• Congratulations to the 2023-2024 SAAS Visiting Professors!
  • Zhi Fong, MD is the recipient of the 2024 SAAS Junior Faculty Award!
  • Radhika Rastogi, MD is the recipient of the 2024 Esther Tsai Sugg Award for the highest scoring SAAS abstract to 2024 Academic Surgical Congress!
  • Christy Chai, MD is the recipient of the 2024 SAAS-SUS Mid-Career Award!
  • Areeba Saif, MD is the recipient of the 2023 SAAS-AWS Resident Research Travel Award!
  • Raja Narayan, MD, MPH is the recipient of the 2023 SAAS Resident/Fellow Development Scholarship!
  • Jeremy Chang, MD is the winner of the 2023 SAAS Annual Meeting Travel Award!
  • Russell Woo, MD is the recipient of the 2023 SAAS-SUS Leadership Agility Program Scholarship!

Image of Japistani art

 

My earliest memories were of my grandmother picking my brothers and me up from school in her bouncy shock-less Oldsmobile with the steering wheel that she could barely see over. Her short curls surrounded her head like a silver halo and her warm smile was constantly beaming at us. Once we pulled up to my grandparent’s small house covered in bushes of fuchsia Bougainvillea flowers, we would dash inside and head straight to the Kamidana (altar) to recognize our ancestors, and then enjoy the offering of onigiri (rice ball) from the altar. My grandfather would be ever present, quietly sitting at his favorite spot on the plastic-covered couch, silently reading the latest headlines from his Japanese newspaper. He wouldn’t lift an eyebrow as we scurried around the house. After finishing our homework, we would go to the backyard to pick the deep purple Concord grapes off their sun-drenched vines for our afternoon snack. These would later be boiled and strained for perfectly sweetened grape jelly, that my grandmother would equally distribute amongst her six children. My grandmother would then tend to her crisp, white sheets and rust-red hoshigaki (persimmons) that were drying outside on the clothesline in the gentle afternoon breeze. In those daily, seemingly meaningless interactions everyday with my grandparents, I subtlety began to understand the importance of daily remembrance of our ancestors and acknowledgement of the journeys that came before us, the gentle care and appreciation of food/preserves, the cadence and rhythm of their lifestyle – all things that have influenced me greatly as I’ve moved through different chapters of my life.

Dr. Natalie Nadia Hisae Merchant, MD

Dr. Natalie Nadia Hisae Merchant, MD

In contrast from this daily afterschool regimen with my mother’s parents, Friday evenings were dedicated to my father’s side of the family. My parents decided to raise us in both Japanese and Pakistani cultures and encouraged us to attend both Buddhist temple and Islamic mosque. [What made this way of living more complex, was that the only language my parents had in common was English, so this was the predominant language in our home.] The nearest mosque was an hour drive through the towering redwoods of the central coast of California. The drive was a passageway to a different world. I would be dressed in vibrant cotton shalwar kameez (tunic and trousers) embroidered with gold paisley print and would step out of the car and into the warm and welcoming arms of my dadima (paternal grandmother) and aunties. Inside the mosque, after prayer, I would be intoxicated by the spices in the chai tea and the flavors of the mitai (sweets). The conversations between my father and his siblings were in Urdu, catching every other word I could feel a different cadence and rhythm to these conversations, in comparison with my mother’s family. It was during these discussions, I began to sense how my brothers and I were seen as “too American” and heard my father constantly defending our “American” upbringing. The conversations our father had with us during the drive back home were frank and clear. We were seen as unusual, and that it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but nonetheless would be a constant issue with his family throughout our lives. From these weekly interactions with my father’s family, I began to understand the complex union between my parents and the ever-present push-pull my father would feel while trying to maintain his culture, while trying to respect my mother’s.

The picturesque town on the central coast of California where I grew up had scenic beaches, world renowned surf, and residuals of Hippie culture. It also housed the unacknowledged farm laborers that invisibly and diligently produced the world’s supply of fruits and vegetables. These undocumented workers lived in tiny one-room hutches with 10-15 people in each house, surrounding the fields where they worked. My mother, her siblings and her parents had spent many years working under same the callous conditions as these undocumented laborers in the vast strawberry berry fields of Watsonville, California. My grandfather, Yoshiro Roy Aramaki, was born in San Luis Obispo, California and his family moved to Watsonville in 1933. He enrolled in courses at the local high school and years later, he caught the eye of a fellow classmate, Hisae Grace Akiyoshi. He wed Hisae in a small ceremony on January 11, 1942, just a month after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. They were able to buy a small house with the wedding gifts they received. A few months later in April 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 was issued, and they were given 48-hour notice to report for a Japanese internment camp. 

Although my grandfather was an American citizen, he and Hisae were forced to leave their home and sold their wedding gifts for just pennies. They were required to minimize their entire life to one bag each and then were corralled into nearby assembly center to await further instructions. From there, they moved my grandparents to an internment camp in Arizona where my grandmother had their first child. Shortly after, my grandfather was given what he described as a “confusing questionnaire” from the War Relocation Authority. After filing out this questionnaire he was subsequently labeled as a “disloyal” and was sent to another camp, in Tule Lake [California], where they were told they may be sent to Japan. During this confusing time in Tule Lake, they had their second child and after several tiring years at this camp, my grandfather was separated from my grandmother and their two small daughters. My grandfather was sent to North Dakota and grandmother and their children were sent to in Crystal City, Texas. After being separated for two years, they were reunited in 1946, had their third child, and were discharged from the camp in 1947, more than two years after World War II had ended. My maternal grandparents had three more children, each child was purposefully given an American first name to help with assimilation, although the anti-Japanese sentiments had become encultured and greatly influenced my mother and her siblings’ upbringing.

From left: Yoshiro Aramaki, eldest daughter, Hisae Aramaki, and second daughter in Crystal City, Texas

From left: Yoshiro Aramaki, eldest daughter, Hisae Aramaki, and second daughter in Crystal City, Texas

On the other side of the world, during the same year, my father’s family suffered a similar story of forced migration. My father’s family was originally from Gujarat, a western state in India, where many, many past generations had lived. My father’s family lived there until they were displaced to Karachi, Pakistan during the Partition of India in 1947. My father’s family didn’t find a stable community in Karachi and immigrated to the United States in the early 1970s.

My father, Nazimuddin, immigrated on a student visa and decided on a whim to attend community college on the Central Coast where he met my mother, Susan Sachiko. They were married in 1975, a union that seemed curious to both sides of their families. They created new traditions together and integrated old ones. They had three children, me being the middle child between two brothers. My brothers and I are Sansei, third generation Japanese-Americans.

My parents tried to raise us in the same agricultural town where my mother grew up, but it wasn’t the same small town. Our neighborhood became ominous when rival gang territories crept closer to our home and threatened our safety. My parents made the decision to move to protect their children from the growing and ever-present dangers that were right outside our doorstep.

Nazimuddin Mohammad Ali Merchant and Susan Sachiko Merchant

Nazimuddin Mohammad Ali Merchant and Susan Sachiko Merchant

We moved to a town only 15 miles away, but it was worlds different. I soon became the only person of color in my class; and we became the only people of color in our elementary school. This was the first time I remember being made to feel different and I remember people making me feel that being different was neither valuable nor desirable. It was as attempt to erase the ancestors who created the color of my skin, their rich and diverse cultures, and their cumulative wisdom acquired on their respectively difficult journeys that had been embedded in my consciousness. Each stare, each dismissive gesture from a teacher, each insensitive joke from a classmate, felt like an attempt to rattle my foundation. At the age of seven, I internalized these confusing feelings by deciding that I had to set an example for my races/cultures/religions and that how the community perceived me, would define me. I held on to these beliefs for many years but have now simply realized that my differences are my strengths, and they don’t require justification. The burdens that my parents and grandparents carried on their shoulders will be remembered and acknowledged by me as I continue through each chapter of my life.

Now, as I embark on my Chief year of General Surgery residency, I will lean into the lessons learned from both sides of my family, the migrations which have left an imprint on my awareness and will use that knowledge to transcend any future barriers that may try to mute my unique and rich family history.

 

Archives

SAAS Foundation 2024-2025 Visiting Professorships

Congratulations to the 2024-2025 SAAS Visiting Professors, as well as our other recent award and accolade recipients: Drs. Oliver Eng, Annabelle Fonseca, Kevin Koo, Tammy Holm, Victoria Lai, Melanie Ongchin, James Wu, Jessica Zagory, Zhi Ven Fong, Christy Yoon-Hee Chai, Lillian Kao, Sandra Wong, Danny Chu, and Brenessa Lindeman.

An Ultimate Challenge to the Palate

SAAS members attend a Japanese whiskey tasting fundraiser, hosted by Dr. Herbert Chen at the 2023 SAAS Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

SAAS Sips Recap: Acing the Residency Interview

The SAAS Sips for Medical Students Series is a casual, low-stress setting for trainees to interact with SAAS leaders. The Nov. 2, 2023, event focused on “Acing the Residency Interview.”

Kuo Family Lectureship: Jason Kalirai, PhD

This year’s Kuo Family Lecture was given by Jason Kalirai, PhD, at the 2023 SAAS Annual Meeting. Dr Kalirai is the Mission Area Executive for Civil Space in the Space Exploration Sector of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

SAAS 2023 Presidential Address: Susan Tsai, MD, MHS

Susan Tsai, MD, MHS, delivered her Presidential Address to the Society of Asian Academic Surgeons at the 2023 SAAS Annual Meeting, titled “Navigating the Bamboo Ceiling: Empowering AAPI Surgeons for Success.”

Designing an Inclusive Operating Room: For All and By All

As the surgical workforce makes strides toward greater gender and minority representation, Dr. Meghal Shah proposes ways to make the operating room, including surgical instrument design, more accessible for everyone.

SAAS Leadership Highlights

Congratulations to our members for their recent accomplishments, including Dr. Mayur B. Patel who has been named Chief of the Division of Acute Care Surgery at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

A Moment with SAAS: Herbert Chen

This season’s “A Moment with SAAS” features one of our founding members, Dr. Herbert Chen, chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

SAAS Leadership Highlights

SAAS congratulates Drs. Kenric Murayama, Thomas Varghese, Ankush Gosain, Shaun Kunisaki, and Vikas Dudeja for their recent accomplishments.

Medical Student Student Reflections

Medical students Gopika SenthilKumar and Nate Verhagen attended their first SAAS meeting in September and said the meeting offered a place for trainees to build new, lasting relationships.

Kuo Family Lectureship: Debbie Lum

“Why do we always have to play the side part? Why aren’t we the protagonist of the story?” asks award-winning filmmaker Debbie Lum at this year’s 2022 Kuo Family Lectureship.

Kui and Wai Fong Lectureship: David Hu

The 2022 Kui and Wai Fong Lectureship was delivered by Professor David Hu from Georgia Institute of Technology. David Hu is a professor of mechanical engineering who draws inspiration from his observation of nature.

Sustainability in Surgery

Connie Shao, MD, discusses the importance of sustainability in surgery in this issue of the Lotus Scroll.

SAAS Leadership Highlights

The Society of Asian Academic Surgeons would like to congratulate our members on their many recent accomplishments.

Presidential Address: ‘A is for… American. Asian. Ally.’

Tracy S. Wang, MD, MPH, delivered her Presidential Address to the Society during the 2021 SAAS 6th Annual Meeting, focusing on her thoughts regarding Asian American identity in relation to her role as SAAS president for the past two years.

President’s Message: December 2021

SAAS President Dr. Allan Tsung discusses this year’s SAAS annual meeting, the pandemic and the future of the society in his December 2021 President’s Message.

The Sequelae of Hate

Dr. Lindsey Zhang discusses the recent rise in hate crimes, racial discrimination and violence toward the Asian American community.

Q&A: Dr. George Yang

The Lotus Scroll interviews George Yang, MD, PhD, former president of the Society of Asian Academic Surgeons.

SAAS Foundation 2018-2019 Visiting Professorships

Congratulations to the 2018-2019 SAAS Foundation Visiting Professors! SAAS Foundation Visiting Professorships support travel to host institutions for junior faculty to give grand rounds and increase the national visibility of rising stars in academic surgery.

SAAS on Twitter!

This year, SAAS was active more than ever on Twitter! In addition to updates and announcements, more content was created for our followers to improve engagement, highlight issues and events important to our society and members, and promote the activities at SAAS.

SAAS Executive Council: Message on the Rise of Racism

First, as the current pandemic continues to affect our communities and families, we want to express our profound gratitude to our surgical colleagues and to all healthcare professionals who are the frontlines of caring for patients with the SARS-CoV2 virus/COVID-19.

Q&A: Dr. Kenric Murayama

The Lotus Scroll is honored to interview Kenric Murayama, MD, this year’s host of the SAAS Annual Meeting.

President’s Message: December 2019

SAAS President Dr. Tracy Wang discusses how far the Society has come and what’s in store for 2020 in her December 2019 President’s Message.

SAAS 2019 Meeting Recap

SAAS held its 2019 Annual Meeting at the Boston Medical Center, Sept. 26-27, with more than 148 scientific presentations and breakout sessions.

SAAS 2019 Meeting Highlights

The fourth annual meeting of the Society of Asian Academic Surgeons will be held in Boston, Massachusetts, Sept. 26-27, 2019, and promises to be an incredibly fun, impactful and meaningful gathering of academic surgeons, trainees and students from both the U.S. and abroad.

Q&A: Dr. Jennifer Tseng

Jennifer Tseng, MD, MPH, is the James Utley Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery at Boston University School of Medicine and surgeon-in-chief at Boston Medical Center.

Welcome to the Lotus Scroll

Welcome to the launch of Lotus Scroll, the official newsletter of the Society of Asian Academic Surgeons (SAAS). Through the Lotus Scroll, we are excited to distribute and enhance the vision of SAAS: to promote diversity and inclusion in academic surgery through the sponsorship and development of its leaders.