I miss the physical part of the journey, but there is so much to do before I start out again this Fall. Mostly there is research, loads of research to be done. Books to read, articles to seek out, maps to study, schedules to check and re-check, reservations to make, archives to peruse, and people to talk with.
These last two are crucial. The Densho Encyclopedia has thousands of video interviews with people who lived in the camps. Some clips are less than a minute and others go on for nearly an hour. They are treasures all, and one can never tell where a pure gem lurks. Then there are people who lived in the Camps as small children and are willing to talk about it, to reflect on their experience, their parents’ experience, and the American society that caused those experiences. My great joy is in beginning to talk directly with these folks! Over the phone, via email, and best of all over a cup of coffee, sitting across from each other… It is a joy and a privilege.
Reflection and introspection are unavoidable at this stage. They bubble up when I least expect it. It may be a simple comment that reminds me to carefully avoid equating the experience of the Japanese Americans in World War II America with the experience of American contemporaries. They are different, for reasons too numerous to mention here. In this, and many other instances, we have to avoid our American tendency to over simplify our understanding of history by saying, “This is just like _______________ ,” or “This is another _______________ .”
When I first considered this journey, one friend of mine, whose parents had each lived in the WRA Camps, encouraged me, trusted me, and implored me to make sure that the words of the people who lived in the Camps drove my narrative. Theirs is not my story to tell. Rather, I must let their words themselves tell their story.
Mine is a different story to tell. My story is to reflect on what we have wrought as a society. It is to consider what we did in this one instance in light of what our society has so consistently done to all peoples of color in our midst. It is to wonder out loud why we have such a difficult time acknowledging our corporate actions. To ponder why white people so consistently say, “We need to move on from that,” or “Yes, it was bad, but I had nothing to do with that.”
We have a new American question… We are addressing it, arguing it, positioning to respond positively or to resist. It is, in part, what our last election was about. We are in the midst of wondering whether or not there is a way we Americans could begin to enact a different American story…a story that must be written together, not just by one part of the society or another. Some earnestly want to do so. Others want desperately to resist. Sometimes, it looks like regression will win, but the new story waits to be formed… the American vision, that brought so many to these shores, awaits a reshaping that brings people out of the shadows to become a full part of the picture offered to the world.
It will happen. There will be fits and starts and shouts of hostility, but it will happen. America will not be made great by going back to terrible narratives of the past. We will be made great by looking forward together.
It is not too late… it is never too late.
This journey of mine is an infinitesimal part of all this. However small my part is, it is a story that needs to be told. So, I will keep on the path. I hope you will go with me.
Grace and peace to you,