By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO
[I.D. #53-1-C: What follows may be inappropriate for anyone who likes apple butter, hasn’t tasted horse meat and believes in the Constitution. The writer fell off the wagon – again – and thinks he’s Tonto (aka Johnny Depp), got on a high horse instead of faithful mount Scout. Recovery specialists believe a return to the keyboard is not wise, but hey, Tiger Woods gets to play golf. Understanding is not a prerequisite.]
If there is one single common Nisei trait, it is an addiction to reunions. Everyone has fond memories of the past; enjoys looking back to a time that somehow improves with each passing decade. We enthusiastically wallow in the warmth of cold history; choosing to make light of the unpleasant.
Hawaiians remember when home was a plantation; Okinawans suffered countless indignations; our parents weren’t even citizens, let alone second class. And then there is everyone’s favorite: The US of A’s WWII War “Relocation” Centers. [For the first time in quotation marks; CR2S loves being innovative.]
In 1942 more than 100,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were forcibly incarcerated in a variety of interior gulags. If the mention of 12/07/41, FDR, FBI, and WRA cause more than a raised eyebrow, that would identify a living survivor. But there are never tears or hatred. In their stead, these odd folks hold festive reunions, commemorative luncheons, testimonial dinners, community picnics; and before age took its toll, there were softball, tennis, bowling and golf tournaments. If you didn’t know better, you’d think the fetes were commemorating something worthy of acclaim, like a graduation, marriage or birth.
Though not a psychiatrist or psychologist [licensed], CR2S can explain this unique JA trait/flaw or whatever you want to call the phenomenon. It’s ethnic but not generational. The Issei had their tanomoshis and kenjinkais but they were groups of necessity. As for the Sansei, fergetaboutit! If it doesn’t pertain to their children, sports or church, a gathering of more than four of them is considered a throng. [And when’s the last time you ever heard a Sansei nickname?] They don’t drink, smoke, write letters to the editor or stage sit-ins. They’re solid Americans, fer crying out loud. Yonsei? They don’t know segregation. Gosei don’t know what a Jappo is.
So yeah, if you haven’t guessed by now, CR2S is on a nostalgic sojourn after having attended yet another “remember when” event this past Saturday; a local gathering of former Imperial Valley folks.
You know of San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, but probably not so much about Imperial Valley. It’s waaay down south by the border, Brawley and El Centro heading a dozen small towns that make up IV. It stands alone in more ways than geography. Westmorland, for example, is so nondescript it doesn’t have a second “e” in its name.
But don’t make jest of these hardy souls. They have a resilience and hard-scrabble toughness. They went together intact as a group to Poston, Blocks 53-54-59-60, forming a close-knit quad; separated from the big-city heathens to the north. Being accustomed to sizzling 105-plus-degree weather, they made the relocation transition without working up a sweat.
How an alien Riverside (Calif.) family wound up in their midst is a story for another time. Just let it be said that “foreigners” were not immediately embraced by a very provincial and wary enclave. But for a pubescent teenager the move was a godsend: He never knew there were so many nihonjin kids of the same age, including girls. Quick inclusion came when a certain outfielder made the error that gave the C League championship to the Valley’s Apache softball team. The agony of shame negated by the thrill of acceptance.
About 100 guests gathered at Montebello’s Quiet Cannon. Safe to say many more were remembered from the past and passed. There is always a somber atmosphere at these events; a palpable remorse because you’re there while others aren’t. But that veil of sorrow is lifted the moment you hear an excited “I remember you!” countered by a mumbled “I don’t remember you.” Often heard: “Who was that?” The usual response: “You gotta be kiddin’!”
Attendees hobble home thankful they decided to go; many expressing hope there will be time and opportunity for another. The blaze of a hot June sun reminds of Poston, rather than hometown; history refashioned by war and three memorable years in a Arizona desert.
If it’s not Imperial Valley, it’s Terminal Island, San Pedro, Delano, Culver City, San Jose. Everyone enjoys a gathering of camp peers. Like chimpanzees and ants, we thrive in company. Reunion anyone?
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.