Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey

Born in Los Angeles, incarcerated at Amache, educated in Boston and Utah, Lily currently lives in Salt Lake City with husband John. She taught school for 13 years and had a stained glass business for more than three decades from which she is semi-retired. She is a watercolor artist and has written a creative autobiography “Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp: A Nisei Youth Behind a World War II Fence,” which will be published by the University of Utah Press in the spring of 2014.

Updated August 2012

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Nikkei Chronicles #2—Nikkei+: Stories of Mixed Language, Traditions, Generations & Race

What Tribe You From, Brother?

When my son Michael was in high school he was approached by a group of young Navajo men who asked him, “What tribe you from, brother?”


“Tribe?” he replied, puzzled.

“You look like a Dine from Shiprock.”


“Yeh, you know, you guys from Shit Rock.”

When they slowly started toward him he backed away. “I’m not from Shiprock. I don’t even know where that is,” he said.

“Don’t know your own nation, brother?”

“You’ve made a mistake. I’m not Indian.”

“Indian? We’re not either. Those guys live in India. We’re not from India.”

“I mean Indian American.”

“Native …

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Nikkei Chronicles #1—ITADAKIMASU! A Taste of Nikkei Culture

One Grain of Rice

My mother was always reminding me to eat every grain of rice from my bowl: “Hito tsubu mo nokosanaide tabenasai.” It’s the equivalent of “Clean your plate.” Japanese mothers are just like Jewish mothers in this regard. Well, the stereotypical ones, at least. They command and plead, “Eat it up, you don’t want to end up like those kids.” The implication here was pale and scrawny. Pale and scrawny white or pale and scrawny black. Didn’t matter. You didn’t want to grow up skinny and looking like a ghost or black like a kuro. We needed to …

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Nikkei Chronicles #1—ITADAKIMASU! A Taste of Nikkei Culture

Food for New Year

“I can do better than that with one hand tied behind my back,” my father complained, checking out the liver and onions set before him. “Nanda konna meshi? You used the wrong hand.” Then, glancing at my mother’s stricken face, mumbled, “Maybe needs more bacon grease.”

“I’m sorry. I’m a bad cook. Tomorrow I’ll make takikomi. You like that.”

“Um. Fine.”


My mother didn’t have the luxury of conjuring up fancier dishes. Before the war she and my father labored, like most all Issei, from dawn to dusk. Meals were basic but healthy. Breakfast was usually orange juice …

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Kizuna: Nikkei Stories from the 2011 Japan Earthquake & Tsunami

The Wave In the Harbor

Tsunami—the wave in the harbor. Isn’t that curious and amazing…that the kanji for such a devastating event is 津浪, “wave in the harbor”?

We don’t normally visualize a wave being thirty feet high, curling above us—tall as a skyscraper—smashing down on us and obliterating everything beneath it. The waves I experienced at the beaches in Los Angeles before the war [World War II] were benign and soothing. They caressed my body with bubbles and seaweed. They foamed up on my toes and with a gentle swoop, sucked the breaking edges back into the water.

When I recall those Sundays …

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Temple 7G - Part 4

Part 3 >>

Before the war we had celebrated Christmas even though we were Buddhists. We exchanged simple gifts and shopped for a tree. One of my mother’s dressmaking clients gave us a special Santa Claus ornament. “Be careful with that,” she cautioned. “It’s hand blown in Germany. It’s valuable.” Why would she entrust us with this, an item of such value? My brother and I added paper ornaments we made at school. I loved the gold and silver Japanese lanterns we fashioned by folding and slitting a paper cylinder. My brother straightened the previous year’s tin foil icicles and …

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