Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans in WWII and the hidden stories

The traveling Smithsonian exhibit Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and WWII is here at our local Soldiers Memorial. I was aware of most of this information (after discovered this shocking episode in US history while researching for my mother’s WWII in Japan memoir), but only recently learned about Latin American Japanese sent to the US for internment. Seems some of the Latin American countries had the same attitudes about their Japanese-heritage residents as the Americans on our West Coast—deep prejudice and resentment of their successes despite discrimination. The US government gave these countries an excuse to get rid of them.

The US pressured some of the Latin American countries, especially Peru, to round up their Japanese, who were shipped to a Crystal City, Texas, “camp,” their passports confiscated. Some Italians and Germans were there, too, but apparently none of them were later deported to Italy or Germany. During the war, the US sent 800 of these Japanese campers to Japan in prisoner exchanges. After the war, the US deported about 1,000 to Japan as their home countries refused to take them back. Many of those sent to Japan had never lived in Japan, not to mention Japan was devastated by war, many people starving. Others fought to remain in the US despite being considered “illegal aliens.”

Imagine being innocent of crime and forcefully removed to another country that imprisoned you and then called you illegal – and therefore not qualified to receive the $20,000 per person the American Japanese eventually received in hard-won reparations. But, in another ten years the ones that remained in the US won $5,000 each. Some tried to fight for the full $20,000, to no avail. Who knows what happened to the ones sent to war-torn Japan or back to their countries.

This bit of history, what the US government did to Latin Americans of Japanese heritage, is little known, apparently not worth mentioning. Did any of these internees write their stories? Do any books mention much about them – anything? This wrong was never actually righted. Not that money can give back years of imprisonment because of fear and prejudice, or pay for a pre-war life destroyed for nothing. Their stories should be told as a part of the internment camp story, as warnings of what we are capable of doing to others and hopefully will not do again. Internment camp is quite a euphemism, isn’t it.

(The Smithsonian exhibit is going to Albuquerque NM later in October)

Learn more about the Latin American Japanese in this BBC news article:

The Japanese Peruvians interned in the US during WWII

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Downsizing Memories: Mari Kondo-ing and Swedish Death Cleaning

Getting rid of memories—sound a little frightening? After helping or watching from afar as family members downsized parents’ homes to move them into apartments (most recently a quick and drastic downsizing), my sister and I have decided to start downsizing our own stuff. We are not only thinking we will move to smaller places in a few years, but we want to avoid leaving our kids with a horror show. Thanks to COVID, I have had more time to do things around the house, so after re-painting and getting things replaced or fixed, I was ready to do some Mari Kondo-ing, or Swedish Death Cleaning.

I began to tackle the papers. All the papers, papers, papers! I had already gone through my files last spring, now to go through years of saved greeting cards followed by the kids’ schoolwork and art, a big box of (really old) travel information and maps, my college class notes, my (deceased 2012) mom’s tax returns from 1999+. What big piles of recycle, shred, toss! I felt such accomplishment!

It’s hard to be completely ruthless. Each adult child will get a neat and organized pile of report cards, adorable drawings (highly curated), and their first-year baby book. I took photos of some of their art which won’t take much space in my computer. I kept one shoebox of greeting cards given to me with special handwritten messages, mostly from my kids. Re-reading those brought me so much joy that per Mari Kondo I had to save them. I plan to bask in reading them again someday as I sit in a rocking chair in a senior apartment.

My old college class notes were impressive. My writing has definitely deteriorated since then. Tiny, neat handwriting was accompanied by little drawings of algae cells or plant parts (botany major) or molecular structures or math equations (the hated organic chem and calculus, why did I save those notes!). I should not be so surprised that both my kids make highly organized, tidy handwritten notes for projects they do. I hardened my heart and ripped out the pages of my old spiral-bound notebooks and put them in the recycle pile—except for two notebooks with the nicest plant drawings which I will keep (for now) to marvel at again someday.

Next I will go through yearly appointment books starting with 1994, these beautifully illustrated with lovely art or nature photos. Will I be strong enough to throw these out? The early few years I want to save as they are full of memories of when we were moving around (including overseas)—where we traveled and who came to visit, kids activities and milestones, etc. I have decided to make a document where for each year I type up the important or interesting bits, like a timeline for remembrance sake, one that won’t fill up a big box. Of the illustrations, I will cut out my favorites and use them to collage greeting cards or paste them onto the fronts of greeting card envelopes.

This reducing of the physical stuff holding memories takes time and can be painful. Save only what really speaks to you and only if you really will look at or use it again. Except a lot of my things still speak to me! At least I am not in a big hurry—I’m not THAT old yet. But each day is a gift to be thankful for. I’d hate to be in a rush to do this, and I certainly don’t want to leave my kids with a mess. At least not a big mess.


I love this one, and I’m still trying to be less busy

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The Power of Life Writing and Family History

Recently I was reminded again of the power of life writing. Below is a comment from an editing client who had just received a proof copy of his professionally designed book, a tribute to his father.

Looking at the completed copy, thinking about the entire effort of the past year to make the book possible, and realizing my Dad will be memorialized forever, caused a deep emotional response within me today. As I am writing this email to you, I am fighting back the tears. Sad yet happy, feeling loss but grateful, queasy about it all, yet content.

The elderly and frail father died while his story was in the cover and interior design phase. This is always a worry when writing about and for an elderly person. But the father knew about the book and fortunately his son had read parts of it to him, so he knew how much his son loved and admired him—enough to write a book about him. That’s impressive. Our consolation is that his family can hold a great and lasting tribute to a man of the times whose humble beginnings ended with great accomplishments through hard work, perseverance, and risk-taking.

It is always a heart-warming pleasure to hear the comments of people when they see the finished copies of their family story books, often the result of years of hard work writing and then going through the editing process. Every author is thrilled to see their book in print for the first time, especially a first book, like a baby being born after a long labor, but family story books are extra special. They hold great meaning, full of history and connection to the family’s past and present. They honor lives of people of personal importance. Even if some of those people were far from perfect, their stories show the progression of generations and where behaviors and thought patterns come from.

A book can be passed into future generations, unlike stories locked in someone’s mind. You do not need to have writing experience to write your family history and stories. Just start researching and writing. Ask family members to help. When you think you are finished, consider hiring an editor to smooth out the sentences and fix grammar and spelling. You can simply take the manuscript to a local copy shop or make (and pay for) as professional-looking a book as you want by hiring experts. Many companies exist to create family books, even researching and writing them for you if you have lots of money to spare. Whatever you do, don’t lose the stories!

See articles under my Resources tab above for information about publishing family-only books:

Publishing For Family Only

Publishing With Lulu.com

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