Louisiana native and retired U.S. Marine Veteran Jason Day, his Japanese wife Yuki, and their four kids, Chase (19), Markey (16), Mattie “Buddha” (13) and Cody (4), have been back in the States for three years, following 20 years spent living and raising their older children in Japan.
“We chose Zachary because it’s a melting pot. There’s more progressiveness here, and it seems the city is embracing forward-moving change,” Jason says. But still, there’s a long way to go when it comes to actually fostering that diversity.
For example, there’s a lack of representation in the district for those who speak English as a second language, which was a significant barrier of entry for their middle son, who could not read or write the English language when they got here a couple years ago. (The school district has since hired a dedicated ESL teacher.) You’d never guess that now when talking to Buddha, an outgoing teenager and star baseball player who plays travel ball. While he has had no trouble making friends, Buddha, who has more distinct Japanese features than his siblings, does face instances of the casual racism that are unfortunately typical of the average Asian-American experience–like kids making slant eyes at him.
“Are you Chinese?” That’s the first thing they ask, Buddha says. “It’s almost like it doesn’t need to be asked,” Jason says. “Is it really that important to you to even ask that question? Then it’s, ‘How’s the sushi?’ It creates uncomfortable moments because people say ignorant stuff,” the dad of four says. “I was talking to Markey in Japanese at the soccer field, and a parent mocked me by speaking gibberish,” Jason says. “Another time, at the ball field with Buddha, who is known for being fast, a parent in the bleachers said, ‘They don’t want to get caught by that fast Chinaman.’”
“I do hear racial slurs, but not towards me,” Markey says. “We’re studying WWII in history, and kids will say ‘japs’ a lot–they think the word is funny,” she says, noting that her teacher Nathan Munsell is thoughtful of her situation and respectful toward her culture.
As far as culture shock, there’s been plenty of it, starting with mom Yuki’s high school experience in Minnesota as a foreign exchange student. “When we got cheeseburgers, pizza, normal American food, I thought they put pills in it… like, I thought they stuffed it with the healthy things,” she laughs. Markey chimes in that the food is what she misses the most. The school lunches in Japan are *meticulously balanced, they say, carefully assembled with carbs, fats, protein, and veggies–and the students take turns serving one another. Not only are there no cafeteria workers; there are also no janitors! Each day after lunch, teachers put on 15 minutes of “cleaning music,” and the students push the desks to the side to sweep, mop, clean the class pet’s cage, etc.
Buddha says everything is bigger here–the roads, cars, food portions, and houses. A two-story, 3000 square-foot space like the Day family occupies here would be filled with multiple families in Japan, Markey says. A normal house there is slightly bigger than their living room here.
All differences aside, the family has enjoyed watching their children flourish, especially in athletics. Fitness has always been integral to them, and they owned a CrossFit gym back in Okinawa. Oldest Chase has made a name for himself locally on the wrestling mat and with his amazing acrobatics skills as one of the only male cheerleaders in town, and hopes to continue cheerleading next year in college at Northwestern State University. Markey spends her time on the soccer field, and Buddha on the ballfield. He also has gotten into fishing, hunting and four-wheeling, which wasn’t available back in Japan.