December 7, 1941 Revisited...

It all has such a familiar ring to it - I'm wondering if we've learned anything from our collective history, or if we're destined to repeat our previous errors in un-ending consistancy. I still ache from the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the horrific images outlined so clearly in my mind's eye. In part, I ache because of the horror of that day with the high loss of life of so many innocent. I also ache because of the memories of living through the pain in the aftermath of December 7th some sixty years ago. Then President Roosevelt declared it "a day that will live in infamy..." - and, it has. On a personal level, it has been carrying the pain of living as an alien in my native land.

As a child I grew up in post-WWII America in a farming community in the San Joaquin Valley. Times were simpler then, less hectic and harried - it was a time innocent in many ways. My sister and brother and I walked half a mile to catch the school bus, and most of those days we rode our skates on the narrow country road. Those were the clamp-on skates that clasped onto the soles of our shoes, and you tightened them with a skate key. They were forever falling off, as the vibrations from the rough road surface loosened the screw-on clamps. If you were nimble enough, you caught yourself before you hit the road surface, feet and legs flying, the skates caught around your ankle by the leather straps holding them on.

The war was still fresh in the winds of the times - being Japanese-American, it was a difficult time to be growing up. My mother told me years later that I often stood in front of the bathroom mirror in the mornings whispering under my breath, but loud enough that she heard it, "I wish I were different....I wish I were different." - meaning, I wished I didn't look Japanese. In school my teachers were quite sensitive about the war and its impact on us as Japanese-Americans, and were supportive of all of the kids in our two families. There were those incidents of racial name-calling and the like, one in particular I remember from an adult, though he mistakenly identified me as Chinese. It's often said that children can be very cruel, and at times some of the kids were. Mostly, I remember the times of silence and that certain glance, especially around the other kids, and the power that held over me.

Early in elementary school I took the tack of not filling in my middle name on any of the forms required by the school - I left that space blank thinking my middle name sounded "too Japanesey," and felt more comfortable saying I didn't have a middle name. I wonder what my teachers thought, or what they said, if anything, to my parents, for my birth certificate was a matter of record in their files. But, that was a way I could be more American, which was all important in fitting in and being accepted. In the wonderful logic of a child, it did not occur to me that my family name, which I always filled in on those forms, was very Japanese. It wasn't until I entered high school that I took up owning my full name, Gordon Hideaki Nagai, once again.