CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: Self-Deprecation Leads to the Past

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By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO

There are certain people you like because they have a self-deprecating sense of humor; not very witty but well-intentioned and down to earth. Nothing extra special, just like everyone else, plain and common. So an audience appreciates attempts to be entertaining even when failing often. So you graciously award an “E” for effort.  Winning people over with sincerity comes in handy. How about a self-deprecating column today?

I was thinking along these lines when a perfectly timed question interrupted my reverie: “How do you come up with so many diversified subjects to write about?” An inquiry we often get, but this one added the personal caveat that he (I’m sure he is a he) thought sometimes I *over-reach. Since he didn’t dwell on that criticism and continued in a complimentary tone, I read on.

His ruminations included questions regarding what it was like to be a teenager in a concentration camp, concluding with the irony of CR2S ending up in an all-Japanese retirement home. Although the over-reach criticism was merely an opinion, I would have to agree, yes — sort of.  And how can I disavow a man’s belief when he seems to know so much about my past and present? He also gives me grist and gruel for another venture into the past. [*Response to the charge of over-reach:  Every strawberry in a basket is not perfect.]

It seems like eons since last we commented on wartime experience in camp. Maybe it’s in vogue today for students and researchers to probe and reflect on World War II and its ramifications; and how in the world did we survive and later recover? It’s a timely investigation as Nisei, last of the most affected generation, are now on the verge of extinction.

James Fenimore Cooper dramatically wrote about the last of the Mohican American Indian tribe; unfortunately, no one has ventured to pen an authoritative tome on the last of the Nisei. Maybe there’s still time. To be sure, the brazen thought crossed my mind at one point — or two. And we would have been in a perfect position to look back (but not in anger) on the war and post-years because I once kept a meticulous daily *diary from Nov. 25, 1940 to April 1952.

It started as a gift from older sister Martha and abruptly ended when the 10-year record went up in flames: From cherubic 13-year-old who wondered where Pearl Harbor was to crestfallen SC student who decided a daily journal was no longer worth keeping when a decade of treasured memories went up in smoke. Who thinks of history at such a moment?

What started as a small pink girl’s diary had quickly gone to spiral notebooks, popular with students, stenographers and news reporters of the era. A diary’s entry space and pages proved to be too limiting [even then I was a wordy sonofagun.]I can’t pretend my observations were Anne Frank-like. There were no heavy-booted Gestapo searching our ghetto nor bombs bursting in air. My heavy breathing was juvenile-induced mooning or from playing softball.

In sentimental reflection, it certainly would be interesting to review today the innocent musings of growing pains: The shortcomings of being 4’10”; notations of resident gang beatings by Kibei; joyfully eating slabs of bologna at late night campfires as striking dissidents waved [Japan flag] while shouting “Banzai”; wondering why Eleanor Roosevelt would bother to visit Poston and not her husband; dismayed by FDR’s death but only because it caused the cancellation of our senior prom; never bothering to read a newspaper, visit the library or listen to the radio.

But nightly scribbled notes were a must. Teen years in Poston didn’t include hot rods, drive-ins, pep rallies, drinking 99-cent wine or making out in the balcony.

Like Rafu colleague George Yoshinaga, I put importance on first-person “I was there” reporting; as opposed to the ruminations of a preteen — or commentary by sometimes embittered Sansei or Yonsei.  Although believing a living an experience is superior to academic research, there is a need for both or else history books and biographies would be awfully lean and limited if presence was a prerequisite to being an authoritative voice. There would be no Doris Kearns Goodwin, Henry Louis Gates Jr. or Robert Caro.

Likewise, if the unanimous Sansei/Yonsei voice determines that government bungling was the prime force behind evacuation, Amen. If they wish to make Poston, et al, concentration camps, so be it.  But I would caution the need for facts [re: guard towers, barbed wire, armed MPs] before semantic rhetoric soars. I could have swum the Colorado River and crossed the border to California without being shot at, but I preferred Poston to Brawley. (That I couldn’t swim is irrelevant.)

Well, I’ll be gone to El Centro and back! Here it is the end of my weekly space allocation and I have yet to touch upon the subject requested by Mr. Over-Reach. Shucks and gomen-nasai. We’ll have to continue at a later date . . .

W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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