If you have been reading my columns as of late, you know I have been on a “soapbox” about gaining some sort of vindication for those who answered no-no, or some variation of it, on the loyalty questionnaire. They made up about 10 percent of the responses to the questionnaire and have been stigmatized by the JA community as disloyal.
In a resolution a group of us have proposed submitting to the JACL National Convention in July, which calls for a JACL apology, I acknowledge the courage possessed by those who, for many reasons, answered in ways that banished them to Tule Lake.
Today, I wish to tell the story of a man who at age 17 displayed courage in answering yes-yes.
Harry Nakada and his family have lived in the San Fernando Valley for many years. Harry and his brothers owned a retail nursery right down the street from us in Northridge, which they sold a number of years ago. He is an icon in the community and has taken leadership for major Valley JA community projects.
Harry comes from a family with five children who were taken from their homes in West Los Angeles and sent to Manzanar. Harry’s father was a gardener and the family, along with his mother, raised fruits and vegetables. With such a large family things, were pretty tight financially. Harry remembers selling strawberries on the street and using the money earned to pay for groceries.
After being in Manzanar about a year, his family, along with everyone 17 years of age and older, were subject to responding to the infamous loyalty questionnaire.
Harry’s father decided he wanted to return to Japan and answered no-no to the questionnaire. Harry talked things over with his mother and decided, as difficult as things were in WLA, at least they had a place to return to. He says a kindly Latino family maintained their home while they were in Manzanar. Besides this, some land that was in the name of a relative who was able to hold title was also available.
Harry and his mother confronted his father, asking that he change his response from no-no to yes-yes. With real regret, Harry tells of how his father swung at him when he insisted on him making the change. Because of the change of answers, the family was able to remain in Manzanar and return to their home in West L.A. after the war.
Those fathers who answered no-no on behalf of their families did so for number of reasons, not the least of which was a response to the blow to their dignity of having to answer the demeaning questionnaire.
And yet, we have to give credit to 17-year-old Harry Nakada, who had the courage, with his mother, to do what he knew was best for his family.
These decisions, made by young and old, were not made without a lot of pain and soul-searching. There was little difference between those who answered yes-yes and those who answered otherwise and were banished to Tule Lake.
The tragedy is that our community was put into a position to demean those sent to Tule Lake, and the damage resulting from this process lingers still today.
Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.