The poignant story of a Japanese-American woman’s journey through one of the most shameful chapters in American history.Kimi’s Obaachan, her grandmother, had always been a silent presence throughout her youth. Sipping tea by the fire, preparing sushi for the family, or indulgently listening to Ojichan’s (grandfather’s) stories for the thousandth time, Obaachan was a missing link to Kimi’s Japanese heritage, something she had had a mixed relationship with all her life. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, all Kimi ...
The poignant story of a Japanese-American woman’s journey through one of the most shameful chapters in American history.Kimi’s Obaachan, her grandmother, had always been a silent presence throughout her youth. Sipping tea by the fire, preparing sushi for the family, or indulgently listening to Ojichan’s (grandfather’s) stories for the thousandth time, Obaachan was a missing link to Kimi’s Japanese heritage, something she had had a mixed relationship with all her life. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, all Kimi ever wanted to do was fit in, spurning traditional Japanese culture and her grandfather’s attempts to teach her the language. But there was one part of Obaachan’s life that fascinated and haunted Kimi—her gentle yet proud Obaachan was once a prisoner, along with 112,000 Japanese Americans, for more than five years of her life. Obaachan never spoke of those years, and Kimi’s own mother only spoke of it in whispers. It was a source of haji, or shame. But what really happened to Obaachan, then a young woman, and the thousands of other men, women, and children like her? From the turmoil, racism, and paranoia that sprang up after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, to the terrifying train ride to Heart Mountain, Silver Like Dust captures a vital chapter the Japanese-American experience through the journey of one remarkable woman and the enduring bonds of family.
“For these fundamental violations of the basic civil liberties and constitutional rights of these individuals of Japanese ancestry, we apologize on behalf of the Nation.”
In her debut, Grant (English/Penn State Univ.) teases out the story of her Japanese grandmother's internment during World War II. The author weaves rich supporting material throughout the narrative, providing a solid context for the relocation and internment of 112,000 Japanese throughout the West. For much of the book, Grant coaxes recollections from her grandmother Obaachan, "prying information from her that she prefers to keep herself." After being wrenched from their San Francisco home shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Grant's family was sent to a relocation camp in California, where her grandparents met and courted, walking the Pomona fairgrounds that served as their initial internment camp. Later relocated to Heart Mountain, Wyo., they continued their relationship, married and raised their first child. Grant offers a chronicle of daily life in the camps, with its unfamiliar American food, lack of privacy and modesty, baby gifts from the Quakers, intense cold and craft classes to help pass the time. The Japanese concept of shikataganai--surrendering to whatever fate lies ahead--pervaded the culture of the camps, fostering despair and listlessness. This is also the story of a young woman navigating her marriage to a strong but exacting personality and family ties weakened by the stress and separation of internment. Eventually the couple left Wyoming for a chance to work in a food-processing plant in New Jersey, where they settled in and quietly absorbed the shame of their incarceration. Well-written book about life in a Japanese internment camp and the social and political forces that allowed their existence--though Obaachan's reticence subdues the emotional intensity of the story.
Kimi Cunningham Grant is the 2009 recipient of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Fellowship in creative nonfiction. She lives in central Pennsylvania with her family and is an instructor of English at Penn State University.