Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
Camp. That one-syllable Pandora’s box stuffed with the tangled legacies of our families’ World War II incarceration is, whether we like it or not, an inheritance that connects almost all Mainland Sansei. It’s a deeper tie than sweating together in Nikkei basketball leagues, or savoring smoky teriyaki chicken at obon festivals and church bazaars.
Most of us know the camps in which the government imprisoned our families. Mine claimed Manzanar, Jerome and Gila River. Many of us heard our parents’ stories of suffering through violent dust storms, standing in long lines for substandard food, or perhaps gentler accounts of camp baseball leagues and social hall dances.
Three years ago, I participated in the annual pilgrimage to Tule Lake, the camp that ultimately became the official “segregation center” for Nikkei that the government considered “disloyal” or “troublemakers.” Camp survivors — now in their 80s and 90s — recounted police officers beating prisoners with baseball bats in the Tule Lake jail, and Nikkei clutching coffee cans filled with the cremated remains of relatives as they left the desert camp to face a hostile postwar America.
At the pilgrimage, I realized that during World War II, my grandparents were about the same age I am now. Viewing the camp years through a new lens, I imagined what it must have been like for my middle-aged grandparents to leave camp — with dependent children, no home or job to reclaim, and no savings.
When they should have been envisioning retirement, many of our grandparents were having to start over. I wondered if I could muster their grit or emulate their resilience, enduring “Jap” spit at them and doors slammed to homes and jobs.
Like our grandparents, our Nisei parents endured hardships. They were determined to provide us middle-class, postwar comforts with a Nikkei twist — piano lessons and karate classes, road trips to national parks and afterschool Nihongo gakko (Japanese language school). They gave us opportunities to channel our over-achieving tendencies, which have translated for many Sansei into professional and economic success.
Stan Yogi co-authored the new children’s book, “Fred Korematsu Speaks Up,” and the civil rights history, “Wherever There’s a Fight: How Runaway Slaves, Suffragists, Immigrants Strikers and Poets Shaped Civil Liberties in California.”
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