Off Script: Bringing stories to light

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I have recently been doing a lot of reading into United States’ Native Boarding Schools and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools system. In case you haven’t heard, mass graves of children’s remains have been found.

As a mother, it’s horrifying to think about it. I can’t imagine the events that led up to having to comply with unethical requests, or the feeling of sending your children off to a residential school during that time — and then your children never coming home.

Last Friday, I was reading the article “Why we must confront the history of U.S. Native boarding schools if we hope to heal” published by the Seattle Times on June 14. What hit me was a quote by Christine Diindissi McCleave, chief executive officer of the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, who said she cried reading about the horrible history of the Native boarding schools and the children who never left them.

She said that as a native person, it explained a lot of the intergenerational trauma, grief and turmoil she grew up with in her family.

It struck a chord in me, and I didn’t really understand it until the evening when I went to cover a special event at the Winters Museum. The museum board hosted a private reception for the Japanese families who contributed stories, photos and information to the new exhibit, “The Lost Japanese Community of Winters.”

I marveled at the beautiful photos and items on display. I saw the trunk in which a family had stored items when they were sent to an internment camp and I flashed back to an article that previous Express editor Emma Johnson wrote in 2018. (I’m reprinting it for those who missed it.)

I also recollected a photo I vividly remember seeing daily when I took Jim Stark’s psychology class at Winters High School. If you didn’t have the privilege of seeing it, it’s a demoralizing photo taken by American photographer Dorothea Lange in 1943 of a sign that was posted at city limits right outside of the railroad bridge stating, “We Don’t Want Any More JAPS in Winters.”

The sick horror of events that happened in our town lodged in my stomach as I read through headlines printed in the Express at the time — “100 Japanese Left This Area” (May 1942) and “Local Legion Post Says Japs Should Not Come Back” (April 1944).

Floyd Shimomura — one of the family members who helped contribute to the exhibit — raised a glass to make a Kampai for the community. He also read a list of things he didn’t know about until he began working on the project. What made things click in my head was when he mentioned that his parents tried to protect him and his siblings from the bad things that had happened.

My thoughts fell to elementary school when I interviewed my Grandma Apilado about her experiences immigrating to California from the Phillipines. She was open enough that she shared some of the challenges and horrible experiences. But, there were also moments when she pressed her lips together as she thought about a way to describe something.

Between the Native boarding schools article and the Japanese exhibit event, my eyes opened to why I feel uncomfortable with the hatred and uproar going on in our society. If that doesn’t scream multigenerational trauma, then I don’t know what does.

On one hand, I was raised in a community where people take care of each other, no matter what. On the other hand, I have also grown up in a society where some folks are treated differently because of their cultural identity.

My personal experiences may have only included awkward expressions from others, but I feel my grandparents may have established unspoken habits and fears that unknowingly trickled down through the generations, contributing to my edgy feelings.

We want to protect our children from horrible things. However, it’s a disservice to them if we don’t explore and acknowledge events for lessons learned.

Past events cannot always be corrected by an apology — they should definitely not be erased. These things should be acknowledged, and people should take action and strive to do better in their communities.

Even more so is letting the wronged person know that you see them, you hear them and you will not let them be unseen again.

I’ll choose to honor those whom have lived through the unimaginable, and be a voice for those who feel they are unheard or intentionally ignored. They should not fade into the uncomfortable fog of horrific things people don’t want to remember.

I ask you to make time to visit the Winters Museum to see the “The Lost Japanese Community of Winters” exhibit. There is a public opening on Thursday, June 24 from 5 to 7 p.m. Help celebrate and honor these community members who helped contribute to our agricultural efforts.

And if you know of local history that would be a great story to share with the community, reach out to the Winters Museum board. They might be able to help bring those stories into the light.

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