Ottawa·The things I wish I said

We were born in Canada, but the racism we lived through is generational

Ryan Satoshi Staples, Melisa Miharu Kamibayashi-Staples and their family have been in Canada for over a century. They open up about racism and their cultural identities as Japanese-Canadians.

Watch a Japanese-Canadian mom and son open up about language, culture and their painful history

Growing up, Melisa Miharu Kamibayashi-Staples was told to hide the fact that she's Japanese

1 year ago
Duration 11:08
She tells her 11-year-old son Ryan what happened to their family and how it's led to a disconnect with their culture, during a frank conversation for our series, "Things I Wish I Said." 上記のビデオで、この日系カナダ人親子の会話の全部をご覧ください。

The Things I Wish I Said is a series that captures intimate conversations among three Ottawa families of Asian descent, as parents and children open up about racism and their identities.

Watch the Japanese-Canadian family's full conversation in the video above. Read a part of their conversation below, which has been condensed and edited for style and clarity.

Click here to meet others in our series, including the mother and son who say they're not ashamed to be Chinese-Canadian. and the father and daughter who have no regrets about coming to Canada even if people sometimes made fun of their culture and accents.

My name is Melisa Miharu Kamibayashi-Staples and growing up, I felt sometimes ashamed to tell people I had Japanese heritage. It came from seeing negative images of Asians in the media and our history as Japanese-Canadians being persecuted. 

So I was brought up being told to hide the fact I was Japanese.

My family has been in Canada for over a century, settling in Vancouver in the early 1900s. My parents' families were both dispossessed and had all of their properties and possessions taken away and sold off by the government, and were incarcerated in internment camps.

Melisa Miharu Kamibayashi-Staples's dad is seen in his 20s likely in Toronto or Hamilton following the war. Kamibayashi-Staples says this photo was likely taken at a work party. (Submitted by Melisa Miharu Kamibayashi-Staples)

Ryan, you were just saying to me today you wish that I would speak to you in Japanese when you were a baby, but I don't know Japanese enough to be able to do that. Our history caused us to lose our culture, our language.

I know that for many Japanese-Canadians who are now third, fourth, fifth generation, they really are disconnected.

Some of the experiences that I had growing up and being treated like a lesser being — I really hope that never happens to you. 

But I don't worry because what I see in you is somebody who's really confident and I'm trying to instill in you to feel good about yourself and about all parts of your identity.

I really hope that you don't have to encounter too many people that see you only in a certain light, and don't see all that is so amazing about you. 

Melisa Miharu Kamibayashi-Staples poses with her son Ryan Satoshi Staples. (Fangliang Xu)

My name is Ryan Satoshi Staples and as an 11-year-old, I don't think I've experienced racism myself that much — but it's hard to tell because sometimes it could just be a question.

"Where are you from? Can you speak Japanese? Can you tell me what this means? Can you do karate?" It might not be racist outwardly, but it could also be racist. 

Mom, you're Japanese and dad is English and Acadian. In the past, I was like, I'm not Japanese, I'm Canadian because I was born in Canada. 

But now, I kind of want to be Japanese because there's so much cool stuff from there. 

A younger Ryan Satoshi Staples, left, is seen with his dad. Ryan's grandparents are Acadian and English. (Submitted by Melisa Miharu Kamibayashi-Staples)

There was a book that I read and it talked about, like how Japanese-Canadians and my grandparents went into internment camps and stuff.

So maybe coming to Canada then wasn't a great idea, but I don't know really where else we would have gone.

Mom, I feel really fortunate to be your son.