Tuesday, December 08, 2009
|What I learned from: my family
It would have passed by unnoticed to me, had I not seen a quick headline in the news, but yesterday was Pearl Harbor day. 68 years ago, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor sinking 4 US Navy battleships, sank or damaged 3 other cruisers, three destroyers and a minelayer. They also destroyed 188 aircraft, wounded 1,282 people, and killed 2,402 more. It truly was a day of infamy; in more ways than many Americans remember.I will never forget one day a couple of years ago, I sat with my extended family and listened to their story of what happened after the attacks. My family is of Japanese decent, some coming straight from Japan, most born and raised here in the States. They were productive citizens in any event-business owners, college students, artists, farmers, homeowners and taxpayers. On the day of the Pearl Harbor attacks, they stated that they were scared of being caught in the middle of the crossfire between their cultural background and loyalties to the land they call home. One person recalled being huddled in the back of their grocery store hiding in fear of retribution.History books neglect to spend much time on this embarrassing part of American History, and as a result many Americans are ignorant of it. February 19, 1942, FDR issued Executive Order 9066: All persons of Japanese decent living on the west coast of the United States must be evacuated into “War Relocation Camps”. This was eventually expanded to include the east coast as well. Knowing what was happening, their neighbors took advantage. Businesses, property, and homes were sold for a fraction of their value. Who would pay fair value knowing that they can only take what they can carry? Many neighbors offered to hold belongings for their Japanese American friends, only to sell them once they were out of sight.
They were taken to several staging grounds including the Puyallup Fair grounds in Puyallup, Washington and the Pacific International Livestock Exposition in Portland, Oregon Inside the camps, the story was not much better, though it was better than the concentration camps in Europe. Many families were made to live in one cabin, with no insulation, and wind would blow in through the slats of wood, carrying the dust with it. One person in my family, who was interned at the Puyallup Fair, recalled that one night there was a drill. They all had to assemble in what we now know as the main stage of the Puyallup Fair. As he looked up, he saw that the guards were all carrying assault rifles standing on top of the buildings looking down, aiming their guns at those assembled ready to fire. The thought that ran through his mind was, “We are mostly all citizens, and we do all love America and have done nothing wrong.”
January 2, 1945 the order came down from the Supreme Court closing all camps. They were given a train ticket and $25 to return to their old lives. However, after a couple of years, there was not much of their lives to return to. Those who did not sell their property found it run down. Pre-internment, many Japanese Americans were farmers or business owners, and did not have farms or businesses to return to. They had to start over from scratch.
So, what have I learned from this?
1) History is important. Many do not know about this-or are poorly educated about it. As a result when terrorists attack some cry for the blood of all Muslims, or Middle Easterners. I remember in college, a friend asked me why we don’t round up all Middle Easterners and put them in jail. We don’t because we have learned from history.
2) Racism sucks. I have never personally encountered racism. But seeing the pain of recalling this in my family, and seeing how it altered the course of history for my family is enough to make me want to make sure that I never treat anyone different because of how they look, or speak.
3) Make the most of bad situations. My great grandmother’s diaries were found about 15 years ago, and published in a book. She wrote everyday of her children’s lives in these diaries, including her time in camp. Despite the miserable conditions, her diaries were upbeat, and positive. She talks about how God helps her through this time, and while she pokes some fun at the food they served (mornings: rice with sugar and milk, something an Asian would never eat on their own), she gave them kudos for trying.
4) Remember no matter how bad it is for you, it could be worse, and probably is for someone else. While they were in camps, there were some good things that came out of it. Even just a couple of years ago, I remember being in the pharmacy with my dad, and someone recognized his name, and said that his parents were in camp with my grandparents. It was a great time of networking for the cultural community.
Also, don’t forget that while the Japanese Americans were in camps here in the States, there were others in camps in Europe. In spite of some bad amenities, the camps were not death camps as they were in Europe.