Through The Fire column for The Rafu Shimpo, a newspaper for the Japanese and Japanese American community throughout the United States.
Title: As yet untitled.
Genre: Creative nonfiction that wishes it was just fiction.
Dialogue of Inspiration:
Scene 1: Somewhere in Los Angeles. December 2015. Day before vigil against Islamophobia. Me and an uncle in a living room, facing the flatscreen. On TV, ABC News coverage of Donald Trump statement calling on the U.S. to ban all Muslims from entering the country.
Hey Uncle, that vigil is tomorrow night in J-Town.
The one I told you and Auntie about. It’s pretty cool, you know — JA and American Muslim groups, and all kinds of people, planned this together. We’re gonna fight anti-Muslim sentiment…and stuff that people like Trump are saying.
Mm. Mail come yet?
Uh. I don’t know. Uncle, are you listening? …I want you and Auntie to come out to Little Tokyo this time.
Eesh…we’re not gonna go. Why should our people get involved?
Well, to me…it’s that same fear and racism, you know…that led the government to putting our community away. It’s a different time, different community, but the same cycle of oppres–…it’s connected…It’s like the same thing happening all over again. Our community promised to never let Camp happen again.
It’s…it’s important to think about all people, Uncle. You know?
(starts to get up from recliner)
I thought about it. You know…if I were White back then, I would’ve put us away, too.
Me and Uncle stir in silence. Uncle “Joe” exits toward the kitchen, leaves Me stunned.
Task: Write something.
Urgency Level: High.
Dedication: For every Auntie & Uncle of the American Concentration Camp who refuses to attend a vigil in Solidarity against Islamophobia
Timeline, Version A:
1. many of you were Buddhist; you spoke English and Japanese
2. World War II
3. getting ready for mass removal of Japanese Aliens and Citizen Aliens from the west coast, you threw away
all pictures, clothing, music, records, books and personal mementos in reference to your parent’s home country
4. many of you began carrying the Bible; you stopped speaking Japanese
Timeline, Version B:
1. many of you were Buddhist; you spoke American and Japanese
2. December 7 1941
3. getting ready for a mass removal, you threw away everything that made you look like what you look like
4. many of you began carrying the Bible; you stopped speaking
Urgency Level: Extremely High.
Method of Delivery: telegram, flag, flare, flyer on your windshield, metallic banner adhered to the side of your car, skywriting
Dearest Auntie and Uncle,
i would like to throw 70-year-old dust at your nose i try to make bullets out of the old flag you hung up on your barracks
i tie your shoelaces too tight
hoping you will trip and fall,
i will catch you before physical contact with the ground, but
you will knock your head against your worst memories
and fall into a pool of old truths
i string myself in a knot around your neck
i dangle there
so you will bear the weight of this conversation
for as long as i can hold myself around your waist
maybe this is too harsh
or maybe i hope
you are suffering early signs of Dementia
all evidence points in that direction
You say that is a cruel thought
i say i agree
where you came from
To act like you didn’t cash a Redress check
To not be educated on
how to connect the dots
(wasn’t that a game we learn in Kindergarten?)
that is cruel
we are talking about two different things
i say it’s like two different people
with a memory they wish they didn’t share:
the little girl ran outside
and put up an American flag
in hopes the FBI would return
her father soon
i give myself permission
as much as ever
to be the thorn
to be the angry niece
to be the voice you can’t get out of your head
i will allow myself to be
the sore seed that multiplies on your lawn
righteous oleander upon every sidewalk in Gardena
sego palm of protest hanging out in West LA
the annoying weed
from Irvine to San Gabriel
i guess getting older
didn’t mellow me out
Did you know that half the people i talk to after a poetry reading
tell me they never knew about you and where you were sent
as American as pie
They didn’t know your hands were also at the rolling pin
until your story became the simple dough,
the crust that fell off the racks before
they could open the oven door
All of this, all for naught
All of You is forgotten
All of this makes me wish
i could blame this
on some lack of medication
and a long strain of Amnesia
for better, for worse
traci kato-kiriyama is a Sansei L.A. Native who sometimes writes out of urgency from various spots throughout Los Angeles. She is part of Vigilant Love, a growing coalition and solidarity community against violence and Islamophobia (more information can be found on the Vigilant Love page on Facebook). Even though some of work carries harsh themes or tones, traci always hopes for conversation with all the aunties and uncles out there — please feel free to write to her about the coalition, this piece, or any of her work at firstname.lastname@example.org.