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Respecting children on their day

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

My neighbor Gary was playing with his infant son, and as I was walked past he waved and yelled out, “Hey, Uncle Steve!” I’m not his uncle, so it made me smile. He’s from China and “Uncle Steve” is the way he refers to people through the eyes of his son, for whom I am an elder. It’s the same in Japan, where a woman with children would call her husband, “Otousan (father),” because that’s who he is to the child.

Today is Children’s Day in Japan and I remember how delighted we were to celebrate our day while other American kids didn’t have one. We felt special, and though we couldn’t name it, we felt respected. This feeling was a central aspect of my childhood—my parents tried to see the world through my eyes and give me what was needed, which was different from what I wanted.

There was an expression that captured this sense of parental sacrifice—kodomo no tame ni—"for the sake of the children.” In healthy families, empathy fills the lives of children, creating a safe and secure foundation for development. Children then feel the need to express gratitude for their parent’s sacrifice by doing what makes the parents happy.

This sense of oneness is represented by the word, ittaikan, 一体感, the characters expressing the feeling of being one body. While it can be a wonderful source of comfort it can also be the focus of cultural dissonance and psychological conflict in Asian American families. This is part of our heritage that we remember on Children’s Day.

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