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A Bainbridge Island Story, 1942-2022
Bainbridge Island lies ten miles across Elliott Bay from downtown Seattle, accessed by ferry from Colman Dock at the Seattle Ferry Terminal. On a March morning last year, my wife (Kimberly), her close friend (Carina), and I boarded the Tacoma for the short ride, taking in the scenery from its foredeck. We were visiting Bainbridge Island at the invitation of Dave Myers, best-selling textbook author of Psychology and Psychology for the AP Course among several others, as well as books for the general public; his most recent, How We Know Ourselves, having been published last year. For the three travelers, two life-long friends with me tagging along, it was an opportunity to spend a few days on the coastal waters of Puget Sound away from our daily obligations. The invitation to the island from Dave and his wife, Carol, came with one request: Please visit the Japanese American internment memorial on Bainbridge Island.
Formally known as the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial and built on the land where the first internees were taken from their homes, the site preserves the memory of the tragic period in our nation’s history when Japanese immigrants and American citizens of Japanese descent were ordered and removed from their land, their homes, their communities, and their livelihoods and crudely transported to internment camps hundreds of miles away. Issued on February 19, 1942, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Executive Order 9066 authorized the forced removal of all persons on the West Coast deemed a threat to national security to “relocation centers” in remote areas in six western states and Arkansas. The order resulted in the incarceration of 122,000 Japanese Americans, nearly two-thirds of whom were American citizens. The first removal, enforced by Civilian Exclusion Order #1, began with Japanese Americans living on Bainbridge Island.
The memorial is located on a budding landscape on the south end of Eagle Harbor, the cityscape of Seattle not far from view. On this March day the skies are clear and the temperatures a bit brisk as we make our way down the path: its first marker the sinking but orienting words: “Nidoto Nai Yoni” (Let it Not Happen Again).
Designed as a “story wall,” and built out of old-growth red cedar, the memorial weaves into the natural landscape, guiding its visitors through wooded acreage recounting the experience of Japanese American families forced from their homes on Bainbridge Island for the duration of World War II. Remarkably, after four long years of internment, most of them would return to reclaim their land and practice the trades that they had hastily handed over to fellow residents under a community promise that their houses, farms, and property would once again be their own. This promise by their fellow residents rejected their government’s racist and xenophobic judgment that if any Japanese American may be a threat then all must be deemed worthy of relocation and imprisonment.
Placards line the exhibit, simply yet artfully designed, each one devoted to an individual or family removed from the island. Each person’s name is paired with their age at time of their forced relocation and recognizes the intergenerational impact on those taken from their homes: Hayano Moritani, 54; Nobuichi Moritani, 27; Tatsukichi Moritani, 24; Shigeru Moritani, 20… Otokichi Nagatani, 61; Kiwa Nagatani, 46; Ichiro Nagatani, 25; Kimiko Nagatani, 23; Kiyotaka Nagatani, 21; Miyoko Nagatani, 15. The placards appear to have no end, broken only by friezes etched into native wood depicting scenes of the families being herded away, children in the arms of their parents, the images ornamented by strings of origami left behind by visitors before us. Pinkish-red leaves of spring accent native growth of mahonia, salal, and shore pine bordering the walkway, steps from where two hundred and seventy-six residents of Bainbridge Island were shuttled to the Eagledale Ferry Landing over the course of the morning on March 30, 1942, federal troops at guard, rifles fixed with bayonets.
Nearly three thousand miles east, the grounds of Hyde Park in the Hudson Valley of New York are a long way from Bainbridge Island but a short drive from my home; stunning and beautiful, they overlook the Hudson River as it winds its way north of West Point. It is now autumn and my parents, Richard and Susan, are visiting. Both of them earned their graduate degrees in political science (inspiring their son to do the same many years later) and each remains a student of history. We are visiting Hyde Park to take in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Presidential Library and Museum located on his family’s expansive estate. It's easy to find parallels in the beauty of the grounds at Hyde Park to what I remember from walking the coast of Bainbridge Island, but I’m on the lookout for something less panoramic: how the inspiration to bear record to one of our great presidents recounts his most grievous act. We make our way through the many exhibits, losing sight of each other as we are distracted by scenes of interest: recordings of FDR’s fireside talks intended to unite a nation, hallways devoted to legislation promising a New Deal, even his statements marking the end of Prohibition. I’m standing in front of a small piece dedicated to the events that followed the signing of Executive Order 9066, a brief mention of Eleanor Roosevelt’s opposition to the act (and her advocacy that followed), a short acknowledgement of its folly, a blight on his presidency it will say. No mention of Hayano or Nobuichi or Kimiko.
Allyship has been on my mind lately, in some ways because it is a newer term to my vocabulary; in other ways, because you come to learn it has always been present in our lives. On that day in March 2022, off the coast of Seattle and on a walkway as American as any other, I was left with gratitude for the allyship expressed by people in our lives like our friend, Carina, and our friends, David and Carol Myers. My wife and I would not have known about the memorial on Bainbridge Island without their insistence or understood their advocacy for it without the stories Dave had written; and the events and memories of that day would not have been as meaningful if we had not shared them with our dear friend, Carina. I’m grateful to the artists that dedicated their time to create a space worthy of the lives and events of the Japanese Americans on Bainbridge Island interned and wrongfully imprisoned during WWII. I’m also left thinking about the role of our communities and the manner in which the people of Bainbridge Island, no matter their ethnic background, took up the cause of their fellow residents’ well-being to ensure that they had homes to return to, land to farm, and trades to pursue. Each story, deserving of memorial, educates us and inspires us, and connects us with a history of allyship. It is one of the reasons why I’m grateful for colleagues that have come together to make Macmillan Learning the community it is today, and with special thanks to those colleagues who form our Pan Asian Alliance Network (PAAN) Employee Resource Group (ERG) and the way they encourage more of these stories to be lived and told.
The March day that I’m revisiting in memory and sharing with all of you ends with Kimberly, Carina, and I watching ships pass through Elliott Bay, many bound for East Asian ports, a few of them perhaps a signal light of how far Japanese and American relations have come. But today, February 19th, on the “Day of Remembrance of Japanese American Incarceration During World War II,” we remember the individuals, the families, their stories and their communities, like the ones on Bainbridge Island, that saw events unfold earning their place in our nation’s history.