A year ago at the start of third grade, my boys joined the Boy Scouts of America as Bears. But rather than join our neighborhood den, we joined a large pack affiliated with a Buddhist church, one with a strong community whose populace hails from all over our region.
Did you think the Boy Scouts of America was a Christian-only group? Nope. A boy scout need only be reverent to God (which my boys loosely intepreted to mean they can like Greek and Roman gods).
I am a "yonsei" or fourth generation American and for me, joining a troop of other yonseis (or sanseis) meant salvaging the Japanese American culture that's been greatly filtered down to my "hapa" (half white, half Asian) sons.
What does it mean to be Japanese American? Like any American, it means celebrating a shared history. It means familiar foods, like spam musubi and pounded mochi. It means fun at the obon festival in the heat of summer. It means referring to close female friends of your mom as aunties. It means asking toddlers if they have to go "shi-shi" (pee). It means that somewhere high up in the family tree, a family member spent time in a WWII relocation camp. It is the comfort of the familiar.
We are not Buddhist, so this yearning to be in touch with my Japanese American-ness is purely cultural. I am secular through and through. Religious education, be it Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism etc, is a gift that I would like to give my kids, provided they don't subscribe to any one, at least not for now. I just want them to be citizens of the world.
As a liberally minded parent, I caught flack from friends for joining the BSA with its horrid policies against gays and atheists.
As it turns out, the religious aspect was a non-issue. Religion was not pushed and the pack welcomed everyone with open arms. There was no homophobia. The den leaders were warm and friendly.
So off into the Japanese American troop my boys went, dreaming of camping and hiking and spam musubi. They didn't end up doing much camping or hiking during the year, but my boys had fun and they ate much spam musubi.
What I didn't anticipate is that I would be in over my head in terms of the manpower it takes to power this particular troop and its interests.
Den meetings are once a week. Pack meetings are once a month. Parenting meetings are once a month and exist to facilitate commitees. Each family must sit on two commitees per scout (or head up one committee). There is a point system for all this!It soon became obvious that the scouts are the lifeline to the Japanese American community there. Our pack helps power most, if not all, of the community events.
But what I noticed is that there were too many people on hand for too few tasks. We were always underutilized, with so many of us standing idle or doing the task that could be handled by far fewer people. They need a management consultant team to come in and streamline the process.
Visions of camping and hiking gave way to manpower obligations. I found myself always trying to look busy on the job. It was akin to those salespeople at the Gap who go around the store busily straightening up clothes when the store is tidy and empty. I spent an hour competing with a 10-year-old girl over who got to wipe down tabletops at one event. One time, I got the stink eye from another parent who caught me not doing my job.
I should say, we came into the troop as outsiders, when my boys were just hitting third grade. The Japanese American community affiliated with our pack is a tight knit one. Everyone knows each other. Everyone grew up together. Standing around idle means not boredom like it did for me, but a time to socialize.
It was hard to navigate the system. I never figured out how to get an official pack tshirt. I never knew when to bring treats for the whole den. I sent my boys to a picnic in play clothes when all the other boys were dressed in their official scout uniform. I think a lot of information was exchanged informally and didn't reach me.
The new scouting year has begun, but without us this time. Call me lazy, but the benefit of gaining tidbits of Japanese American culture does not outweigh the time required to fulfill my manpower obligations. I just can't do it, especially not as an outsider.
If there are two things to glean from this post, one is that yes, there are Buddhist boy scouts and two, if you join the same Buddhist scouts that we joined, be prepared to fulfill your manpower obligations.
I will make sure my boys get their share of hiking and camping and spam musubi, but it will be on my terms.
This is an original post to Chalk and Cheese Chronicles.