RABBIT RAMBLINGS: Family ties that bind

I returned from a visit to family in Southern California a few days ago and am savoring the good feelings that were brought about by seeing all of them. My sister and I first went to Oceanside,  where the rest of our siblings (there are six of us) live, and had a series of gatherings with visits from an assortment of nieces and nephews and younger ones who are getting too numerous for us to track. We were feeling blessed by the warmth and relaxed interactions that we participated in, and we are lucky in that we’ve gotten past the conflicts and clashes that happen within the relationships of a big, sprawling family. The focus was on the importance of family ties, and we are so fortunate that we all get along and enjoy each other’s company.

Then we went to Torrance to visit an ailing cousin who has been told that his cancer is now terminal. He is still undergoing treatments, and he takes it all in stride. We were visiting in between chemo and other aggressive procedures so he was feeling fairly normal and the mood was steady and even. We enjoyed a big meal with that branch of the family and caught up on everyone’s lives. His parents, our aunt and uncle who are in their 90s, were there and they brought some photo albums with pictures of family going back almost a century. Our history as immigrants is probably fairly typical in America because we are a nation of immigrants and yet, each family’s experiences are also unique to it. Ours are particularly complicated.

What occurred to me is that I am one of the links in this family history that still knows a lot about the family. There were people in the photos that I never met but I knew who they were, and I knew stories about them. I could also question our aunt and uncle about the past, and help fit it into the big picture. So, now, I feel that I should make sure that the younger generations also know this history, how our family made it here and of those who went back to Japan. We stuck a bunch of post-its with names onto the pictures so that their identities were clarified. The younger members of the family were really interested and engaged in the banter going on back and forth. I could see that they were hungering for information and stories.

So I have been reflecting on my family history and what a complicated thing it is. My father’s two younger brothers both served in the Japanese armed forces during World War II. The uncle that we visited in Torrance is one of those brothers. They were born in America but taken to Japan at an early age, and were drafted into the army during the war, and fought in various countries. Their experiences were terrible and they didn’t want to ever tell us much. As it turned out, they had retained American citizenship and so were able to come here several years after the war. They settled in the Los Angeles area, raised families, and I don’t know if it was ever held against them that they were “enemies” during the war.

We also had an uncle, a brother of our mother, who served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team as an officer, and there were also some in-laws who were “no-nos” and draft resisters, who were sent to the Tule Lake Segregation Center. So we have lived with these multifaceted backgrounds. I certainly have a better understanding of my father’s decision to repatriate during the war, since the family ties and loyalties were very strong. That we all ended up in America are due to twists of fate and accidental timing.

So, as we enter a new year, I’m thinking of contacting other relatives on my mother’s side, people I haven’t seen in years, and having some conversations. And I will try to save these conversations for the youngsters coming along who haven’t been told the stories, who are only vaguely aware of the many strands. So, I say to members of my peer group, the aging Nisei, make sure that you tell you stories to your children and grandchildren. We need to preserve the past in this way, and they will be very grateful that you shared more of your life with them.

Chizu Omori, of Oakland, is co-producer of the award-winning film “Rabbit in the Moon.” She can be reached at chizuomori@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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