Kokoro Kara: From the Heart

From the Farm:


Published in the Casper Journal September 5, 2011

It’s been a while since I’ve been the “minority” in a crowd. But I certainly was this past weekend at the Heart Mountain Interpretive Learning Center dedication in Cody. I’ve studied World War II, I’ve been to Japan, but the weekend’s events gave me a greater appreciation for the Japanese-Americans who were interned during the war. Ten thousand people lived in one square mile of barren land between Cody and Powell below the jagged image of Heart Mountain. They were some of the 120,000 Japanese Americans who were relocated during World War II.
Dedication activities of the new ILC lasted three days. The tent at the opening banquet was crowded with people, most were Japanese-Americans — nisei (second generation), sansei (third generation) and even yonsei (fourth generation). The nisei were nearly all in their 70s and 80s. They walked into the tent, supported by their children and grandchildren. I loved their faces, so Japanese, so calm, so traditional. It made me homesick for the quiet ways of Japan. During the presentation, they watched the screen as pictures of Heart Mountain, then and now, were shown ... the old hospital boiler, the swimming hole where Boy Scouts passed their swim checks (only the diving board remains), the irrigation pipe, the water reservoir (now a dustbowl). Although some of the pictures were sobering, the mood in the tent was light, even jovial, as stories and memories were shared.
While we stood in line for dinner, I visited with Judy Murakami. Judy was an infant during the internment. Her mother never spoke of the experience during Judy’s growing up years, after the family relocated to Minnesota. However, Judy kept the wooden doll bed her father made for her in the camp. The bed is now on display in the ILC.
After we finished our peach pie, Tom Brokaw spoke, calling the center a “fitting place for renewal and reflection. A symbol of failure now becomes a symbol of triumph.”
Norm Mineta, former U.S. Secretary of Transportation under President George W. Bush, and Secretary of Commerce under President Clinton, also spoke, recalling experiences at Heart Mountain. Mineta was a 9-year-old boy when his family was relocated from southern California to Heart Mountain. He wore his Cub Scout uniform. Later, he joined one of the seven active Boy Scout troops at the camp and became fast friends with a young Boy Scout from Cody named Al Simpson.
Serving under President George W. Bush, Mineta was the official who downed all flights on 9/11. In a cabinet meeting two days later, there was some discussion about a possible roundup of Muslim-Americans. Thankfully, the president insisted that history wouldn’t repeat the same thing that “happened to Norm.”
Throughout the weekend, downtown Cody bustled with hundreds of dedication visitors. Signs on nearly every store door welcomed the Japanese-Americans.
“I remember signs during the ‘40s that read, ‘Japs not allowed,’” recalled Al Simpson. “The situation was so confusing to me, because as a Boy Scout, I would go with my Scoutmaster out to Heart Mountain and we were friends with those people.”
Well, those times are over, and a time for celebration is here. The dedication, although somewhat sobering, was a joyful event. Eighty-year-old former Boy Scouts Bill Shishima and Donald Yamamoto, proudly wearing Scout uniforms, raised the flag over the new ILC, while cameras everywhere snapped photos. Once boys, maintaining a semblance of their American heritage, they’re now heroes, returned to claim what’s rightfully theirs. The crowd was gracious and spellbound throughout the presentation. At the adjournment, souvenirs sold out and Japanese bentos (lunches) were eaten and enjoyed. The day was warm and dusty and the trails of Heart Mountain were filled with walkers, remembering another time and grateful for the understanding we have now.
I enjoyed the ceremonies. I learned as we toured the grounds. But my most priceless souvenir of the weekend is a greater appreciation of the Japanese people: simple, beautiful, and for the most part, without bitterness. The theme of the weekend reverberated everywhere: “Kokoro Kara: From the heart” ... a time to let hearts heal and stand up together again as Americans.

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