Did this really happen? I thought to myself as my dad kept going on about interning Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans during WWII. I finally asked the question out loud and everyone in the room nodded their heads. I was shocked because I’d never been told about this event in school. And to quote Joe Bidden, “It’s a big “f@!$%ing deal…”. I trusted my family’s affirmation that the event happened because most of my grandma’s family lived in the Bay Area during WWII. One question I’ve never asked her is, did anyone try to stop it?
I finally decided it was time to read some literature about it and potentially teach a novel in my survey of American literature course. While it’s a historical event, it also begs several questions. What is an American? If we have laws to protect American citizens from the government, why then didn’t those laws protect the Japanese Americans who were natural-born citizens? And why did we punish the first generation Japanese for being foreigners when we had laws making it illegal for them to become naturalized citizens? In today’s raucous world of immigration and the surge of illegal immigrants on the border, and Jan Brewer threatening any one of Hispanic descent that they must prove their citizenship. I ask myself, How much have we learned?
Clearly nothing! It seems like if your skin color makes you stand out from the White majority then maybe you aren’t a citizen. But may I remind these right-wing lunnies that there are many illegal European and lighter skinned immigrants in this nation too. And many of the Hispanic Americans have been living here for centuries! Longer than many white families, mine included. So why all of a sudden are we so concerned with everyone proving they’re a citizen? And as the Japanese Internment showed, if enough people are scared, it could happen that those who can prove their citizenship may end up being lumped with those who don’t have citizenship.
Yoshiko Uchida asked many of the same questions and was looking for a way to positively release some of the frustration she felt. She turned to Literature. She wrote several fiction pieces based on her own life experience and finally wrote a young adult version of her autobiography, Invisible Thread.
This is the book I read. And what I appreciated was that at the end of the war, Uchida had to make a choice. She could ignore the fact that she was Japanese American and do her best to try and be as American as possible. Which would’ve failed seeing as how she spent the war being defined by her ethnicity and it would’ve ignored the fact that her first generation parents had imparted small pieces of Japan into who she is. So instead, Uchida decided that she would be the voice to the third generation Japanese Americans and show them a way to reconcile being from two different cultures.
And this reconciliation is important not just for Japanese Americans, not just for immigrants, but for all Americans. Because at some point, unless you are Native American, you were the odd one out. You were the minority. And part of being America is our common rights and patriotism and our desire to make this country better. And if that means that we mix all the subcultures that we come from, then so be it. We’ll be the better off for it.