Monday, June 27, 2011

Mama and Papa Kurihara

Mama and Papa Kurihara with the Jue girls, Soo-Jan, Pingeleen, and Soo-Yin

Papa Kurihara adjusting the sprinkler head

(thanks for the great photos from your scrapbook, Auntie Joan !)

Mama Kurihara being camera shy!

After Pearl Harbor, Mama and Papa Kurihara were incarcerated at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, from 1942 to 1945. The conditions were harsh for them, being Issei (immigrants). The camp had 468 bldgs. divided into 20 blocks with each block having 2 communal toilets. They lived in a 16'x20' tarpapered clapboard cabin. When war ended, they were released and given $25 and train tickets. They had lost everything and were too old to start over. Hearing of their destitution San Tong gave them Jue Joe's cabin to live in--rent free. The childless couple became part of our extended family. - Auntie Soo-Yin.

(Footnote- there is an inaccuracy in the above video concerning the word "Issei". As Auntie Soo-Yin points out, Mama and Papa Kurihara were Issei. "Issei (一世, first generation) is a Japanese language term used in countries in North America, South America and Australia to specify the Japanese people first to immigrate. Their children born in the new country are referred to as Nisei (second generation), and their grandchildren are Sansei (third generation). All of them come from the numbers "one, two, three" in the Japanese language, as Japanese numerals are "ichi, ni, san.")

Arrival at Heart Mountain, Wy: After Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Mama and Papa Kurihara (not sure of spelling) were sent to Heart Mountain Relocation Camp in Wyoming, according to Auntie Joan. They were Issei, meaning that they had emigrated from Japan. They were an elderly couple who had no children. The living conditions were primitive and the weather was harsh in Winter, recalled the couple. But Mama and Papa Kurihara survived, and when the war was over, the elderly couple returned to Los Angeles only to find that all their possessions had been taken away. Penniless, the couple turned to San Tong for help, a friend had asked San Tong if he could help them. And San Tong gave the elderly couple Jue Joe's former cabin rent-free to live in. By this time Jue Joe's cabin had acquired a wooden floor and many amenities.

Heart Mountain Barrack: According to Mamoru Inouye, a former internee, "...the evacuation was just a culmination of what had been going on for 40 years on the West Coast, beginning with alien land law and the Chinese exclusion act...." Photographers Hansel Mieth and Otto Hagel worked for Life magazine. Mieth now lives in Santa Rosa, California. Hagel died in 1974.

From "Legend of Zhao" by Soo-Yin Jue

I see Mama and Papa Kurihara sobbing aboard the "Star of Yokohama". From their deck amid bright-colored streamers they're waving white hankies to us as we stand on the concrete deck below. At the Port of Los Angeles we had elbowed through its enormous crowds. How peculiar for me to watch this old , childless couple surrender to their fusillade of feelings as I've never seen them do before. From the moment of my existence they'd been in my life.

Thursdays and I would hear the fish man roar his green truck onto our gravel driveway. The fish man knew to toss Bingo ,our dog , a squid while Mother and Mama examined a rock cod. And I knew I would soon taste delectable pearls from the sea at suppertime. To the fish man who spoke to me in single syllables, I was a prattler intensely off-key, for I gave him Japanese quite messed up. But Mama would intervene on my behalf correcting my gibberish and laughing hard. She sang folk songs and shuffled pigeon-toed on our kitchen floor in a dance that told me of far away places. Mama was our housekeeper who brought to us Japan as in a doll's house.

Papa was our gardener. Suddenly, white gardenias bloomed to perfume the grace of our broad front porch; irises drew their purple swords to guard our walkways of red brick; bushes of roses and hyacinths and camellias, columns of cypress tress, the curving green fur that licked along our grounds- they all grew up with the poetry of Papa.

When World War II ended the old Japanese couple came to stay with us , having no way to restart their lives. Mama and Papa dreamed of returning to Japan; to their old life. "I want to see Japan before the sun grows dark on us, " said Papa. I begged him not to leave, but he explained to me, "We are old and can only think of the passings of soft seasons."

Last week, before they left, they pressed into my hand a tea cup chipped in places along the brim. Mama turned that chipped tea cup clockwise and I tasted her green brew delicate as the Meiji's moon. They made a gift to me of this hand-thrown artifact, which was the only treasure that the couple owned. With reverence, Papa then produced a bowl of sticky, red-beaned rice. "The color red means good luck", he said.

I can no longer see the "Star of Yokohama". The dock stands empty and the Santa Ana winds begin to clap.

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