James Ozaki Wins Go For Broke Contest
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Recently one of JACL Chicago’s members, James Ozaki, won 1st place in the Go For Broke National Education Center Essay, Poetry and Video Contest. The goal of this contest is “to educate and inspire character and equality through the virtue and valor of our World War II American veterans of Japanese ancestry.” To read more about his experience and motivation behind this piece, read the latest JACLer. You may read James’ poem below.
17 and already facing incarceration. What did I do?
I have Japanese blood, hated by the red, white and blue.
First, moved to Santa Anita Racetrack; smelled like poo.
Lesson 1: Horses are more valuable than me and you.
Transported to the desert, had to build our homes too.
What about the neighbors? We always know what and whom.
Not only surrounded by barbed wire fence and a barren view,
but also the intent of taking away our legal process due.
I don’t know if my future will hold anything new,
but with my chance, I will volunteer for the four-four-two.
Camp Shelby, with guys from camp and Honolulu,
Same face, cultures different, pidgin or proper, something about to brew.
Lacking knowledge we’re put in camp for acts we didn’t do,
Mutual understanding, our bonds became tight as glue.
16 weeks of training begin the beginning Nisei story that will someday ring true,
13 days on the sea ’til we reach World War II.
I’m a foreigner, now in foreign land, made a foreigner in the home I once knew.
For Japanese Americans to have a life in the US, we will fight until death.
Never been in gun fire, but I’m not scared ’cause all I feel is my tire.
Every moment on the battlefield is urgent and dire.
People are dying, our lives hang by a wire.
What are we fighting for? The United States.
A nation we believe to be so great.
December 7, 1941. That was our fate.
How were we treated? We were made the bait.
Some joined just, “To get out of camp,”
’cause they didn’t want to wait.
Others, “To prove that we are loyal Americans!”
Yes, we will also fight for and against the hate.
Like Mama used to say “shikata ga nai.” Nothing can be done.
Of course, ’til this battle has been won.
And it won’t matter that our blood is of the rising sun,
Because we will all be viewed as one.
The war ends, camps are evacuated, time to return.
Though, some of my closest friends will become back in an urn.
Shigata ga nai! Shikata ga nai! Shikata ga nai!
Mama’s words echoed. All I can do, accept what’s happened and say, “hai.”
Time to get on with life, no time to dwell on woe.
My sister has gone Midwest, with 25 dollars, I relocate to Chicago.
I work hard, go to school, become an educator, get married, raise a family, and let them know:
about the injustice, the experience, and the $20,000 which they owe.
Will our future generations reap what we sow?
Unfortunately, as it stands, the answer might be no.
Ashamed, we didn’t want to be Japs, we wanted to be American like the rest.
Psychological damage instilled to the next generation, yes.
We didn’t know – our family structure broken by camp. What a mess.
Our Japanese American identities, we think of less and less.
But we have stories, archives, and artifacts to connect us to the part of us that’s been lost.
No matter how hard we are oppressed or silenced, we will not be tossed.
We will raise our voices, no matter what the cost.
And we will continue to love, despite being crossed.
Modern day: This is what I can only imagine what could have been,
If I was him, my grandpa Sam Ozaki, and I am proud to be his kin.
From grandpa, I’ve learned to love even those, who against me, sin.
That sometimes, that is more important than getting the win.
Some people want to make America great again.
Black lives matter, profiling Muslims, building a wall;
Taking away their freedom as a citizen.
Has nothing changed in 7 years times 10?
Stop! Will we ever know when? Was it any different back then?
Or are we doomed to forget what’s been written by the pen?
About me – my dream is to sing.
But stereotypes say Asians don’t sing, and money I won’t bring.
Also, been a victim of cast typing.
An Asian man: emasculating; Model Minority: stimulating
But the 442nd showed me that I need to be fighting
Down the path their sacrifice has been paving
With my voice, loud, clear and ringing.
I need to be the one who’s going to do the changing.
“Go for broke.” They understand.
How it feels to be caught in hate’s sinking sand.
How hard you have to fight to walk free on this land.
That you might even end up losing a hand.
And one day we’ll all fall to justice’s demand.