It must be odd
to be a minority
he was saying.
I looked around
and didn't see any.
So I said
it must be.
Mitsuye Yamada, LOOKING OUT (Camp Notes)
TO THE LADY
The one in San Francisco who asked
Why did the Japanese Americans let
the government put them in
those camps without protest?
Come to think of it I
should've run off to Canada
should've hijacked a plane to Algeria
should've pulled myself up from my
and kicked'm in the groin
should've bombed a bank
should've tried self-immolation
should've holed myself up in a
and let you watch me
burn up on the six o'clock news
should've run howling down the street
naked and assaulted you at breakfast
by AP wirephoto
should've screamed bloody murder
like Kitty Genovese
come to my aid in shining armor
laid yourself across the railroad track
marched on Washington
tattooed a Star of David on your arm
written six million enraged
letters to Congress
But we didn't draw the line
law and order Executive Order 9066
social order moral order internal order
All are punished.
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Mitsuye Yamada was born in Japan in 1923 and immigrated to the US at the age of three. In 1942, her family (including her) was incarcerated at the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho. In her writings, she focuses on her Japanese American heritage and feminism.
"The core poems of Camp Notes and the title come from the notes I had taken when I was in camp, and it wasn’t published until thirty years after most of it was written. I was simply describing what was happening to me, and my thoughts. But, in retrospect, the collection takes on a kind of expanded meaning about that period in our history."
"I don’t think [feminism is] dead. I think that what has happened to feminism is what should happen. Back in the day, a feminist was seen as this angry man-hater or man-eater. We have fought the battle, not completely won, but now women have incorporated into their being the fact that they are entitled as women. In some ways, you don’t have to fight as hard as your mother or former generations, and in those ways [the movement] was a success. I don’t think we will ever go back. Many women don’t know that they’re feminists, but their parents fought and paved the way for them in many respects. This is also true of ethnic Americans. When you think about how black Americans paved the way for the civil rights movement, we have to acknowledge the fact that we have benefited from their battles and their deaths – because many of them did die in battle. So, we have to build from there. In some respects, we slide back, two steps back and three steps forward. But we have to keep pressing."
"The thing that I always tell young people when I talk to them is that you have to be politically active, that you have to keep your mind and heart open and be aware of what’s going on in the world. And to have a critical sense of the world around you, I think that’s very important. I think the worst kind of thing is passivity. There’s a Japanese phrase, Shikata ga nai, meaning “it can’t be helped” – it’s the way it is. But then you become known as the model minority, and it’s just really deadening to be invisible. You should not be invisible. You should stand up and be counted."
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- Yamada, M. (1998). Camp Notes and Other Writings. New Brunswick, New Jersey & London: Rutgers University Press
- photograph via