And the Muslim Woman Sang

My mother was born in Fukuoka, Japan. She fell in love with an American soldier (my dad) and moved with him to a small northern Virginia town. Though she arrived there well after World War II, my mother came to know all too well the sideways glances and outright scorn of white people who viewed her as the enemy.

Here’s another true story. My best class in high school was Freshman English with Mrs. Kiyoko Bernard. Woven among our exploration of great literature were stories Mrs. Bernard shared with us about her life. Like the story about how she and her young Japanese-American husband were forced by the U.S. government into an internment camp during World War II. This remarkable woman who touched our lives with her humanity and her encouragement suffered the degradation of having to bear her first child in an internment camp.

In the heart of Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles is the Japanese American National Museum. JANM is beautiful, always clean, with many windows allowing in natural light, knowledgeable docents, and engaging Japanese cultural exhibits and activities. As a Japanese language teacher, I have taken my students on field trips there many times. But the museum’s purpose extends beyond expanding awareness of Japanese-American culture. Founded by survivors of Japanese internment camps who pooled government restitution money to build the museum, JANM exists as a reminder that, even in the land of the free, especially during the toxic climate of war, fear can drive the masses to ignore, subscribe to–even call for–foul human actions.

In 1942, by executive order of the president of the United States, everyone of Japanese descent, including natural-born U.S. citizens like Mrs. Bernard, were forced out of their homes, businesses, and schools. The lash of wartime anti-Japanese rhetoric fell swiftly. Here’s the story my dear friend and second mother Pauline once told. Pauline grew up in Bellflower, California, when it was still a small farming town. One morning in 1942, when Pauline was twelve, she arrived at school to find many of the classroom seats empty. To her horror, she realized that all of her Japanese friends were gone. Pauline’s parents and other good-hearted neighbors attempted to keep the land for the Japanese farmer friends. Others took advantage and bought the well-worked Japanese farms on the cheap.

Meanwhile, Japanese-American soldiers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were fighting and dying in Europe for the very country that was forcibly interring their family members.  38 years later, in 1980, President Jimmy Carter called for an investigation into the government’s internment action. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians determined that interring Japanese-Americans had been a clear violation of their human rights and was stoked by “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”

Here is another true story. It is not set in the 1940s or the 1960s or even the 1980s. It happened very recently in the large metropolitan area in which I live.

My old friend Luke, whom I’ve known since high school, has a lovely wife Cathy who’s always been kind and generous toward my family, especially my children. Cathy is very involved in her church. During winter break, she invited my daughter and me over to decorate Christmas cookies. Some of Cathy’s church friends were there. The political discussion became uncomfortable.

One of Cathy’s church friends shared this story:

Across the street from her a Muslim family had moved in, and the church friend felt very unsettled about this. One day the Muslim mother, a woman in her thirties, even crossed the street with her six-year-old daughter and rang the church friend’s doorbell. The church lady was terrified. She peered through the peephole and panicked. What should she do? Her husband was at work, leaving just her and her own young daughter at home, and a woman in a hijab was standing there on her doorstep with a little Muslim girl beside her.  So here’s what the frightened church lady did. Through her closed door, she insisted she would only open the door if the Muslim woman proved her patriotism by singing the national anthem.

And the Muslim woman sang.

 

 

–Eve Messenger

 

 

 

 

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15 comments

  1. That’s horrible 😦 I can’t even imagine what it was like for Muslims after 9/11. And it’s not helping that Trump is running for president too and just adding fuel to the already burning fire..It seems that we are destined to repeat the same mistakes sometimes from the Africans to the Japanese to the Mexicans and now Middle Eastern people.
    On a side note I did not know you were half-Japanese! That’s so cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, Carolyn. That so many people, including the most vocal politicians, confuse anti-terrorism with anti-Muslim breaks my heart and is what compelled me to write this story.

      Yes, it’s true. . . in way. I was adopted as a baby and raised speaking Japanese and visiting Japan every summer. Though I don’t look it, I am half-Japanese. . . on the inside.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t know all that history about the Japanese-Americans. What a beautiful story about your parents. It almost belongs in a book. So much prejudice. The race may change but the fear and ignorance remains the same. I hate the governments of the world for dividing us as a people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Daisy. That is a pretty romantic story, isn’t it? Many a pretty Japanese lady like my mom was swept off their feet by handsome G.I.’s like my dad. They were such a handsome pair of newlyweds, my mom with her jet black hair and widow’s peak, my dad with his piercing blue eyes.

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  3. Wow. Thank you for sharing this. It makes me sad that people experience such prejudice. I was a freshman in HS when 9/11 happened. The next year, my sophomore year, I had a social studies teacher who taught us about middle Eastern culture, history, and Islam. At the time, we didn’t understand why he was teaching us these things, but now it is clear he was trying to teach us these things to stop the cycle of prejudice.

    I find it interesting that we don’t hear much about the persecution that Japenese-Americans suffered during and post WW2.

    Have you ever read The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes? This book is about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and how it ripped one girls family apart. Just another example of an important part of history that we don’t hear much about… Funny how that happens huh?

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    1. Yes, it is interesting how that happens. As the say, whoever wins the war gets to write the history books or something like that. Hey, thank you for reminding me about The Girl Who Wrote in Silk–I’ve really been wanting to read that book.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I recently read the 1973 memoir, Farewell to Manzanar, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, about her family’s experience being interned during World War II, and I blogged about it here–http://sandrayeaman.com/2016/03/22/book-review-farewell-to-manzanar/–because we so badly need to remember that it was a mistake we are perilously close to allowing others to make again. I was born in the Midwest and have lived in the Middle East for much of my adult life. Through those experiences I know that the majority of Muslims are good, decent, hard-working people who value their families, their communities, and their faith. They are kind and generous. They are doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers, accountants, scientists, auto mechanics, salespeople, secretaries, CEOs, and any other occupation and profession you can think of.

    Thanks for sharing the storing of the woman who sang. Thanks to her for not letting her neighbor’s fear scare her away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I really appreciate your comment, Sandra. In any country or religion, extremists are dangerous, but those factions can’t and shouldn’t be used to judge a whole people. I really hope we humans can find a way to connect rather than increase the divide.

      Like

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