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By Blog Master
Posted: 01/31/2022


Of all the significant events to befall our world during the twentieth century, World War II was one of the most tragic. This war brought devastation and death to many parts of the world, mostly in Europe and the Pacific. Many of these events have been well-documented. Perhaps not as well-known are the horrors that took place right within our own borders. One of these was the US Government’s imprisonment of people of Japanese ancestry in detention centers. Mystery writer Naomi Hirahara has cast some light on this dark period of our history in her first historical novel, Clark and Division.  

Naomi, a resident of Altadena, is an Edgar Award-winning author of multiple traditional mystery series and noir short stories. Her Mas Arai mysteries, published in Japanese, Korean, and French, as well as English, feature a Los Angeles gardener and Hiroshima survivor who solves crimes.

Clark and Division follows a Japanese American family’s move to Chicago in 1944 after their release from a California wartime detention center. The idea for the book came as a result of research done for her 2018 non-fiction book Life After Manzanar, co-written with Heather C. Lindquist.  Naomi learned that many people who had been living in California before their incarceration relocated in the mid-west after their release.

This past month, Naomi gave an engaging talk on the writing of her new book to Pasadena Village members and guests via Zoom. She shared details of her research and her writing process as she delved into the fictional lives of her characters. She made several trips to Chicago to visit the neighborhood near Clark and Division streets, which after the war was home to newly relocated Japanese Americans. She used several of the buildings that remain as locations for her fictional Japanese American family.

Naomi's main character is Aki Ito. Aki travels to Chicago to learn more about the death of her beloved sister, Rose, who died in a subway train accident near the Clark and Division station. Naomi found it difficult to give a “voice” to Aki. Naomi’s publisher pushed her to go deeper into Aki’s character. Eventually Naomi realized that what she needed was to overcome her own emotional and cultural blocks.

Nearly 40 participants attended Naomi's presentation, which she highlighted with photos of early Chicago and excerpts from her new novel. In addition to Village members, a number of Naomi's friends and acquaintances attended. After the talk, Naomi invited participants to share their memories of incarceration and relocation. A series of fascinating and very moving stories followed as attendees described the impact of being forcibly removed from their homes, watching their parents suffer discrimination and loss of livelihood, and witnessing the prejudice that persisted after the war.

Shizuko (Shizzie) Akasaki, Pasadena Village member and former Board President, recalled her experience. “My father had an import/export store in Long Beach. We were one of only two Japanese families in our local school and I was used to seeing and being with what I would call “other” people. But I didn’t know they were “other”. They were just people. I was 7 years old when we were first taken from our home to be housed in the stables at Santa Anita racetrack. When I first got to Santa Anita I saw that everyone was Japanese. I didn’t know there were so many people who looked like me. That’s when I knew that we were the ‘other.’”  Shizzie and her family were later moved to a camp at Jerome, Arkansas, followed by Gila River in Arizona. After the war, Shizzie’s family re-located to Boyle Heights. Shizzie grew up to graduate from UCLA and become an Assistant Superintendent in the LA Unified School District. “But my father, a college graduate, never got his business back. Due to discrimination he worked in jobs such as gardening, wholesale produce buyer, and he died fairly young. He and Mom never, never, never talked about the camps. I feel that keeping all of this inside himself is what shortened his life.”

Those of us who attended Naomi's presentation felt privileged to hear these first hand stories from the survivors of a dark period of our country’s history.

To watch the recording of the presentation and discussion, Click here

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