The fact that CR2S was involved in a reunion gathering of former Imperial Valley residents is really not of public import or interest. As a matter of fact, Heart Mountain folks staged one of their own at the same Montebello Golf Course site. Haven’t seen so many Jappos same time, same place, since maybe a funeral. But rather than a burial, both were revivals.
If there’s one single gene found in all Nisei, it’s the social bug. There is a sense of togetherness, like tribes of Indians; better yet, maybe black ants (red ones, too aggressive). The Issei sustained strength by maintaining old country ties, an important bond so necessary in a less than friendly foreign environment. If we segue to the Sansei for another example, their social preferences couldn’t be more diverse. Our third generation seems to disregard every Nisei trait, except when it comes to their kids’ involvement in sports. [Show me a Sansei with a nickname.] Otherwise, if you see more than four Sansei together, it would constitute a crowd.
Of course we don’t need a sociologist to explain why. The once-in-a-lifetime experience of evacuation impacted the first three generations in different ways, the one in the middle the most severe. No other, Irish, German-Jew or African experienced the likes of our history. Maybe vainglorious, but it’s nice to even be negatively ranked.
The forced hegira explains our penchant for reunions. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure that out. It’s the odd combination of nostalgia and suffering. If you believe in the Stockholm syndrome, that would be what still afflicts Jappo wartime campers.
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The Imperial Valley affaire had luncheon guests peering at enlarged, bold-face name tags, still having trouble identifying old acquaintances. It’s reached the point where this type of gathering will soon be history, same as with camp reunions. But the IV situation, even in the annals of JA history, is unique unto itself.
Before the war (as all CR2S stories seem to begin), there were thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans living in Imperial Valley. It’s a never-no-mind argument to outliers, but those from Brawley and El Centro always demanded separation; Westmorlanders become irate if you spell their city name with an “e”; and there is a difference between Holtville, Calexico and Calipatria. [Like maybe one has more boulevard stop signs.]
If you choose to compare histories, NoCal to Central Valley to Socal, our (JA) past is a manifest of pain and suffering. None more so than in prewar Imperial Valley. We are familiar with Terminal Island canneries, San Pedro fishermen, Fresno grape pickers, Bakersfield labor camps, L.A. segregation. But I’ll wager a zoot suit you’ve never heard of families forced to move every three years because farmland soil was depleted of nutrients and new land had to be found to cultivate. It was so commonplace and accepted, without protest, that many homes were literally built on wheels to facilitate the inevitable move!
In early 1945 when California was reopened to failed spies and secret agents, the hub of choice was Li’l Tokio. After attempts at recovery, at least an idea of what and where the future might hold, many decided to return to original homesteads to start the rebuilding process. But not to Imperial Valley. Those who had populated this locale almost unanimously decided to settle anywhere but. Today the JA population is barely double figures and most of those are transient families whose heads work at Japanese factories in Mexico.
Of course the cacophony of 1945 editorial voices blared our undesirable status in practically every California municipality. But despite this unwelcome mat, we returned to Boyle Heights, Long Beach, Riverside, San Fernando, Pasadena. But none to Imperial Valley. There are no official figures, but CR2S is willing to wager it is the only area with a huge prewar Japanese presence that was completely blanked when it came to relocating the relocated. [Terminal Island might come close, but there were special circumstances there.]
Observing Saturday’s camaraderie, I couldn’t help but reflect: Here was what remained of a group that led a grueling life under oppressive conditions, then forcibly moved to an equally foreboding Poston, another land of nothing where even Indians refused to live. Is it any wonder Los Angeles and adjoining suburban Southern California cities were chosen as their new home?
And yet here they were, taking group photos by prewar hometown affiliation (one had only two), and to a person can’t wait for the next reunion. You figure, it must be ties that bind. I joined the El Centro photo group, in remembrance of my Apache (club, not gang) days. I’m a carpetbagger from Riverside (another story), but it matters not by virtue of a Block 53-1-C address.
Whether sanctimony or serendipity, CR2S wallowed in the warmth of reunion. When looking into a mirror, doesn’t it reflect the past?
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.