September 1, 2009

Today is the 90th birthday of Monica Sone, author of Nisei Daughter. Written in 1953, hers was among the first books published about experiencing the forced removal and detention during World War II. Sone and her family had run a hotel in Seattle before Executive Order 9066 sent all West Coast Japanese Americans into exile.

While much more literature on the subject is in print today, teachers still assign readings from Nisei Daughter, perhaps because of the approachable voice of the author, who recalls her childhood and adolescence with good humor. The University of Washington catalogue entry for Asian American literature about the Northwest traces the shift in Sone’s tone between the initial publication in the 50s and her foreword for the 1979 edition.

The UW library posted a chapter from Sone’s book, about arriving at their Puyallup “assembly center,” dubbed Camp Harmony (see the library’s online exhibit). Amidst the “quiet hysteria” of the first days in camp, Sone reflects on her situation:

What was I doing behind a fence like a criminal? If there were accusations to be made, why hadn’t I been given a fair trial? Maybe I wasn’t considered an American anymore. My citizenship wasn’t real, after all. Then what was I? I was certainly not a citizen of Japan as my parents were. On second thought, even Father and Mother were more alien residents of the United States than Japanese nationals for they had little tie with their mother country. In their twenty-five years in America, they had worked and paid their taxes to their adopted government as any other citizen.

Of one thing I was sure. The wire fence was real. I no longer had the right to walk out of it. It was because I had Japanese ancestors. It was also because some people had little faith in the ideas and ideals of democracy.

Thank you, Mrs. Sone, for your seminal contribution to J.A. literature. Happy birthday!