« Happy days are here again | Main | No longer in pieces »

Reconciliation, Part Two

Mom and Dad, 1952

In late 1951, my mom left Japan via Yokohama on the USNS General W. H. Gordon (T-AP-117) bound for the western US. While I was doing my genealogy research, I found the list of passengers -- my mom's shipmates. I didn't know the name of the ship prior to finding the passenger list, nor did I realize that she was traveling with many other Japanese nationals - women with Japanese first names and American last names. This was one of the ships bringing Japanese wives stateside with their husbands - American servicemen. Some of the women were pregnant (this was noted in the list -- my mom was four months pregnant as well) and two of the women had already had children. The youngest wives were 19 years old, with the average age being 22. There was one Chinese woman and one Korean woman on the ship as well.

My mom doesn't like to talk about the journey from Japan to the US -- she hated traveling by ship and it was a long, unpleasant trip -- she left Yokohama before the end of December and arrived in San Francisco in the second week of January, 1952.

Over the years, I've pieced together some details that she's shared with us and although hers is the only story I know, I imagine that almost all the other Japanese women aboard the ship were disowned by their families and had to face the same degree of background investigation, medical exams and probably their share of humiliation and racism in order have permission to marry an American. The "reconciliation" I'm referring to in the title of these posts, refers to my reconciling the historical facts with the feelings and observations my mom has shared. Once in the states, she felt she had to stop "being" Japanese. She even had to have an American first name, which confused me; she was "Sandy" and her friends were sometimes "Kim" or "Sue." I was so curious about my Japanese heritage and wanted to know more, but I was often shushed and left with my own curiosity; I would have to be content with reading and imagining until I went to Japan with my mom in 1985.

I've been working on this post for a few months now and for some reason, working on it has made me feel rather blue. It's been difficult coming to terms with the war and its aftermath and also the racism -- not just towards Japanese women, but toward other cultures as well. It's hard to reconcile the pride and privilege I feel with the suffering and disgrace we inflict on others.


A very powerful poignant and emotional post, Janet. No other words...other than...Thank you so much for sharing this.

It is so great to hear different stories no matter how difficult they are to tell. Racism no matter what reason is sad and I think it is cool that you are trying to find a balance between it and the pride of your Japanese heritage.

Growing up in the States, I had such an idyllic picture of the 1950's for a long time. Too much TV/movie-watching I guess. It wasn't until I was much older that I began to reconcile the happy clean-cut images with all of the underlying racism, sexism, and political intolerance of the to,e

I think it is a wonderful thing that you are taking the time to research and reconcile. I think the mixed feeling and painful realizations that some it can bring up keeps alot of us from doing it. Beautiful post

This must have been very painful for you. I hope you continue to be proud of who you are and all you've uncovered. x

It's very interesting reading what you have been writing about your family history. I have one English and one German parent, and the gaps in my German family's wartime history are pretty deafening. I've noticed that in England it is quite normal for people to know all sorts of war stories from their parents or grandparents, but it is very different in Germany. Growing up I had to come to terms with English people's view that the atrocities committed by the Germans could never happen in England because people there are just too decent. As I learn a few scraps of my grandfather's war history I have to come to terms with what my close family member may have done. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Such a painful yet touching story. Each culture has its blind spots and it so important that we do our best to recognize and confront them. Thanks for sharing your story Janet!

((hugs)) I hope you continue to find reconciliation with it all.

I think both of your parents must have been very brave, particularly your mum, in the face of the racism of the post war years. As Heather said above, all cultures have their blind spots, and I think that by recognising this, as you have, is a great step towards preventing it happening again.

Janet, this was a moving post...very powerful and leaves one with a lot to dwell upon...

What a wonderful and interesting post. Its amazing that you are finding out so much. It must be hard at times too. x

Beautiful post Janet...it reminds a bit of Amy Tan's books (don't know if you are familiar with her writing). She writes mainly about Chinese women who left China for the U.S. The hardships and racism and the quest for identify is so present in her writing as well. Writing and sharings thoughts and emotions is a clear step to truly understanding and reconciling with an issue or situation. Loved your post.

I love the photo. I'm assuming your mom and dad..your mom is so beautiful....

It must be hard for your Mum to relive these memories as you investigate and document this part of her life, telling her story as well as those of many others. I can relate to your story in a way: My grandmother was a war bride, she was an Australian girl who met, fell in love with and eventually married an American GI stationed in Australia. My Dad, their first child was born in January 1944, before they were married and before the war ended. There was great shame surrounding this and my Dad didn't find out til he was an adult. My grandma and dad eventually travelled to the US where the family settled for many years. Its amazing how many "secrets" are hidden in our past. Aren't we lucky to live today?

It's frustrating when your parents don't want to talk or can't talk about the past. I know there were a lot of secrets in my family, some of which I found out about as an adult. I've been thinking about this a lot for the last couple of days. My parents are both deceased and so there are a lot of things I'll never know. I'm forced to try to fill in the blanks using my own intuition and imagination. It's not very satisfying but it's all I'm ever likely to get.

Keep up your research. I hope it gives you some peace of mind.

Yeah, the prejudice and suffering... :( From my dad's genealogical research, it appears that his family was actually Jewish (escaping from Germany to Russia to the US in the early 1900s), yet when they settled in ND, they hid or left that part of themselves behind to escape the prejudice that had driven them from home originally.

It's hard to reconcile how some humans can be so loving and generous and some equally cruel and damaging.

Thank you for sharing this touching story.

Thank you, Janet, for your insight. As always, it makes me think and rethink about things that I tend to take for granted. I should never take anything for granted.

Such an emotional and well-expressed post. The photograph is beautiful and the words so very thought provoking.

Excellent post, Janet. Thanks for sharing it with all of us. War is such a terrible thing, and we often forget that both sides fighting are made up of pretty good people just trying to live and raise families.

many hugs for you.

Thank you for this post. Looking at the photo, it's easy to see, but difficult to imagine for ourselves, the many emotions she must have felt and hidden from the day she left Japan.

i understand.
love and hugs