Thursday, May 19, 2016

Remembering Don Nakanishi



Don Nakanishi deeply influenced my work. For instance, his earliest research cleverly brought together political science with Ethnic Studies and the local with the global, to give us precursors to transnationalism. However, I would not know Don personally until I was going through a very public and grueling tenure battle. Introduced through one of his many mentees that teach at universities now, Don helped me immediately. He generously shared all he knew about the continued struggles of Asian Americans in higher education. I ultimately won tenure through appeal, a rare occurrence. I attribute that miracle to Don’s assistance. 


After tenure was won, I wanted to offer a token of my gratitude. I had no idea what to give "The Don" – taking into account his possible interests without offending. I overthought. In the end I opted for a maneki-neko charm that had the Japanese script, "Happiness, come over here!," Open fate (in a good way), Invite fortune (and/or happiness)." When he received it he asked how I knew. Turned out Don had a maneki-neko collection, procured during his many trips around the world, that rivals any museum’s. He even mentioned that he had his son video the room there he kept this collection. Indeed, I found that video on the web later. This showed me another dimension of Don that brings a smile to my face every time I recall it. 



I will remember Don in different ways, but it is his fierce determination and sense of right from wrong that I still admire most. His chronicling of his own legendary fight for tenure anthologized in Amerasia Journal in the 1990s was the blueprint for my tenure fight. It also inspired my current anthology manuscript, Fight the Tower, about how the attacks against Asian American women in higher education signals serious troubles in universities as a whole. Don was to have written the Prologue for this anthology, which represented his deep involvement for justice up to his last days. I cannot thank Don enough for all he has done for me and the hundreds he has helped in similar fashion. I know he fights on for great causes where he is now and guides us in spirit in this world.