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The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society
Miscellanea and Ephemeron

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02/28/2005 Archived Entry: "Book review: Silent Scars of Healing Hands"

Silent Scars of Healing Hands
By Naomi Hirahara and Gwenn M. Jensen
Publisher: The Center for Oral and Public History at California State University, Fullerton
ISBN: 0-930046-2-2-6

Silent Scars of Healing Hands was an extremely rewarding and thought-provoking read. It was a challenging book as well because I careened from outrage to guilt to sadness to hope to cheering and running through all those in various permutations while reading and thinking about this book. But worth it, and I feel everyone in America should read Silent Scars of Healing Hands, because we stand on the brink of making the same foolish and wicked mistake. Except this time it would not be a mistake: we know better.

The general facts of the Japanese internment are well documented, if not especially well known: on February 19, 1942, FDR signed Executive Order 9066 ordering all persons of Japanese descent removed from the West Coast of the United States. This sounds innocuous, but the level of suffering was and is immeasurable. Entire families were uprooted, often broken up, lives were lost to disease in the concentration camps; businesses were destroyed, careers derailed, and entire communities never recovered from this forced relocation. Silent Scars of Healing Hands follows the lives of some of the victims of this action, how they coped, and how they recovered. And how they forgave the country that wronged them.

The book is a collection of oral histories beautifully woven into background material. The first chapters detail how Japanese mothers, mainly, although the fathers must have been supportive, too, encouraged their children to go into medicine or dentistry. Regardless of the family financial situation, many of these families were Issei (immigrant) with modest businesses like grocery stores or flowers. Many of the Nisei (second generation born in U.S.) children worked in the family business, as farm laborers or at whatever jobs they could get to help pay for their educations. If they could get into a medical school, that is, because regardless of their academic records, there was still considerable prejudice against Asians at the time (late 1920 through the 1930s) these Japanese students were applying to medical school. Competition was fierce and medical schools scarce in California. The only medical school in the entire University of California System was in San Francisco. Outside of the UC system, University of Southern California, Loma Linda, and Stanford had medical schools. Many West Coast Japanese went east to become doctors.

The year Sakaye Shigekawa applied, USC medical school accepted only two women: Masako Miura and Tsutayo Ichioka. Undaunted, Dr. Shigekawa went to medical school at Loyola in Chicago. The amazing Togasaki Sisters received their degrees and training in California, as well as back east: Dr. Kazue Togasaki received her nursing degree from Stanford's Children's Hospital School of Nursing, and then in 1933 she received her MD from Women's Medical College in Pennsylvania, thus becoming the first of two woman of Japanese ancestry to receive a medical degree in the United States. After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1926, her younger sister, Mitsuye, received her nursing degree from Children's Hospital in San Francisco. Third sister Dr. Yoshiye Togasaki received her medical degree from John Hopkins in 1935. Chiye Togasaki obtained her nursing degree from UC Berkeley in 1929 and Dr. Teru Togasaki received her medical degree from University of California Medical School in 1936. Their father had an art supply store and later an import-export business in San Francisco.

And yet, these brilliant, motivated, well-educated citizens were the kind of people whose lives and careers our government derailed for reasons of paranoia and racism. Detained (essentially imprisoned), first in Assembly Centers (often horse stalls, such as the ones at Santa Anita in Los Angeles County) and then in the camps, the Japanese medical personnel coped as best they could with insalubrious conditions and, in some cases, the malevolence of the white administrators.

"(Dr. Henry) Sugiyama had a personal stake in the condition of the hospital (at Walerga Assembly Center), because his sister was having complications with her pregnancy. 'She had toxemia, elevated blood pressure, and swelling', he recalled."

The white administrator would not move her to a proper hospital because they were all being moved to Tule Lake in a few weeks.

"'So her baby died.'" (p. 46)

At Santa Anita, only a coat of whitewash was slapped over years of encrusted manure in horse stalls where entire families, including pregnant women were held until they could be moved to the camps. (p. 52)

There were many cases of food poisoning and there were rumors that the government was trying to poison the detainees, but it was really due to the food being left standing for too long. (p. 55) And because of the food poisoning, people with diarrhea were lined up for the outhouses. This was especially tough on the women, who would not go into the latrines (no stalls for privacy) until all the men had left.

Yet, in all this dreadfulness, the Japanese medical professionals practiced medicine with the same dedication as they had before being interned. As Emi (Somekawa) Beckwith said about her detention at the North Portland Assembly Center, "when you have a profession like that (nursing), you feel like you're needed."

And they were very needed. At the Poston and Gila River Camps in the Arizona desert, camp construction had stirred up the dust enough that there were many cases of Valley Fever, which is similar to tuberculosis. There were two types of Valley Fever: one that could be cured with bed rest (which was all they had, since penicillin and other antibiotics were not widely available until after 1943) and the other type that was fatal.

Although tuberculosis was the third leading cause of death of internees one year of age and older in the camps (p. 81), it killed far fewer people than it could have due to the dedication and diligence of the Japanese medical personnel in the camps.

God bless Stanford Medical School: "Shigeru Hara also witnessed how (Dr. George) Kambara was able to receive help from his former alma mater. 'He called his university (Stanford), and they said, "Set these cases aside, and we'll send a doctor there (Tule Lake in California) to help you." So Stanford sent an eye doctor to help him take care of [those] patients that he couldn't.... The government won't take anything for nothing, so they gave [the Stanford doctor] one dollar." (p. 69-70)

And when Dr. Yoshiye Togasaki began her mission to vaccinate more than ten thousand people at Manzanar camp in California for a variety of communicable diseases, including smallpox, typhoid, paratyphoid, tetanus, and diphtheria, our government (which was basing all this on how they vaccinated young men in the Navy, which is not a population that includes children and the elderly) would not provide pertussis immunization, which protect against the bacteria that causes whooping cough.

"Togasaki got in touch with a female researcher at Stanford University to obtain pertussis immunizations. 'We got it eventually, despite what the Navy thought. The fact [is] that it avoided epidemics.' During the first month of the center's operation, 14,750 typhoid inoculations and 6,968 smallpox vaccines were administered." (p. 56)

Go Dr. Togasaki and staff! Why you had to rise to such a horrible occasion is one of the great crimes in U.S. history, but whether the circumstances were right or wrong, it made no difference; you were a doctor, first, and foremost and I salute you.

I salute all of them. They worked miracles every day in those camps because they had to. And, yes, they lost patients: one delivering mother bled to death because they couldn't give her a transfusion to keep her alive long enough to stop the bleeding (p. 55). Her baby lived though. There were terrible conditions and a terrible administrator (Dr. Reece Pericord) at Tule Lake (p. 99). There was the extremely insulting Loyalty Oath that led to even more discontent in the camps (p.97).

There were a few bright moments: Dr. Hara and Dr. Sugiyama had completed their medical training just before being interned and were allowed out of Tule Lake long enough to take (and pass) their boards in Sacramento (p. 63). Principal Herman Kramer at Hood River High School mailed diplomas to fourteen of his former pupils, now interned, even though these kids missed the last month of their senior year. "'...Mr. Kramer said, 'Well, it's not their fault that they couldn't attend school.'" (p. 111) This was important because when the Quaker-supported American Friends Service Committee established the National Japaneses American Student Relocation Council to help young Nisei leave the camps to pursue their college degrees, there were fourteen kids who could get out and get an education. (Go Quakers!)

Because they would no longer be near the West Coast and wanted out of the camps, some Japanese doctors were eventually able to arrange jobs in the Midwest. Dr. Sakaye Shigekawa took a job at Walter Memorial Hospital in Chicago (p. 110) in 1942. Many doctors, like Dr. Robert Kinoshita were proud to serve in the U.S. Military as medical personnel (p. 116), and, like twenty-seven-year-old battalion surgeon Dr. James Yamazaki, found himself the only Asian American in the 106th Division, accompanying teenage infantry soldiers to the front lines. Dr. Yamazaki was captured at the Battle of the Bulge and held as a POW until the end of the war.

"He was honorably discharged from the army as a captain in March 1946, but his experience of World War II and its aftermath did not end there, for he was recruited to serve as a pediatrician with the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission (ABCC) to investigate the long-term effects of the atomic bombs. Also joining ABCC on a different research project was Dr. Mac Suzuki." (p. 122)

Silent Scars of Healing Hands mentions in passing that many of the interned Japanese were recruited from the camps to help out in the Occupation of Japan as translators and medical personnel. If there's a book about those experiences, I would very much like to read it.

The book follows its subjects to the ends of their lives in the Epilogue. All of the medical personnel pursued careers in medicine in spite of having to start from scratch and the lingering racism that denied them hospital privileges at many hospitals (for example, Queen of Angels was a reluctant exception in Los Angeles [p. 139] and Holy Rosary in Ontario, Oregon "just threw their arms open" to the returning Japanese physician Benjamin Tanaka [p. 143], but these were the not the norm). The way some returning Japanese physicians dealt with the lack of hospital privileges was to build their own hospitals and practices in the Japanese sections of large cities. And then there was the double-whammy of being a female and Asian doctor (p. 145), which made it even more difficult to practice medicine. Other Japanese doctors resumed their practices in smaller towns to look after returning Japanese farm workers.

Silent Scars of Healing Hands' narrative is structured around fourteen chapters, telling the story of each doctor chronologically from about 1932 to the early 1950s. This makes it a pleasant and varied read. Although the narrative jumps from doctor to doctor from camp to camp, it is never confusing and the larger story emerges in manageable stages. I found it easy to read, but difficult to review as I'm not trained as a historian, so I can't comment on the methodology. However, I don't think I've ever found oral histories quite as compelling and informative as this book, partly because the historians do a wonderful job filling in the historical background and sources. I used many quotes in this review, because these are the things that had the most impact on me as a reader and reviewer. These are also the things I want the world to know about this book.

Content aside, I felt this book was very well done. It has just the right amount of photographs and other illustrations, which never get in the way of the text flow. It has a very sturdy binding for a trade paperback, a nice faux dust jacket and the pages are well laid out. I would have liked a glossary and a more extensive index, but, overall, I was very impressed with the book. This is no dry historical recital of a shameful period in U.S. history; this is a vivid, gripping, compelling and thought-provoking read that stays with the reader for a long time and holds up well on subsequent reads. It is published by the Michi Nishiura and Walter Weglyn Multicultural Publication Series, located at the Center for Oral and Public History at California State University, Fullerton. One of the main forces behind this project was Dr. Gordon Saski of Pasadena, California. As head of the Japanese American Medical Association, Dr. Saski was instrumental in bringing this book into existence. Dr. Saski and his wife Joanne persistence in grant-writing and personal underwriting of the project expanded the original concept, resulting in twice the number of interviews and doubling the size of the book. As Dr. Saski writes of the book in his preface: "It is, at the very least, a dramatic kaleido-scope of human emotions and life-changing experiences."

Gwenn M. Jenson, Ph.D., who conducted many of the interviews, wondered if the title writes was really appropriate. She writes that each interview ended on a positive upbeat note, as if everyone had transcended their experience of incarceration. It was only when she was able to review the transcripts alone in her office could she see the damage, the scars, their unjust incarceration had left on these indomitable people. A passion for medicine and helping people never left the Japanese medical professionals interviewed in this book, but human history has left its scars on them, as it has on everyone victimized in that era.

But there's a little more to it than that. The United States government behaved abominably towards its own law-abiding citizens and committed an unforgivable act against these decent people because of their race and location. There was no due process, no court of appeal, none of the rights our nation has fought so hard for and cherished so deeply until September 12, 2001. But the people our country wronged were still able to forgive the country they were adopted or born into.

As Gus Tanaka tells of his father, Dr. Benjamin Tanaka: "People asked him about his bitterness... ... that people would hold him responsible for the war... when he had nothing to do with it and didn't sympathize with it. But he figured the treatment the Japanese got here was really an aberration of fundamental American principles, and it would work itself out, and it did. It has."

For all our sakes, I hope Dr. Tanaka's was right.

How to buy this book (it's worth the effort):

"Proceeds from the sale of Silent Scars of Healing Hands benefit the Japanese American Medical Association Scholarship Fund. Books may be purchased through: The Center for Oral and Public History at Cal State University, Fullerton via its website at or by sending a payment of $18.50 plus 7.75% California sales tax and $3.50 handling to COPH, CalState Fullerton, PO Box 6846, Fullerton CA 92834-6846 and The Japanese American National Museum, via its toll-free order line (888) 769-5559, Tues.-Sun., 11am-5pm, PST, or at National Museum members receive 10% discount on orders of this book."

Center for Oral and Public History

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