Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday, May 29, 2011

When I saw the headline “U.S. official cites deceit in WWII internments” in this past Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times, I knew what the article was going to say even before reading it.

Sure enough, the article referred to how the FDR administration deliberately hid from the Supreme Court an Office of Naval Intelligence report which concluded that the Japanese Americans on West coast did not pose a military threat. This is not new information to become public. What was remarkable about Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal’s May 24th announcement, though, was that this was the first time the Justice Department formally acknowledged this misconduct by FDR’s Solicitor General, Charles Fahy.

As the U.S. government’s top courtroom attorney, Fahy defended Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which authorized the curfew, roundup, evacuation, and detention of Japanese Americans. Fahy told the Court that the government and military agreed upon the “military necessity” of such actions, even though two of the government’s civil lawyers had told Fahy that to not tell the high court of the ONI report exonerating Japanese Americans would constitute “suppression of evidence.”

My father contended all his life that the war gave Roosevelt, California politicians, and leading business people the “cover” to do what they wanted to do all along, which was to eliminate, or at least reduce, the economic threat that they feared from Japanese Americans, especially in agriculture. By 1940, the Japanese Americans in California were prominent in the production and distribution of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. In Los Angeles on August 8, 1981 before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (created by an act of Congress I helped pass), my father testified about the internment’s economic impact on his family’s farming business.

One line from my father’s testimony is included in the Commission report: “My family’s greatest economic loss was loss of standing crops. . . .We had several acres of celery just about ready for harvest. . . .Several weeks after our evacuation, the price of celery jumped up to about $5 or $6 a crate.” What was omitted in this quote is the rest of their story: that at the time they had to evacuate, no one would buy their celery, so it was rendered worthless, only to have scavengers make a killing on what they were forced to leave behind.

It was remarkable to see my dad wield a hammer. Every nail went in, flat and square, with one clean blow, machine-like. Watching him once, I marveled, “How can you do that, Dad?,” he said, “Well, when you’ve built a million crates from the time you are little, you can hammer pretty well. And when you have to make a lot of them, you can’t afford to hit the nail twice.” I guess I’d never thought before that moment where they got all those vegetable crates – duh, someone had to build them.

Someone in the family also had to design and get printed their family vegetable labels. Apparently they had a whole series with tomatoes, strawberries, and so forth, but the only one my dad had left was of their celery, àpropos of his Commission testimony. The “H. Kamei” actually is not my dad, Hiroshi Kamei, but his older brother who adopted the American name of “Henry.”

I think like me, my dad would have taken notice of this acknowledgement, but while not to diminish its importance, would have felt that it’s anti-climatic after all these years. The big moment of victory came with the redress bill signing in 1984. Still, it’s nice when you’re shown to have been right all along.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

She flew out the front door at 3304 Cowper Street, arms outstretched to give me a big hug. Although I did not know at that moment, three decades ago this summer, that this woman would become my mother-in-law, her welcome as she met me for the first time set the tone for our warm relationship over these many years.

I had graduated from Georgetown’s law school in May 1981 and had returned to Southern California to take the bar and start with Paul, Hastings that September. Bing was continuing on in Washington, D.C. that summer, trying to get his patients into the Georgetown dental clinic to satisfy graduation requirements going into his senior year of dental school. His August visit home to Palo Alto coincided with a JACL redress planning meeting for me in San Jose, making our transition to a long-distance courtship easier. Hard as it is to imagine a world without e-mail, text messages, chats, cell phone plans, and Skype, we wrote good old-fashioned letters to plan this rendezvous, long-distance phone calls being the big splurge.

He and I anticipated that I would get the “once over” from not only his family, but from the extended family, as well. Bing was, after all, the eldest child, only boy, and eldest grandchild of a tight-knit clan. (And let me tell you, it is extended. It took me years before I was able to keep the three Uncle Georges straight.) We found out later that Ellen accurately had picked up that we were serious about one another, although it still would be a few months before Bing proposed and called my father (another good story, another time). So there was an entire itinerary planned, including an over-night trip to Tahoe with some of said extended family, which surprised Bing, and which I enjoyed.

During that first visit to their home, I browsed through some of her back issues of various culinary magazines and we found we shared an interest in cooking. She, like my mother, is an outstanding cook. For my birthday the first year we were married, Ellen gave me a gift subscription to Bon Appétit magazine. I learned so much from each issue that I continued to subscribe to it; I still do, looking forward to its arrival every month. She has given me a few of my favorite cookbooks, especially the 80th anniversary cookbook of the Square & Circle Club, the group Ellen grew up with in San Francisco. (Their motto: “In deeds be square; in knowledge be all-round.”) If you are looking for honest-promise Cantonese cooking, look no further than this cookbook.

Ellen generously has clued me into how to make many of her Chinese signature dishes, but really, no one can make them as well as her. She knew that the one dish Bing looked forward to having when we visited was her “yee won ton” soup. What is “yee” about it, is that the won tons are fried before being added to the soup. No matter what time of day or night we arrived, Ellen had the broth and ingredients all ready to assemble and serve us. For Akemi and me still, no visit is complete without this soup.

Last May 2010 for Akemi’s first NEC recital, Wally and Ellen made the trip to Boston, their first visit there. I met them there a few days before the recital to show them around, and we had a great time. Italian food in North End and Akemi retrieving cannolis from Mike’s Pastry for us to take back to the hotel for a little dessert party was particularly fun. As it is getting harder for these inveterate travelers to travel, we were all glad they made that recital.

I’ve always been a little discomforted by the construction in English of referring to one’s family by marriage as “in laws” (or “out laws,” as Ron, Harry, and I – the three spouses – have quipped along the way). Sounds like you’re supposed to be distant, or keep your distance. I prefer the French term: belle-mère. There, doesn’t that already sound better?

Today is Ellen’s 80th birthday. Last night we agreed that we simply don’t know how the years have managed to accumulate. Ellen has been, and continues to be, a great inspiration to me, and I appreciate and celebrate her as my belle-mère.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A battle is raging, and I’m aiding and abetting it.

Lest you think I’m an underground arms dealer, I just simply believe in putting out seed and water in my garden to encourage the presence of birds. After making tea sandwiches for Saturday’s Relief Society humanitarian project day, I made bread crumbs from the leftover crusts to mix in with the birdseed. At least four types of birds have fallen for the enticement.

The scrub jay is bossy, vying for supremacy and chattering loudly. A business-like dark brown bird with an elegant beak seems to be the mediator, large enough to keep the marauding jay at bay so the smaller orange-breasted birds have a chance. The smallest ones, which look like some kind of sparrow, flit in and out under the wing of the dark trim bird. I need my niece Ariane, our family’s expert ornithologist, to identify for me exactly what birds these are.

Outside my kitchen window, the aerial choreography can go on for minutes on end: the swooping in from the nearby trees, the retreating to the nearby wisteria and fences, the claiming of territory on the rock, the furtive pecking at seeds and crumbs spilled on the ground, the splashing in the terra cotta dish-cum-bird bath. So intent are they on trying to claim their share of seeds and crumbs, they will ignore me if I stand very still between watering and weeding.

Around dawn I also hear the distinctive cooing of a pair of mourning doves who have reappeared in the back now that the new landscaping is settling in. They remind me of the owl I heard for many years outside my Peralta Hills bedroom window. As I heard his hooting almost every night and sometimes saw him flying in the moonlight among the eucalyptus trees, he became a friend who kept me company when I was up late studying.

Of all the avian characters in my backyard turf war, the dark big bird is my hero as he keeps the scrub jay from over-reaching and looks out for the welfare of smaller birds. Without the scrub jay, they’re perched comfortably among the citrus leaves and engaged in robust conversation; I can only wonder at what they’re saying. I can just imagine him telling one of the smallest sparrows, “Okay, little bird, you are safe and secure while I stand guard. I’ll watch out for you, so you can rest in this spot with food and drink apart from the cares of the rest of the world.” The little bird sings in appreciative reply and plays in the shade under his watchful eye.

The jay hasn’t been around tonight, perhaps getting into mischief in some other yard. The brown big bird must be tackling some project or diplomatic mission in another part of the wild kingdom. One little bird, though, is staying busy, darting to and fro. I’ll keep the seeds and crumbs replenished and I’m sure the territorial air strikes will resume sometime soon. I’m counting on the big bird to return, bringing his comforting presence with him and maintaining the equilibrium in this garden airspace.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Donald and Cathy invited me along last night for a most enjoyable evening of Brazilian jazz. I’m a big fan of bossa nova and especially of the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. The ensemble led by Grammy-winning pianist Bill Cunliffe delivered on our hopes with a handful of Jobim numbers, including an “out there” arrangement of one of my favorite songs, “Girl from Ipanema.” They enlisted a vocalist for their lovely rendition of Jobim’s “Dindi,” with lyrics by Ray Gilbert:

Sky, so vast is the sky, with far away clouds just wandering by

Where do they go, oh I don't know, don't know

Wind that speaks to the leaves telling stories that no one believes

Stories of love belong to you and to me

Oh Dindi, if I only have words I would say all the beautiful things that I see when you're with me, oh my Dindi

Oh Dindi, like the song of the wind in the trees, that's how my life is singing, Dindi

Happy Dindi, when you're with me

I love you more each day, yes I do, yes I do,

I'd let you go away if you take me with you

Don't you know Dindi, I'd be running, searching for you like a river that can't find sea?

That would be me without you, my Dindi, Dindi, Dindi.

Jazz on a weeknight after a full day of work – she must be feeling better, you’ll say. Yes, actually, this is the best I’ve felt, I’d say, in probably a year. Another patient on the WM talklist said the other day that his treatments so far have not reduced the lymphoma tumor bulk but have cleared out his bone marrow so that his platelet and other blood cell production could return to normal, and as a consequence, he felt better. That comment interested me because that seems to be my case, although the hope is that continuing the Rituxan in fact will reduce the lymphoma. I won’t know anything further until my next set of tests and treatment on May 31st.

Until then, I’m catching up with other friends and other parts of my life which have been left on hold or dealt short shrift these past nine months: choir, ward activities, the temple, the stake’s 75th anniversary plans. Akemi has an internship with the Museum of Science in Boston, so I remain an empty-nester through the summer; we both hope she’ll come home briefly over Labor Day weekend.

In the meantime, you might hear a samba or two from the piano, or catch me swaying like a certain girl in a certain song.