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My Journey to Discover the Legacy of my Grandma, Yuri Kochiyama

mkochiyama
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Her Diary

I was delightedly surprised to discover that my grandma had kept a diary while interned at the Santa Anita Assembly Center from April 3, 1942 to Camp Jerome in November 26, 1942.  In the Japanese American National Museum’s collection, there were two volumes, which closed with an unfinished entry on Thanksgiving day.  I had the pleasure of skimming through her diary wishing that time would courteously stop and allow me to sit in that chair until her diary was read from top to bottom.  With every word, the stories I’ve heard and the facts that I’ve learned became more and more real. 

It felt strange that I was reading into her 21-year-old mind and seeing with her eyes.  Even stranger was that at the time she wrote this, she was about my age.  I just couldn’t imagine being in her shoes, dropping everything that I had owned and built for myself and putting my life on pause like the 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans who were interned. 

Reading through her diary, I concluded that my grandma must have a photographic memory, like many people that know her would confirm. I felt like I was reliving her experience from the long and monotonous bus ride to the Santa Anita Assembly Center to living in those old horse stalls made into barracks. I think this passage stuck out to me the most.  After listening to Maruyama speak in Camp Jerome in November 1942 about her views on the war and how Japanese Americans are treated in America, Yuri processes and reflects on what she’s heard…”As I listen to her--- I’m sure something gripped me--- and touched me in such a way--- that I feel I want to fight, shoulder to shoulder with every Nisei, for the right to the same opportunities as the Caucasians.  I can’t do much--- but I can do the little things in my own capacity--- to help and build what has been torn from them.  Even if it’s just writing letters, I’ll write them as I’ve never written before; letters that might inspire and encourage.  I’m sure I can do my portion--- and by golly I will.”  I think this passage embodies the spirit and attitude that she is known for.

Based on this original

Yuri Kochiyama's Diary in Camp
uploaded by mkochiyama
Volumes I and II of Yuri Kochiyama's Diary while at the Santa Anita Assembly Center and Camp Jerome Gift of Yuri Kochiyama Credit line: copy of diary at the Japanese ... More »


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