By g emil reutter
Governor Brown of California issued a proclamation on February 19th, A Day of Remembrance: Japanese American Evacuation in the State of California. The proclamation read in part:
That thousands of Japanese American citizens were wrongfully interned in American concentration camps without charge and without a fair hearing continues to trouble the conscience of this Nation. The internment of Japanese Americans should serve as a powerful reminder that in defending this Nation and its ideals, we must do so as faithfully in the courtrooms and the public squares of this country as upon the battlefields.
It was by Executive Order 9066 issued by President Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 that American citizens were placed in internment camps, losing all freedom, all property but not their dignity or loyalty to the idea of the United States, a great number who served in the military of the United States. Many of these citizens remained in the camps until the end of World War II. The internment would not only have a profound impact on those forced into camps but on future generations.
In 1995 Karen Tei Yamashita went to Chicago where her Aunt Kay Yamashita had passed away. On her arrival she found packed clutter of boxes. She found two folders of interest. Kay’s wartime correspondence for Nisei Student Relocations and a second, personal correspondence. Gradually with her sister Jane Tomi an archive of their parent’s correspondence, photographs, audio tapes, homemade films, records and diaries were added. Letters to Memory is a history of the Yamashita and Tomi families, the internment camps taken from the archives blended with fiction in a fascinating historical account of this disgraceful act by the United States.
There are of course informants who reported back to the FBI on conversations, the idealistic Kay who once out of the camp to testify in a court case returns to the west coast and travels about to meetings against the internment, meeting with progressive religious leaders and such until she too returns to the camp. Yamashita engages with composite characters through a series of letters that are actually written to the reader exploring the internment, its meaning beyond just her family and the gross violation of civil rights these Americans had to endure.
Karen Tei Yamashita has written a chilling account, powerful in its presentation not only of the internment camps but of life that followed. Letters to Memory is a book that is a must read for those who have an interest in history but also for those who value civil rights and how quickly those rights can dissolve in the chaos of war.