February 19 marks the Day of Remembrance, commemorating Executive Order 9066 that led to the forced removal of Americans with Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to internment camps during World War II. My parental grandfather (now deceased), Michael Minoru Yuzuki, a “No-No Boy,” was interned at Tule Lake.
When I visited the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, written on the glass wall was my grandfather’s name. He was one of the Tule Lake internees. All I could do was touch his name. I longed to know him and his story.
My aunt’s neighbor is named Amy Ioki. In 1942, when she was 16, she and her family had to abandon their strawberry farm in Malibu and were interned in Manzanar. Her life was completely disrupted and she never graduated from high school.
Prior to meeting Mrs. Ioki, the books I read in high school were the only perspective I had. I expected her to harbor anger toward America due to the injustice she suffered. Instead, she spoke of her blessings: all of her friends were at the same camp and she was never separated from her family. She spoke fondly as she recounted how a few men, who had been gardeners at home, transformed the desolate desert into a beautiful Japanese garden.
One summer night a group of former fishermen couldn’t stand anymore the endless heat and boredom. Deep into the night, they snuck out to go fishing. After catching as many fish as they could carry, they snuck right back into camp.
“There was nowhere else to go!” Mrs. Ioki laughed.
She told me about a Japanese philosophy called gaman that translates to “patience” in English. But after hearing her story, I believe that gaman truly means resilience: acceptance and making the best of circumstances. Mrs. Ioki, all of the survivors of the internment camps, and my grandmother who endured the worst possible circumstances are genuine examples of the philosophy of Gaman.
Her story was published in the Malibu Times in 2011. Now 94, I recorded her story, Remembering Manzanar.
We must never forget.