Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Magnificent, Multi-talented, Mother Terumi Todd

Greetings to all my Hip Hapa Homeez! Mahalo nui loa for continuing to grow our Hip Hapa Homeez Facebook Group and Watermelon Sushi Facebook Fan Page. If you haven't joined us yet, please do. And, check out our film, Watermelon Sushi, and Hapa*Teez t-shirts, too!

Our guest this week is Terumi Todd whom I first became aware of while watching Yohei Suzuki's documentary, Our Pride. A film about two Atlanta families with Japanese mothers and black fathers, it focuses mostly on their adult biracial children. But whenever Terumi appears onscreen, her magnetism easily captivates the audience. Larger than life, Terumi is optimistic, funny and charismatic. Imagine, if you will, a multi-talented immigrant artist who speaks English with a Southern Ebonics Japanese flavor. A mix of many cultures, Terumi is that fascinating blend of East meeting West.

Q: What's a nice Japanese girl like you doing being an artist in America?

A: After graduating from Kitasato University in Tokyo with a B.S. in medical technology, I came to America to go to school. But in between I got married, had a kid, and did other stuff. I wanted to be an architect, but my parents wanted me to be a medical technologist. I always wanted to come to America. It was always in the back of my plans some kind of way to get here. I wanted to stay for a little while, but I got married and that changed the whole plan.

In Japan, in high school and in middle school, I joined art clubs, dance clubs, a Hawai'ian name it. I always had a background in art.

Q: You have so many creative interests--visual art, photography, acting, singing, dancing, sewing and quilting, playing guitar and ukulele--is there any one pursuit you prefer over the other?

A: Today, it may be art. Tomorrow, it may be singing. But usually, everything is a part of my life. I paint with music on. I used to do Japanese dance in church. I can't really take one from the other.

Q: Before you came to this country, were you aware of how black people were treated here--especially in the South?

A: After graduating from college in Japan, I worked for one year in a clinic research lab run by the American Army. There, I had contact with both black and white Americans in a military setting. I spoke some English and got to know some Americans before deciding to come to America.

The first place I went to was San Francisco. I came to Atlanta in 1975. That was just a couple of years after they still had "for white" and "for colored" signs. Our family moved to a community outside of Atlanta where we were maybe one or two of the first minorities to move into that area. Many white people (consequently) left. That's when I noticed that something was not quite right. But I married a man who was a doctor so he was given a different status (from other blacks). Because of his position, (white people) treated me differently.

Q: How did being a part of Yohei's documentary change your life?

A: We've shown twice in the Atlanta area. Both times it was a packed house. One screening was at the art center where I worked. A lot of people wanted to purchase the DVD. The second time, we showed it at a black museum--APEX, the African American Panoramic Experience museum. We had a very good response.

Sometimes people see me and remember me from the film. They ask if it's going to be shown again. We've met a few mixed-race young ladies that stuck around and talked to us. My son is in their age group. Maybe we can expand the story to include the (biracial) female side (in a future documentary).

Q: What does your Japanese family think about how your life in America turned out?

A: My immediate family includes three sons who live here in Georgia and three stepchildren in Atlanta. Two girls live in California. I don't have any brothers or sisters, and my parents passed away 11 years ago. I'm very fortunate that so many women I befriend adopt me into their family so I have an extended family. Many of them are African Americans. I call them my sisters. All of them support me. All of them are glad to see me active in different things. Out of different cultures, I embrace American culture--especially African American culture.

Q: What one thing do you miss the most about Japan?

A: I miss a lot--like real Japanese food. I was laughing because of the young lady you featured a few weeks ago, the African American sushi chef. We have a lot of Japanese restaurants here run by Koreans with Mexican chefs trying to make sushi. It's not sushi. There are only a few Japanese chefs here compared to San Francisco or Los Angeles.

I've only been back home to Japan once. After I got divorced, I found my cousin on my father's side. I've lived in Atlanta for 35 years--longer than I ever lived in Japan.

Q: Career-wise, where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

A: I do it all, but I hope to be able to concentrate on visual art. There's nothing stopping me. Ten years from now I'll be 74. When I hit 50, people asked, 'Aren't you going to retire now?' There's no such thing as retired for visual art people. When I stop is when I die.

Arrigato gozaimasu, Terumi-san!

In the link, below, you can see Terumi with a student she taught at summer camp last year.

By clicking her name in the next link, you can view Terumi's artwork.

And, finally, some of her artwork is featured in this current show.

In the photo at the top of the page, Terumi poses with her three sons. In the one below, she performs in the play Carmen J.

As always, it's been a pleasure introducing you to a Hip Hapa Homee who advocates a cross-cultural perspective. Please stay tuned to meet more who will share their stories of life in a Watermelon Sushi World and beyond. Hey, any kimchee and mashed potatoes out there? How about some chow mein on white bread? Hollah!

Your Hip Hapa,


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