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A Century of Change: The Memoirs of Nellie Yae Sumiye Nakamura from 1902 to 2002 (book)

Creators: Shizue Seigel

The recollections of a Nisei woman, from her childhood in the Santa Clara Valley, to her marriage, her family's incarceration at Santa Anita and Heart Mountain , and their efforts to rebuild their lives back in California after the war ended.


The memoir begins with an explanation of the process by which the family commissioned the National Japanese American Historical Society (NJAHS) to hire a writer and record the memories of Nellie Yae Sumiye Nakamura. The contents are based on four interviews with Nellie herself, as well as interviews with a daughter and a nephew.

The memoir begins with an account of Nellie's mother Rui Suzuki's life and eventual immigration to the U.S. Rui had left her first husband and was working in a fabric shop in Osaka when she met Nellie Hill, a wealthy American woman who was in the middle of a world tour. She became the woman's companion and eventually traveled to the U.S. with her and lived in Boston. Hill helped her set up a fabric store in Yokohama—there, she met and married her second husband (and Nellie Nakamura's father). They immigrated to San Francisco, where they briefly ran a restaurant. They then worked for a French farming family in Merced. Nellie Nakamura was born the second child in 1902. Nellie's father died suddenly; Rui married Yonejiro Tsuruda. Rui herself died of stomach cancer at the age of 53—before her death, she warned Nellie to make sure she made a life for herself instead of sacrificing herself to caring for her younger half-siblings and step-father. She married an Issei , Takazo Henry Nakamura, and together they moved to Los Angeles, where they worked as domestics. They eventually returned to Mountain View, where her family lived.

Nellie, her husband, and their children were living in Los Altos when Pearl Harbor was attacked. They were taken to Santa Anita Assembly Center, and from there, were incarcerated at Heart Mountain concentration camp. She and her husband worked as servers in the mess hall. One of her sons contracted spinal meningitis and died in Heart Mountain at the age of 11. When her younger brother and his family were able to resettle in Minnesota, Nellie and her family followed, and they moved into a house together in Minneapolis in December 1943. They returned to California in 1945, and were able to move back to her stepfather's farm, which had been cared for by a neighboring white family in their absence. The memoir concludes with an account of how the Nakamura family reestablished their lives after the war.

Authored by Emily Anderson

Might also like Dandelion Through the Crack/Kiyo's Story by Kiyo Sato; Desert Exile by Yoshiko Uchida; Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald

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Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

A Century of Change

This item has been made freely available in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration , a collaborative project with Internet Archive .

Media Details
Author Shizue Seigel
Pages 196
Publication Date 2002
For More Information

For More Information

Wong, Scott. " Rhyme of her life: Local poet, survivor of Japanese internment camp, turns 100 ," Los Altos Town Crier , December 17, 2002.