“Grave of the Fireflies”
Some days ago I was able to experience a revelation that was an incredible privilege. Sitting on an Oahu beach on my day off from school, I was already conscious of the privilege I had to just being able to sit, relax and think in the intoxicating warmth of the sun. But little did I know that in trying to draw inspiration for this love letter entry, I would be overcome with a powerful wave of emotional understanding, begging to be processed. It was at this moment I came to terms with a family past marked with the memory of internment. I enabled myself to embrace and explore the pain of generational trauma in a way that exposed me to the deep sadness I have always carried for the subject.
In the Asian/American community, we talk about how to not victimize the victims, how we need representations that, while acknowledging the pain, also show the uplifting, exciting of internment. They played baseball, they had dances, they laughed, the kids played together. It wasn’t all tears and anguish, but sometimes fun and games behind that barbed wire. And I agree.
But at this moment of processing my pain, that very idea of acknowledging the fun was never so foreign and wrong to me, as I thought about how horrible of an injustice had been committed against my father, my grandfather, my grandmother, their neighbors, friends, extended family and the people today still fighting for the right to be recognized as victims deserving reparations. I thought about my grandfather, who in his rage and heated anger, dealt with his situation in the best way he could—he lashed out, he resisted; he was imprisoned within a prison that his mind could not handle. I thought about every story my dad has told me and I know them by heart, understanding the gravity of sleeping in rancid horse stables but never feeling it. My mind began to grapple with the bigger picture, the messy, dreadfully bloody portrait of World War II. My thoughts connected to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the trivializing of such horror through theoretical texts that try to “define” the Peace Park in Hiroshima and call upon survivor stories. I thought about the wrench that gets thrown into these conversations: Why doesn’t anyone remember what Japan did? I thought about the murderous projects of Nanjing, the Philippines, and Korean comfort women. I visualized images from a film called Grave of the Fireflies that told the story of a brother and sister orphaned in Japan trying to survive the firebombings from which the sister later died of starvation. I thought about the contention over Pearl Harbor and the rhetoric of innocence it tries to encapsulate. I mourned for the destruction of that peaceful morning that spurred a war that unleashed atomic fury and a day that marked “infamy” for some and the criminalization of American citizens for others. The connections were too overwhelming. One war, several agendas, and massive egos that only knew how to play with violence. Did my father receive justice? Was a letter in a frame, along with some cash, enough to alleviate the memory that originated in exaggerated fear? How will it ever end?
I thought about my own mental alienation within my family, where everyone supports me with all their hearts, but many still lie on one side of a spectrum to which I cannot cross over. I could never glorify the military, embrace a history of fighting for “the good guys” or be awed by a war story that when dissolved, perpetuates the simplest idea of all—chasing down a fear. Often I’m not sure what they think of my mind or what they say after I hand over books, papers, and small landmarks of personal theoretical accomplishments but I can only hope for validation and understanding.
The most dangerous confine is the prison of our minds. We imprison each other because of fears that manifest themselves in racism, sexism, militarization, prisons, poverty and homophobia. We categorize and separate ourselves from “them” because we believe our fears are valid, they keep us safe, they keep providing the stability we need to live in a nuclear world where militaries try to outweigh each other. Until we begin to actively take apart the deep-seated ignorance of our psyches that allows us to physically imprison each other, when can we hope for generational healing? When will we loosen the grips on our fears? Inspired by API/A’s subtitle, I acknowledge, I imagine, I believe that another world is possible.
At last, here’s my short love letter. Dad, I want you to know that during this moment on the beach I had never cried so hard for your experience, been so in touch with the injustice of what was so wrong about throwing a little boy and his parents into a confined deserted space. As a child who should have been allowed to live out those years in relative innocence, they were stolen from you. You will never know how much you mean to me, how you’ve moved my heart and soul in ways you can never imagine, that even trying to write it in words right now trivializes what I feel. It’s simply a feeling of love.
I love you, Dad.