I AM NOT THAT YURIKO

The first day of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month seems like a good time to announce a new development over here on my side of the computer: we’ve started a publishing company. Yuriko Publishing LLC is officially a thing as of about a month or two ago. Incorporated, trademarked… and we even got QuickBooks.

Now, before the flood of submissions comes in, this is a very specialty press. Aside from Space and Time magazine and some anthologies, the catalog will be focused on amplifying Asian voices.

Amplifying isn’t the same as excluding, however, and other works will be considered—but the point of Yuriko Publishing is all about promoting Asian culture because of one, very important Asian woman. She is the namesake for the company… and I am not that Yuriko.

The original Yuriko is my grandmother on my mother’s side—Yuriko Kayoda. Her family had immigrated to America from Okinawa when she was a child. There, her family were successfully established as yuta. The Eastern equivalent of a medium, they are a very important part of the Okinawan culture. “As an old Okinawan proverb indicates, “half doctor, half Yuta,” in Okinawa a Yuta is as respected as a doctor,” according to gaijinpot.com. They left that respected lifestyle to come to America where they were suddenly second class citizens.

The woman I knew was so tiny I could hold her size three heels on the palm of my hand. She was full of love and she had a wicked sense of humor. When I ate all my teenage uncle’s bubble gum she scolded him for not letting me have the rest. She made mochi in a big glass pan and I was allowed to devour all I wanted. She never got tired of me hanging around and talked to me like I was an adult (unless she was defending me for my crimes). But she never told me much about her past.

Someone’s Grandmother

One day I told her I was going to name my first daughter after her. In my mind, I was honoring her. In her mind, it was the opposite. “No!” It was the most upset I’d ever seen her. “Do not name a baby Yuriko. Let your babies be American so they can live well.” Then she gave me a rare glimpse into her mysterious past.

When she came to Honolulu, she wound up having her name taken away from her. I thought she said she and her family had been put in an internment camp during Pearl Harbor, but I have mixed details on that.

What I am sure of is that she wound up in a Catholic school, and the nuns there changed her name to Mary. “It was because they could not say Yuriko,” was her excuse for them. She acted like she was guilty for the inconvenience.

Up until that point, I had mixed feelings about the name myself. I was already a weird kid at school with few friends. Having a weird name certainly didn’t help things. Every time I got on the school bus (ironically, to go to a Catholic school) someone would yell “Eureka! I found her!” It never got old… to them.

Being tired of your name and having it taken away are two different situations. I was outraged someone could have that kind of power and wield it for such a lazy and selfish reason. My grandmother was upset that I would continue the ‘second class citizen’ status of our family into the future with that name. To appease her, I made the promise. I would never name a child of mine Yuriko out of respect for her wishes.

Someone’s Grandmother

So no new children have received the name in our family, but she didn’t ask me not to use my own name. From then on, I used my whole name. Someone took her name away and made her feel ashamed of her heritage. Even though I had a blended experience of that heritage, I would be proud of my 25%.

And this explains why Yuriko Publishing, named for my grandmother, will have a very select publishing agenda. It’s not meant to exclude but elevate. This is especially important now as violence against Asians has become a new plague of ignorance and bias.

We already have a few books planned: Mark My Words: Read the Submission Guidelines and Other Self Editing Tips by Lee Murray and myself will be available this month. We will give the PDF away in our Horror University Class at StokerCon and it will be available on Amazon in paperback and ebook after. You can find out more about Lee Murray here. Lee and I also have a collaboration in the works called Unquiet Spirits, a nonfiction exploration of Asian monsters.

My daughter and I collaborated on a poetry collection called Krakan Fever during the 2020 lockdown. She had gone to Brazil on a trip just prior to COVID exploding and she sheltered in place. Since then, she fell in love and had a baby… and she’s still in Brazil. The collaboration was crucial for our sanity while the entire world crumbled around us. I couldn’t protect my baby, or her baby in Brazil during a pandemic. Luckily, poetry is great therapy.

stopaapihate.org

Really, Yuriko Publishing is also therapy for me. I have felt angry and helpless as I’ve read all the news about elderly Asian women being attacked… for being Asian. There is never an excuse for hate against anyone, but who beats up a grandmother? In my mind, every one could have been my own.

I see my choices as this: I can return the hate and rage. I can hide my name and Asian heritage to be safe… or I can use my words to showcase works by and about the unique and rich experience that is Asian. And, for a precious, tiny woman who felt like her best accomplishment was making mochi for her nearly white grandchild… I choose the latter.

You can learn more about Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month here. Learn how you can be involved in helping fight the wave of anti-Asian sentiment at Stop AAPI Hate here.

About Angela Yuriko Smith

Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher, and author with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. She co-publishes Space and Time magazine with author husband Ryan Aussie Smith. For more information visit SpaceandTime.net
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