loyal, and protective, but he shot straight from the hip, and I'm a little bit his... I'm my father's daughter. And I had to learn that that is not, I thought I was being respectful so many times by being honest, by doing what was expected of me, not what I necessarily wanted to do. And I tried to lead in a way that was more collective as much as I could. Just because I didn't like something or I didn't, wasn't, if the board wanted to do it and everyone was on, then that's what we needed to do. And I don't know, and it was difficult. It was difficult. I think.. how do I say this? I'm trying not to get out the pettiness. I tended to... if I got picked on, I got probably picked on more by other female board members more than the male. We didn't always have a lot of male board members, but some of the older women didn't like how I either said things or whatever. So, it was difficult. It was difficult. And I think being female and hapa didn't help. I think if I would have been a male -- and I don't know this would be true -- I don't know -- I'm just guessing. I know that when Don Wakamatsu, was that his name? Mariners coach?

BT: Yeah, right.

SS: Came into town and everyone, "Oh, the first Japanese coach!" And we love him, and we threw things for him. And I went to those and all of that. He was a hapa. He was a hapa. I mean, you know. And so I don't know, I don't know that to be true. I think that in my head, but that doesn't mean it's true. But I think being female and being hapa did not necessarily help, and also the issues that we had to do. I brought... my year was the year that all the uck and gunk, and pain was brought up to the surface. And that was my year, and that's what I had to deal with. And then also, even though my auntie was a JACLer since, way back, and Seattle JACL for I don't know, fifteen, twenty years. She's the reason... that's how I got on the board. My family had been in the Seattle area and been a part of the community for a long time. People just didn't know people were my family because I had a Caucasian last name. I think people didn't know where I came from, really. And that didn't help, even though I might say, I think it happened that way. And I don't think it's the same any more, and I think any time you put something new, new is always, it's just weird. It's just weird.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2020 Seattle Chapter JACL. All Rights Reserved.