Some of my own personal heroes get a photographic tribute in Little Tokyo.This isn’t just a review of the exhibit…as you’ll see in a few seconds. This is an essay dedicated to a group of men that are among my heroes.
But there is a photographic exhibition highlighting these men and their sacrifices at the Japanese American National Museum, and you should go see it.
The sacrifice of being a Solider is already hard enough as it is. But to do it for a Country that’s all but turned it’s back on you? How do you do it?
It’s funny in a way. In a way, you’re trapped. Your skin, your name, your ancestral tongue even a part of your soul may be Japanese, but…the actual country of Japan is just as alien as any other foreign land. You’re an American. There’s no trick to the question, no magical twist to the answer. You were born here. You were raised here. Your thoughts and feelings are of here. You are…an American. Period, that’s it. The reason you know you’re an American is that…that part of you can’t be erased so easily…
…and believe me there are millions of people trying to erase it everyday.
So what do you do? What do you when the Country of your birth is attacked by the country of your ancestors?
You probably do what these men did: pick up a weapon, and get ready to defend your home.
Now, as an American, particularly an African-American…it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to put myself in these men’s shoes. It doesn’t take any effort at all to admit that a horrible crime was committed against them.
Yes, a crime. We took American citizens, actual born-in-America American Citizens and locked them up in Concentration Camps because…
Well, I have no idea why…tell you the truth. Roosevelt got a report early on in the war saying that the Japanese-American citizens of this land could be counted among its most loyal, and were eager for the chance to prove.
So what did Roosevelt do? What did Roosevelt (another one of my personal heroes) do?
He sent them away anyway.
It was probably more for political convenience, but…convenience doesn’t sell when you’re one wrong side of a barbed wire fence, and your own country are the ones that put you there.
As the war dragged on, soon a call went out for 2,000 Japanese-American volunteers to sign up.
Imagine their reaction when 10,000 answered the call.
10,000 loyal Americans. Never again should their loyalty or love or country be questioned. Yet there they were, rising from behind barbed wire, leaving loved one and sweethearts behind in what can only be called a prison, to defend the country that did this to them.
The of 442nd, the men depicted in the photographic collection Go For Broke: Japanese American Soldiers Fighting on Two Fronts did something almost incalculably difficult. I’d like to think that I would have done the same thing, and given my own people’s struggles with this country, I know I would have.
But the struggle would have been hard. I would have been fighting with a heavy heart, an angry heart.
I read the story of Minoru Kiyota, a man who was so angry at having been interned, he actually renounced his citizenship, only to immediately understand that he had made a terrible mistake.
I could see myself being that angry. I could believe myself being that angry.
When I looked at the faces of the men in the Go For Broke Exhibit, I saw.…even through smiles, and occasional laughter, I can see anger there. Just a little, in the back of the eyes. It’s impossible to completely extinguish, and walks hand in hand with pride.
I guess pride puts the uniform on, but anger makes you keep fighting, despite all the crap that’s heaped upon you. Every step forward is…in an odd way…a step closer to home. Every fight they made on the way to Berlin, brought the day of their personal liberation that much closer. It was hard. It cost a lot of lives.
But look at the faces in these photographs. Ask them if they’d do it again. You know what they’d probably say?
Sure, we’d do again. It’s not like we have a choice. It’s our country…and as flawed and as broken as it is…where else are we going to go?
Where else is home?
Go For Broke runs through March 2, 2014.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Needless to say, these are a lovely set of photographs covering the entire history of the war. But the early goings on, your bearings might be a little hard to find as a goodly chunk of the photos don’t have dates or locations. Now, there’s a caption. They’ll tell you who’s who and what’s what…but a sense of place is missing in some of the early photographs.
As the war drags on, the photos do bear a time and a place. So it improves, but early on…rough.
PARKING: Scattered, and mostly limited to Paid lots and Parking Garages. Expect to pay about $7 bucks, but that can vary. If you’re willing to walk you may be able to find Metered Parking a a couple of blocks away from the Museum, down near Wurstkuche. But when in doubt, consult the Little Tokyo Parking Guide that’s available at the Little Tokyo website.
Japanese-American National Museum
369 East First Street
Los Angeles, California 90012