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Will the Real “Emi M.” Please Stand Up? | Projekt NewSpeak
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Posted: 2010-11-28
Categories: Projekt NewSpeak


The Mexi-Asian Persepctive: A Mexican’s Guide to All Things Latin, Asian, or Both by David A. Romero

What do b-boys, b-girls, Japanese kokeshi dolls and the art of crocheting have in common? They all revolve around the world of artist Emi Motokawa (“Emi M.”) Sonksen.

Emi M. is a Japanese American visual artist whose “krokeshis” (crocheted Japanese kokeshi dolls) have gained her recognition throughout the Los Angeles art scene. Her “krokeshis” were featured at the “Kokeshi: From Folk Art to Art Toy” exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in 2009. A devout Mahayanna Buddhist, Emi M. has also exhibited uniquely Buddhist paintings at galleries such as the William Grant Still Art Center.

I met up with Emi M. at a recent exhibit in Downtown Los Angeles. She had a chance to enlighten me in regards to the meaning behind her work.

In your display of giant “krokeshi” dolls at The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in 2009, you featured a multi-ethnic take on the classic concept of the kokeshi. Individual dolls amongst this collection could easily be identified as Asian, African and Caucasian. What ethnic group did the other two dolls belong to? Might they be Latina “krokeshis?”

Yes, the light brown hair/light skinned doll can be a Latina.  The giant krokeshi dolls featured at JANM were created because I wanted to showcase the beauty of different ethnic backgrounds and at the same time, shed light on the ‘oneness’ of the human race.  By creating different skin tones, it was meant to include many different ethnic backgrounds aside from the general ones such as Asians, Africans, Caucasians and Latins.  For example, the brown hair/light skinned doll can be a Latina, or can be a Hapa (east/west mix), as well as other misc. mixes that produce that kind of look or the black hair/light skinned can also be a Latina, at the same time an Asian.  Another example is the black hair/dark skin doll which can represent an African person or someone from India…etc.  I wanted everybody looking at it to be able to identify themselves in one or more dolls.  The red head was for the red heads but I also meant it to be for other misc. types.
What motivated you to redefine the art form of the kokeshi?

My motivation of redefining the art form of the kokeshi came from my Japanese background, growing up in Los Angeles and my studies in Buddhism.

You emigrated from Japan to America at the age of seven. Do you feel a connection between yourself and other immigrants? Can you recall any of your experiences as a young immigrant in America?

I find similarities between myself and other immigrants on many levels but the one that is important to me is the appreciation of my ethnic background and traditions.  When I was a child, I hated the fact that my family was so different (1st generation).  I just wanted so much to be just like the other kids who brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch vs. rice balls covered with black seaweed.  My friends would ‘gasp’ at the sight of this gross black thing and would also want to know why my lunch was packed in a small container and not in a brown paper bag.  I know Japanese bento boxes are a cool thing now but back then it was odd.  I know many kids with 1st generation parents go through this regardless of race.  But as an adult, I am now able to appreciate my cultural background and understand my parents better than ever.  I realize my world is so much richer and wider because of my multicultural background.

As the bio on your website mentions, you have a penchant for painting figures with large eyes. As the saying goes, you see eyes as “the windows to the soul.” What do large eyes convey about one’s soul? Does your most recent work continue in this vein?

In my paintings, large eyes are just emphasizing MY deep interest in the concept of the soul.  The soul is pretty much a universal idea which I find fascinating and find important.  My method of deepening my understanding is through the study of Buddhism and expressing it visually.  I think my work will continue in this vein for some time.
Your paintings often present a convergence of Hip Hop and Buddhism, of b-boys, b-girls and bodhisattvas. Do you use Hip Hop symbols to put a modern spin on the Mahayana tradition, or, do you use Mahayana symbols to shine the light on the spiritual nature of Hip Hop?
You could say both.  I incorporate Hip Hop symbols because I am a product of the 80’s and use Buddhist symbols because I studied Buddhism in Japan.  They have both been a major influence in my life.  I think early Hip Hop is spiritual and uplifting, talking about awareness, education and self improvement.  I think the same about Buddhism.  That’s why in my world of painting, they become infused and expressed as one.  

At times, you have shortened your name to “Emi M.,” do you anticipate an artistic showdown between yourself and the rapper? Who would win?

Thats funny!  Many people do associate my name to the rapper’s because it sounds similar.  “Emi M.” is used because my last name (Motokawa) is long and sometimes difficult to pronounce and to remember.  It was just for that reason.  Since I can’t rap at all,  I would definately lose an MC battle, but maybe if it’s in the visual arts, I might have a chance!
Asian Latin fusion food has become a veritable phenomenon. Do you think that Asian Latin fusion food is just a passing trend, or the future?

 Theres so many of us and since our lives are so intertwined, my guess is its probably here to stay!  

Who is your favorite Latin celebrity, historical figure, or fictional character?
I can’t think of one right now but a Latin family who was a major influence and whom I respected was my neighbors growing up.  They were the ones who taught me how to warm a tortilla on the stove, eat chorizo and eggs, and made me fall in love with tamales when I was young.

I typically ask my interviewees if they would rather date an Asian or someone of Latin descent. However, you are happily married to Mike “the Poet” Sonksen, so I won’t ask you that question. You and Mike have a daughter. When she comes of age, who would you prefer for her to date, an Asian, or someone of Latin descent?
I want her to date a half asian and half Latin!

Any last words or shout outs?

Thank you! I would like to promote 2 things: My website and a show.


I will be showing and selling the krokeshi doll and paintings at ARCHRIVAL store for a month from mid December(exact date not set yet but starting either the 11th or 16th of dec.) For the holiday shopping season.

349 E 2nd st. Los angeles ca 90012 in the Japanese town downtown.


David A. Romero is a cheese enchilada-making spoken word artist who knows something about Mexicans. A lover of boba and a citizen of Diamond Bar, CA, he also knows a thing or two about Asians. http://www.davidaromero.com/
Have any ideas for the blog? Questions? Comments? Hit me up below! Or email me: davidaromero@projektnewspeak.org

3 Responses:
  1. […] Persepctive: A Mexican’s Guide to All Things Latin, Asian, or Both by David A. Romero The Mexi-Asian Persepective: A Mexican’s Guide to All Things Latin, Asian, or Both | Projekt NewSp… projektnewspeak.com Will the Real Emi M. Please Stand Up? by David A. Romero What do b-boys, […]

  2. Pamela Hays says:

    I love Emi M. She produces lovely, intricate works of art. Indeed she and my son, Mike “the poet” Sonksen have produced a beautiful granddaughter for me as well. They have brought many smiles and much joy into my life. Emi is an Asian jewel.

  3. Jeremy Sole says:

    I love Emi M’s work, her approach to life, her smile and her husband Mike The Poet (and little Eka Loa). This is a talented, sweet, intelligent and loving family that produces amazing work.