Monday, June 29, 2015
How I Spent My Birthday with The Most Beautiful Woman in Japan!
The plan was to spend Saturday 6/27 (my birthday) lecturing at Waseda University (a Japanese Ivy League school).
The students were assigned stories I'd written in my books and for the Japan Times about Haafu (half-Japanese) folk in Japan.I was wondering how could I make the subject more compelling when an idea struck me! As much as I think I can identify with the feeling many Haafu have expressed of being "otherized," wouldn't it be more compelling if it came from the lips of a person who actually lived their specific experience?
The first person that came to mind was my new friend, who just happens to be the most fabulous and most famous haafu in Japan (and now the world, thanks to the NY Times, WSJ, Forbes, USA Today, CNN, BBC, etc...) the reigning Miss Universe Japan: Ariana Miyamoto!
But, would she have the time? Would she be interested?I gave it a shot and dropped her a line. And luckily, it turned out she just happened to be available (remarkable considering her ridiculously busy schedule). So I told her my plan...she'd come and join in for the last third of the lesson and surprise the students!And don't you know she agreed! What an extraordinary woman!
I also asked another new friend of mine, the brilliant writer and director Darryl Wharton-Rigby (of "Homicide: Life on the Street" fame) to come shoot this potentially momentous occasion, and he too managed to make time for this despite juggling several film projects.
The plan was coming together!
So, how did it go?Well one Waseda student, Haruna-san, described it as such: "Can't believe what happened yesterday! The most memorable lecture I've ever had by Baye McNeil, and #MissUniverseJapan Ariana Miyamoto!" I'm still waiting to hear from the other students, but by all accounts, the students not only learned a useful thing or two about the haafu experience but had a wonderful time doing so. (Once I hear more, get all the feedback back, I'll let y'all know).
Anyway, I wanted to take a moment to share this with you guys (I'm very thrilled about the results as you might imagine...so many things could've gone wrong) and to thank Ariana and Darryl for being so generous with their time and thoughts and energy!
Ariana, at one point, addressing a question I'd given to the class, about whether there was a difference between how half-white, half-black and half-Asian people are viewed and treated, responded with a little background on how it has affected her modeling career and the kind of work she gets sent her way as opposed to the kind of opportunities half-white haafus are given. Really enlightening stuff!
The students broke into groups and discussed that very question and their thoughts on it, while varying, were definitely reflective of having given something thought that they never had before!
Darryl, a father of three biracial children, even took a pause from his shooting to share with the students his own children's challenges and his own as a father raising kids to be strong and secure with their identities in an environment that's not always conducive to doing so.It really was an off-the-charts remarkable day!
And a big shout out to Kozo Yanagawa, the Waseda professor who arranges such lessons for his students...it's gentleman like him who let me know that Japan is definitely replete with wonderful people concerned with issues that impact non-Japanese and biracial folk living in this country, and willing to make efforts to address them!
Love it when a plan comes together!
PS: Not sure if we'll be able to make the film public yet, but if so I'll let you guys know!