By Debbie Kashino
For The North American Post
There are many ways to tell the Japanese American World War II story. Over the years we have seen many more fiction and non-fiction books, movies, documentaries, Broadway plays and yes, even mangas and graphic novels that deal with this subject. On a pilgrimage to Minidoka in 2010, I heard Lawrence Matsuda read from his book “A Cold Wind from Idaho,” and it was the first time I witnessed the power of a poem to tell this story.
Mid-summer, I saw Suma Yagi and she told me about her newly published book of poetry, “A Japanese Name, An American Story.” She gave me a copy and once I started reading it, I could not stop until I finished. I passed it on to my mother, and she did the same. Both of us were so impressed with how such a little book of 98 pages could so succinctly tell Suma’s personal journey from pre-war to the present.
I talked further with Suma about how this book came to be. She said that her children had urged her to get her work published. Suma says, “my Nisei disposition sometimes makes me uncomfortable when sharing personal experiences about my cultural heritage, and yet I feel a special responsibility to both past and future generations. It is important that we allow the Sansei and future generations to hear our voices.” Though her children Roberta, Martin and Teresa supported her efforts, it was her son, Victor, who was most passionate about seeing this through in time for Suma’s 88th birthday. He says, “the poems taught him what “Camp” meant for his mother and father in a way that history books did not and could not.”
For those of us who have known Suma for years, the book offers special insights to who Suma is. Though we know her as a very kind, modest and unassuming person, she is also a very talented writer possessing a special gift to tell this story for all who shared in this experience.
The books are available at Third Place Book Store locations in Seward Park (5041 Wilson Ave. S., Seattle, (206) 525-2347), Lake Forest Park (17171 Bothell Way N.E. #A101, Seattle, (206) 366-3333) and Ravenna (6504 20th Ave. N.E., Seattle (206) 525-2347). They can also be ordered on-line at thirdplacebooks.com/japanese name or by contacting Victor Yagi at firstname.lastname@example.org. The price is $15.88 plus tax.
Here are three of Suma’s poems:
This article was published in the Nisei Veteran Committee’s monthly newsletter in August.