Thursday, January 28, 2010


In June 1997, my great aunt Susie Sakai gave a talk to students at Skyview High School (Bev's school) in Vancouver, WA about the Japanese-American Internment during World War II. Bev gave me a DVD of the presentation a few years ago but it was only this week that I popped it in and watched it. My aunt spoke for an hour and a half in great detail about what it was like to grow up in the Yakima Valley and then as an American citizen to leave her family home behind and be summarily imprisoned for the crime of being Japanese during a war with Japan. She spoke about her internment camp experience in Heart Mtn, Wyoming and the troubling conditions within its walls. She showed slides of famous images from that time and talked about the lawsuits and the much delayed reparations that were ultimately made for such an unjust act.

This photo really struck me:

A resilient people, the Japanese-Americans. I think about how they basically had all of their assets stripped from them, were imprisoned for 3-4 years then released back into a hostile and racist post-war US of which they were citizens. But despite this, they and their offspring made the most of their situations and moved forward. I have a lot of respect for that. It seems to me that they somehow funneled the anger and betrayal that must have been so painful into bettering themselves and their stations in life. All of my relatives were farmers before the war but remarkably all of the children of my grandfather's generation went to college--even the girls--so when they had to start over, they at least had something to work with.

As great as the content was, I have to be honest that the camera work was distracting and Ken & I started to make fun of it. Sometimes it would zoom in so uncomfortably tight on her face or just lose focus randomly. But the entire time I was watching, I felt that I was seeing it for the first time. At the very end, Bev can be heard thanking everyone, including the video camera operator who was a WSU student and was given some sort of award by their department as student of the year. At that moment my chest seized and I said, "Am I the camera operator?" Not only do I not remember the presentation but I shot it badly! Ken looked at me incredulously and just at that moment the camera panned to the very back of the room where Bev's says 'Susie's family' was sitting. Thankfully (mercifully) I was sitting there next to Austin and my grandmother so I clearly couldn't have been the camera operator. But it is disturbing that I was in the room and 13 years later have no memory of it whatsoever. Wow.

This chapter in history can never be forgotten for the lessons it teaches us about our country and what it means to be an American. Thank you to Bev for putting this in a digital medium so that we'll never forget--even if we're in the room.

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