I heard this as my bus was approaching a reminisce of a latrine. Apparently there was a hospital somewhere around and there were several people on my bus who were born at Tule Lake. During this trip, I constantly need to remind myself that there were, at one point, real people, my people, living in this desolate environment. While there are still people living in the area, they are not living in shaky barracks surrounded by barbed wire and snipers.
The last 48 hours or so has been super special. On the bus ride up from Berkeley, a camp survivor read two narratives she wrote in her writing class. They were personal narratives about her life in Tule Lake and her life immediately following incarceration. Listening intently, I occasionally got lost in her narrative, imaging someone going through this experience. Then it hits me, “She is this person. She lived this. This is her story.” My heart swelled, my eyes moistened. I’ve known about these concentration camps for over a decade, visiting the camp in Topaz, Utah, where my family was incarcerated back in 1993 when I was 9 years old (the same age my grandmother was when she was incarcerated). I learned a lot about what it was like through my mother recounting her research and the children’s books like Journey to Topaz and A Journey Home, by Yoshiko Uchida, a former Topaz internee. But I never really got first-hand accounts of life in the camps from my grandparents. They either gave a passive response like, “Oh, it was fine. I don’t remember much, I was a kid,” or “No, I’m not going to talk about it.” My knowledge was always second-hand until now.
“Where we were born.” I try to imagine what it was like to begin your life in a place that your family was imprisoned because they shared the same heritage as your country’s enemy. How did you perceive the world? What did you think of it? How did you feel? And what was it like to return to this prison, the first place you ever lived? As I’ve interacted with many of these former internees, my first question is, “Do you have any early memories of this place?” I’m delightfully pleased when they always say, “Yes,” and tell me what they are. With every memory I hear, the lighter I begin to feel. The weight that I’ve been carrying around for not knowing more about the camps and my family’s experiences is slowly lifting. I’m beginning to understand “where” I was born–the memories and experiences that have shaped my life and the person I am today. I look forward to the day where I can share my story and inspire others to find out where they come from.