There is an old Yiddish saying: “Sometimes we need a story more than food”. Telling our stories, and having others listen, is a powerful way to gain new understandings of and fresh perspective on our lives.
Frank Ostaseski, The Five Invitations
I learned about the power of stories first from my Grandpa Kadota, when he held the attention of the adults around the dinner table at family gatherings in his Surrey home. It was all in Japanese, so I never understood what was being said, other than names, dates and places uttered once in a while in English. When I became involved in the Asian Canadian Coalition at UBC, I begain to learn about our Kadota family history by looking through my grandparents’ albums. I also took informal photos of family for my grandparents’ 60thwedding anniversary. We copied some of these photos for our exhibit in 1972. My desire to learn the language to be able to speak to my grandfather and hear his stories, led me to live in Japan. We communicated by letters written in hiragana and I began to translate a short biography of my grandfather written in Japanese while I was there.
And then, during four Kadota reunions, from 1993 to 2017, my Uncle Gordon led us through our family history with his engaging stories from the past. Since the family had been separated during the war, his stories not only informed the grandchildren but also his siblings who had spent much of their childhood and young adult years apart. He also gave so much to the Japanese Canadian community, with his eloquent speeches at many meetings and gatherings, some during redress and at many Remembrance Day ceremonies at the cenotaph in Stanley Park, to say how important it was to know our history.
And my Dad, who became involved in redress and the JC community during the 80’s and 90’s, also had the “gift of the gab”. A debater in high school, he was comfortable speaking to large groups, and encouraged his daughters to engage in discussions around the dinner table. He was passionate about social justice and brought many Nisei together in the fight for redress.
Going to a Tule Lake Pilgrimage in 2018 also brought home to me the power of stories. Generations of Japanese American families came together for three days, sharing stories on the buses, during meals, in intergenerational discussion groups and other times throughout the pilgrimage. There have been many pilgrimages over the decades, to sites of incarceration, where the history of these places is shared so powerfully amongst family and community.
So I am grateful to have had these people in my life, to have learned my family history and collective histories, and the importance of telling our stories.