Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Ito Sisters

Walt was out visiting his friend Malcolm last night during Jeopardy so while the show was on, I browsed and found a fascinating documentary called The Ito Sisters, which apparently was released a couple of years ago.  Watching it, I had to admit that Trump is not unique in his policies toward Muslims.  It's an ugly story, most surprising for the calm, unemotional way in which it was told by two sisters, in their 80s, about their family's life in California.

The director, Antonia Grace Glenn began interviewing the women and their story, produced after their deaths, became a feature-length documentary film that captures the stories of three Japanese American sisters, as they recount how their immigrant parents struggled to make a life in America at the beginning of the 20th century. The family's chronicle is set against the backdrop of the anti-Japanese movement in California, a 60-year campaign by politicians, journalists, landowners, labor leaders and others that culminated in the evacuation and incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West Coast during World War II.

The hatred of all things Japanese went on primarily in California, I am dismayed to read.

The film begins with the sisters remembering their father Yetsusaburo, who came to San Francisco as a houseboy in 1897, worked his way up to owning a jewelry store and proceeded to lose almost everything, except what he could carry in his pockets, in the 1906 earthquake and fire. He moved to the country, became a migrant farmer, saved money and returned to Japan to get married, returning with his young wife Toku in 1914.

The sisters describe about growing up on the farm in Courtland, where their father worked his way up to being foreman on a white-owned farm. They attended a segregated school: There were two elementary schools in Courtland but only one school bus. “Everyone got on same school bus, Asian kids on one side, whites on the other. The bus driver stopped at the white school and everyone got off, then the Asian kids walked rest of way to their school, even in pouring rain or boiling hot sun.”

In the meantime, Japanese hatred was fueling in California and Asians were forbidden to own property.  One politician promised that this would be a "white country, not a brown country" and worked to see that all Asians were returned to their own country.

In the 1920s, all Japanese were banned from entering the U.S.

This ban was not lifted until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which repealed eligibility qualifications discriminating against racial and ethnic groups.

Things obviously got more heated after Pearl Harbor, when politicians said that just because there was a nice Japanese family living next to you who never did anything wrong, didn't mean that they weren't plotting something down the road.  All Japanese were terrorists.

Things reached a peak when FDR signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, which ultimately forced 110,000-120,000 Japanese into internment camps. The internment is considered to have resulted more from racism than from any security risk posed by Japanese Americans. Those who were as little as 1/16 Japanese and orphaned infants with "one drop of Japanese blood" were placed in internment camps. 

The worst story the Ito Sisters told was when their family was transferred from one camp to another while the mother was nearing the end of her pregnancy.  She began having contractions and a doctor said she would not deliver until the next day and left her with volunteers.  When the baby began to arrive, the volunteers pushed it back into her body.  The baby's head had been born and it had taken its first breath and when pushed back into the body, it suffocated.

Some of this story I knew peripherally, but hearing it from the people who lived it, discussed so dispassionately, was a real revelation (and made me wish I had spoken with my school friend, Marie, about it, since she was born in an internment camp at Tanforan race track).

But watching  the story made me very sad realizing that Trump is doing what was done earlier in this country (by a president who has become revered as one of our best), just excluding different classes of people.  Politicians are still trying to rid the country of brown people (they can't say black people came here unbidden, since they were brought here unwillingly!)

Will we ever become the "Christian nation" we profess to be....and are so far from being.

What, indeed, would Jesus do?

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