A while back I wrote about my family’s experience in Manzanar, probably the most famous of the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during World War II. When I wrote about everything I know about their time in the camp, I thought I had a pretty good grasp of the sequence of events and how daily life was. It wasn’t until I read Kiyo’s Story that I realized just how little I actually know about the internment.
Kiyo Sato was born here in the United States as the oldest child of Japanese immigrant parents. Like my grandfather, her parents never returned to visit Japan and made the United States their permanent home. They were also banned from becoming citizens due to several laws in place that allowed only Caucasian immigrants the right to become American citizens. Kiyo, and her brothers and sisters were granted citizenship by virtue of their birth in California. Citizenship, it turns out, wasn’t enough to keep them out of the Pinedale and Poston internment camps. Kiyo’s story documents her family’s journey through a very dark period of time in the United States.
Before reading Kiyo’s Story I knew the basics of camp life. The weather was usually terrible and the camps situated in desolate expanses of wilderness in places no one would happily choose to live. The camps weren’t finished by the time over 100,000 people moved into them and conditions were downright dangerous when it comes to sanitation, illness, proper nutrition and access to electricity powered light. Times were tough but people in the camps persevered and made the best of the situation. Vegetables planted with smuggled seeds sprouted in deserts along with rock gardens started to appear and ended up thriving. I know it’s a stereotype, but Japanese people have an uncanny ability to grow things and create beauty.
What I didn’t have the ability to understand was everything that happened before and after the war. The terrible episode didn’t just start and end with the opening and closing of camp. I also never grasped the potential for terrible psychological damage inflicted on an entire population of Americans. After reading Kiyo’s story, I can now see the tip of the ice berg. I have at least seen a glimpse of what life was like as an outcast ethnicity. I won’t spoil the book by going into detail with examples, but I will say that this is the most in depth account of life as a Japanese-American from pre to post war.
As with most things, there is another side of this book. A side I didn’t anticipate seeing but was so happy to have experienced. Usually when I am reading, it’s a work of fiction. I expect dramatic turns of events, grand resolutions, and nicely wrapped up story lines. Kiyo’s Story is a memoire of life. Rather than grand page turning stories, this memoire creates a feeling and paints pictures more vivid than almost anything I’ve read. I’m not a member of the Sato family and I wasn’t alive for the events that are described. However, the familiar feeling of what it’s like to be Japanese-American came across through her story. Every time I read about the family’s love of specific vegetables or fruits, their abilities to make plants grow, their love of hot ofuro baths, and the fastidious nature of Kiyo’s mother I was reminded of aspects of my own family.
When a family of characters feels that familiar through text, the emotional response to the trials and triumphs of their lives became completely real. It was one thing to know the facts about what my family, Kiyo’s family, and any other Japanese-American family went through during those long years but its quite another to feel what they went through. As I said before, I know that reading this book only scratches the surface of what really living this life was like, but I feel grateful for just that little bit. It helps me understand the circumstances and legacy I come from. I may not have lived through it, but I am a direct product of people who did. I wonder endlessly how their experiences shaped the people they became and how the people they became influenced the person I am today.
This final thought is probably the most important question to ponder. Aside from the loss of material goods, property and freedom, what are the left over emotional pieces of baggage from the internment years? For better or for worse, how have the generations since that time been raised and influenced by those people who were directly involved? Just as with the war as a whole, we know that declarations of victory and surrender don’t bring the world and its people back to normal. Normal never comes back. Instead we are left with Different.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
The LEGO Project series is a look through the Second Snack collection of LEGO sets from Thomas’ childhood as well as some modern sets. For years these LEGO bricks and pieces have been laying dormant in plastic bins but with the pooled resources of the Internet, reassembling sets is now a reality.
Here's an ultra-tiny set from LEGO's space collection. Like so many of the other small sized sets that we've covered here, the Grid Trekkor was a fun and cheap way for kids to expand their machines and mini-figs without killing their wallet (well... their parents' wallets).
The Grid Trekkor is only 23 pieces and came in a really small box. And, like so many other small sets, it featured some interesting pieces to make up for its mini size. This set has a jet pack, a large neon antenna, and rugged rubber wheels that made this perfect for climbing over dirt, grass, carpet, kitchen tables, anything...you name it.
This set was part of the Blacktron team in the space universe of LEGO. Blacktron were the "bad guys" but as usual had much cooler space ships and vehicles. The neon green, black and white design was the second color scheme for the team as the original Blacktron guys wore all black and rode in black ships with sparse amounts of yellow.
Did you have this or any other super small sets? Which ones? Post below!
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
24 hours before we were to be getting on a plane in Rome to leave for home in the United States, Sarah and I were on a hot bumpy train making our way to the train station in Naples to board the much bigger and faster train to Rome. We were at the end of a two week trip through Italy and had just spent the day touring the ruins of Pompeii. This local train was just one step in our long journey home. Having already visited a number of the 1000 Places to See Before You Die on this trip, we thought the quick stop in Naples would be a nice way to add one more place to the list.
Sitting on the train we met another couple. I think they were from Argentina. We made small talk and passed the time looking out the windows during breaks in the conversation. We were relaxed because our stop was at the end of this local line. One stop before ours, the other couple got off and we were alone in the coach. As we started moving again we realized we were moving through the train station we were supposed to make our switch at. The unmistakable feeling of panic started setting in. The next stop, the one we thought we were supposed to get off at, came up and we grabbed our bags and got off. This station was small. Too small. The modern high speed train we should be getting on would never fit in this building. Yep, we had definitely missed our stop. Now what?
We looked for help from station personnel but there were few to be found. The one very nice person we could find didn’t speak English at all. However, he understood enough of what we were looking for and pointed to a spot on our map that we should walk to. He got across to us through hand motions and facial expressions that walking to the correct station would be no big deal. Sarah and I weren’t so sure but what choice did we have?
Outside of the station it was late afternoon. The Italian sun, a color I haven’t seen anywhere else so far, would be setting in a couple of hours. It was hot and sweat constantly poured off of our bodies. Carrying all of our luggage with us, we felt exposed and vulnerable. Like typical Americans, we were wondering about our personal safety. I’m sure the reality of the situation is that no one noticed us or paid any attention. There were also a few Carabinieri patrolling so it’s not like we would have been ruffed up in any way. Still, we were tired, cranky, and in an unfamiliar place after missing our stop.
This is the point where something had to happen. We couldn’t just freeze in place and hope for rescue. We were in a predicament that no one else would find that disturbing but for us, panic was clawing away at us. I looked around and took stock of our situation. I saw a police station at the other end of a giant square we were standing at. I also saw people turning down a large narrow parking lot around a fence to an area I couldn’t see. I looked at Sarah one of us said we needed to at least take a picture of ourselves standing in Naples. That’s our way of saying we’ve been to a stop on the 1000 Places to See Before You Die. After snapping our shot I decided we would walk over to the parking lot to see what it was. This is an uncharacteristic move for me. I like to know where I’m going and get confirmation from people in the know that my course of action is right. I also HATE making mistakes. It’s unhealthy but I start feeling a boiling rage any time I do something incorrectly. To make us walk over and find out what was around the corner took a huge amount of effort for me to step outside of myself.
I made a bargain with Sarah and said we’d turn around and go back to the station we got off at if the parking lot didn’t turn out to lead us somewhere we wanted to be. Sarah put her complete trust in me and we set off. The sidewalk was crowded and people weren’t too accommodating for two people with a lot of bags on rollers behind them. We weaved our way over to the parking lot and took a peak around the fence that had blocked our view.
A steady stream of people with rolling bags, briefcases and children were making their way to a large two story building. It had a huge glass front fascia to it. This had to be it. We stopped and talked it out once more and then did the unthinkable for us and continued on into the unknown. The signs were there – this had to be the correct train station. As we walked closer we found out that it was. Excellent!
Once inside we realized we had about 10 minutes until the train took off. We rushed to an automated kiosk to purchase our train tickets. Nothing happened. The machine rejected our payment. We tried another machine, same result. Time was ticking away and we would miss our train. This was one of the last trains going to Rome for the day. If we missed this, there was still another one we could take but if we couldn’t make that one, we would be stranded in Naples.
We made our train and calmed down on our way to Rome. This whole episode had lasted maybe 45 minutes to an hour. It felt like a lifetime. In that short span of time Sarah and I were pushed to our personal limits. No one likes to feel lost, but we are especially adverse to not knowing what’s going on the feeling of not having control is very unsettling. We are also a cautious couple. We research, plan and get all the information we need before doing things. Having to go out on a whim and walk around Naples by ourselves was completely uncharacteristic and mentally draining.
In the end, it all worked out. We chose the right place to explore, we made our train and we got back to Rome. We didn’t see any of the highlights of Naples. We were in the city for about an hour and we spent our time scared of our surroundings. Technically, we shouldn’t count this time as a real visit to Naples but we do. As a couple we cooperated at an amazing level. We talked to each other, kept each other as calm as we could, and worked together to get ourselves out of this situation. Each destination on the 1000 Places to See Before You Die has left a strong impression on us. I count this brief time in Naples as one of the most life changing events of our lives. For that reason, we think it deserves to be checked off our list more than almost any other place we’ve been.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Meme Monday brings you a weekly Internet Meme that we have found. Internet Memes are described as something that catches on like wildfire with Internet communities with no outside source of promotion. They exist purely for enjoyment and laughs.