Wednesday, November 17, 2010


"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

Since beginning work on my novel, Broken Dolls, (see synopsis), I have 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
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

What I didn't realize until recently, was that my Uncle Yoshio - my mother's oldest brother - fought in the United States Army while his family was interned in these camps. He was a member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, composed entirely of Japanese American soldiers.  The 442nd became the most decorated unit in United States military history for its size and length of service.

442nd Regimental Combat Team Website

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 have learned since beginning work on Broken Dolls, the more I realize this is history we should all remember. Most of all, I respect the honor and dignity of those who experienced it.


  1. Honor for oneself lies in the actions, words and lives we deem to live, when in the course of mankind, we are thrust into the nebulous realm of no-win situations.
    Honor prevails when you have walked through the valley, faced death and dishonor, and found no absolute reason to look back at the footprints of time trailing behind you.

  2. Like your family, mine did not often talk about the internment camps. The Issei and Nissei were resiliant generations and overcame many obstacles. I remember asking my mom one time why she never mentioned the "camp" years - if it was just to painful to recall. I was shocked when she told me "No,it's just not that too much happened. We would not have met a lot of the other Japanese families if we had not been sent to camp."

  3. Thank you for commenting, Anonymous. I agree with much of what you said about honor, except that I think it's important to look back, so that we can remember and learn from our mistakes.

    Steve, as I've written my book, I think I've realized that a lot of how living in the internment camps was perceived had to do with the age of the internee. Age leads to many differences in two of my characters. Thanks for commenting!

  4. History looks back on Honor's footsteps. Honor never deviates from its appointed task; it just IS. Eye on the future only, with integrity and dignity in its pocket, honor proclaims victory.

  5. Very interesting, Anonymous, but I respectfully disagree. One man's honor may be another man's crime and often the only objective judge is time. Without hindsight's 20-20, and the lessons it provides us, we can't learn from our mistakes.

  6. I know a man who walked with honor, never looked back, faced adversity you and I will never understand, and changed the world forever. Life is not always about winning and losing, but how you play the game.
    He is Risen!

  7. This is truly touching. When history is personalized it makes that much more real. And keep us updated about your book!

  8. Thank you for commenting, K.P. You are so right about personalizing history. Sometimes I think many personal histories will be lost, because people don't take the time to tell stories like other generations did.

  9. Hmmm. I can only hope that I act with honor if ever placed in such difficult situations. I also hope I won't torment myself over my decisions once made if I later realize I was wrong.

    Without looking back, though, how will we ordinary humans know if how we have acted was right or wrong for the situations at hand? Or does this matter? To me it does. I need to know if my choices were good ones so I can make better future ones if necessary in the future.

  10. I agree, Madison! Thanks for speaking from your heart.

  11. Your post brought tears to my eyes, even though I am already familiar with your book. History is all we have to allow us to know who we are. It gives us the strength to become the best we can be despite the mistakes of the past. We are our children's history.
    History is --- "A voice forever sounding across the centuries the laws of right and wrong." James Froude

  12. I agree, Velda, and I take that as quite a compliment from someone who writes so beautifully about history. Thanks for commenting and happy Thanksgiving!