When Shane “Sheshe” Conno’s grandfather passed away in 2013, the family moved into the adult’s home to take care of his belongings. In the garden, the shed was so full that only one person could enter at a time.
As a fast young man, Conno went into space and undertook the task of sending bulky items to family members to take home.
The cardboard box, hidden deep in a remote cupboard, read “University of Michigan” on the lid. There was a cloth inside when I opened the suitcase. “A fancy tablecloth!” He thought.
Entering the house, he took the cloth from the suitcase in front of everyone: it was a kimono, a traditional Japanese formal dress.
With hand embroidered peach flowers in silver thread, the glossy fabric and how it reflects light impressed everyone.
“I have never seen a kimono in real life, let alone touched it,” Conno tells the BBC.
There were a total of seven silk kimonos in the suitcase. No one in the family recognized them, meaning the treasure was always kept secret.
When Conno looked more closely at the suitcase, he noticed that under the University of Michigan, the unknown name “Sadame Tomita” was written in approximately white ink with five digits: 07314. Someone had deliberately hidden the numbers on the sticker. .
“That’s your grandmother’s Japanese name,” his uncle informed Konno. “This is his family’s registration number in the fields.”
Conno never met his Japanese grandmother because he died before he was born. He was a Nisei, a second-generation Japanese-American who spent his teenage years in prison camps.
After the war, she received the Western name Helen.
It was the only suitcase she could carry to the fields, Conno later learned. She kept it for the rest of her life.
She was a teenager when her fianc, Connolly’s grandfather, was locked up in the Combo Amaze relocation center in Colorado. They met after the war.
Conno wanted to know more, but his family did not want to be reminded of the past.
“My grandmother even keeps a secret from her own children. Why did she hide her name? Why did she keep those kimonos a secret?”
Others ask questions like Conno.
Conno noted that following the recent escalation of attacks on this population in the United States, other Japanese Americans attended the candlelight vigil organized by the Stop Asian Hate campaign and wanted to clear their throats.
“The first question we asked ourselves was, ‘In what camp was your family imprisoned?'” Says Conno.
“The second question is, ‘How much did your family tell you?’
“I never got a chance to talk about his experience when my grandfather was alive,” Conno says.
“If I ask questions [à minha tia], She specializes in changing things. My dad and uncle think nothing can be changed just by digging into the past. Out of respect for my family, I did not ask for answers. ”
Some Issei — first-generation Japanese immigrants — and Nissei kept their experiences in the camps secret, not wanting to pass on painful memories to future generations.
The Japanese word shikata ka nai is translated as “unavoidable”.
Conno’s father and uncles are Sanchez or third generation.
“For my father’s generation, it’s easy not to ask too many questions. Their parents were shocked. For them, it’s not part of the story you can read,” he says.
That’s why Conno believes it is the responsibility of the fourth generation Yonxi to keep that tradition alive.
“I belong to a generation that is far from seeing the past differently and speaking out against this injustice.”
On February 19, 1942, two months after the Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, US President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066.
The document authorized the “expulsion” of Japanese Americans from communities on the West Coast of the United States, arguing that the move was intended to protect the country from spying.
In fact, the laws were driven by racism, war hysteria and fear. During World War II, no Japanese American was convicted of any serious act, such as treason or espionage.
Canada, Mexico and many South American countries had similar plans.
Between 1942 and 1946, about 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly evicted from their homes and transferred to government-run camps. There were thousands of children and the elderly. Several prisoners were shot dead by guards.
More than half are US citizens: anyone over 1/16 of Japanese descent is eligible for compulsory imprisonment, meaning anyone with a Japanese adoptive grandfather can be detained at home and deported for miles.
In a matter of months, ten departments were built in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Arkansas.
During construction, families were often sent to temporary “extra centers”: temporary housing in areas with stables around horse racing tracks. Each family was given a barn to sleep on.
Conno’s grandmother was sent to the San Mateo racetrack.
“The horses were removed the day before and the smell was horrible,” Conno later learned. “When they were transplanted, the fields must have been beautiful in comparison.”
In 1988 alone, nearly 50 years later, US President Ronald Reagan apologized and awarded more than US $ 20,000 (approximately US $ 40,000 in current value) to more than 80,000 people. Japanese Americans were forcibly detained or sometimes their heirs.
Brian Nia, who teaches the history of camps at the University of California at Los Angeles, says that at the time, the Japanese-American community was happy for forgiveness and a solution.
“It’s a remote possibility. I do not think people will ever see something like this in their lives,” he told the BBC.
But the complex legacy of the camps still has a lot of work to do. “Many people still don’t know the history of the camps, but progress is being made,” Nia says.
California recently passed legislation to implement ethnic education programs in high schools where this history is taught.
Specific textbooks on this era are published, the American National Park Service establishes monuments, and film screenings of the fields also help to restore memory.
“We look forward to the 100th anniversary [do ataque à Pearl Harbor e aprovação da política de evacuação forçada e aprisionamento]All Americans know about camps, “said Nia.
Conno took it upon himself to learn about that tradition. When he found his family name in a book about the fields, he first felt a certain pride that his ancestor had done something remarkable.
But after reading the whole paragraph everything changed. Fearing that they would be considered foreigners, some communities burned Japanese goods.
Conno discovered that his grandfather had visited a nearby Japanese community to convince people to destroy family photos, letters and documents written in Japanese.
It took a week for the thick Japanese dictionary to burn. Sashimi knives and equipment from the traditional Japanese martial art of Kento were also thrown into the fire because people feared that the authorities would consider the items as weapons.
“It helped my own family make the terrible decision to destroy these emotional objects, and it was in vain because they were forced to live in these camps anyway,” Conno says.
The destruction of Japanese culture will affect future generations. Konno’s grandparents spoke Japanese, but after their experience in the camps, they decided not to teach the language to their children.
“Grandma thought that speaking Japanese would not contribute to the success of children in the United States.”
Now, Conno is trying to regain the knowledge that has been lost for generations. “I can understand the decisions my grandparents made and they did what they thought was right to protect us,” he says.
In 2019, Kano asked a friend to go on a special pilgrimage. “I finally wanted to go [o campo de realocação de] Yellow. ”
The museum, now run by the National Park Service, was the first Japanese-American concentration camp to be built in Manzanar, USA. Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, most of the people who lived there were from Los Angeles, about 370 km away.
Despite looking at photos of the Conno camps, it was shocking to see first-hand the living conditions that had been recreated for historical education.
Families lived in long wooden sheds, sharing spaces with sheets, while the wind shook the walls and dust entered the cracks.
“They had to clear the space twice a day to remove the dust,” they told Conno.
The fields were surrounded by eight-foot-high barbed wire fences and curved upwards. There is no way out.
Conno’s grandmother and his two sisters were teenagers in a concentration camp. He was imprisoned between the ages of 15 and 18, and the three sisters shared space with their parents in a makeshift room.
Typical bathrooms had open spaces, showers and toilets, without walls or privacy.
The women patiently lined up outside, allowing the occupant to be discreet for a while, meaning it rained at odd times with people throughout the night.
Looking down from under the shelters, Conno saw the remains of Japanese Zen gardens. “They tried to make this hostile prison a little prettier.”
Konno translates the Japanese word kaman, which means “to face difficulties with dignity”.
“In these camps, Japanese-American families were treated less than humans, but they still tried to respect each other and help each other in this horrible place,” Conno says bitterly.
What he does not know is that many years ago, his father also went to Manjanar. “He absorbed it all and kept it to himself,” he says.
Kono understood that previous generations paid homage to their ancestors in their own way.
Most recently, after Conno began searching for his own answers, his father and uncle moved into the Mercedes collection center where his paternal cousins were temporarily imprisoned.
The camps were destroyed a long time ago, but the statue of a little girl sitting on a pile of suitcases serves as a monument to the families trapped there.
On a wall behind her, the names of 1,600 Japanese Americans, including children born in the field, are carved in stone.
Dad and Uncle stopped to look at his last name and took pictures to send to Conno.
Looking back, Conno wonders if the reason it took so long to start the investigation was because he thought his questions would not be well received.
But what he discovered was that his generation of parents had the same desire to know.
“After 80 years the opportunities to talk to those who have lived through it are disappearing. Now without hearing a second story, it’s even more urgent for me to find things,” he says. “It’s a life purpose for me.”
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