Tag Archives: Japanese americans

Does Ethnicity Define Me?

 

minidoka

Camp Minidoka, WWII

 

I am half Japanese, and thanks to a DNA test I recently took, I also now know I am 13% Lakota Sioux.  My ethnicity is a part of my story, my heritage.

My father was born in America, but his mother and father were both born in Japan.  They emigrated from Japan legally at the turn of the century. They became farmers and had to lease land because at that time it was illegal for Asian immigrants to own land in America or to become naturalized citizens.  Property laws were written to exclude everyone but white immigrants and those of African descent.  My father and his sister were born in America, so they were the first US citizens in my family. The family built up a profitable agriculture business on the leased farm land and also exported GE appliances to Japan.  My father attended the University of Washington from 1939 – 1941 until the US entered World War II in 1941.

In April of 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which cleared the way for the deportation of Japanese Americans to internment camps.  Soon after, 120,000 Japanese (of whom 62% were American citizens) were relocated to concentration camps.

They gave these camps names like “Camp Harmony” which was located in Puyallup, Washington at a fairground.  The Japanese were only able to bring the things they could carry with them to the camps.  Many people lived in animal stalls of the fairgrounds or in makeshift shanties, which provided poor shelter come winter.  Their homes, businesses, and land were lost.   Family heirlooms such as swords and paintings left behind were taken by the Americans representing the United States Government.

My father and his family would end up at Camp Minidoka in Idaho.   My grandmother died in that camp.  My father, along with a number of other fighting-age Japanese Americans volunteered for the Army, which was the only way to be allowed to leave the camp until the war ended.

The war ended in 1945, and at that time the Japanese were free to leave and move to where they wished.  Many would start over in new places since their homes and businesses were taken from them.  Many who left the camps vowed never to speak Japanese again.

They worked hard to rebuild their lives. Even after the war, Japanese were prohibited from buying land in many states until 1956.

 

janm-pavilionbldg-600px

Japanese American National Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

My father rarely mentioned those times to me.   Despite prejudices he encountered, he was successful in his career after the war.  He introduced me to the Japanese culture from a young age, but it was always made very clear to me that we were Americans.

 

1446683040156

Massacre at Wounded Knee

 

 

When I hear people say the worst mass shooting in American history was at Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida, I wonder where they learned their history.  On December 29th, 1890 at Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota over 500 US Army and members of the 7th Cavalry opened fire on 350 Lakota Indians in their camp. They killed 300 Sioux, many of them women and children. The Cavalry dead numbered only 25, many of which were killed by friendly fire from their own Hotchkiss guns. As a reward for the mass slaughter of Lakota Sioux, twenty of the US soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award given to those in the military service.

These stories are a small part of the struggles of my ancestors, but they do not define me or dictate my future.  I am proud of being mixed race.  No derogatory words towards my heritage can harm me or derail my dreams.  If someone looks down on me because of my ethnicity, I know that I cannot change the way they think. That can only come from within them.  I can choose how I will act, how I will react, and how hard I will work for my dreams.  

Every ethnicity has a story of struggle at one point in their history.  The only way we can make this world a better place is to work on our own behavior.  While the setbacks are a part of our story, they do not define or limit us unless we let them.  The best way to combat prejudice is with success.

Galatians 3:82

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

Advertisements