In Search of Better Stories

The Three Pleasures

The events, times, and places in this story are all true, but the characters are fictional. It’s the story of Canada’s mistake in letting fear of other humans who look and sound different become the underlying motivation for the implementation of a brutal set of racially discriminatory laws.

24,000 Japanese Canadians were uprooted from the West Coast and placed in internment camps in the interior while at the same time having their properties and material goods first confiscated and then sold off. These dark days for Canadians who happened to be Japanese took place during World War 2 after the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor.

The book itself traces the comings and goings of a young Japanese Canadian reporter from Vancouver who traces the lives of an emperor worshiping Japanese patriot (whose kind were the justification for Canadian fears surrounding the Japanese). A local Vancouver Japanese gang leader, and also a local business leader from Steveston. All four of these characters get intertwined in a story of loss, anger, death, duplicity and misunderstanding. The book is bleak and refuses to end on a hopeful note.

The following snippets from the book give you a sense of that frustration:

More importantly, I kept trying to tell everyone our immediate and obvious enemy were the BC politicians. They didn’t care about the Germans and Italians living in this country; they only wanted us out of their industries, like logging, fishing, and mining. It was racism, pure and simple.

P. 47

A few days afterwards…Canadian men of Japanese descent were ordered from Vancouver Island and other regions up the coast to leave their homes. There were to have forty-eight hours in which to settle things with their loved ones before reporting for exile to Vancouver and then to parts unknown in the interior — forty-eight hours to calm the shattered nerves of parents; just forty-eight hours to settle and reassure nervous wives and to comfort frightened children; forty-eight hours to stew in the outrage of the injustice done to Canadian citizens.

P. 75

Mr. Austin C. Taylor says we are Canadians. Yet we are subjected to the curfew; our boats, cars, radios, and cameras have been confiscated. Our jobs have been taken from us, and many of us have lost our homes and businesses. We have been boycotted, jailed, interned, forced to register, and thumbprint. We are being denied every right and freedom of a so-called democracy like an enemy alien. After being made to suffer for the sake of a few crooked politicians seeking publicity and those who hope to gain materially and financially by the wholesale evacuation of Japanese Canadians, how can we, by any stretch of the imagination, be Canadians?

p 130

I arrived in Petawawa a little over a week before July 1st, Dominion Day. I wasn’t in the mood to celebrate Canada’s birthday. A few months ago, I would’ve stood up and sung “The Maple Leaf Forever” with the best of them. But now I had no home, no country, no future, all due to my cursed face.

P. 207

Final Thoughts:

  • Buttons: Chinatown was next to Little Tokyo in Vancouver. The authorities responsible for collecting the Japanese couldn’t distinguish between the two types of Asians, so some Chinese were getting caught up in the dragnet. The ever industrious Chinese created a solution; They pinned big “I am Chinese” buttons on their clothing to avoid getting arrested.

  • What you look like and the language you spoke mattered: There was a tiny minority of Japanese in Canada who would have gladly switched allegiances to the empire had the Japanese war machine reached our coasts. But the vast majority of the Japanese were Canadians enjoying the freedoms and privileges of Western society. They were no threat, yet they couldn’t be trusted because they looked like and spoke the enemy’s language. Canadians of German and Italian heritage didn’t face the same trouble. They were white and Christian. They spoke English and celebrated the same holidays as “normal” Canadians. Because they didn’t look and sound like the enemy, it was assumed that they weren’t, so they were not locked up like the Japanese.

I wonder if we will ever get to a place where fear doesn’t take center stage in determining how we interact with people who don’t look and sound like us.

I wonder if we will ever get to a place where what we look like and the language we speak doesn’t prevent us from loving and respecting each other.

I hope we get there. But tribalism remains strong. Fear of the different other is such an engrained survivalist mechanism that I think only the most determined can rise above it.

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