In the summer of 1961, 13-year-old Hide Yamatani started a new life.
He had grown up in Kokura, Japan, a small farming town not far from Nagasaki. After his parents divorced, his mother married an American serviceman and moved to the United States. Following 10 years of childhood separation, she asked her sons to come live with her in suburban Pittsburgh.
Yamatani welcomed the reconnection—he missed his mother. But his maternal grandfather, Suekich, wasn’t happy. He’d raised Yamatani and his brother to find harmony within themselves and with others. But Suekich worried about the anti-Japanese racism in America and the harm it could do his grandsons. He was so concerned, says Yamatani, that he suffered a debilitating stroke days before the boys’ departure.
In his self-published memoir, “Working Toward Harmony,” Yamatani (SOC WK ’73G, ’76G, KGSB ’91), a retired Pitt social work professor, chronicles how his grandfather’s “words of wisdom” helped him connect across differences and make a gentle transition into a new life.
A teenage Yamatani arrived in Eastwood, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white community, speaking and understanding very little English. Though confronted with social and cultural difficulties, he took to heart his grandfather’s teachings to strive for understanding. It helped, too, that he landed among what he calls a collection of “saints and angels.”
“I feel deeply that, while imperfect, the United States is, at heart, an embracing country that offers opportunities to those who initiate and maintain dedicated personal effort,” says Yamatani. “My experience attests that countless people are receptive to being kind to others, including racially different immigrants. Since arriving here, I’ve witnessed the humanity that lies consistently inside so many people.”
Ultimately, it was the combination of that humanity and his grandfather’s lessons on friendship, happiness and the practice of ganbate—to never give up—that inspired him to write a memoir. He hopes sharing what he’s learned will help others find peace within their own lives and communities.
More titles by alumni authors
By Madeline Gallardo
Confronting Dystopia: The New Technological Revolution and the Future of Work (Cornell University Press)
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson received the “Triple Revolution Report,” which warned that industrial automation was a threat to the human workforce and a likely cause of widespread social and economic upheaval. It resurfaced a lingering, centuries-old fear of machines. With today’s rapid advance of robotics and artificial intelligence, should the country be concerned all over again? This book—edited by Eva Paus (A&S ’76, ’78G, ’83G), professor of economics at Mount Holyoke College, and drawing on experts across disciplines—covers issues related to the march of AI and explores the possible consequences for jobs, working conditions and income in the global North and global South.
Steel City to Emerald City: A Newspaperman’s Life Journey (That’s Thirty Press)
One night in 1947, 20-year-old Virgil Fassio walked into a bar and came out a newspaper publisher. The partnership he formed with a bar patron that evening helped to launch the suburban Beechview News and sparked an improbable career for the first-generation Italian American. Fassio (A&S ’49) spent the next 46 years rising in the news industry, eventually becoming the publisher for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, once one of the city’s two daily newspapers. His memoir traces how he met presidents, traveled abroad and witnessed a changing journalism landscape, all while staying grounded to his roots. He died at 91 in 2018.
Three-Fifths (Polis Books)
There’s blood in the snow one winter night in Pittsburgh when Bobby’s formerly incarcerated best friend, who is now a hardened racist, beats a Black teen to death. The murder unleashes a web of secrets Bobby must confront regarding identity, class, self-acceptance and tolerance. The debut novel by John Vercher (A&S ’97, SHRS ’99G) was inspired by his own struggles with the legacy of bigotry he’s grappled with as a biracial man. It was named a Book of the Year by The Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and the Guardian. His second novel, “After the Lights Go Out,” was published last year.
This story was published on Aug. 7, 2023. It is part of Pitt Magazine's Fall 2023 issue.