In a few short weeks, my third book, Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind, will make its debut. It is a book very close to my heart, and was more than ten years in the making. A long time for such a short piece.
The book is a work of nonfiction. It is a gentle introduction to a shameful episode in US history. Beginning in December 1941, an entire cohort of people, more than 120,000 (mostly) American citizens of Japanese descent living on the West Coast, were denied their civil liberties, arrested, and relocated to remote areas — the deserts and swamps in the interior of the country. Booklist calls it, a “beautiful picture book for sharing and discussing with older children as well as the primary audience.”
Ten War Relocation “camps” for families were constructed in all, and several more Department of Justice prison camps for suspected “enemy aliens.” These were men who were the leaders in their communities: ministers, business leaders, newspaper publishers, and others.
Three of the these DOJ camps were located here in New Mexico. The NM Japanese American Citizens League has just completed the publication of a book called Confinement in the Land of Enchantment. It is part of a larger initiative to document the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.
I am grateful and honored to have been invited to work with the Board of the NMJACL in their efforts to raise awareness, monitor, and respond to issues where any American’s civil and human rights are threatened.
Write to Me also introduces young readers to a librarian named Clara Breed, who did what she could for the children who were once her patrons at the downtown branch of the San Diego Public Library. Just thirty-five years old at the time, she wrote to the children and their parents weekly, and she sent books for them to read for the next three-and-a-half years of their imprisonment. But she did even more than that. She wrote articles for Horn Book Magazine and Library Journal. She wrote letters to her government representatives and other officials. She attended political events and rallies. She traveled to the prison camps herself to see how her friends and fellow citizens were being treated.
This past year marked the 75th anniversary of the signing of the legislation, Executive Order 9066, that allowed for the trampling of the civil rights of American citizens. While I am glad to see my book finally in print, I am sorry that it is so timely. So necessary.
Clara Breed worked for the city of San Diego for more than forty years. Her legacy is one of love, courage, and kindness, in a time not unlike our own– when fear looms larger than anything else, when political leadership is scarce, if it can be found at all.
I will be talking about Write to Me at Bookworks in Albuquerque on Saturday, January 20th, 11:00 a.m.