On March 30 our community gathered to commemorate 80 years of healing. Standing shoulder to shoulder, we came together to memorialize the exclusion of our island’s Japanese American neighbors. Current Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC) President, Carol Reitz, opened this moving ceremony with these moving words:
“WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?” I kept asking myself as I had loud “discussions” with my 88-year-old father.
One of the last discussions I had with him revolved around the misconceptions, stereotypes and scapegoating of Muslims and Islamic faith. In exasperation, I asked if he realized that everything he was saying was said about him in 1942? Yes – was his answer, but we’re different.
“What’s wrong with you?”
My father, Albert, at age 12, along with his mother were taken from their farm in Fresno to the swamps of Jerome, AK and Tule Lake. One of his 3 older brothers renounced his US citizenship to watch out for his father, who wanted to return to Japan. Those two were incarcerated in North Dakota with German prisoners. My father recalls riding his bicycle back and forth from their barrack to the barrack offices delivering and receiving telegrams sent between his mother and father. His mother trying to convince his father to stay in the US. Finally, Albert and his mother loaded their luggage onto the train that would take them to the coast to catch a ship to Japan. At the last minute, his father changed his mind and said he would stay in the US. Albert desperately dug through the mounds of bags and suitcases trying to find theirs to remove it before the train left. The train left without them, but with their luggage. They contacted relatives in Japan hoping they might be able to retrieve the few possessions they owned but found it had been stolen along the way.
“What’s wrong with you?” Wrong Question. Wrong tone of voice.
Finally, making the connection between what happened to my father in 1942, to who he was when he passed away at age 88 was what I needed to release the anger and feel finally feel empathy and shed tears. His experience at age 12 explained everything he was at age 88.
Eighty years of Healing is our theme. Healing is too late for him and many of his generation. It’s not too late for my generation. Healing may only occur when we find out “what happened to you” asked by an empathetic community willing to listen to the story—the story that shaped their world view.
Understanding our history helps create an understanding of what happened to you, which encourages empathy. There are many tangible signs of that community support here on Bainbridge as well as the lesser-known stories of individual actions demonstrated that “You belong, you’re safe here, and we have a future together”.
What happened in 1942 is just one big example of what kind of impact an event can have on lives and subsequent generations. Everyone of you here knows someone who has experienced some kind of trauma, and you can help by keeping this question in mind “What happened to you?”. This will help the healing when you’re willing to listen when they’re ready to talk.
Today is about survivors sharing their story, and the community sharing how they were willing to listen, and demonstrate the empathy needed to heal.
Carol (Tsuchiya) Reitz
3rd Generation, Japanese American
Daughter of Sakiye (Ohno) Tsuchiya – Age 9 when removed from Seattle with her family of 12 to Puyallup and Minidoka Daughter of Albert Tsuchiya – age 12 when his family taken from California to Jerome, AK and Tule Lake
Speeches by Leonard Forsman (Chairman, Suquamish Tribe), Gov. Jay Inslee, City Council Member Clarence Moriwaki, Frances Kitamoto Ikegami (Survivor and daughter of Frank and Shigeko Kitamoto), Woodward Middle School Students, Dee Eisenhauer (Pastor at Eagle Harbor), Val Tollefson (BI Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Association). Other participants included Emily Groff (musician), Senji Kanaeda (Rev. at Nipponzan Myohoji BI), Ken Matsudaira (director of Community & Cultural Program at BIMA). This video was produced by Jay Matsudaira (Snr. Producer at Tri-Film Productions).
The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community (BIJAC) honors the heritage of the Issei (first–generation Japanese) who came to the United States, and particularly to Bainbridge Island, to make a new life for themselves and their children. We hope to promote a better understanding of the diversity of our nation by sharing their history, customs, and values. A principal focus for BIJAC has been the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, which honors those forced to leave their homes during World War II. The Memorial is the product of the efforts of local, county, state, and federal governments, as well as many, many individuals who have donated their time, money and energy toward its completion. Today the Memorial is a unit of the Minidoka National Historic Site, part of the National Parks Service.