Friday, November 19, 2010

Dear America: The Fences Between Us- The Diary of Piper Davis Seattle, Washington, 1941 by Kirby Larson

Piper Davis is an American Girl growing up in Seattle, Washington. The War is on, so there have been straitened circumstances in her home, and in the community in which she lives. She and her sister attend school, and Piper is sweet on her own special suitor, Bud, who just also happens to be her best friend, next to Trixie.

Piper's father is a pastor to a church composed of mostly Japanese and Chinese people, and now her brother, Hank, wants to go into the service and fight in the war. Piper doesn't want to let him go. She's afraid of him dying, and doesn't want to lose him, but their father tells him that he's old enough to make the choice and he's seemed to think it through, so he'll let him enlist. Piper is inconsolable, but agrees to write Hank letters and keep in touch with him while he's in boot camp and then in service. Before he leaves, the family's housekeeper, Mrs. Harada, gives Piper a journal for her to write and record her thoughts in. Piper at first thinks that is a bit babyish, but Mrs. Harada tells her than no one else can tell her what to write in her journal-only her, which Piper likes a lot.

Shortly after Hank enlists and Piper starts writing in "DeeDee", short for "Dear Diary", Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese, with the loss of much life. The bombing enrages America, and sends them on to War with Japan. But other changes happening at home are more worrying for Piper and her family, for otherwise good American people seem to think that the Japanese in America had something to do with the bombing, and start taking it out on the people of Pastor Davis's church. Her father tries to keep the peace, but some people want nothing to do with the peace, and incidents of racism spring up, even against people who look oriental but aren't Japanese, like Chinese or Korean.

Sadly for Piper, even Bud, the boy she likes, doesn't seem immune to the effects, and causes her to break up with him. In the meantime, it seems that it isn't just the people of Seattle who think that the Japanese, the Nikkei and Issei, living in America are a threat, but the government does as well, for they start rounding up the Japanese and taking them off to "internment camps", along with their families and a few of their belongings.

Since Pastor Davis's entire congregation is Japanese or oriental and is rounded up, her father decides that he cannot leave them to suffer alone. It is his Christian duty to follow along and help the people of his church, no matter where they end up. Leaving behind Piper's older sister Margie to take care of his house and the things he stored for the people of his church in the basement of the church, Piper's father takes her with him, first to "Camp Harmony" in the old Fairgrounds outside the city, and then to Idaho, the "Minidoka War Relocation Center" in Eden, Idaho.

But Eden is no Eden, and some of the people there are just as prejudiced against the Japanese as the people in Seattle were. As Piper and her father deal with a neighbor who wants to evict them from their new house because they are giving aid and comfort to the Japanese, who he considers the enemy of the US, They also have to deal with the horrible conditions in Minidoka and trying to keep up the hope of the inhabitants that this will not be the rest of their lives.

But after the way the US has treated these people, when the military gives them the chance to enlist and serve their country, how many of them will take the opportunity and go? And when Piper's brother Hank is injured, will Piper and her father get back in time to welcome him home?

Needless to say, the idea that America imprisoned its own citizens during the war just because they happen to be of Japanese ancestry sounds ridiculous these days. Did America imprison people of German ancestry? Italian Ancestry? Yes, but not in the numbers of the Japanese interned in the US. The Japanese interned in the US were interned mainly for reasons of racism, not military necessity. They already couldn't become citizens in the Western states by law since 1920, and the Japanese removed were not only strong and healthy young men and women, or adults. They took everyone, including children, babies and the elderly. Over 110,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans were interned, compared to about 10,000 Germans and 400 or so Italians. After the war, and some lawsuits, America admitted what it had done was wrong and paid reparations to those who had been interned.

Some readers may think that this story is out there. But it is based on the true life story of a minister from California who was Pastor of the Japanese American church who also lost all his Parishioners to Internment and followed them with his family. And the diary atyle of the book and the understandable attitudes and feelings of Piper as she is uprooted away from all her friends and the rest of her family makes the book very touching. It details a very sad period in American history, when Racism made her imprison her own citizens. It shouldn't be forgotten.

I had known that Japanese-Americans had been interned, but not Italians or Germans until reading this book impelled me to do some research. It's an affecting book that takes you into that period of American history, but you still won't understand what made people do those things. Nevertheless, as a book and a means of presenting the truth and making you want to find out more about that period in history, this book is wonderful and really makes you think. Highly recommended.

2 comments:

Emily said...

I have just started but I am very far. The most sad part to me was when Hank's friend Del died. It was so sad. She gets so excited over Bud, but sometimes he just gets in Piper's way. In school we are learning a lot about war. I've always wondered how it felt to have a family member in war and be at home. This book has entered my wonders.

Emily said...

Hey Kirby. My teacher and I were wondering why you wrote in my copy of the book. You wrote "Here's to building bridges, not fences! Kirby Larson". By the way I LOVE THE BOOK!!!