Nothing short of utterly shocking, Looking Like the Enemy is a reminder of a very dark time in world history, and why time and time again we're in danger of repeating it every time we judge a person for their race, religion or ethnicity and not by their actions or character as human beings.
Nonfiction about World War II, and especially the internment of Japanese-Americans, is one of my particular interests in an attempt to understand a deeply-gutting issue that could have touched my family, were circumstances a little different. I'm still amazed by how little I've heard about internment over the course of my life; Mary Matsuda Gruenewald talks about that a bit, as the silent generation, an ugly chapter of American history that white Americans at the time perhaps didn't fully understand (especially thanks to the sensationalist war-time media propaganda machine), and it seems people afterwards don't like to think about. In close personal focus, Gruenewald paints the details of her and her family's experience: the overwhelming emotions and terror and uncertainty; the complicated position they were placed in, of being loyal to a country that so wholly ostracised them without due cause; a teenager having her eyes opened to prejudice for the first time, and wrestling with that shame over her self-identity, a shame validated by our own government; the sacrifices the 442nd made, dying by the score to win back their country's trust for a crime they didn't commit; navigating the line between not being fully Japanese, but not allowed to be American either. And it's so horrifying to think that the Matsudas actually had one of the relatively better experiences (which I feel weird stating about someone else's life, but the author herself describes that she was shocked to realise how much less prejudice/hardship she'd experienced compared to families from California, and that the Pacific Northwest had kept her in a bit of a protective bubble). One of likely many memoirs I'll read on the subject, to keep gathering different perspectives and personal stories from this time.
Like most baby boomers, I am well aware of the plight of Japanese Americans and their abrupt imprisonment after Pearl Harbor and for much of World War 2. On several occasions, they were threatened with death by their fellow (white) citizens for the crime of being Japanese Americans - the author reports an incident where a barber grabbed her, as she was walking down a street in Nampa, Idaho, and held a razor to her throat wishing aloud he could kill her. While I have always been a little suspicious of dialog in a memoir (who can remember who said what over 60 years ago?) the author's use of dialog adds a welcome dimension to her narrative. I got the sense that the events of her experience as a prisoner of war (A US citizen imprisoned by and in her own country .
Reading Looking Like the Enemy, I realize how those earlier authors held back in what they produced for public consumption--heartbreaking though all their books are. Matsuda Gruenewald writes that they didn't know where they were going, that she fainted because of the heat and fear. Of course people felt all these things, and reading Looking Like the Enemy makes it clear how much less freedom earlier Nikkei authors had to truly tell their stories of the Internment. I encourage *everyone* even those of you who are snobs about good writing to read the book anyway.
I was home to see my parents and my mom said Aunt Mary had written a book. But in reading it, I was struck with the heart in it, the human interest, the feeling of "why in the world don't history books even mention American interment camps?" I am really proud of my aunt for publishing this story about her experiences. This book should be assigned reading for high school students.
This book is not written in a literary style, but it's so vivid, maybe especially because the narrator/author is a teenage girl trying to figure out her place in the world, even in the midst of this horrible injustice happening to her family.
Around 1990, Mary Gruenewald Matsuda's son and middle child said, "Mom you have never told us about Grandma and Grandpa and Uncle Yonei." Gruenewald (65 at the time) figured that if her own three children, and her brother Yoneichi's four daughters (their father died in 1985) were interested in their family history, it was up to her to tell the story. In Peterson's class she learned how to apply tools of fiction: adding character, dialogue and story line to her factual material. In Looking Like the Enemy: My story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps, Gruenewald doesn't just relate her own story in an engaging manner, her writing is a tribute to the mother whose wisdom she wishes to share with people who aren't lucky enough to have (had) such a wise parent. Gruenewald remembers how Trip, a fellow writing student said: Mary we came to class ready to read your words about Mama-san and you dismissed her in 200 words!" Gruenewald then knew she had to go back to her desk, write with all the beautiful detail she had learned to use, excavating the painful as well as dear memories. Gruenewald says she's not same person she was, before she started to write her memoir. Gruenewald remembers situations in the camp, where a father was pro Japan, and the son was not: "Families got torn apart that way." Writing gave Mary respect for those who thought differently. "We need both of them, those loyal and critics." Gruenewald cried a lot while writing her war memoir, but it was cathartic, and she recommends writing getting that story down on paper to others.
One of the more moving parts is about what happened on December 7th, 1941, how the family found out about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and how they reacted to that attack. Mary, the author, actually had a much better time at school then did many other Japanese-American children in other schools after the attack. The neighborhood was fairly small, and the people rather close, so this probably accounts for the lessened hatred of persons of Japanese ancestry after the attack. Later, her family was moved to Tule Lake, and she again describes the conditions and the kinds of things that happened, especially in relation to the loyalty questionnaire and how there was some violence at that camp (and others) over questions 27 and 28.
Many lost everything and recovered nothing.