The Little Exile
As a child, Maria Mitsui, now recognized as the author Jeanette Arakawa, suffered the changes and indignities of being an “ethnic” Japanese child in 1940s California. Her memory draws readers to recall the years in World War II when the U.S. disgraced its welcoming image by uprooting families of Japanese heritage from their homes, even those born in the States, and transporting them to what were essentially prison camps. She describes the lengthy spell at Rohwer in southeastern Arkansas.
Months before her tenth birthday, Maria and her brother Brian and their parents, who owned a neighborhood clothes cleaning business in Lawton, were forced into new settings. Her father’s brief and proud period with the Civil Defense was terminated, and, along with her older brother Brian, the family left their settled lifestyle for a spell in Stockton near Maria’s grandparents, then a temporary holding camp, and eventually Rohwer. Always eager to make the best of circumstances, Maria learned to knit squares for patchwork blankets, to play rummy on the cramped five-day train journey to Arkansas, and to find new friends at every chance.
Only occasionally a few lines reveal the sad reality: her parent’s frequent arguments, her father’s despair, and her own near breakdown. Most poignantly, she tells of Brian’s insistence on keeping a tennis ball in his pocket in the hope of meeting new friends who would play catch with him. Arakawa tells her remarkable story with neither bitterness nor anguish but spares no details of the disturbing experience.
Stone Bridge Press