Looking After Minidoka: An American Memoir (book)
Creators: Neil Nakadate
Book cover. Courtesy of Indiana University Press
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A third-generation Japanese American shares the multi-generational story of both sides of his family, from immigration to the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and wartime incarceration, to resettlement and his own childhood.
Nakadate begins by sharing how a phone call from a local World War II veteran objecting to Japanese Americans receiving redress prompted him to provide a detailed account of the experiences of his own family—as representative of a multi-generational American family—to help others understand the injustices of incarceration.
He begins by interweaving historical and cultural context, both about Japan and about his Portland, Oregon, home with the personal histories of his grandparents and several other relatives. His father's father worked for a prominent dry goods purveyor and labor recruiter, Masajiro Furuya, while his father's mother founded a Japanese language school. His mother's father operated a hotel. While his mother grew up fully bilingual—quite unusual for a Nisei not partially educated in Japan—his father was the "all-American boy," who even joined an otherwise all-white Boy Scout troop.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked, his mother's family, the Marumotos, were taken to Portland Assembly Center , and then Minidoka concentration camp. By 1941, of the Nakadates, only his father was still in the U.S.; his grandfather had returned to Japan with the ashes of his grandmother, and his Uncle Tom had accepted that he would take over the extended family's business in Japan. Nakadate explains in great detail the process by which the Marumotos disposed of their property, the difficulty of living in the assembly center and the concentration camp, and his mother Mary's struggle to decide what to do when her fiancé had invited her out to Detroit so they could be married.
Nakadate continues to follow the trajectory of the family in their different locations, including his own birth in Chicago in August 1943, and how after World War II, all parts of the family eventually returned to the Portland area. His own family remained away the longest, living in the Midwest for ten years after the war. When they returned to Portland, they felt that they experienced more racism there than they had in the Midwest.
Neil Nakadate was professor of English at Iowa State University for over forty years. In addition to Looking After Minidoka , he is author of Robert Penn Warren: A Reference Guide (G.K. Hall, 1977) and Understanding Jane Smiley (University of South Carolina Press, 1999).
Shinto, as an organized religious entity, is a modern invention. Until the late 19th century, little distinction was made between Buddhism and the constellation of syncretic indigenous religious practices, rituals, and beliefs. Thus, to talk about a Shinto spirituality as Nakadate does is anachronistic, and reflects the state's efforts to impose and imbue among the people a new religious attachment to the emperor that had not existed prior to the modern era than it does any kind of so-called traditional set of beliefs and practices.