New book – Honouring Our People: Breaking the Silence
On three days in September 2009, families, friends, and survivors came together for the Honouring Our People: Stories of the Internment conference in Burnaby, BC. The conference paid tribute to the Japanese Canadians who experienced racism, alienation, betrayal, restrictions, uprooting and loss during and after WWII.
The Canadian-born nisei (second generation Japanese Canadians) spoke openly about the experience of being labelled ‘enemy aliens’ and exiled from their homes on the west coast.
Many sansei (third generation Japanese Canadians) grew up ignorant of the catastrophic events that had shaped their parents’ lives. At the conference, as refected in a new book, Honouring Our People: Breaking the Silence, the nisei break the silence on their own terms, affording us the texture of the personal, with intimate glimpses into lives lived in adversity, but infused with courage and the will to survive.
The resilience and perseverance shown by Japanese Canadians who not only endured, but often prospered after the war, laid the foundation for the comunity we enjoy today
This 260-page illustrated book collects 52 stories from the conference, creating the opportunity for dialogue and learning through the first-hand experiences of those who lived through this seminal time in the history of the Japanese Canadian community.
Alice Kokuburo (née Sakiyama)
We (Sakiyama family) arrived in Sandon at the end of July ’42. I was 13, and there was huckleberry picking up the mountain, late to mid-August-September. Everyone took pails or empty cans and Grandpa S. made a bell out of an empty can, ’cause there were bears. All the kids went, and the ladies, with Grandpa as the leader with his famous whale bone cane. We’d go up the mountain, Grandpa with his tin and a rock, shaking it to scare away the bears, and all of us back down the mountain with huckleberries — it was the most excitement we had before going off to school.
We’d collect huckleberries to take to Harris’ General Store, since Mr. Harris would give us pound for pound, sugar, which was rationed. Mrs. Harris was youngish and Mr. Harris was old and hunched over. Every evening, Mr. Harris walked out of the store, crossed the plank over the swiftly rushing Carpenter Creek to the other side (that had been burnt out in a fire). It was all gravel with no houses or dwellings except a brick and mortar igloo-type rounded top structure, with a door, always bolted. We never knew what he would be doing, but he would leave his store once a day every evening at 5 o’clock to go there. We knew it was something very important — maybe a safety deposit box?
My teacher was Mrs. Ito who we knew from Marpole and school was taught through correspondence, sheets from the curriculum and textbooks were limited. There were 12-15 of us or so in a class. We used a big hall for gym and recreation, the miner hall, and an opera house — which had beautiful heavy burgundy curtains and a stage. We’d clear the space, put up baskets and since there were no men to teach us, the ladies taught us. A few of the older boys played baseball and the girls played softball. We couldn’t do any outdoor sports, the creek was too swift and dangerous for swimming. But in the winter, they would clear the snow, flood it and we would have an ice rink! The first winter had so much snow, it was beautiful but we couldn’t see over the snow bank. Since we lived on the high side of town, my dad and brothers made sleds from pieces of discarded lumber, put an iron grid and hammered it onto runners. My younger brother got to sled right down the mountain, and had to walk all the way back. His snow pants would be caked with snow. Grandma’s job was to chisel it off and then he would go back to sledding. The kids had fun, but I’m sure that for the adults and parents, it was terrible.