My relationship to the 1940’s incarceration, dispersal and dispossession has changed, deepened and evolved over time. My mother spoke about being “evacuated” from the Coast and “interned” for as far back as I can remember in dinner time conversation. I didn’t ask all the questions of my parents that now, I wish I had. Their experiences were not relevant to me as a child as they are now.
My mother’s side of the family lived in Nihonmachi (Japan Town) in Vancouver. While my Grandfather fished, my Grandmother worked at the Cannery. My grandparents on my Dad’s side owned a rooming house on the edge of Nihon-machi. Perhaps knowing what was coming, they sold it at a “fire sale price”, just before properties were stolen by the government. Grandfather Hayakawa’s gill netter, the Miye was stolen by the government and sold for $100.
My brother asked the question: “What was the opportunity cost for them? It was not just financial. What were the spiritual, emotional, mental and physical costs for them and for us as future generations?” Great questions, ones that I’m still contemplating.
Through studying documents and correspondence of politicians, bureaucrats and newspapers during the 1930’s and 40’s, (and thanks to those in our community who corrected euphemisms), the words I now use in my truth, understanding and relationship are “forced incarceration in concentration camps”, “possessions illegally stolen and sold by the government”, and “forced dispersal rooted in the architected ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide of the West Coast” of Canadians of Japanese ancestry. I use these words, when I’m asked to give presentations to students about my family’s history in this country.
Post war, through the government’s determination to stay on their mission of ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide, my families eventually moved East of the Rockies, to Toronto, where my parents met . I consider forced dispersal to have been a successful strategy by European colonists in the forced assimilation of my parents and me into European culture. I’m the living embodiment of the impact of cultural genocide, knowing and understanding very little of the Japanese language and cultural traditions.
We were surrounded by white people. All of my friends were white and I wanted to fit into “white culture”.
My parents didn’t encourage me to learn our ancestral culture. Canadian born, the youngest or close to the youngest of their siblings, they very much wanted to “fit in” and be like “everyone else.” And they wanted the same for us. They didn’t see any need for us to learn Japanese, or learn about our culture or to be given Japanese names. Recently I asked my mother why, and she replied it would have seemed like going backwards.
And yet, what I didn’t realize at the time was that learning little about the customs, culture and language of Japan contributed to a profound sense of disconnection, alienation, and a longing for soemthing that I didn’t know was missing. There was a lack of pride in my own heritage and in who I truly am.
During my life, I’ve felt alienated at times from both my Western and Eastern cultures and therefore not belonging in either. Because even though I was born in Ontario and spent many years there, I never quite felt at home there.
I moved to the West Coast to because the land and the ocean and a bigger vision for my life was calling me. And by doing so I embarked on a healing journey to research and reclaim my family’s history, write their stories and in so doing, I’m creating a new story for my own life. Thanks to so many who have made that possible, staff at the Nikkei Museum, staff at Landscapes of Injustice, many kind people who answer my questions, for absolutely no reason but their deep kindness and compassion and a shared history.
I’m in the process of learning to love myself by healing my inherited ancestral trauma, more deeply rooting myself in my connection to my ancestors and their stories, as well as to the community of Canadians of Japanese ancestry.