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.