Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II

By Joan Myers; Gary Y. Okihiro | Go to book overview

Author's Note Gary Y. Okihiro

During the fall of 1992, I received a letter from Joan Myers informing me that she was "looking for an author to do the text for a projected book." Myers explained that she was a fine-arts photographer with an interest in the relationship between people and the land. For the past four years she had been engaged in completing a series of photographs on all ten of the Japanese American concentration camps of World War II and was now seeking an author who, she proposed, could write "a text that is personal and alive with the daily activities, hopes, and tragedies of those who were incarcerated." Would I be interested in joining her in this project? she asked. "Our memories of history are short and ill informed in this country," Myers reminded me. "Prejudice and intolerance . . . have certainly not diminished since the 1940s. We need to be reminded that what happened to those of Japanese ancestry in the 1940s can happen again. None of us are free if we forget this dark moment of American history."

I was immediately tempted by this unexpected invitation, but the prospect of writing an extended essay on a subject I had written on before -- although, to be sure, this time for the wider, lay audience envisioned by Myers -- was a daunting challenge. My historical training and inclination tilts me toward careful, original research and a circumspect (turgid?) text, although my critics will likely disagree with that selfcharacterization. In addition, Myers asked that I put myself into the narrative to enable the readers to ascertain my location-vis-ä-vis my subject and to enliven the text with personality and passion. Of course, we understand that historical texts are revealing of both their authors and their subjects, but I felt uncomfortable about the thin line that separates (if indeed it separates) self-inscription from narcissism.

At first, I thought I would do what I ask my students to undertake: an essay on how Asian American history connects with their lives. I thought I would simply show how the wartime experience related to my life and that of my family. Now, having completed the project, I realize that my layered text attempts to make that link between past and present, social relations and individual agency, others and

-9-

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