Excerpt from Chapter 1 in Joy Kogawa’s new work-in-progress, ‘Gently to Nagasaki’
Like twenty-two thousand other ‘enemy aliens’ during World War II, our family lost our home back in the 1940’s. I was in grade one. Suddenly we Canadians of Japanese ancestry had become a security threat, fifth columnists, spies, traitors, a breath away from barbarity. We were uprooted and sent off in trains, ‘evacuated’ to internment centres in the B.C. interior mountains. Our homes fell en masse into the trustworthy hands of the Custodian of Enemy Alien Properties for ‘safekeeping.’ Eventually we all learned what safekeeping meant. Safe, but not for us. Keeping, but not for us. None of us returned home. The war ended and we were still, as the title of Ken Adachi’s history book tells us, The Enemy That Never Was. Having disappeared our homes, the next thing the government did was to disappear us and implemented its Dispersal Policy. We were tossed as pearls of a broken necklace and as crumbs and scraps for the dogs of labour, a few here, a few there, over the vast Canadian landscape. The action intended to destroy our community and to eliminate an essential belongingness at the core of our cultural identity, worked almost perfectly. ‘We Japanese’ were no longer ‘we Japanese.’ For almost all my life, I would say with a sense of appropriateness that most of my friends were white and I hardly knew any other Japanese Canadians.