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Bainbridge Island: “Let it not happen again”

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I have the gracious gift of working for a local social justice initiative that is aimed at leadership development through a lens of civil rights history and contemporary social justice issues. A project that I am personally working on through this fellowship is building a curriculum that will accompany Washington State History for 8th Grade girls at the Lake Washington Girls Middle School. My first session will commence in September so a lot of my work this summer has been curriculum building and collaborative meetings with the school’s academic director. So far this has been a truly rewarding experience, and one that has pushed me into the spaces of creativity and careful thought in terms of how to organize such vital and significant history.

Portrait of a young girl behind barbed wires in an internment camp

One of the amazing opportunities that have come along with this job are the moments where myself and a group of professors and students immerse ourselves into the communities who have worked extremely hard to preserve their histories. We realize that we are not the ones to tell the stories of those before us but to find and connect with those leaders and listen as they teach us about their history. As of lately, we had the incredible opportunity to travel just a few miles from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island, a place I’ve always been an acquaintance of, but never knew the deeper story behind it.

Stone carving at entrance of memorial

We visited the museum on the island that chronicled the history of Bainbridge with a specific focus on the Japanese American history. It was unreal to learn that Bainbridge was the first place where the civilian exclusion order 9066 started. This order, given out by President Roosevelt in 1942, allowed U.S. military the power to relocate any citizen of Japanese ancestry into internment camps because of a possible connection to sabotage or espionage on behalf of the Japanese government. Essentially, it was ok’d to force any Japanese families into isolation simply because they “looked like the enemy.” I imperatively learned that all ethnic groups in this country have their own narratives of oppression and the ways in which the U.S. has treated them as 2nd class citizens. It is absolutely important that we learn of these histories so that we don’t see them occur again but to also unite under these common oppressive experiences. As the memorial on Bainbridge Island states, “Nidoto Nai Yoni” meaning “Let it not happen again.” This is where the power of storytelling comes into the picture. Continuing the tradition of remembering and acknowledging the true history in this country, brings more understanding and transparency to the inner workings of our society.

Identifying tag that each interned citizen was assigned to wear

We had the incredible opportunity to meet a woman whose family was interned when she was only seven years old. Her name was Lily and she recalled exactly what happened that day: boarding the ferry with her family, donning their best clothes for Seattle, and under the impression that they were headed on a vacation. She explained the innocence that she had because her mother didn’t want to alarm her or express the truth that they were being excluded and banished from society because they were Japanese. I admired how honestly she told us her story which is a moment in time that myself and our group were truly grateful for.

Peace cranes that were made to honor and remember those interned
Carved picture on the memorial wall
Two either being reunited or separated
A man playing baseball for the local Bainbridge High School

I continue to document as much in my life that I experience as I one day want to pass on my stories to my children and those around me. We each have our own histories. Our own beautiful struggles. I for one will continue to listen, learn, and share the stories that surround and captivate me.

l.f.e.

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