Embracing Diversity: Explaining the Cultural Dimensions of Our Occupational Therapeutic Selves

By Iwama, Michael K. | New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, September 2007 | Go to article overview

Embracing Diversity: Explaining the Cultural Dimensions of Our Occupational Therapeutic Selves


Iwama, Michael K., New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy


In Te Reo Maori

   Kai to mihi to mauka ko Fuji ki to mauka koTararua
   Kai to mihi hoki to awa e kia ko Takahashi ki to awa ko
   Heretaunga e rere ana
   Aka atu oku whakaaro ki ka mate o to wa moe mai oki oki mai
   Ratou ki a ratou, tatou ki a tatou tena tatou
   Kai to maioha ki a koutou to mana whenua o tenei rohe, tena
   koutou mihi mai, powhiri mai [1].

In Japanese language

Iwama Maikeru to moushimasu.Yoroshiku onegai itashimasu.

(translation of Te reo Maori text and Japanese phrase):

   "The mountain called Fuji greets Tararua
   The river called Takahashi greets the flowing Heretaunga
   My thoughts face the dead of time, rest, sleep;
   Them to Them, Us to Us, Greetings ...
   I greet you. I regard you the local of this place
   Greet Me, (please) Welcome Me
   Lastly, My name is Michael Iwama; (I come in peace) Please
   regard me favourably."

Situating knowledge

First let me situate myself to you, that is, to do as the Maori and other groups around the world have done for centuries when encountering an unfamiliar other, to give you a sense of the 'lenses' through which I have constructed my perspective: to tell you of my origins and where I have come from. This is offered to ensure that you, as the home people, are afforded full opportunity to consider the contexts from where this message and its messenger have come from--to allow you to determine whether what I have to share with you today is safe and worthy of your consideration. And to do this I must start with the past ...

(Brief overview of M. Iwama's history)

* My father's ancestors resided in the area of Japan that is known today as Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures. My mother's ancestors are known to have originated in Fujian, China. These ancestors were part of a group of 36 families that had been sent by Emperor ZhuYuan Zhang to the island of Okinawa. They were scholars and artists sent to educate the Ryukyu regency in the late 1300s.

* I was born in Okinawa- the southern-most island of the Japanese archipelago. My parents sent me and my two older siblings to a Catholic school to learn English. The Vietnam War was raging at the time and Okinawa was an important staging ground for the American war effort in South East Asia. Not only did I learn English from the spouses of American military personnel; I was also impressed with American history and culture. At an early age, I learned all about George Washington cutting down the cherry tree and subsequent confession to his father. I also learned about the declaration of independence, Thomas Jefferson and other venerated champions of American liberty. Later, these early cultural exposures would prepare me for my family's move to Canada, which happened during my adolescence.

* I want to also emphasize what may seem obvious to many of you: I am a male and was acculturated in the contexts of American and Asian societies as a male. This affects my world view profoundly and contributes, like everything else, to my cultural lens, through which I make sense of my self and the world in which I reside.

* I completed high-school in Vancouver and developed a wish to work with athletes. I entered a program in Kinesiology at the University of Victoria and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Human Performance in the early 1980s. After working with elite athletes, I decided that rather than working for people who were at normal levels of performance trying to reach super normalcy, I wanted to work with people at sub-normal levels of performance who wanted to reach normalcy.

* I was accepted into Physiotherapy school but changed to Occupational Therapy when I found out what it was all about.

* I worked in return-to-work occupational therapy for 6 years. In my practice with people suffering from chronic illnesses, I became curious about what really got people better. …

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