I was born on May 15, 1948 in East Los Angeles at the Japanese Hospital in Boyle Heights, California. Back then, the Japanese American and Japanese population suffered much discrimination. We had to build our own hospitals in an effort for a better medical care and to simply be admitted into a hospital. After the war it was difficult for many of us to find jobs and housing. We were banned from buying a house. Even though my father fought for America in the most decorated regiment in the history of the United States army—the 442nd regimental combat team—we could not buy a house. So, the first place we lived was the Aliso Village housing projects. It is known as a one of the poorest slums in Los Angeles. But I remember it as a fun place for a child. I had many ethnically diverse friends and we all played together. I ran around in my red and white cowboy outfit–a red skirt with white fringe. Although we were monetarily very poor, I never knew it–I was having too much fun.
What is the greatest thing about the place you call home?
I love L.A. It’s crowded, filled with a homeless population of over 60,000 but I still love it here. With a diverse population you can explore Little India, Little Saigon, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Alpine Village, Muslim and Arab communities, Pacific Islanders. The list is too long to list. Because of this, Angelinos are exposed to an abundance of culture, cuisines and languages. Living in L.A. is an education, a museum in itself with countless places to explore and learn. I love spicy food, and boy, do we have it!
It is the fitness capital of the country. I teach dance and yoga, so there are so many classes to teach and attend everywhere. Then, when I want to unwind and be still, I can meditate in my home or go to the International Buddhist Meditation center where my friend Kusala who became a monk teaches meditation. Down a couple of blocks is the Theravada Sri Lankan Buddhist temple where I attended the Los Angeles College of Buddhist studies. And UCLA dance department is where I received my Masters in Dance. I have many fond youthful memories of UCLA. One more important thing: I am a member of the Beyond Baroque Green Poets. Beyond Baroque is the oldest poetry center in USA. All the famous Beat poets flew through Beyond Baroque. In short, L.A. is a jewelry chest.
What turns you on creatively?
Everything turns me on. I have a lot of child in my soul. It’s good and bad. I cry a lot for the sufferings of the world but also I find joy and creativity anywhere in life. Looking out the window, eavesdropping on conversations, cooking and eating healthy meals, walking the dogs with my husband, interacting with my Yoga and Zumba students, playing with my grandchildren and five nephews and nieces, watching live performances in dance, theater, and music–there are so many wonderful things in L.A. Many of our friends are artists, and their ideas and creative efforts turn me on immensely. My husband and I don’t own a T.V. because there is so much that fills our life. Meditation turns me on creatively. Many times I must stop myself from writing a poem when I meditate. I can’t really single creativity out. It comes in one big package that keeps filling up with more.
What is your favorite word, and can you use it in a poetic sentence?
My favorite word is fuck, fuck you or fuck it. I say it under my breath and sometimes out loud. It’s short and quick and gets to the point. Somehow it makes me feel strong and more masculine. I am a very petite and sweet-looking woman, and the contrast is effective.
My second most favorite word is Oum. We say this word at the temple after chanting. It resonates in my mouth and travels down my body.
I apologize for fuck being my favorite word, but I must be honest, and I realize I repeat this word more than I do oum padme padme oum.
What is your pet peeve?
What hurts me the most is witnessing animal and child abuse. They are innocent victims of human beings. I can’t watch documentaries or films with animals or children being killed or maimed. Call me the ostrich burying their head, but I can’t take it. We found our two dogs at the pound. I cried when I saw all the dogs that wanted a home, and I could only take one home.
What defines Genie Nakano?
I do not define myself. Because that would restrict my growth. I don’t like to call myself a writer. I often say…I love to write. I love to dance, and I have taught and performed dance for most of my life. At 72, with two hip replacements, I’m still dancing. In Theravada Buddhism, “Annata” means no self and “Annica” means nothing is permanent. Hence, everything changes and nothing is definitive. I value the Buddhist principals of loving kindness and compassion and try to live life accordingly. Writing is a way for me to explore, learn and express my feelings and interactions in my life journey. It is my therapy, passion and joy.
Writing tanka is my passion, joy, therapy and confession. My tanka appear in the Rafu Shimpo, a Japanese American International Journal and many Tanka Journals. Currently I teach Yoga and Zumba at the Japanese Cultural Center in Gardena and have a website: GenieNakano.