By Rochelle Yamagishi and Naomi Rochelle Sato
This book was written as a follow-up to the museum exhibit, “Nikkei Tapestry: The Story of Japanese Canadians in Southern Alberta,” which was presented at the Sir Alexander Galt Museum in Lethbridge, AB in 2003. Ten stories have been written from first-person perspectives, telling what it was really like for pioneers, evacuees, and their descendants to be Japanese Canadian. In addition, there are stories about the new immigrants who came to work on farms in the 1970s, and the Redress movement, finalized in 1988.
The stories are all true, taken from books, conversations, and interviews, and interwoven to produce composite characters representing different generational groups, each with their own unique experiences and viewpoints.
The Issei, or first generation, came in the early 1900s, either to the west coast of British Columbia, working in fishing, lumbering, and farming, or to the Raymond area in southern Alberta, to work the sugar beets. After the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, the Canadian government ordered the confiscation of property and businesses of all persons of Japanese descent living within a 100-mile geographical area from the coast. In addition, all persons were ordered to evacuate to ghost towns in the interior of B.C. or move as families to sugar beet farms in southern Alberta.
The Nisei, or second generation, followed along with their elders, being docile and cooperative during the evacuation, due to cultural norms that emphasized duty and obligation, conformity and obedience. Such cultural beliefs as, “Shikata-ga-nai,” meaning, “it can’t be helped,” and, ”Gaman,” meaning “patience and perseverance,” helped Japanese Canadians as a group to ultimately survive the events of the evacuation.
These stories are important to bring forward, since the Japanese people as a whole are reluctant to talk about these historical experiences. Although they were shamed and humiliated, they have put their efforts into obtaining occupational and educational attainment in Canadian society.