March 24, 2022

The latest addition to our Women’s History Month writing challenge comes from yonsei artist, writer and community historian Patricia Wakida, who shares a photo from her great-grandmother’s 88th birthday and reminds us to “keep these time traveling marvels, don’t forget them.”

Four suns, these Issei women

Four suns, these Issei women. I recognize my great-grandmothers (hi-obachan) Shizuno Wakida and Rae Wada, and although I don’t know the other two women, but they feel like universal immigrant great-grandmothers from all over the map. I recognize that they have gathered at my Grandma Rose Wakida’s house at 3413 N Millbrook Avenue in Fresno, the house I remember for its spiny sago palms at the front door and the lush garden cultivated for ikebana and koi pond in the back. 

Four Issei women gathered around a cake with candles in the shape of the number 88.
Wakida’s great-grandmothers, Shizuno Wakida and Rae Wada, and two other Issei women gathered around a cake for Shizuno’s beiju, 88th birthday celebration, in Fresno, California in 1975. Courtesy of Patricia Wakida.

An innocent, white frosted cake rests in the foreground, an edible trophy for all of the hard years that came before them, in celebration of Shizuno’s “beiju” lucky 88th birthday on September 15, 1975. She has come so far from her hometown of Hiroshima, and if there were punishments for her decision to leave Japan, they aren’t evident here. These four women are no longer innocent, yet today their faces, just look how they shine, and their hands are completely relaxed. They know the person behind the camera and acquiesce to sharing their happiness with them. The years of packing for the future, the cleaning, cooking, coddling, caring, cultivating are drawing to a quiet pinpoint on the horizon known as death. Behind them, the kitchen table is piled with gifts, the linoleum floor and pleather chairs wiped neat, and the cabinet gleams with precious brass vases and Imari plates, folk toys, best china. All of this is gone. All we have now are the photographs. 

The photo albums I inherited from my Grandma Rose Wakida, with decade-old gaps and no clues scrawled onto their backs, that’s all I have. However yellowed and frayed, these are the last of my ancestors that my family, and maybe a few community friends who were also witnesses at that time alone, can read and interpret. These photos belong to you and your family and no one will ever love them the way that you do. Keep these time traveling marvels, don’t forget them. Keep them sacred and write their stories down.

Patricia Miye Wakida is a yonsei Japanese American artist, writer, and community historian. Her work can be read in the Densho Encyclopedia, Discover Nikkei, and the Nichi Bei Weekly newspaper. She is 1/3 of the leadership behind Yonsei Memory Project, and recently joined the Topaz Museum board. 

Read the rest of this series:

Lauren Ito, “Arrival As We”

Nikiko Masumoto, “How to Wonder”

Brynn Saito, “What Exists Outside the Frame”

Karen L. Ishizuka, “Why, Oh Archive?”

Lane Tomosumi Shigihara: “Vocal Young Woman”