We live in tumultuous times. I cannot remember any time when people have been so uncivil and hateful, or have tried to silence others with their violent words and actions.
I reflected on what is going on in the current day with factions—who wish to destroy people simply because they hold differing viewpoints and beliefs, immigration, and my kids as I read The Little Exile, written by Jeanette S. Arakawa. In particular, and as a mother of a multiracial family, I have become hyper-aware of how people act or think when they feel threatened.
2017 is the 75th anniversary of the removal and internment of people of Japanese ancestry. I suspect that many of us believe we are distant from the Japanese Internment of 1942, resulting from escalating racism and jealousy over the Japanese economic success, and Pearl Harbor. I believe otherwise.
I've frequently wondered what would happen if U.S. and China's relationship escalated to conflict. How would my daughters—Chinese-born U.S. citizens—be regarded? Would some people be more racist toward my girls than they already are? Would some people act with knee-jerk hostility toward them? Would they perceive my daughter as sympathizers, spies, or possible enemies even though they are Americans? Would they ask them for more papers to prove allegiance?
Sadly, I believe the answer is yes.
I had to present my oldest daughter's passport as proof of citizenship to several colleges last year. She also had to have a TB test because she was born in China; never mind that she has been in the U.S. all but her first nine months and provided proof of all her vaccinations. Neither of these was a requirement of my homegrown older son.
These instances flitted through my mind as I read The Little Exile. I appreciated Arakawa sharing vignettes of this short, impactful period in her childhood. However, I came away with the sense that she was emotionally removed from what occurred, as if she were only reciting the stories. As a reader, I didn't experience the harsh conditions of the camps. I never had the sense that she truly felt exiled within the U.S., so I was not emotionally engaged in the memoir.
I did learn a few things. Detained Japanese were allowed to order items from the Sears Roebuck catalog. Detainees were paid for work in the camps. The Japanese were resourceful, practical, and a tightly woven, supportive community. Kind people existed, helping the Japanese before internment, during internment and relocation, and upon re-entry.
I know there was far more fallout after this brutal relocation program, which was ruled illegal in 1944. I had many questions for the author after finishing The Little Exile, because I wanted to know much, much more.
What was it like to re-enter America after it robbed you of your belongings, property, businesses, heritage, and wealth? Kind people existed, helping the Japanese before internment, during internment and relocation, and upon re-entry. What were the trajectories for your parents, your brother, and you? How did your name come to be Jeanette? How can your experiences help our current population not make similar mistakes? How do we not allow discrimination to spiral out of control again?
Jeanette S. Arawaka was born in San Francisco to Japanese immigrants. Between 1942 and 1945 she was part of a diaspora that took her to Stockton, CA, Rohwer, AK, and Denver. She returned to San Francisco in 1946. Over the years, Jeanette's devotion to education issues has permitted her to share her experiences in the classroom as well as other forums. She lives in San Francisco.
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