May is Asian Pacific Heritage Month, a month that pays tribute to the generations of the Asians and Pacific Islanders and their contributions to the rich and diverse history of the United States.
In researching The Red Kimono and its sequel (currently a work-in-progress and titled Broken Dreams) I’ve come across several websites and books detailing the history of events surrounding these cultures. Throughout May, I’ll share some of what I’ve found.
This informative website was developed by Arkansas State University and is an excellent resource with photographs, timelines and other information on the history of internment in Arkansas.
Though the ROHWER JAPANESE AMERICAN RELOCATION CENTER website is a relatively new website, (it did not yet exist while I was researching The Red Kimono) I thought it appropriate that it be the first link I share, since it is the real life history of the relocation center where Sachi Kimura and her family were sent in The Red Kimono. More notably, it is also the camp where in real life, my Auntie Suyo and her family were sent after being taken from their homes in California.
The following excerpt describes Sachi’s first impression of Rohwer:
Grabbing Mama’s skirt, Sachi felt her way down the steps of the rail car. She couldn’t wait to get outside to breathe fresh air.
Sunlight at last. But there was no breath of fresh air. It was too hot, like standing over rice when Mama cooked it. No breeze. And what was that strange buzzing that filled the air? Zoooweee. Zoooweee. She heard it everywhere. Was it birds? Bugs? Whatever it was made it feel even hotter outside.
Everybody pressed against the train car, its shade the only escape from the sun that beat down. She looked across a big field of cotton. There it was. Rohwer Relocation Center. Rows and rows of rectangular black buildings, lined up perfectly. Is that where they would live?
It was even uglier than Santa Anita, but some of it looked just the same. Barbed wire all around. Guard towers with soldiers who wore guns over their shoulders.
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I was fortunate to attend the opening of the museum in McGehee, Arkansas in April, 2013, where I met George Takei, a former internee. He opened the dedication with a moving speech about his time as a child at Rohwer.
I was also honored to meet many local residents of McGehee who worked (and continue to work) tirelessly to preserve this time in our nation’s history — a time about which many people are unfamiliar, even unaware.
If you haven’t had a chance to visit the museum in McGehee, I highly encourage you to make a trip to the Arkansas Delta for a visit to both the museum and the site of the camp.
WWII Japanese-American Internment Museum
100 South Railroad Street
P.O. Box 1263
McGehee, Arkansas 71654