Bachan was born at the end of a century
in the city of a thousand generations.
Sailing far from her homeland across the sea
she brought with her stories, smuggled silks and hope.
A lucky picture bride with a kind husband
she cautiously thrived in the brave new land.
By her third spring when the apricots were full of blossoms
their shining American daughter was born.
Work hard, work harder, save money
they had great dreams and gold wishes for their child.
Laws and exclusion would not hold them back
in their decade long struggle for success.
But bombs fell.
Enemy aliens. 9066.
What to take, what to leave, what must be burnt,
kind neighbors would hide her smuggled silks.
Bachan held tighter her stories and their daughter
though broken-hearted for their future and lost hope.
Horse stalls, subjugation, degradation
everything earned now seemed lost.
The scorching sun over the barracks at Gila
burned the incarceration deep into their skin.
Would they die in the desert or be summarily shot
she wondered from time to time.
Days became months, then months became years
until Fat Man and Little Boy were dropped.
In the land of the Free. Again.
Back to the orchards in search of any job
its already been taken--- move on.
Handyman, field hand, but never a broken man,
shikata ga nai, gaman, and hope.
One gray winter’s day after the summer of love
Jichan dies holding his picture bride’s hand.
Bachan’s tears fall like rain on his still silent chest
another story for their daughter to hold.
Many years on in early July
granddaughters twirl about in smuggled silk kimonos.
Eager to odori dance at the Obon honoring ancestors
they hold in their hearts past memories ---and tell stories.
Remember past struggles.
Embrace their hope.
In Our land of the Free. Densho.
Sendai is sometimes called the City of a thousand generations. A temple at Aobayama in Sendai houses statues of one thousand Buddhas. Early Chinese characters for the city name translated literally as “a thousand generations.”
bachan: sometimes spelled baachan, means grandmother
jichan: sometimes spelled jiichan, means grandfather
9066: referencing Executive Order 9066
shikata ga nai: Japanese saying meaning “it cannot be helped”
gaman: perseverance, patience, tolerance
densho: to pass on to future generations
by B. Horiuchi (2015)