TCS: But Alien Still – The Question of Loyalty

Good Morning!

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Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.

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To finally recognize our own invisibility is
to finally be on the path toward visibility.

– Mitsuye Yamada

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The internment of thousands of Japanese Americans during WWII is a dark stain on United States history. There were people who spoke out against it even at the time, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, but the attack on Pearl Harbor swept America with a wave of fury which drowned out the dissenting voices.

Mitsuye Yasutake, 18 years old, was one of the many young Americans whose families lost their livelihoods, their homes, and their civil rights to that wave.

Mitsuye Yamada (July 5, 1923 – ) born as Mitsuye Yasutake in Fukuoka, Japan; Japanese-American human rights activist, feminist, fiction author, poet, essayist, editor, and professor of English. Her parents were both first-generation Japanese Americans living in the U.S., but they were visiting Japan when she was born. In 1926, the family moved to Seattle, where her father was an interpreter for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. He was wrongfully accused and arrested by the FBI for espionage after Pearl Harbor, so she and her family were interned at Mindoka War Relocation Center in Idaho. She was allowed to leave to attend college after she renounced loyalty to the Emperor of Japan.



Her first book, Camp Notes and Other Poems, was written during the war, but was not published until 1976. She had to become a “naturalized” U.S. citizen in 1955, five years after her marriage to Yoshikasu Yamada, who was born in Hawaii, and served as a medic and a translator in the U.S. Army during WWII. She was the co-author with Nellie Wong and Merle Woo of 3 Asian American Writers Speak Out on Feminism (2003), and brought her activism and teaching together in Teaching Human Rights Awareness Through Poetry (1999). She also co-edited Sowing Ti Leaves: Writing by Multicultural Women (1991). Her other published works include Lighthouse, her essay “Invisibility is an Unnatural Disaster,” and Desert Run: Poems and stories. She was a professor of English at Cypress College in Seattle, Washington, until her retirement in 1989. In 2019, Yamada published Full Circle: New and Selected Poems.

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To the Lady

by Mitsuye Yamada

YOU would’ve
come to my aid in shining armor
laid yourself across the railroad track
marched on Washington
tattooed a Star of David on your arm
written six million enraged letters to Congress

But we didn’t draw the line
anywhere
law and order Executive Order 9066
social order moral order internal order

YOU let’m
I let’m
All are punished

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The Question of Loyalty

by Mitsuye Yamada

I met the deadline
for alien registration
once before
was numbered fingerprinted
and ordered not to travel
without permit.

But alien still they said I must
foreswear allegiance to the emperor.
For me that was easy
I didn’t even know him
but my mother who did cried out
If I sign this
What will I be?
I am doubly loyal
to my American children
also to my own people.
How can double mean nothing?
I wish no one to lose this war.
Everyone does.

I was poor
at math
I signed
my only ticket out.

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Evacuation

by Mitsuye Yamada

As we boarded the bus
bags on both sides
(I had never packed
two bags before
on a vacation
lasting forever)
the Seattle Times
photographer said
Smile!
so obediently I smiled
and the caption the next day
read:

Note smiling faces
a lesson to Tokyo.

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Lichens

by Mitsuye Yamada

While we sleep in our tents
tightly zipped in
and together
new generations of
lichens spill over
on sandblasted rocks
like orange marmalade
storm-bearing westerlies
whip fireflies
flitting outside
our thin nylon walls.

Between the
host culture and us
there is only time
and patience for
lichens slowly release
corroding chemicals
on resisting floors.

Volcanic mass turns to soil
one grain at a time
enough for pioneering moss
and fledgling ferns to
make our desert lawn.

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Cincinnati

by Mitsuye Yamada

Freedom at last
in this town aimless
I walked against the rush
hour traffic
My first day
in a real city
where

no one knew me.

No one except one
hissing voice that said
dirty jap
warm spittle on my right check.
I turned and faced
the shop window
and my spittle face
spilled onto a hill
of books.
Words on display.


All the poems are from Camp Notes and Other Writings, © 1998 by Mitsuye Yamada – Rutgers University Press

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VISUALS

  • The grey cup is an example of Kintsugi, which means ‘golden joinery’ in Japanese. Dating from the 15th century, it raised the repair of pottery into Art, traditionally done with urushi lacquer and real powdered gold. The expensive materials, high level of skill, and time required has meant that only pieces of great historical, sentimental, or monetary value have been repaired in this way. It is related to Wabi-sabi, a comprehensive Japanese world view and aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” 
  • The picture next to the cup is a famous photograph, taken by Eliot Elisofon for LIFE magazine, of the first group of Japanese Americans arriving at the Manzanar internment camp, one of the ten camps set up by the U.S. government after Pearl Harbor.
  • Mitsuye Yasutake (Yamada) as a young woman
  • A more recent photograph of Mitsuye Yamada

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About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for the past 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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