Title: Kiyo’s Story: A Japanese-American Family’s Quest for the American Dream (A memoir)
Author: Kiyo Sato
Length: 352 pages
In this memoir, originally published as Dandelion Through the Crack, first generation Japanese-American Sato chronicles the tribulations her family endured in America through the Great Depression and WWII. Emigrating from Japan in 1911, Sato’s parents built a home and cultivated a marginal plot of land into a modest but sustaining fruit farm. One of nine children, Sato recounts days on the farm playing with her siblings and lending a hand with child-care, house cleaning and grueling farm work. Her anecdotes regarding the family’s devotion to one another despite their meager lifestyle (her father mending a little brother’s shoe with rubber sliced from a discarded tire) gain cumulative weight, especially when hard times turn tragic: in the wake of Pearl Harbor, the Satos find themselves swept up by U.S. authorities and shuffled through multiple Japanese internment camps, ending up in a desert facility while the farm falls to ruin. Sato’s memoir is a poignant, eye-opening testament to the worst impulses of a nation in fear, and the power of family to heal the most painful wounds.
Kiyo’s Story is the OTHER book that I picked up on our vacation. Purchased at the Manzanar National Historic Site, I expected the bulk of this book to recount the time that the Sato family spent in an internment camp (not Manzanar), but my initial expectations were totally incorrect.
The memoir starts with the narrator’s father, Tochan, as a young boy in Japan, he is sent over to America with the following instructions from his mother – don’t ever come back. This isn’t because she doesn’t love him – no, on the contrary, she loves him very much and wants a better life for him. Tochan arrives in America, finds work, and settles into life in California, eventually learning to speak english. In the following years, his brother also comes to America, working in the fields with him. The only time that he does return to Japan is to find a wife – which he does, though, he chooses for himself instead of following the custom of an arranged marriage.
Once back in America, the Sato family begins to grow… and grow and grow and grow. Nine children are brought into the world, sharing in the duties on the farm and falling in love with Tochan’s many stories – each teaching a special lesson. Like any parent, they want the best for their children and they want them to lead even happier lives than they have.
Unfortunately, no one is prepared for what happens in this country against Japanese Americans after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Out of fear and discrimination, all of the Japanese living on the west coast of the United States are forced to move to “relocation centers” under guard. Kiyo’s Story only spends a small amount of time focusing on their time at Poston, but her retelling of the events perfectly conveys the confusion and fear that everyone felt.
This memoir is about family, love, religion, and personal strength. Each member of the Sato family overcame so much and never wavered in their faith nor in their desire to be accepted as American citizens. This book is a must-read – especially if you’re someone who doesn’t understand what happened in our country during WWII. Prior to this year, I only had a vague understanding of the events. I am grateful to now be a little more informed.