Most books about Japanese Americans focus on the West Coast because that’s where Japanese first arrived and settled on the US mainland.
So few well-known books tell the stories of Japanese as they crossed the country and decided to live in the mountains, or the midwest, or the northeast or the south. Yet I know of communities of JAs in New York (not surprising), Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska and Utah. I have JA family in Atlanta who speak with a sweet Southern drawl. I recently interviewed a JA woman in Nashville, Tennessee (who admitted the Japanese community there is minuscule and good Japanese restaurants hard to find).
The point is, the Japanese American story isn’t just about California, Oregon and Washington (and Hawai’i). We’re spread out, and quite often, the stories behind our arrival away from the West Coast can be compelling and as rich with history and promise, hopes and dreams, tragedy and triumph as the stories of the pioneering families who settled on the coast.
That’s why I enjoyed reading “We Chose Colorado,” a collection of oral histories from Japanese and Japanese Americans who live in Colorado — mostly in the Denver area. The book is by Joyce Lebra, Professor Emerita at the University of Colorado and a longtime expert on Japan and India. She’s written non-fiction books about the history of Japan, as well as novels set in Japan. Lebra was raised in Hawai’i and lived in Japan for 10 years. She received her doctorate in Japanese History from Harvard and Radcliffe, and lived through a big moment in Japanese history herself. Continue reading →
Ralph Carr, the man who served as governor of Colorado at the start of World War II, had been largely forgotten for decades. But thanks to an effort by the Asian Pacific Bar Association (APABA) and a biography by journalist Adam Schrager, Carr’s making a comeback in Colorado, and his legacy is finally getting its due, with a fine biography, a stretch of Highway 285 named in his honor, and now, a memorial to Carr’s legacy at Kenosha Pass.
On December 12, representatives of Denver’s Japanese American community, APABA, and CDOT assembled at a scenic overlook just a few hundred feet west of the Kenosha Pass summit on Highway 285 to dedicate the memorial. (Here’s a nice report from the Canyon Courier about the dedication.)
It’s a massive stone tribute engraved with a message that explains the significance of Ralph Carr to Colorado.
A rising star in the Republican Party during the 1930s, Carr was mentioned as a future presidential candidate when he famously became the only Western governor in the months following the bombing of Pearl Harbor to oppose first the harassment, and then the internment of Japanese Americans. Continue reading →
It’s been a couple of weeks since the Japanese American National Museum‘s national conference was held in Denver. Sorting through the many bits of video I took over the conference, which ran July 3-6, my favorite parts were the tribute to JA veterans on the Fourth of July, and the July 6 bus tour to Amache, the internment camp in southeast Colorado.
The conference brought a bevy of famous and not-so famous speakers and panelists (I moderated a panel on Hapas, mixed-race Americans who are the future of the JA community) to Denver’s nice new Hyatt right by the nice new Convention Center. The famous included the likes of actor George Takei, a superstar in the JA pantheon; Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawai’i), a Medal of Honor World War II veteran of the all-JA 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team; Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), who as a baby was interned at Amache with his family; former Congressman and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norm Mineta; JA leaders and activists such as John Tateishi and Dale Minami; authors including mystery novelist Naomi Hirahara; Cynthia Kadohata, who writes books for pre-teens; and Uma Krishnaswami, who writes multicultural children’s books from a South Asian perspective.
The conference, which had the awkward and ungainly title but righteous theme of “Whose America? Who’s American?,” also brought more than 800 attendees and volunteers for the four-day span, meeting and greeting and learning about the history, present and future of not only Japanese Americans but also of Americans in general. One of the noteworthy speakers was Anan Ameri, the director of the Arab American National Museum, who spoke at a Plenary Session alongside JA scholars about internment, civil rights and the question of American identity posed in the conference title. Continue reading →
Yesterday it was 82 degrees, close to a record high, in Denver. It was as if summer had arrived in one day, with students sunning themselves at the University of Colorado, and people everywhere doing what Coloradans do during the summer: biking, walking, throwing Frisbees.
Yesterday is like a dream. You wouldn’t know it happened. Today it snowed, and tonight the lows will drop to 20. Here are some photos of the return of winter. Continue reading →