Monday, January 12, 2009

Stubborn Twig by Lauren Kessler

This book takes a factual look at multiple generations of the Yasui Family. Masuo Yasui arrived from Japan via Seattle in 1904 to work on the railroad, meeting up with other members of his family. He lived in Portland for a time where he learned English and converted to being a Methodist. He settled in Hood River in 1908. His wife, Shidzuyo, was a well-educated Japanese woman who knew Masuo and his family before he left home at 16. She came to the United States as Masuo’s wife in 1912. Masuo and Shidzuyo are known as Issei or the first generation of Japanese to settle in the United States.

The story of Masuo and Shidzuyo begins like every immigrant’s dream. Masuo opens a store in Hood River that becomes quite successful. They start a family. They begin to buy land and become very involved in the fruit business. However, they were not allowed to become citizens because of a law, more than 100 years old, “that declared nonwhites ineligible for citizenship.” And, then in 1924, Oregon passes the Alien Land Law making it illegal for non-citizens to own land. It is possible to get around this law by putting the land in the names of their children, known as Nisei or Second Generation, who are citizens of the United States.

“By 1941 Masuo owned, co-owned or had interest in close to one thousand acres of orchard land, had a financial stake in one out of every ten boxes of apples and pears shipped out of Hood River and was the area’s biggest grower of several row crops. He had operated a successful store in the heart of downtown for a generation. He had a nice house on a quiet street in a middle-class neighborhood. One son was married and taking over some of the farm operations; another had a law degree. Three children were in college.”

Pearl Harbor changes everything. Read this book to find out what happens to one family of Japanese Americans, citizens and non-citizens, during World War II. The repercussions to the first, second and further generations of Japanese Americans are serious. The culpability of the state of Oregon and the town of Hood River in this loss of land and relocation are astounding. What would Hood River or Oregon look like today if this hadn’t happened? What would you have done if you lived at that time?

“People who spoke up for the Japanese were shunned. When the mother of one of Yuka’s hakujin friends (Masuo’s daughter’s friend) defended the Japanese to the women in her literary club, she was met with silence and stony stares. Her friends rejected her so completely that she took to her sickbed and later left town for several months to stay with her sister.”

Stubborn Twig is part of Deschutes County Public Libraries 2009 A Novel Idea. Also, as a celebration of Oregon’s 150th year of statehood, the book is part of Oregon Reads sponsored by the Oregon Library Association. I am interested to find out what events related to this book will be happening in Bend.


dianeinjapan said...

Such a sad, sad time in our history. I lived briefly near the site of a large Japanese internment camp in N. California.

Thanks for this review!

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