Buddhist in America-Story of Spoken Word Poet George Yamazawa Jr.


– [Voiceover] Buddha, one
who has awakened to their innermost courage, wisdom, and compassion. America, a land of hope and challenge. Today, members of the
Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International
call forth their Buddhahood through the chanting
of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. To overcome the difficulties of daily life and create a positive
change in their communities. They are neighbors, parents, artists, teachers, everyday people. These are the real life stories. Buddhist in America. – [MC] Before we get this slam started we’ve got a wonderful feature, he’s a national slam finalist (audience cheer) his name is G Yamazawa. (audience cheer) Yes, give him a warm welcome
as he comes to the stage. – Yo’ I go a lot on my chest, and it feels like I’m not at my best, when I follow my head instead of my heart I fall and I slip and forget that I’m raw and I’m sick but I guess I ain’t calling it quits then I wouldn’t be G, right? Straight from the South Eastside born with a megaphone on each side of my jawbone so I speak loud when I want to defy and you want to read minds Me of authority abusing the power I’m used to them cowards I knew ’em in high school Who would’ve fathomed that their student would pass and have numerous talents. Than a stewardess asking why I flew into Aspen popped two of them aspirins don’t care if you’re Buddhist or Baptist I’ll show you who is the baddest with the truest of passions using the aspects of music and magic for moving the masses my raps doing too many hat-tricks and back flips off a Nubian mattress underdog straight roaming your brackets Ooh I ain’t swaggin’ jackin’ I won’t rap like you
’cause dog, I’m Asian, I eat cats like you. (audience cheer) My name is George Yamazawa Junior, I’m also known as G, I’m
from Durham, North Carolina also known as the Bull City. I was raised as a Buddhist,
both of my parents are Buddhist. Grew up chanting, and didn’t
really pick up my own faith until I was around 17 years old. When I chant I feel
really, really empowered. I feel as if there’s like
nothing that can stop me. When I’m on stage, it’s almost like, almost like the same kind of
feeling in a different way. I feel like I’m really
connecting to people and I feel like at the same time I’m able to get a lot of things out of me that I really, really need to get out that I’m not able to get out
anywhere else but on a stage, behind a microphone, in
front of an audience. You still had to teach me what it means to never give up no matter what, whether it’s finishing a
poem or surviving cancer, Dad, I promise (foreign language) I will win, no matter
what, I will win how dare, I resent the man who taught me how to pray when I know people who never had a father in the first place. I’ve been on this journey
of kind of finding myself through writing poetry, and it all started with
this poem right here. This poem is dedicated to my grandmother. So, my grandma, man. You know, in Japanese culture, there’s a huge, huge respect
for your grandparents. And being in America I kinda never really got that growing up. And with my grandma being
at home there every day and making me rice balls
and cooking me this, and really being there for me, she’s just a walking piece of history, and it’s my history. Dear Grandma, from my heart. You were at the hospital when I was born. There must’ve been something
about three generations being in one room that
made history seem tangible. So easy to touch, so easy to hold. There had to have been
something about my baby cries that murmured the future, because every time I talk to you now, there’s something about your whisper that just screams my ancestry, you see. My grandmother’s frail
fingers casually carry 87 years of her life in her
arthritis tells stories. Her index finger, crooked
and gracefully points me down memory lane to a time
when I first saw her dance, first saw her hands, painless, Holding a traditional Japanese fan, moving crowds like wind, a five-foot tsunami dressed in a kimono, face-paint, and culture, how beautiful to be able to tell stories with no microphone, no literary devices, just a choreographed version
for love for the stage and a connection to the people, it is a love that runs through my blood, free as a thousand paper cranes, free as a cherry blossom in the spring, free as her ring finger
without those rings see I have come to believe that a wrinkle is worth more than a
diamond could ever be, ’cause her three marriages have died but her pride still
grows in her follicles, that’s why her hair waves
like a Japanese flag on the side of a kamikaze jet. Knowing her life will
crash on American soil the other night she held me tight, cried and said she was ready to die, but something inside told
me she’s not quite ready yet but what do I say, huh? What can one possibly say about life to a person who has already seen the smirk on death’s face, her arthritis comes from his firm handshake her knuckles are too weak to open a jar but still strong enough
to carry her sanity in her palms, see for the last eight years that I’ve lived with her I woke up to her prayers and
fell asleep to her cooking she would mend a rice
ball like a broken heart and feed it to me in case I ever needed another one inside of my chest. I recently noticed that her feet are deformed from dancing
on top of decades. I used to think that we took our shoes off to help keep the house clean, but it’s really to respect
the land she walks on and remind myself, this
is not a nursing home my daily dialogue is
her assisted living now I know why she always
wants to make me food. Because watching me grow
helps her feel more alive See, you at the hospital when I was born so count on me to be there for you when you die Oba-chan you have choreographed
my respect for elders and as long as I’m breathing, I will be dancing behind your face paint. Forget when you’re gone, I want to remember you now. I want to walk through your wrinkles get drunk off the wine
you sip out of hourglasses every night and bend
my future arthritically but beautifully so that my life will remind others of your ring finger. I asked my mother, what’s the one thing she
would say about hers, and she said, “She has … “Experienced war … “She has … “Experienced lots and lots
of struggles, you know? “But … “she never … “be defeated.” My dream is just to reach
as many people as possible through the practice, through this poetry, however that is, I never would’ve thought I’d be able to reach as
many people as I have now and so, as the years keep going along, I want to get to a place like, where I didn’t even think I could be. (mellow music)

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