We feature this guest post from Miranda Howard, a librarian at Western Michigan University and a member of the Reading Together Steering Committee.
“Our steering committee discussions regarding the treatment of Japanese Americans during WWII always brought to mind a letter my mother received in celebration of her 80th birthday in 1997.
My sister contacted many of my mother’s long-time friends, asking them to send their thoughts on their friendship with my mother to be compiled into an album for a gift. This letter that came to mind was from Mariko and expressed how important my mother’s friendship was to her during the war.
My mother often spoke of her friends Mariko and Jun Inouye, two people with a baby I remember from old 1940s photographs. Jun, raised in Hawaii, son of a Japanese professor, was a Northwestern Dental School classmate of my father’s. When the dental students were told of tuition remission if they joined the Navy or Army, my father was accepted into the Army. Jun was not, due his Japanese heritage, even though his brothers in Hawaii were drafted.
Mariko’s parents were taken to an internment camp in a western state.
My older brother was born in Jan. 1942, just after the US entered the war. Mariko and Jun soon had a son as well. Mariko found that salespeople in stores were unwilling to serve her as a customer because she was Japanese. Going into a department store in Chicago and Evanston, Illinois, to purchase baby clothes and other necessary baby items became a racial intimidation for her. Mariko’s letter for my mother’s 80th birthday told of my mother’s kindness to her in 1943, 54 years earlier, when my mother gave her baby items for her son because my mother understood the discrimination Mariko was facing.
To this day I still find my mother's kindness to her friend heartwarming, but am surprised and embarrassed that the Chicago and Evanston of my youth, places I always thought of as progressive communities, were as prejudiced as other regions in America.”
Miranda Howard, Reading Together Steering Committee