Nichi Bei Foundation launches Author Series: Event at Western Addition Branch Library focuses on new works with Sacramento theme

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CITY RECOGNITION — Hiroshi Kashiwagi, author of “Starting From Loomis and Other Stories,” receives a Certificate of Honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, presented by Supervisor Eric Mar (R). photo by William Lee

CITY RECOGNITION — Hiroshi Kashiwagi, author of “Starting From Loomis and Other Stories,” receives a Certificate of Honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, presented by Supervisor Eric Mar (R). photo by William Lee
CITY RECOGNITION — Hiroshi Kashiwagi, author of “Starting From Loomis and Other Stories,” receives a Certificate of Honor from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, presented by Supervisor Eric Mar (R). photo by William Lee

On a brisk November afternoon, the first Nichi Bei Foundation Author Series event was held in the courtyard of the Western Addition Branch Library near San Francisco’s Japantown, presenting two local authors reading from their recent publications.

Hiroshi Kashiwagi, a well-known author, playwright, poet and actor, read from his latest work, “Starting From Loomis and Other Stories.”

Author Kevin Wildie discussed the other book, “Sacramento’s Historic Japantown: Legacy of a Lost Neighborhood.” Wildie teaches American and Asian American history at Cosumnes River College in Sacramento, Calif. and at Yuba College in Marysville, Calif.

Kashiwagi’s memoir, a collection of short stories about his life, which started in the small Placer County town of Loomis, focuses upon his World War II experiences of incarceration at Tule Lake, one of 10 concentration camps that held Japanese Americans.

He became labeled a “no-no” boy, a “disloyal” because of his negative answers to a so-called “loyalty” questionnaire and later, in a state of despair, he renounced his U.S. citizenship. Due to these factors, Kashiwagi had a complicated postwar life, and this book is full of the details of life lived as a Japanese American and of a creative personality still active and going strong at 90.

Tim Yamamura, who served as the book’s editor, read his introduction “Hiroshi Kashiwagi: A Disquieted American,” stressing the conflicts and ambiguities of his life. “(Kashiwagi) asks us to contend with the historical forces underwriting our lives and, in that light, to measure the quality of conscience we bring to our determinations.”

Wildie’s book commemorates a once historically vital Japanese American community in Sacramento that went through the trials of the incarceration during World War II only to be destroyed in the 1950s by the Capitol Mall Redevelopment Project.

Based on oral histories and old photographs, this is another valuable record of a once vibrant Japantown that no longer exists, a loss that is all too typical of ethnic neighborhoods and groups up and down the coast.

Wildie used a large historic photograph of homes that were in the heart of Sacramento’s Japantown to illustrate talk.

Two local politicians who grew up in Sacramento, San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi, also attended the event.

Mar presented a Certificate of Honor to Kashiwagi signed by the Board of Supervisors in recognition of his 91st birthday, citing his “efforts in addressing social issues through literature, … commitment in strengthening and preserving Asian American history and identity in cinema.”

Both Mar and Adachi expressed their support for such community gatherings and for the importance of preserving the stories and memories of our heritage.

The event also represented a sort of homecoming. Kashiwagi was a past manager of the Western Addition Branch Library, and was instrumental in establishing its massive Japanese Language Collection. Susanne Sakai now manages the collection.

The Henri and Tomoye Takahashi Charitable Foundation funded the Nichi Bei Foundation Author Series.

Kenji G. Taguma, president of the Nichi Bei Foundation and editor-in-chief of the Nichi Bei Weekly, said that the series was created to provide a venue for works by and about Japanese America. “We wanted to help empower authors by creating such a venue,” Taguma said, noting that the Nichi Bei Weekly publishes numerous book reviews semi-annually.

If there is enough of an audience, there may be future plans for an Asian Pacific American book festival, he said.

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