Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Rerun Post From The Cave: Stubborn Twig

I'm busy today, so I thought I'd bring in a post from the other blog about a book I recently enjoyed.

The Oregon Library Association chooses a book each year in it's "Oregon Reads" program. No library card is required to borrow the book and readers are encouraged to pass it on to friends and acquaintances in the hopes that people will talk about the book. This year's selection, Stubborn Twig - Three Generations in theLife of a Japanese American Family by Lauren Kessler, traces the history of Masuo Yasui and his posterity for nearly 100 years.

It's an immigrant story, and as such you can expect to see the struggles of trying to adapt to a new country, language, and culture, with not a little bit prejudice evident in the "native" populace. The World War II internment of those of Japanese descent is also addressed, how the various family members coped with it, and the influence that experience had on them many years later.

While I was certainly aware of the internment program, this book outlined details that I had never been aware of, and grim though the circumstances were, I was amazed at how each family member tried to survive, and even help each other as they were scattered across the mountain west. I knew that many Japanese Americans never returned to their former homes after the war, but I never realized how much opposition there was to the few who did try to reclaim their former homes and the bitter racism they faced. Certainly it was an ugly echo of the segregation in the South, the Holocaust in Europe, and countless other examples of the cruelty human beings can exhibit toward others simply because of perceived differences.

This book got me wondering why we weak humans seem to harbor such ill feelings to the "different" or the "unusual" or the "unlike" or the "alien". Why the fuss? Today's festering feelings toward illegal immigrants from South America, Asia, the Middle East usually seem to revolve around "they take jobs away from Americans", "they use our schools and hospitals for free", "they are a security risk", "they won't learn our language" type arguments. These arguments are not new. Look at newspapers from 100 years ago and you'll see the same arguments agsinst the Chinese, the Japanese, the Irish, etc. If the arguments keep getting recycled, there must be some basic fear behind it all. Could we have some genetic, tribal memories from thousands of years ago of wars over arable land, water, resources etc.? Do our bones remember the hordes of Ghengis Khan, the sound of Roman troops marching, the sight of Xerxes' thousands building bridges to conquer? Does hate of anyone different come from some primal need to protect what one needs to survive?

Then what of modern racism? There are so many reasons, so many circumstances, so many ways it manifests itself. We know it's wrong, but somehow we can't quite get rid of all the stereotypes and unrealistic expectations of what an American is or should be. Of course prejudice doesn't stop with skin color. There's rich and poor, fat and thin, religions, and on and on, overwhelming to contemplate and seeming no solutions. We gravitate to those that are like us in belief, in material things, in interests, and yes, even color still. If we believe that we are all God's children, mustn't we assume that God intended His children to help one another?

For all the hoopla over the soon to be president, we need to remember that it's not the responsibility of our leaders to lead us in moral change. We need to do that ourselves. One by one. Step by step. And I think someday...we will achieve it.

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