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Posts Tagged ‘internment’

Art: Jana Brenning.
The above novel by Alden Hayashi came into being partly because he wanted to write about his mother’s WW II trauma and the incarceration of innocent Japanese Americans in camps. It’s also about the difficulty of coming out to a very cautious parent as a gay man.

I’ve been telling friends, especially friends in book groups, to check out Alden Hayashi’s novel. It’s based on his relationship with his reticent Japanese American mother, who suffered injustice at the hands of the US, her birth country — a history she long kept hidden. Since publication, the book has found an audience not only in the Japanese American community, but among other Americans. After all, this is our history, and we need to Face History.

Alden had a lot of experience from his day job ghost-writing books for management consultants and others, and he thought it would have been ideal if he had been able to ghost-write his mother’s story. But as he explained in one of the online book discussions he’s been invited to attend lately, his mother didn’t begin to open up about her history until late in life, and he could tell that some of the dates were getting confused. He had already learned a lot on his own by research into obscure government documents and by attending a Japanese American group’s visit to his mother’s infamous camp in Arkansas. (Americans used to refer to these camps as “internment camps,” but they are more properly called “concentration camps.”)

I do not think that making this history part of a book about the gay son coming out in a family conditioned against being the “nail that sticks up” has kept it from being a good novel. If anything, the mother’s story made the son’s feel more real, and the son’s story helped show the consequences of an early trauma for a future parent.

But the aspect that will rivet you the most is learning that many of these Americans were rounded up from the camps to be exchanged with Americans trapped in Japan and occupied Asia. The first group that went “home” were in fact Japanese people who wanted to go. But for Americans like Alden’s mother, home was Hawaii, her birthplace. She had never even visited Japan. And her family was being sent to a country they felt they were at war with. In fact, her brother fought and died for the US alongside other Japanese Americans. The family definitely did not find a warm welcome when they got to Japan.

I’d read many intriguing vignettes about this history on Alden’s Facebook page and was thrilled it got into a book. No wonder he bristled during the years 2016-2020, when a whole religion was considered terrorist by some powerful people. He was so afraid of history repeating itself.

Be sure to look for the moment when the mother in the novel visits the Statue of Liberty with her grown son. Find the book here.

Check out this interesting conversation between Alden and another Japanese American author.

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My friend was born and raised in Hawaii. His parents were Japanese-American. His mother was sent to an internment camp during World War II. It’s a complicated story how she got released and ended up in Japan for the war’s duration. Something like a prisoner swap. She returned to Hawaii after the war and raised a family.

My friend was invited to talk to fifth graders about his mother’s experience in the camp. He was reluctant. It’s painful to think about. Would young children get it?

In the end, he went, and it was a good experience for him as well as for the kids. I think he had an impact on how they think about differences in our multicultural society. And their curiosity and understanding was a comfort to him.

Here is what he put on Facebook this spring.

“Last week I spoke to two classes of fifth graders about my mom’s experience in a Japanese-American relocation camp during World War II. After the talk, one of the students asked me why the Japanese-Americans had been relocated to camps but the German-Americans hadn’t. Wow, I could have hugged that boy for asking such a perceptive question, and I was also touched by how the students were able to draw a parallel between the Japanese-American discrimination decades ago and the anti-Muslim sentiment that’s currently been gaining so much traction in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

My friend posted a family photo that he goes on to describe. It is not the photo I put below.

“This photo, taken in the mid 1930s, is of my mom and her younger sister when they were growing up in downtown Honolulu, before they were forced to relocate to a camp in Arkansas. My mom looks like she’s around the age of the students I was talking to last week, and when I showed those students this photo I got a little emotional imagining my mom as a young girl being in that classroom too, listening to me tell her story. In such ways, our stories really do have such raw power to connect people through different generations and cultures, which, I suppose, is why I first became interested in becoming a writer all those years ago.”

America has always needed people like my friend’s mother — people who carry on and return benefits to the place that harmed them. And there are lots of them. Even in the town where I live, a couple who suffered internment during the war became quietly known for philanthropy to both the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund, Inc. and our town, donating all their reparation money to local high school scholarships.

Photo: Dorothea Lange
Some Japanese-Americans who suffered from internment in World War II
still chose to return kindness for hurt after the war.

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