Last Friday, we read When the Emperor was Divine, a story about a family’s experience during and after the Incarceration of Japanese peoples in America. By reading the story, it became more understandable as why so many internees were quiet about what happened to them. It wasn’t so much the time they spent in the internment (though this definitely had seriously detrimental effects), but what came after. The family in the story were ostracized and ridiculed for something they can not change; their identity. It is possible to change your name, the color of your hair, but this family could not change the fact that they were Japanese. And what’s worse, they too hated themselves for being Japanese. The children would apologize for any slightly mistake, regardless off whether or not it was their fault, and what was possibly the most painful to read, was the mother’s fear of being alone as it might cause her identity as Japanese might become more transparent (196).
In Pilgrimage, the children of the internees are seen taking a stand and protesting the internment. They frustrated that they didn’t know such a big part of their families’ history and when I first saw this, I understood that anger. However, as time goes on, it feels difficult not to also understand their parents’ silence. How are you supposed to talk about a time where the entire country hated you to your children? Do you risk passing on trauma to them for the sake of honesty or stay silent? For the next generation, it was a time to figure out their history and ask for redress and although that may have been difficult, it would have been more difficult to protest if they were carrying memories from that time like their parents were.
Reading the story was hard because it made me confront my own anger towards my parents. I was so upset for so long because they had left me in the dark about their history, even now I don’t know the full story of their experiences. I blamed them for their silence, but I completely forgot to take their feelings into consideration.
I am still curious about their history, but I know now to have more patience.