- Neiwert details the start of the war and its devastating aftermath for the Nikkei community, culminating in their forced removal and incarceration. The author pulls no punches: "It destroyed the livelihoods and careers of thousands of citizens, based on an unconstitutional mass presumption of guilt. It humiliated a whole population of largely loyal and patriotic citizens by identifying them with the national enemy. ... It uprooted families, destroyed their close-knit structures, and laid waste to whole communities like the one in Bellevue."
Mixing in personal stories, he includes long sections on the decisions of military and government leaders that led to the incarceration and provides numerous examples of politicians and media spouting racist hate talk.
President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in February 1942, and three months later officials posted "evacuation" orders in Nikkei neighborhoods. Because they could take only what they could carry, families had to make hasty arrangements to store or get rid of a lifetime's accumulation of property, farm equipment and personal belongings. On May 20, 1942, Bellevue's 60 Nikkei families, 300 individuals, got on a train in Kirkland, ending up in a "relocation center" in Tule Lake in northern California, the largest of 10 inland concentration camps.
The government allowed Nikkei to leave the camps and return to the West Coast in 1945. Some chose to move east; those who returned often found their homes vandalized and belongings stolen. They faced a vocal and virulent reception from the usual anti-Japanese crowd, although the support of other neighbors and the undeniable bravery and sacrifice of the all-Nisei 442nd Regimental Combat Team turned the tide of public opinion. Most Nisei (second-generation Japanese Americans) went to college and left farming for other professions.
Bellevue as they knew it was forever changed. Ninety percent of Bellevue's farmers were gone after the war, Neiwert reports, and the strawberry festival, canceled after 1941, finally resumed in 1987 but with scant acknowledgement of Japanese-American contributions.
Neiwert frets, in an afterword, about his being an outsider without the cultural sensitivity to properly approach his interview subjects. He needn't have worried. His portrayals are rich and insightful, and the quotations have the authentic ring of oral history. Although Bellevue has no significant memorial to the pioneering and (literally) groundbreaking achievements of Japanese Americans, "Strawberry Days" serves as a fitting paean to their efforts and as important historical testimony.
Takami's book on the Seattle Nikkei, Divided Destiny, was an important originating source for me (early on, I used it as something of a research guidebook). So I consider this high praise indeed.
Incidentally, we had a nice crowd of about 30 people out at Village Books last Friday in Bellingham. They asked good questions, too.
This is the busy week. Tonight is the University Bookstore appearance, and on Thursday we have the Panama Cafe event, followed by Friday's Ravenna Third Place Books show. I'll report back on anything significant.
... And for those of you wondering ... yes, I did manage to finish STP in one day Saturday. Took me till 10, but it was a good day.