[Reader Beware: What follows is pure nostalgia, sentimentality at its best — or worst. Perhaps this can help Sansei better understand their sometime vague and puzzling parents. CR2S doesn’t pretend to be a spokesperson for a generation, let alone an example. But personal observation and experience can sometimes explain the Nisei syndrome, the never-to-be-repeated condition all their own. One deeply embedded gene found in all Nisei is a kinship with music, Big Band variety. For most, it all began with wartime incarceration. Whether prisoners of war in concentration camps or relocated for national security matters not. There were only two outlets for a camp teenager: school and sports. Since the student body never changed, you were attached at the hip with the same classmates for the duration. As a social outlet, clubs were formed based on sports team or class affiliation. Read on if in the mood for an ex-Postonite’s unabashed paean to a long time ago. If not, see you next week.]
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I was a sub-teen with a decent enough voice to sing (tenor) in a boys’ choir, once on national radio. But it was from Riverside, not Salt Lake City, so it wasn’t a big deal. The inevitable voice change came about the same time a major disruption called World War II occurred. Without vote or voice, a desolate hellhole called Poston became home. There were no radios, newspapers or magazines, and in many cases no family heads. The FBI spirited them away in unfounded panic.
There were lots of black-haired people. Without explanation or warning, a new and ominous world intruded into their lives. Even the weather reflected the disruption as a blazing sun would give way to windstorms and thunderous rain without warning. Living quarters were frightful and sparse. It was a most uncertain situation for everyone. But when you’re a youngster without a clue, you quickly adapt. No matter conditions, the sun would rise.
So a Smalltown USA existence is supplanted with hundreds of lookalikes, strange and strangers. Block 53 was filled with Imperial Valley folks, provincial to the nth degree. So an outlier family from Riverside was not warmly received. Nothing hostile, mind you, just kinda wary, like Mork landing on Earth. But no matter, friendships are quickly formed and flourished.
Barrack 5-D was the gathering spot for the Apaches, considered by some a gang. Actually it was a bunch of kids who played, laughed and cried together. Besides sports equipment (and the Okamura family), there was a most important treasure — a collection of the most popular records of the time. For someone who sang “Ave Maria” and was stuck on Deanna Durbin’s singing, introduction to band vocalists such as Helen Forrest and Peggy Lee was a revelation. Listening to Kay Kaiser’s “Pushing Sand” at top decibel was an ear-piercing joy that made scorpions scurry for safety.Any of three renditions of “Star Dust” would bring a hush over the entire block.
I quickly and permanently became a devotee of Big Band music, a believer and an advocate forever after. It took another year of physical and social growth to win the hand of a female partner, thanks in part to Andy Russell’s rendition of “What a Difference a Day Makes.” [It’s a handicap, don’tcha know, when you’re crew-cut with two left feet and classmates are all older.]
Historians, sociologists and writers are seemingly uninterested in how internees coped socially during the years of confinement. Other than a strike or two (and Tule Lake), civil disobedience was a non-factor, much to the government’s chagrin and delight. [Can you imagine what it would be like in today’s world if Fox News could revive the concept of racial profiling?] Blind obedience to authority saw us through the ordeal. High schoolers survived because of Glenn Miller and the Mills Brothers. We had more interest in “Route 66” than Executive Order 9066.
Who cared if the food and some of the schoolteachers were lousy? Most important was when and where the next dance would be held. 78-rpm records did more to maintain law and order than WRA and J. Edgar Hoover combined.
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So what prompts this all or nothing at all sentimental journey?
“The Great Nisei Reunion” will be staged Sunday, Nov. 16, from 2 p.m. at Aratani Theatre. Music of the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra and the Mills Brothers will headline the extravaganza with the Island Crooners as special guests. Call (310) 627-7272 for reservations. Ticket prices are $60 and $45.
The concept for the nostalgic afternoon event came about as entrepreneur Gerald Ishibashi witnessed the unbridled enjoyment old-timer Nisei got from reunions. As funeral services became (sad) social occasions, he determined The Reunion had to be held ASAP. As an added lure, as if one is needed, purchase a ducat at either price before Nov. 1 and you can bring a Nisei (grandparent/kinfolk/friend) FOR FREE! You may also order a special bento lunch to enjoy with other reunion-goers. Hubba-hubba, y’all. Time’s a wastin’.
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.