Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Pearl Harbor Day: A short history of what it means to be a Japanese American

{{fr|Affiche ordonnant l'internement des citoy...Image via Wikipedia
December 7th, 1941, perhaps the most significant day in the life of my family.

Zeroes swoop in from nowhere on a calm day and nearly destroy the entire Pacific Fleet. War is declared.

And a small family of immigrants tries to sort out what to do next.

The legends about my family's actions after the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor are sparse. Like many Japanese Americans, they stopped talking about this era of their lives, the times in the camps, the uprooting from their homes, the loss of property and livelihoods, the loss of dignity. One persistent legend is that as news circulated around the Japanese farmer population of the northern California town where my grandparents lived that government men, FBI agents, were coming by houses and taking away the town elders, Grandma took all the pictures of her youth in Tokyo and began tossing them into the wood stove. A childhood of images burned away. History lost.

FDR signed Executive Order 9066 declaring the entire West Coast an exclusion area and by spring of the following year, my grandparents and three of their children were shipped away to a prison camp in the Colorado desert. This would be home for the next three years.

In the picture below, the woman standing with the baby is my Grandmother. She is pregnant with her fourth child. By the time the war will end and the camps will close, my father will be born. He will be her sixth child of thirteen. He will be the last born in the camps. A baby in a prison.

My father and I have had a long standing tradition of putting on a Kamikaze bandana, pulling out our Imperial Navy Flag and hoisting and irreverent middle finger to the whole of America on Pearl Harbor Day. We watch Tora! Tora! Tora! the only decent film made about that glorious and tragic day. And in general we observe a bit of tasteless revelry in tragedy.

Why? Because our family lost. My father is an American citizen born in a prison with all rights stripped away because the American Government and Populace was paranoid and racist. We observe the right to say this country of ours was WRONG. We don't celebrate the deaths. We don't celebrate the destruction. We have a wake for our civil rights, for all of the things my grandparents lost.

And with these pieces of contradictory history I am left with distinct actions of distasteful distraction. Today I serve some of the few veterans who fought in the Pacific Theater. Today the Japanese are model minorities, fetishized and stereotyped into a particular role they have carved for themselves after the war. Today I still don't trust the government because of what they did to my family over sixty years ago.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day a day that America lost. The first of many days that America has lost. America lost on the day FDR removed the rights of thousands of loyal American citizens. American lost when FDR believed that tens of thousands of children were a threat to this country and should be segregated from society.

God Bless this Mess.

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