Having spent my preadolescence living in Southwest France, I returned to the States with a deep regard that the world was bigger than people wanted to believe. I knew there were different cultures, language, foods, and points of view.
I moved to San Francisco as a young teenager. I was living in two worlds.
I also grew up in San Francisco during the height of the Haight-Ashbury tragi-comedy era.
In one of my worlds, I didn’t fit into the mold of the Japanese-American girl. One of the first things I noticed about my contemporaries in the parochial school my parents insisted I attend, was that the girls covered their mouths when they laughed and that their laughter was really high pitched.
I got into trouble during recess when someone pretended to be a kitty cat and started meowing in a giggly way. I raised my right arm up like an elephant’s trunk, making loud noises, the way I imaged elephants would do. The nun on recess duty, Sr Mary Beatrice, rushed up to me. I was told in no uncertain terms that good Japanese girls did not make loud noises.
Around the same time I learned of 1944’s Executive Order 9066, which rounded up Japanese-Americans on the West Coast, branding them as traitors or potential spies. They spent years in horrid relocation camps which were too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. Many families were torn apart and many people didn’t come back from there.
In my other world, Bill Graham noticed me showing up alone at the Fillmore every Sunday afternoon. He’d take me back stage to meet the Buffalo Springfield, Donovan, Ray Charles,the Byrds, and other musicians. I also met local bands, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Company (Janis), Quicksilver Messenger Service (who were my neighbors) and the Grateful Dead.
Bill and I had some sort of unspoken understanding that I would not ask for autographs and I would not act like a ‘groupie’. The musicians always treated me with respect, letting me hang out with them after shows or between sets. They never passed me the joint or the bottle of booze. I always felt safe and nothing untoward ever happened.
I never took advantage of his kindness. He’d seek me out, touch my elbow and incline his head, ask if I was interested in meeting whoever was playing that afternoon. I don’t know why I was privileged.
Later on, I’d share bottles of Southern Comfort with Janis Joplin when Big Brother and the Holding Company played little clubs on Polk Street.
My version of running away and joining the circus was to embrace the alternative lifestyle that the Haight offered. I couldn’t see myself as the biddable Japanese girl who covered her mouth to giggle. I wanted to laugh out loud, and loudly.
All in all, I know I made the right choice.