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Posts Tagged ‘ww II’

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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Image: Collection of Stephen J. Hornsby/Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education
America—A Nation of One People From Many Countries,” by Emma Bourne, published in 1940 by the Council Against Intolerance in America.

At Atlas Obscura, Lauren Young writes about a powerful 1940 map showing America as a nation of immigrants.

“In the years leading up to the Second World War,” says Young, “isolationist sentiment coursed pretty strongly throughout the United States. Some Americans feared that immigrants were a threat to the country. …

“ ‘With the exception of the Indian, all Americans or their forefathers came here from other countries,’ the illustrator Emma Bourne inscribed on the map. The Council Against Intolerance commissioned Bourne’s work in an effort to remind Americans that the U.S. had always defined itself as a country of varied national origins and religious backgrounds.

“Bourne illustrates America’s unique ethnic and religious diversity by erasing state borderlines and showing the nation as one unit. Long red ribbons weave through the landscape to show clusters of immigrant groups and where they settled, from Japanese in the West to Italians in the East. At the bottom left is an inset scroll listing famous Americans in literature, science, industry, and the arts alongside their ethnic backgrounds, including George Gershwin and Albert Einstein, who became a U.S. citizen the year the map was published. …

“Bourne also emphasizes the range of religions present during this era, along with staple industries in each state, including a giant potato in Idaho, a huge fish in Washington, and large lobster in Maine. Detailed figures of people at work are meant to show how immigrants are active in creating a prosperous America.” Read more here.

(Thank you for the lead, Bob!)

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The concept of paying it forward has been flourishing in Naples, at least with regard to buying a cup of coffee for someone who can’t afford one.

Recently, reporter Gaia Pianigiani interviewed Neapolitans about the “suspended coffee practice. Coffee shop customer Laura Cozzolino explained, “ ‘As a Neapolitan who tries to restrict herself to four coffees a day, I understand that coffee is important. It’s a small treat that no one should miss.’

“The suspended coffee is a Neapolitan tradition that boomed during World War II and has found a revival in recent years during hard economic times.

“From Naples, by word of mouth and via the Internet, the gesture has spread throughout Italy and around the world, to coffee bars as far-flung as Sweden and Brazil. In some places in Italy, the generosity now extends to the suspended pizza or sandwich, or even books. …

“In a time of hardship, Italians can lack many things, but their coffee is not one of them. So it may be the most common item left at many cafes, as a gift, for people too poor to pay.”

More at the NY Times.

Photo: Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
Receipts are left to be claimed by those who are unable to afford a cup of coffee. 

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Here’s another story about an older worker from John. I think we’ll discover more of these, given that retirement today doesn’t have the same appeal for everyone.

“Frank Gurrera is old-school Brooklyn,” writes Pete Donohue at the NY Daily News.

“Gurrera, a World War II veteran, is nearly 90 years old. But he’s still working as a subway machinist at the MTA’s sprawling brick maintenance complex in Coney Island. Gurrera makes or modifies parts for workhorse trains that were built decades ago and need periodic roof-to-wheels overhauls in order to remain in service.

“ ‘I enjoy the work,’ he said. ‘It’s the satisfaction of making something from nothing, making something from just a piece of metal.’

“Gurrera is exactly the type of transit worker the Daily News celebrates with its annual Hometown Heroes in Transit awards, which honor bus and subway workers who demonstrate exceptional dedication, bravery, compassion, ingenuity and other admirable qualities.” More about the awards here.

Although this story is from New York, people like Gurrera are also valued in Greater Boston, which has the oldest subway system in the country. The Boston Globe has reported on local machinists who are needed to make train parts by hand.

Photo: Pearl Gabel/NY Daily News
Frank Gurrera, who turns 90 on Oct. 29, makes subway train parts that no longer are available from the original manufacturer. The parts are used for workhorse MTA trains that were built decades ago.

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