My Year of Meats: Hybridization, Race Issues Bhamini Nadarajan 12/11/2001

Ruth Ozeki’s captivating debut novel, My Year Of Meats “dips into a wide variety of serious issues: the role of women in America and Japan, stereotypes, racism, relationships, artistic freedom, and of course, the meat industry.” With its many plots and sub-plots, the major ones however, center around Jane Takagi-Little – the JapaneseAmerican documentary filmmaker of the “My American Wife” episodes, sponsored by the BEEF-EX to promote meat consumption of the people in Japan – and Akiko Ueno, the Japanese wife. The families that we are introduced to through Jane’s documentary work are each unique as much as they are varied – from Black to White and from Mexican to Asian. There is a subtle commonality that unites these apparently different characters, which to Jane is all about their “authenticity” and “wholesomeness”. An offensive John Ueno, associated with the advertising agency sponsored by the BEEF-EX, is no less real but is one who has disconnected himself from his own authenticity and so does not perceive it in others like Jane or Akiko. We may recognize that for Ueno to move beyond his racist and other conflicting attitudes, his willingness is required, to identify and take responsibility for his own transformation. Just as in Ueno, if discriminatory perspectives is held among individuals in a society in spite of having politically achieved equal human rights, it becomes the responsibility of the individuals to move beyond the limiting views, embrace our oneness as humans and evolve into wholesome individuals, much like Jane and Akiko – as Akiko empowers herself as the novel progresses.

Akiko is the Japanese wife who frees her self from the oppression in her life through connecting to and drawing the vitality from most of the families appearing in the “My American wife” episodes, even though their culture, ethnicity, nationality and religion seemingly vary from that of Akiko’s. From the Beaudroux family, she comes to know of the choice of adopting, during the period she faces infertility. From Christina Buskowsky and the townspeople who visit her – who for Christina’s healing, continued to bring “her the Thing in Life That They Loved Best”” – Akiko realizes that she “was in a coma after all”, not actually living her life and not knowing what she loved. While Akiko transcends the limitations of physical differences that separated her from the families, she allows her to be transformed by their spirit of life, thus enabling herself to eventually move from being “stuck” in an abusive marriage to finding “a new life for her self” and from not knowing what she wanted to experiencing a “superabundance of … feeling” – as during the Thanksgiving dinner with Beaudroux family and her journey in the train to New York with Maurice and other passengers, who cheerfully extend their “Southern hospitality” to her.

While Ueno does not agree that Jane Takagi make a documentary on the Dawes’ family – Ueno is Jane’s “de facto boss” – reasoning that they are black and so not the preconceived ideal American family, Jane accuses him as a “racist”. But it is also interesting that “he has a dark and lonely side to his personality.” In the novel, he appears to be a powerless character, too focused on his job and trying to gain power for himself only by oppressing his wife, Akiko. He is not in touch with his inner self like Jane and does not even attempt to recognize it, like Akiko. So it is no surprise that he projects his sense of ineffectuality on to the world that he exposes himself to. He is incapable of getting in touch with the essence of the Dawes’ family, unlike Jane. Even if he would as

during the prayer service in the church in Harmony, Mississippi – when he experiences a *catharsis while crying over Miss Helen Dawes’ shoulders – he goes back to his negative pattern of disconnecting from his inner self. He disagrees filming the Dawes’ family as he is obsessed merely on their physicality. Unless he began to value the spirit that he truly is, he would be unable to identify the same in others and would remain all that he is – internally powerless as manifested through his being an abusive husband and a “racist”.

Jane capriciously says that race would become a “relic” in this “ever-shrinking world”, when we may all come to look similar as one race. “All over the world, native species are migrating, if not disappearing, and in the next millennium the idea of an indigenous person or plant or culture will just see quaint”, expresses Ozeki through the character of Jane. As globalization is taking shape, every culture is likely to be exposed to another. In the East, as in many South Asian countries, modernization is taking place rapidly, inspired by the modernization of the West. In the West, spiritual movements has been taking shape, some of which are influenced by the exposure to the spiritual practices of the East, such as meditation and yoga. Aspects that divide us physically – such as geographically, customarily, traditionally, racially, religiously – may not be so foreign to one another anymore as it had been in the past. And eventually a mixing of people from all parts of the world could happen so as to disable any visible racial divisions among us anymore, true to Jane’s concept of our future.

Although it is likely that people in all parts of the world would unite by overcoming the physical differences such as our skin color, the greater truth however, for harmony would be by evolving to see our oneness as humans, an ability that Jane and Akiko have undistorted in them. In contrast to the Frye’s theory – Frye, an author of the

book, Grammar School Geography , which Jane finds in the Quam Public library – that some races are superior or inferior to the others, we are all nevertheless one. In his book, The End of Racism, Dinesh D’Souza cites an experiment, which proves the blood types of people of any race belong to the basic types that is common to the people of all races. But beyond blood groups, we are beings all capable of love and other common emotions. Jane, Akiko and the Bukowsky family, all realize this innate nature that is in each one of us. In this level of understanding, even our differences could prove valuable rather than be *banal and destructive.

Even though Ozeki is enthusiastic about hybridization in future as a likely solution to end racism, it may be necessary that we acknowledge and respect the mysteries behind the fact that living beings – humans or other species – have essentially within it such external varieties. Published during the early nineteen hundreds, Frye’s work, of the classification of people throughout the world, lacks an attempt to respect our diversities as he classified many including the indigenous groups of people as “savages”. His lack of perspective must have encouraged much damage within humanity than he could have ever imagined. Nearly a century later, we know that the wisdom of the indigenous tribes can greatly benefit humanity at large. Joseph Campbell has himself said to be inspired by the Native Americans’ wisdom – the necessary wisdom that may have been lost in societies that had been busy with modernization – before he shared his understanding of it to the modern society, in part through his work, The Power of Myth. Fortunately today any number of examples could be mentioned to understand the wisdom and value of the indigenous people throughout the world. And maybe they have such wisdom to share with the world for the very fact that they are indigenous. Similarly, it may be that the Martinez family in the novel, are a “unique jewel” for the very fact that

they are Mexicans who emigrated to the United States; just as precious may be the Dawes’ family, by the fact that they are Black and the Bukowsky family, by the fact that they are White. It maybe another century, although it should not take us that long yet again, when we would be able to reason that human beings have values just by being different in many ways and when the society of hybridized individuals may become a symbol of an addition to or a redefinition of the *exquisite variety that we humans are.

* Vocabualry catharsis – page 113 banal – page 93 exquisite – page 55 .