Tell the Family Stories at Thanksgiving

November is Family Stories Month for a reason! We’ve been looking forward to this week of traditional family gathering. Even while we may not yet have “normal” gatherings, we can still count our blessings and share our love (and hopefully not sickness). This is the time to ask for stories of when our parents and grandparents were young. That was a different world then, sometimes even a different culture whether that be a different country, a different region, or even a different environment such as city or countryside. What are your youthful stories? Do your siblings agree on the details of your childhood stories? Everyone has their own perspective, their own remembering, but don’t fight about it as it’s YOUR OWN memories that have shaped you.

November is also National Novel Writing Month – NANOWRIMO – but I like to call it NA-ME-WRI-MO for National Memoir Writing Month. While you are sharing stories together, jot down notes or even record the sharing by video or audio. Don’t lose your lived family history!

Happy Thanksgiving! May you realize the many blessings you have, large and small. Counting our blessings reminds us to be grateful. And a grateful heart is a joyful heart.

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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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