“All of us can’t stay in the [internment] camps until the end of the war. Some of us have to go to the front. Our record on the battlefield will determine when you will return and how you will be treated. I don’t know if I’ll make it back.”
— Technical Sergeant Abraham Ohama, Company “F,”442nd Regimental Combat Team, Killed in Action 10/20/1944
While writing my novel, The Red Kimono, I learned many new things, not only about the history of the internment of Japanese Americans, but also about the history of my own family. I always knew my mother and her family had been forced to sell their belongings before being relocated to Tule Lake Relocation Center. When Tule Lake became a high security segregation camp for those Japanese Americans deemed to be “disloyal,” they were moved to Topaz Relocation Camp in Utah.
My grandparents were from Japan – Issei, first generation. Due to the Naturalization Act of 1790, they were not allowed to become American citizens. However, my mother and her siblings were born in the United States – Nissei, second generation. Therefore, they were citizens of this country when they were relocated to internment camps.
|My mother and her mother|
Even more amazing to me was something I learned just last week from my cousin, Uncle Yoshio’s son: his dad, my uncle, my mother’s brother, received the Bronze Star.
It’s difficult for me to put into words how I feel when I think about these young men fighting – some even sacrificing their lives – for a country that put their families behind barbed wire. But, there were many stories like my uncle’s. Many of these young Japanese Americans soldiers must have held the same sentiments Tech. Sgt. Ohama expressed in his words above:
“Our record on the battlefield will determine when you will return and how you will be treated.”
This history is not something my mother or her family spoke about much. Perhaps many Japanese Americans are unnecessarily ashamed of this history, or it is too painful a period in their lives to re-live. Perhaps it is the philosophy of gaman – patience, endurance. Or, maybe it is the attitude of shikata ga nai – resigned acceptance.
I am Sansei, third generation. The more I learned writing The Red Kimono, the more I realized this is history we should all remember. Most of all, I respect the honor and dignity of those who experienced it.