A few years ago, my daughter and visited the poignant Japanese Exclusion Memorial on Bainbridge Island, Washington, and happened to see information about their efforts to build a visitor center there.
|This wall goes down to the site of the ferry dock|
|Names of evacuees/incarcerees|
|One panel of the wonderful art at the Memorial|
When I began to think about how best to celebrate Dash's birthday, it seemed a no-brainer to combine a book launch with a fundraiser for the Visitor Center project. I mentioned my idea to Victoria Irwin, Event Coordinator at Eagle Harbor Book Company and the next thing I knew, the entire island was involved, including: Bainbridge Island Japanese Exclusion American Memorial; Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community; Bainbridge Island Historical Museum; and Kitsap Regional Library, Bainbridge Island. Wow!
The afternoon started at the Memorial with three groups of friends sharing about how being separated by the war impacted them. Marlene Wellbrock, Hisa Hayashida Matsudaira and Frances Kitamoto Ikegami started by reminiscing about their sweet childhood friendships and the pain of the forced separation; even after 72 years, the memories of that time brought tears to Marlene's eyes.
|Hisa and I share a laugh over what she took in her little suitcase|
Lilly Kitamoto Kodama and Patrice Matland had been first graders and both remembered being told very little about what was going on during the war. Lilly recalled that it seemed quite thrilling at first to travel on the train and go to a camp. But after a few weeks, she went to her mother and asked, "What kind of vacation is this, anyway?" Patrice fondly remembered her Swedish grandma and Lilly's Japanese grandmother chatting over coffee, their accents thick as cream, their hearts understanding one another perfectly.
|Lilly Kitamoto Kodama|
The last stories were from Earl Hanson and Kay Sakai Nakao, with a bit of help from Mary Woodward, daughter of Bainbridge Review co-owners, Milly and Walt Woodward, one of the few newspapers in the country to question and condemn the mass evacuation and incarceration of people of Japanese descent. Earl told about trying to get down to the dock that day to say good-bye to his high school buddies and teammates -- all of them wearing their high school letter jackets -- but being stopped by soldiers with guns. It was clear that that memory was still painful for him.
|Earl and Kay|
Kay Sakai Nakao, a spry 93-year-old, charmed everyone with her teasing and stories. When she was asked if she was bitter about what happened, she said no. She said that she realized she would be the only person harmed if she had held a grudge. "I chose to live with joy," she said. What an inspiration!
|Kay Sakai Nakao, Katy Curtis (from the Museum) and Earl Hanson|
From the Memorial, we moved on to a quick stop at the Historical Museum. There simply wasn't time to take everything in but I did, however, get a special tour led by Frances, Hisa and Mary. Frances pointed out the baby doll that she'd taken to the camp; Hisa showed me a photo of herslef as a pig-tailed 6-year-old, walking down the dock to the ferry (she hasn't changed a bit!) and Mary pointed out the Bainbridge Gardens sign hanging from the ceiling. "Look on the back," she said. There, hand-painted, were the words: "Welcome Back," words that the returning Japanese would have seen when they were finally allowed back on the island in 1944/45.
Bainbridge Island author, Suzanne Selfors, graciously invited Neil, Winston and me to dinner at her charming home. You can see from the photo below that she included a pretty star-studded cast of characters at the dinner.
|L-R: Suzanne Selfors, me, Neil, Bob Selfors, George Shannon, Jennifer Mann, Suzanne Droppert (owner of Liberty Bay Books), and Lynn Brunelle; photo courtesy Walker Selfors|
The full day wrapped up with a full house at Eagle Harbor Book Company. A warm and receptive audience heard the story behind the story of Dash, and I was honored to be able to introduce Judy Kusakabe and her daughter and grandchildren to those in attendance.
|Mitsi and her beloved Chubby|
Judy's step-mom, Mitsue Shiraishi, was the inspiration for my writing this particular book; she has been delightfully supportive of my efforts, including loaning precious family documents, photos and yearbooks.
|Dash cookies provided by Sweet Themes Bakery|
|Jennifer Longo, Jennifer Mann, Lynn Brunelle, Suzanne Selfors all have my back!|
I was beat as I climbed into the car for the ferry ride home, but my heart was absolutely full to the brim. Some of that joy even leaked out my eyes as we chugged toward Seattle. I will never forget that day and the people who joined together to make it so meaningful.
Last but not least: authors Jamie Ford and Mary Woodward generously donated baskets of books to contribute to the fundraising efforts. It's not too late to purchase a $5 raffle ticket . . . but hurry! The drawing is tomorrow, at 5 pm PDT. Call the bookstore: 206-842-5332