Explain how the Japanese American experience, or your own experiences in working with the community, has shaped your life.
Growing up, I believed being a part of the Nikkei community implied eating Yakisoba out of small white paper boxes at Bazaars in church basements, or dancing at the Obon with my kimono dragging along the hot cement, and the fervent beat of the taiko drum resonating throughout my entire body. It also meant listening to my grandmother’s stories of the extremely limited memories she had from her time at Minidoka (she was only two-years-old when Executive Order 9066 was issued). However, despite my constant exposure to the Japanese American community, it wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I began working with the community. My involvement began when I set out to write a story about two alumni of my high school, who had been interned as very young children, for my high school’s news publication, Grant Magazine.
I began by interviewing the two alumni, Shirley Kanada and Joni Kimoto, both of whom were incarcerated in the Portland Assembly Center and eventually Minidoka Internment Camp. Eventually I decided to pay a visit to the Oregon Nikkei Legacy Center to find more historical information on the Japanese Internment. There, I met Todd Mayberry, Director of Collections at the museum who talked me through the entire experience of Portland Japanese Americans during the time of World War II. That visit, along with the powerful interviews I had with not only Shirley and Joni, but also other Nikkei who had survived the internment, helped me realize the importance of preserving history, so we can learn from our mistakes of the past, and appreciate the bravery and ability to endure of our predecessors.
In December, I was given the opportunity to present research I had been conducting over the past seven months through the Legacy Center, at an event called “Letters from Beyond the Fence.” The research was on two letter that Ida Nakamura, who was interned as a high schooler, had sent to her classmates at Parkrose High School from behind the iron gates of Minidoka. My research involved interviewing her family members, and tracing her experiences specifically leading up to the internment. Prior to this experience, for the most part I had only heard in depth interment stories of young children and their parents, which is why I feel I connected with Ida particularly, because she was the same age as me when she and her family were forced to evacuate their homes and settle into the Portland Assembly Center. In fact, our birthdays were only one day apart.
While I haven’t always been able to recognize it, the Japanese American experience and community has shaped my life by providing three traits to strive to embody. The first, is resilience, something I have learned from not only the ability to endure from all Japanese who were incarcerated, but also the bravery of my grandmother, who immigrated to the United States from China, to provide my mother and her five siblings with better opportunities. Second, is hard work, a trait my parents have certainly emphasized, coupled with determination and a dash of stubbornness. And last, the ability to be observant and to willingly provide welcoming ears is a trait I have come to appreciate especially, from the entire Japanese American community.