This is me, probably at age 7, with my paternal grandmother Matsue “Majorie” Sonata Doe. I grew up going to her house in Philadelphia two times a year. Once just after Christmas so we could be there to make sushi for New Year’s Eve and a second time in the summers when I’d go looking for garnets in the Pennsylvania woods. She taught me a little bit about her heritage as a Japanese American but most of her story I learned from others after she died. Like how she was sent to the Internment camps in California during WWII because our country thought people of Japanese heritage were a threat. And how she dedicated her time there to teaching all of the children who’d been displaced from their schools.
I didn’t think a lot about this growing up. It’s hard for me to hold others’ pain but sometimes these stories want to be heard and retold. I will do that now.
I grew up in Hudson, Ohio on a preparatory boarding school campus where students from all over the world came to get the best education money offers. There were a lot of diverse faces so I wasn’t treated negatively because my skin was olive or my cheekbones were high. At least I don’t think I was. If anything I was sheltered from the historical animosity toward Japan and treated more like I was beautifully special.
I did know Japan was an ally to Hitler in the war and I knew the U.S. had bombed Japan to end it. I remember learning about the chemical aftermath that effected generations of people living there but the stories rarely seemed to intersect with my life.
Even though they do. Everyday. Everyday I make a choice to assume goodwill and treat others with compassion and curiosity or assume worldsuck and act out of fear. I choose what side of history I want to be on. I choose to fight for a world where no one is taken from their home, business, or community because of their heritage, how they look, or who they love.
I look to my grandmother’s story and know that any effort to corral a group of people for these reasons is an injury to all of us.
Below is a picture of the camps where hundreds of thousands of people were forced to relocate in what is now called, “one of the most flagrant violations of civil liberties in American history.”