Legacy of the Sansei – Our Stories, Our Strength

Legacy of the Sansei – Our Stories, Our Strength

Photo of Tom Ikeda's grandparents receiving an American flag during a memorial service for their eldest son, Bako.
Photo of Tom Ikeda

Tom Ikeda: “A legacy of the Sansei will be to preserve and share these vivid photographs, personal stories, and intense feelings from the Issei and Nisei. It is from these rich materials that current and future generations will discover, learn, and grow — and also find how to fight for the liberties and dignity of our community and others. This is a legacy worth having.”

Tom Ikeda
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Editor’s note: The Herald recently decided to expand its “Legacy of the Sansei” series to include essays by Sansei living on the continental United States. Brian Niiya, who was a contributor to the series last year, introduced series coordinator Gail Honda to many insightful and influential Mainland Sansei as prospective contributors. A good number of them accepted her and Herald editor Karleen Chinen’s invitation to share their perspective. We are honored and delighted to present their essays, which add breadth and depth to last year’s essays by Hawai‘i Sansei.

When I was a kid in the early 1960s, each Memorial Day, my family of seven would go to a Seattle cemetery and place flowers at the grave of Staff Sgt. Francis “Bako” Kinoshita. While my parents lingered at Bako’s gravesite, I would grab extra flowers and play a game of finding tombstones with other Japanese names to place the flowers. I knew my uncle had died while fighting in the war, but his death had always felt distant and somehow normal, given all of the other tombstones with Japanese names and dates of death in 1944. Years later, one powerful family photograph would bring me much closer to Uncle Bako’s memory.

In 1996, after seven years of creating software products at Microsoft, I left the high tech industry and helped to start Denshö, a nonprofit that promotes social justice by preserving and sharing the stories of the World War II Japanese American experience. We believed the world was going digital and this was an opportunity to create online archives, references and textbooks that included the Japanese American story.

One evening, after 14 years of immersing myself in Japanese American history, my Nisei mother placed an old photo album on her kitchen table for me to see. She said there were some pictures that might interest me. While my mom watched, I flipped through baby photos of her. I smiled and commented on the posed, unsmiling images. On another page, I expressed surprise, because I did not know that she had visited Japan as a child and marveled at the photos of her, her younger brother Chuck and their mother traveling in Japan. She smiled and told me a story of how a distant and childless uncle and aunt had wanted my grandmother to leave my mom and Chuck in Japan for them to adopt. My mother laughed as she told me this story, saying my grandfather — who at the time was in Seattle — would have “raised hell” if my grandmother had left her and Chuck in Japan.

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A screenshot of the digital repository of Denshö.org.

A screenshot of the digital repository of Denshö.org.

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