In the last two years, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate twice online in the Japanese American pilgrimages to incarceration sites. There were 9 weeks of insightful videos, movies and online experiences of the concentration camps as well as healing circles to participate in. I shed many tears as I journeyed through experiences that had many similarities to the journey of my parents and grandparents through incarceration and beyond.
One of the biggest impacts on me came from watching a video called “Children of the Camps”. It documents a profound journey of 6 adults who as children had been incarcerated in the camps as they initiate the healing of deep wounds and the impacts on their lives from incarceration. They are guided in a 3 day process in a group facilitated by Dr. Satsuki Ina, an American psychotherapist of Japanese ancestry born in the Tule Lake Concentration Camp.
It can seem like Nisei parents and Issei grandparents who went through incarceration with dignity and then rose from the ashes of destruction of their lives were fine.
However when a family has experienced ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide and in my family, the death of a family member in a forced labour camp on top of incarceration, these are deep traumas to the spirit, heart and soul.
The resulting feelings that came from these traumas often include shame, guilt, anger, bitterness and resentment. These pains can be hidden and avoided by not talking about them but they don’t go away. And if those pains aren’t acknowledged or denied, they are passed down to children, grandchildren, great grandchildren etc. We know this now from the science of epigenetics. We’re far more aware of ancestral trauma and its impacts on descendants than we were in other decades and in the last century.
Recently one of my cousin’s children a Yonsei, when I finally was able to get more details about my Uncle’s death said that when her Grandmother, (my Aunt) told her that her brother had died in a road camp, she felt like a hole was drilled in her brain as it was in mine. And that was because all we were told was that he had drowned while getting water from the lake for the men to drink. And that didn’t seem to make any sense to either of us.
It was only when I finally tracked down a newspaper article via someone in our community who had been working on researching the road camps and shared it with my family that my cousin’s daughter said that her own soul could finally rest. I felt the same. We both had closure finally on a story that had been hanging in the air for 3 generations.
I believe that we need to take more action in conscious healing of intergenerational trauma individually and collectively as a community. The first step after the silence of traumatized generations is to speak about the traumas and share stories. That is happening. Tsunagu is a part of facilitating this. My feeling is that we’re still at the tip of the iceberg and that there is a lot of inherited ancestral trauma that hasn’t yet been recognized or spoken about. But the symptoms are always there in dysfunctional beliefs, behaviours, thinking, anxiety, depression, addiction and controlling behaviours.
Even though there are few Issei and Nisei left, it’s still not too late for those who were “children of the camps” in Canada. The recent funding hopefully will play some part in addressing their mental and emotional needs. And there is still all of their descendants who have healing to do.
In order to heal, I’ve done alot of emotional and spiritual work on my own. This includes Family Constellation work which was developed by the therapist Dr. Bert Hellinger in response to trauma experienced by those who had been in World War II, and regular participation in grief circles, healing circles as well as other tools such as meditation, contemplation and yoga.
I also would welcome in the future, the kind of indepth, multi day retreats and processes that Dr. Ina was facilitating in the documentary, “Children of the Camps” but for the descendants of those who went through incarceration. And maybe others in our community would too.
As each person heals so too does the community. And that unleashes more energy and ability for each person to be themselves and creatively express and contribute gifts and talents to community life. As we continue to heal, cocreate and celebrate together, I believe that the Nikkei community in all its diversity is very beautiful and has a very bright future and look forward to contributing to the community.