Category Archives: Photography

Celebrating Earth Day!

Celebrating Earth Day!

Hugging an Evergreen Tree on a hike in Central Oregon. Photo: Mel Bankoff, Oregon.

Earth Day Greetings!

As I bicycled to work this cool, breezy spring morning in the Pacific Northwest, I admired the many new shoots reaching for the sun, and spring flowers seeking bees and other insects along the bike trail and sidewalks. I vividly recalled my childhood in central India. We lived in an apartment building right in the middle of downtown in the city of Indore. There was no room for any backyard gardens. But we had a very small windowsill garden space for a couple of pots. I remember the excitement I felt as the garbanzo bean plants grew new leaves or when those beautiful red flowers appeared on another potted plant.

Almost Everything in the Garden is Growing Vibrantly.  Photo: Arun N. Toké

We have been enjoying spring flowers in our garden, and harvesting arugula, fennel shoots, green onions, etc. Apple trees and various berries are doing their usual spring growth with a promise of bountiful fruit harvest! And, various nature hikes in the area fill our hearts with a sense of appreciation and gratitude to Mother Nature.

While many of us might be looking forward to visiting some special wonders of nature during school break this year—Denali, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Grand Titon, Redwoods or another beautiful place—like the Horseshoe Bend in Arizona, let us not forget that natural beauty can be found all around us, even in our backyard!

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona. Photo: Arianna Shaprow, age 13, Nevada.

Yet, I must share my deep sadness with you. Everyday, I am feeling the pain of countless children, mothers and fathers in places like the Gaza, Sudan, and Ukraine, where wars, climate change and droughts make living conditions dire for tens of millions. The military operations and environmental destruction responsible for human suffering go on unabated. Governments, including ours, are unresponsive to the needs of innocent, civilian victims. The human rights of millions of children, women and men are being violated. They are forced to live in subhuman conditions. Even in our own cities all across this so-called rich nation, countless homeless men and women live in less than desirable conditions. We are told there is no money for social programs, as the government spends close to a trillion dollars on feeding the war machines.

Skipping Stones, like any other socially responsible media outlet, has often shed light on the plight of suffering humanity around the world. While we don’t want to forget this pain and suffering, we also don’t want our readers to get depressed by the doom and gloom that’s all around us.

The list of issues we can and must face is long. It includes our ever-increasing use of plastics and forever-chemicals, the decimation of insect and bird populations, the climate change, disappearing glaciers, deforestation and destruction of natural habitats, over-fishing and overgrazing, mindless mining of fossil fuels, environmental pollution, groundwater contamination, land-use issues, nuclear weapons, environmental and social justice, and homelessness, poverty and hunger. You can add many more items to this list—both of local concern and global importance!

Our future survival and flourishing depends on how we respond to these problems we have created with our ever-increasing consumption of resources, economic systems, greed, privatization and exploitation of resources, for example.

You might like to ask yourself a few deep questions (see some examples below) and try to answer them honestly and at length:

What do we love about where we live?
How can we make a difference right where we are planted, in our communities?
How can we let Mother Earth know how much we love her?
What might we cultivate in our own backyard?
How can we help out our neighbors?
What small thing might we do today to heal the world and ourselves?
What is happiness?
What makes us really happy—happiness that might last for a really long while?
How much of material consumption is sufficient or plenty for our happiness?
What is the law of diminishing returns?
What is the difference between needs and wants?

And as a group of friends or community, we might ask:

Can an economy based on ever-increasing growth be sustained? 
Can we continue to use natural resources in an uncontrolled manner?
What can we as a community or society do to minimize our negative impact on nature?
As conscientious citizen and human beings, how can we respond constructively?

A Roadside Plant on the Big Island, Hawaii. Photo: Arun N. Toké.

Let us not abuse the gifts we have been granted by Mother Nature. Let us not knowingly degrade or destroy the very web of life of which we are an integral part. Human life cannot continue without this web of life—our biosphere. As “intelligent” species, we must address these issues that we have created collectively since industrialization.

Let us make an effort to appreciate the beauty around us, as we work to address these adversities. Let’s respect the many miracles of nature that surround us. Let us learn to enjoy even the smallest gifts that we receive everyday, be it listening to a bird song, fluttering of a butterfly or hummingbird, observing a cluster of green leaves or the multitude of seeds and fruits that plants produce.

Let us be grateful for the many blessings we have been granted. Let us live fully and let nature live—in all its glory! Let us commit ourselves to doing what we can to sustain these blessings, this beauty, for all future generations.

A Banyan Tree on the Big Island, Hawaii. Photo: Arun N. Toké

Dear fellow earthlings, let’s remember that Earth Day is not just April 22nd; we can observe it each and every day.

—Arun Narayan Toké, Skipping Stones editor.

Miya’s Summer Bubbles

Miya’s Summer Bubbles

By Carleen Cifton Bragg, African American Photographer, Illinois.

“I live in Chicago’s South Side neighborhood. There are three beautiful small lakes near where I live. Sometimes, I visit the park with a cup of my morning coffee. Sitting on the bench by the water, I gaze at the still water and the geese enjoying their group gatherings, and naturally, I smile. Watching the geese swimming makes me happy. It’s the most beautiful cornerstone in the neighborhood that I depend on as a quick getaway. It is my home away from home. In the autumn, it’s especially breathtaking! I call this ‘My Peace Spot’ for the tranquility it offers me. Last autumn, I took some of the most stunning photographs here!

“I developed an interest in photography at the age of five. I credit my parents for planting the seeds when they purchased me my first camera. They have continued to support my interest in photography over the years. I started as a self-taught photographer, but later trained with the New York Institute of Photography. I try to capture sports moments, glamour, landscapes, music, theater, and street life. I am enamored with the works of the ‘late greats’ like Gordon Parks and James Van Der Zee.

“My photos have been published by Tyler Perry’s Production: Why Did I Get Married?, Today’s Photographer Magazine, and the International Library of Photography. I am a three time-winner of the Museum of Science and Industry’s Black Creativity. I also had a solo exhibit—my first One-Woman show in 2011 at the ARC Gallery in Chicago, Illinois.”

It’s Time to Abandon War

It’s Time to Abandon War

By Kathy Beckwith, author and educator, Oregon

[These ideas were first shared by the author as a TED Talks program, at TEDxMcMinnville, Oregon, and we are now pleased to publish it for the benefit of Skipping Stones readers.  —Editors]

I grew up on a hog farm in western Oregon. I had my own pig. She was my 4-H project. But it was more fun to play in the woods with my brothers and sisters than train a pig, so she never got really tame. In spite of my lack of pig training skills, I still reaped the benefits of growing up on that hog farm—learning to swim in an irrigation pond, eating garbage that was collected for the pigs. Just kidding, well, sort of. What we ate were the “trimmings” from grocery stores, discarded produce that had begun to fade, that my dad had picked up on his route around town, gathering scraps to feed the hogs. So we ate artichokes, oranges, bananas, pomegranates—things too good to feed hogs that we wouldn’t get otherwise.

I never wondered if this was normal, but I don’t remember ever telling other kids at school about sharing the pigs’ trimmings. So maybe, it wasn’t totally normal, after all. I have not lost two minutes of sleep over the question of trimmings being normal

But there is something big, now, that we take as normal, that at times makes me cry from the cruelty of it, and other times makes me cry out against the injustice and the horrid destruction because of it. I’ve been learning more about how it comes to be considered normal.

Have you heard of the Green Frog in the lima bean pot? Green Frog hops into the pot where the lima beans are soaking overnight—in cold water—but in the morning, when the fire is lit in the cook stove under the pot, and the water starts to get hot, so does Green Frog—unaware. Because it’s his nature to adapt his body temperature to his surroundings. Sometime before boiling, Green Frog has to be startled into leaping from danger, or risk getting cooked.

It seems to me, that when considering war, many of us are quite like Green Frog. We’ve been adapting to our surroundings, to a culture that treats war as normal, and it’s getting hot.

I propose three things for your consideration:

  • War is not normal…
  • It is time to abandon war… and
  • It can be done.

Yet we do things ourselves that normalize war. We let assumptions take hold in our minds. Have you heard these?

  • War is inevitable. Things will never change.

Inevitable? Conflict is inevitable; but war is a choice, a decision that is made about how to respond to a conflict.

Things will never change? Dueling, to the death, was seen as an honorable way for gentlemen, including a man who became a U.S. President, to settle a rumor. Women, vote?! Ha! Things change!

There are other reasons we adapt to the “war is normal” lima bean pot.

  • Fear sells war, and we’re sold fear.
  • Carefully chosen words and PR (Public Relations) campaigns market wars such as
    “Rolling Thunder”, “Shock and Awe”, and “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
  • Kids watch the parades and ceremonies from toddler days on. They play with war toys bought for them, and—when older—with video games simulating war, normalizing war.
  • And then we put war in its own category and don’t challenge it like we would other things. If neighborhood problems were handled with the violence of war, we’d name it tragic, criminal—not heroic. If hometown parades included execution equipment from prisons past and present—electric chairs, firing squads, lethal injection kits—we’d say, “What in the world were they thinking, putting that stuff in a parade our kids watch?” But execution equipment of war—tanks…? “Wow!” If we heard teenagers down the street calling out the chants used in military training: “What makes the grass grow? Blood makes the grass grow. Who makes the blood flow? We do, we do. Blood, Blood, Blood!” … and “Kill, Kill!”—we’d call 9-1-1 for help. Never would we condone the “normals” of war in our communities!

But perhaps most normalizing of all, is the assumption that even though no one wants war, sometimes it’s necessary to protect human rights and our freedoms; that without war, we’d lose our freedom. The problem is, rarely do we finish that sentence. Our freedom to do what, exactly? What freedoms have our wars actually protected? Freedom to take land we wanted? To protect business investments in other countries?… To opt for war instead of using alternatives, over and over again. Our history is bleak, and sad. How many of us grow up believing that the horrendous killing and maiming of the American Civil War was necessary to get rid of slavery? We don’t learn to ask, “Why didn’t we join the rest of the world in eliminating slavery through moral and legal persuasion, instead of turning to war?” The more we learn about alternatives that were possible but not taken, the harder it is to accept war.

But wait. What about Hitler? I have been asked that question so many times, and heard Hitler used as justification for U.S. military acts so many times, that I’ve begun to wonder if maybe Hitler won the war, after all. Wasn’t he the one who believed that power and violence should be combined to reach one’s goals? That philosophy seems to have caught on.

When we discuss Hitler, let’s make sure we ask, and answer, because the answers are here, “What could have been done before and during Hitler’s rise to power that would have changed the course of that history? What could have been done to prevent Hitler’s brutality from being condoned?”

Never should we grant Hitler—or anyone—power over us to keep us from choosing alternatives that are wise, effective, humane, and that honor life and our precious Earth.

But are there alternatives that really work? That’s the good news! Alternatives abound. Education. Diplomacy. Negotiation, mediation, arbitration. Economic justice, crisis response teams, peace commissions—all are effective alternatives to war.

A more democratic United Nations could be used to advise wisely, instead of us bartering with its members to do our will.

Universities around the world have programs in international conflict resolution, and specialists ready to facilitate peace-making, as do religious and secular organizations, and the United States Institute of Peace.

People find ways! Women from Liberia barricaded men inside a hotel, preventing them from leaving until they got serious about negotiating the end to war.

Bulgaria was ordered by Hitler to ship the country’s Jews by rail to the death camps. The first group of 9,000 Jews were assembled at the railway station, in barbed wire fences, awaiting final orders for loading onto the trains. Members of parliament, students, and others from all walks of life, joined the clergy there, who said they would lie down on the tracks; these people must not be taken away. Those ready to give the orders, instead told the Jews to take their bags and go back home.

President Truman and the United States Air Force responded to the Soviet Union’s full blockade of West Berlin in 1948, not with a return to war or the threat of war, but with an airlift of supplies dropped into the city for months, until the Soviets recognized the futility of their actions.

The research of Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth (TEDxBoulder) presents us with dramatic truths: nonviolent civil resistance works, it works better than violence, and it more often results in democratic systems in place after the resistance. There is no excuse for saying war is necessary.

So what can WE do, personally, to help bring about the end of war?

We can question. We can ask, “What alternatives are possible in this situation?” Question what role U.S. military bases around the world, our weapons sales, military spending, our rhetoric—what role do these things play in perpetuating war. Question why the U.S. government insists on spending a trillion dollars to modernize nuclear weapons of unimaginable destruction, designed for the mass murder of populations, when so many nations are calling for them to be dismantled.

Question. And assign ourselves a history lesson: Learn about wars, and what they do to real people, including survivors, and soldiers who actually fight on the ground. So much of war, for so many of us, happens someplace else.

We can learn about alternatives, including nonviolent civil resistance, and teach that history to children and teens. We can teach kids how to mediate conflicts for each other at school, and bring that training home and into their future lives. We can hold family meetings, so kids grow up knowing how to facilitate a meeting and brainstorm solutions. We can encourage youth to explore service in the Peace Corps, or take six months (or more) to volunteer somewhere around the world, because their work and experiences in different cultures will make a difference. Prevention costs a fraction of military action. And as they help others, they will surely grow in compassion and understanding.

We can stop feeling powerless and join others to share ideas and take action. We can stop honoring war and honor its opposite: “creative problem-solving.”

And if we wish, we can point out how mules cooperate—to swat flies.

I was walking on our road and glanced into the field where our mules…(video) were standing rump to head, swishing their tails, brushing the flies off each other’s faces. I ran home, grabbed my camera, and when my husband got home, I told him, “Your mules are amazing.” “Yep, they are,” he said, “but they do that all the time. It’s normal!”

Well, if mules can normalize cooperation, people can too.

In January 1929, the US Senate advised ratification and President Coolidge signed into law the Kellogg Briand Pact outlawing the use of war as a means of resolving conflict. Millions and millions of Americans said we are ready for the end of war. They raised such a voice that those in government had to listen, and join the effort, and make it the law of the land—it’s still the law of the land—a law that we can reclaim, if we will seek out and use alternatives to war.

We’re lucky to have three awesome and exceedingly fun grandkids. I love them dearly. I want the best for these precious kids. Down deep I think we know what’s normal, what we come home to—the longing we all have, to give the children the very best we can. They don’t need to inherit our messes. War is a monstrous mess. It has been normalized, but it’s not the way, and we don’t have to accept it.

We can abandon war. There are alternatives. I extend to each one of you a personal invitation, and permission, to help make that happen.

About the Author:
Kathy Beckwith is a school mediation trainer from Dayton, Oregon. She also volunteers as a mediation coach. She is author of PLAYING WAR: A Story About Changing the Game (winner, 2006 Skipping Stones Honor Award); A MIGHTY CASE AGAINST WAR: What America Missed in U.S. History Class and What We (All) Can Do Now; and other books on problem-solving. Her latest work is a young adult novel, ENCOUNTER: When Religions Become Classmates—From Oregon to India and Back (winner, 2022 Skipping Stones Honor Award). She lives on a small farm with her husband (and his mules) and loves picking wild blackberries for summertime pies. She can be reached via her website at
www.kathybeckwith.com. Kathy’s TEDx Talk can be accessed online here.

My Happy Place

My Happy Place

By Keira Kelly, age 17, Missouri.

The all-consuming monster that is anxiety has ruled over my mind for my entire life. Growing up “shy” is cute, but staying a quiet, on-edge shell of a person loses its charm with age.

“Just take deep breaths, count to ten,” my mother would say.

“Calm down, it’s nothing to get worked up about,” my father would say.

“You can’t avoid everything that makes you a little anxious, Keira,” my teachers would say.

Nothing they said worked; anxiety comes as naturally to me as breathing, and no amount of deep breaths or mental perseverance could calm the storm once it decided to hit; those who say otherwise have never experienced such a dreadful feeling.

I started therapy in my freshman year of high school, due to my parents growing worried when I was getting too old for the “cute, shy little girl” routine. Dr. McBride was the first to understand that my anxiety was a real disorder, not just a little emotion I had to overcome. I was prescribed medicine, and she gave me a place to talk about my issues. She understood me, more than anyone else. She listened to what I had to say and validated my emotions, and understood.

Then, she offered a coping mechanism that worked for me.

“Find your happy place.”

What a cliché. Just like the deep breaths and counting to ten, I assumed this to be another useless measure that others thought helped with anxiety, yet held no merit. The extent of my anxiety tended to cause depressive episodes, so, originally, my “happy place” was only my bed, where I could curl away and hide from the real world. Warm, cozy blankets surrounding me seemed like absolute bliss, when, realistically, they sprung me deeper and deeper down a lonely spiral.

“No, Keira, find the place. The place where worry does not exist, where it is impossible to feel unsafe or insecure. That’s your happy place.”

It took some time to think it over, but I soon came to the revelation that I was capable of being happy outside of my bed; in fact, I could be even happier.

Ever since then, whenever I’ve gotten too stressed or worried or sickly anxious to cope with my everyday responsibilities, I take a moment to imagine myself in a field full of wildflowers, with birds chirping quiet songs in my ears, sunshine warming my skin, fresh flowers surrounding me. Around the field would always be a forest, which granted me a sense of safety, symbolizing that the unknown could surround me all it wanted, but I still had my beautiful space, one that belonged to me, and to me only.

West Boulder River Valley, with Absaroka Mountains in the Background, Montana. Photo by Paul Dix, Oregon.

The fictional safe haven I created in my imagination is represented by this image, which resonates deeply with me, granting an inherent sense of calm. I can imagine myself walking down the paved path, allowing my senses to absorb the beauty surrounding me, and the terrible monster inside of me dwindles.

One day, I’d like to visit my happy place. I have yet to find it in the real world, so, in the meantime, I can continue to travel there in my mind, living amongst nature and forgetting the horrors of reality.

—Keira Kelly, age 17, Missouri. She adds: “My goal… is to become a published author, hopefully one day, of a fiction novel. What I enjoy most about writing is the artistic creativity available in carefully choosing and stringing together words to create a beautiful piece. I’ve adored writing ever since I was little, and I am ecstatic to explore how far I can reach with this passion. I wish to continue Creative Writing programs in college, and depending on my success rate, pursue a career as a full-time author. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to begin my journey.”

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge

By Roi J. Tamkin, Georgia.

A great way to experience nature and the outdoors without traveling to remote parts of the country is a visit to a National Wildlife Refuge. There are 588 National Wildlife Refuges, or NWRs, across the United States alone. Chances are very good there’s a NWR near you.

NWRs are managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Their number one priority is to protect native species. Their second big purpose is recreation. NWRs are great for outdoor hiking, exploring and fishing. If you live near a refuge by the water, you can even go boating. The Fish and Wildlife Service manages land and water resources to create the optimal environment for all the plant and animal species that call these refuges home.

 

 

Downey Woodpecker in Cattails

I recently visited Pinckney Island off the southern coast of South Carolina. This NWR is part of a chain of islands along the Atlantic Flyway that attracts thousands of birds each year. The island is an important rookery for coastal birds.

Common Moorhens on their Nesting Site

Pinckney Island is named after the Revolutionary War veteran Major General Charles Cotesworth Pinckney who purchased the island to grow cotton. The refuge was established in 1975 and consists of 4,035 acres and includes many small islands around Pinckney, the largest one. These islands support a wide variety of plant and animal life found in South Carolina. 

A Coot

During my visit to Pinckney, I saw plenty of moorhens and coots in the freshwater ponds on the island. I also saw three very large alligators in one pond. That’s three too many for me! White-tailed deer roam the island, but are hard to find since they generally avoid people.

A Friendly Armadillo

But a friendly armadillo did come out of the brush to visit me. I also saw dolphins in the creek running along the eastern side of the island. There is also a historical shell mound built by Archaic Indians 4,000 years ago. Sadly, it is covered up by centuries of vegetation, but you can still walk to the spot where the mound is located. Nearby Hilton Head Island has a preserved mound you can visit and learn about the ancient people that migrated through the coast of the southern U.S.

 

 

Spanish Moss on Oak Trees

The NWR near you may not have alligators or 4,000-year-old relics, but it may have something unique to where you live. Check your local maps or do a search for a wildlife refuge near you and enjoy a day outdoors with nature.

—Roi J. Tamkin is a photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Internment of Japanese Americans During WWII

The Internment of Japanese Americans During WWII

By Fanny Wong, Chinese American author, New York.

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Japanese immigrants started to arrive on the Hawaiian Islands in the 1860s to work in the sugarcane fields. Later, many moved to the West Coast of the U.S. mainland to work as farmers and fishermen. By 1911, over 400,000 Japanese men and women had immigrated to the U.S. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Japanese were portrayed as the enemy of the American worker, just as Chinese immigrants were decades before. The Japanese farmers were the envy of white farmers who did not use as many labor-intensive methods and were less productive.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor. Navy ships were destroyed and many American servicemen died. On the West Coast, the government immediately began rounding up Japanese newspaper editors, community leaders and labor organizers. Their families were not told the reason or where the men were taken.  

The entire Japanese American population within 100 miles of the West Coast and Hawaii was considered dangerous, possibly spying for Japan. An 8 p.m. curfew and a five-mile travel limit were imposed on all persons of Japanese origin. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, sending the Japanese and Japanese Americans to ten hastily built internment camps in Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.   

The Japanese were shocked beyond belief. Two-thirds of the 120,000 internees were American citizens, born in the U.S. They were forced to sell or abandon most of their possessions, houses, cars, boats and land. Their possessions, including precious farmland, were sold at a bargain to white farmers. They had only a few days to pack and could bring only what they could carry. 

The camps were located where the weather was very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The barracks were shoddily built, covered with tarpaper on the outside. Only canvas cots, a light bulb and a potbelly stove for winter warmth were supplied. Each family had to build its own plain furniture such as a table, chairs and shelves. There was no insulation. Dust and wind blew in through the cracks of wood that had not aged properly and shrank. Four families in small rooms shared one barrack. Within each room, blankets and sheets could be hung to provide some privacy. 

There was no way to escape these prisons. Barbed wires surrounded the camps. Armed guards surveyed from watchtowers. Life was regimented.There were lines for meals, the shower, the toilets and the laundry in communal buildings.  

In the beginning years, the food was American, such as hot dogs, stew, potatoes, liver and cow tongue, which the Japanese were not used to. Later, they grew their vegetables and even made tofu, soy sauce and noodles. Rice was added to the menu. The government spent only thirty cents a day per person on food.  

The internees were put to work with very low wages, from $8 to $19 a month. The camps needed cooks, office and field workers, food servers and construction workers. But many were bored. To relieve boredom, the internees organized outdoor sports for adults and youngsters. Baseball was a favorite pastime for spectators as well. Primitive baseball fields were leveled, rocks and stones removed. There were a variety of other activities, including movies, talent shows and holiday celebrations. 

Grandma Okita’s Embroidery Class, Minidoka Concentration Camp. Photo: Courtesy of Japanese American Museum of Oregon, Portland, Oregon. Permission from JAMO required for further reproduction.

The internees were stoic about the experience, often repeating “Shikata ga nai” meaning you can’t change it. They tried to make their lives as pleasant as possible. They ordered fabric from catalogs to make curtains and tablecloths. Paper flowers decorated the rooms. They created tiny gardens in front of the barracks and even small ponds to make their bleak surroundings acceptable. They created handicrafts from dead trees, wood and material found around the camps. Painters, both professional and amateur, recorded the daily activities of the camp in their artwork. Art lifted the spirits of the internees. Their acts of beautifying their surroundings were something the government and the prison guards could not take away from them.  

Some 17,000 children under the age of ten were among the internees and more were born in the camps. Schools were organized for the children from kindergarten to high school. Used textbooks were sent from nearby schools. Most of the teachers were Japanese, although there were some white teachers who had better living quarters. 

In some households, family closeness was a casualty. Children witnessed their parents’ loss of control in their lives. The parents lamented that the children would rather eat with their friends at the mess halls. Teenagers became more rebellious as many of their peers did in the outside world. But in their abnormal lives, the strain was more severe.

Still, the internees were patriotic. They made camouflage nets, bandages for the war, donated money for the Red Cross, and collected metal for recycling.

Nisei Veterans of the 442nd RCT, Minidoka Concentration Camp. Photo: Courtesy of Japanese American Museum of Oregon, Portland, Oregon. Permission from JAMO required for further reproduction.

Beginning in February 1943, citizens of Japanese descent were permitted to enlist in the Army and Navy. Many young men joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) that was comprised of all Japanese American soldiers and fought valiantly in Europe. This regiment was the most decorated unit in the army. They operated in some of the most dangerous battles, and therefore, had the highest casualty rates (9,000 dead or wounded). They put their life in danger for the country even though their parents and relatives were in the internment camps. When the soldiers were wounded, when they were released after treatment, they would be sent right back to the internment camps. 

Towards the end of war, the government began releasing large numbers of the internees. The internment camps were empty by the end of 1945, and the last one closed in March 1946. Most Japanese Americans did not return to their hometowns because there was nothing to return to. Those that did return had a difficult time finding work and accommodations. A small number chose to go back to Japan. Each released person was given just $25 and a bus ticket to start their new life.

At the end of the war, no American Japanese were found to be spying for Japan. Later research proved that some American officials were guilty of falsifying reports that were used as the basis for the government’s internment decision.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed a legislation apologizing for the internment on behalf of the U.S. government. In 1990, the first letters of apology signed by President George Bush were mailed. Surviving interned Americans and their heirs received $20,000 compensation for each individual. For many, the apology and the check came too late—they had lived a very difficult life, and many of them had already died. 

After the 9-11 attack by Muslim terrorists, fear mongering and Islamophobia depicted Muslim as dangerous to Americans just as the Japanese were demonized after the Pearl Harbor attack. The anti-Muslim sentiments being expressed in the country led the Japanese American community to publicly state that the horrible injustice done to them in WWII must not be repeated. It continues to raise its voice whenever an ethnic group is unjustifiably targeted. 

By Fanny Wong, Chinese American author, New York.

Editor’s Note: May is celebrated as the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the country. 

Never Give Up is an award-winning documentary that teaches about the discrimination faced by the Japanese American community and the issues described in the above article. You can get details from the website: www.minoruyasuifilm.org

The Grotto

By Angelie Tumaghap Martzke, Michigan.

Iloilo Province in Panay, Philippines.

“My dad said he saw something in here yesterday,” Reeza said. “Amelia, when did you get here? Do you have insects in America? Ants? Worms? Caterpillars?”

 “I got here a few days ago. Yeah, we have bugs.” I replied, trembling. “Do you like them?”

 “Yeah, they’re cute. You might see a few in here today.”

Do I really want to go in there with all these slimy, creepy bugs? Yuck, I thought. But she seems nice and I’m finally meeting someone my age.

We were standing as tall as the grotto, a small cavern of rocks my grandparents gathered years ago from the Panay Gulf beach across the street. It was a house for various statues of animals carved by a local artist from the village. A frog, a turtle and a carabao stood strong, stationary, and well-preserved from the scorching Philippine sun. Reeza gently placed her left hand on the arch to peer inside. I did the same with my right hand, feeling secure touching the coarse, solid entrance.

“It smells in here. It’s been rainy this June.” Reeza pointed to the cracked ceiling as she carefully knelt in between the statues. “How long are you going to be here with your grandpa?”

“It’s cooler in here. I’ll be here until Sunday. Then to my aunts’ for school,” I replied, ducking my head in and kneeling on the prickly, pebbly ground. I gently wiped the sweat pouring off my forehead now that we were away from the morning sun. I wondered when I’ll stop sweating and get used to the heat like everyone else here.

We surveyed the black, grainy floor. My right hand unknowingly grabbed something furry and squishy on the grotto wall.

I let out a piercing yelp.

“What is it?”

“It was just moss. Sorry,” I said.

We returned to exploring the darkness. Then a deep, rumbling call echoed inside.

“Have you been to the beach?” Reeza asked. “Let’s go there tomorrow morning and see if the fishermen caught some sharks. I want a picture with it.”

Yuck, I thought. Sharks seem slimy.

Tookoo! Tookoo!* Big, bulging eyes glowed towards me.

“Eeeek!” I screamed and we hurriedly stepped back.

A gecko the size of my arm scampered out of the cavern, climbing up and blending in with the banana trees behind the grotto.

“He’s harmless,” Reeza replied. “He’s usually inside a house. He sleeps during the day and is up at night looking for bugs to eat.”

“What was he doing here?”

“Maybe cooling off,” Reeza said. “Do you guys have geckos where you come from?”

“None in Michigan.”

“We’re used to them. They’re everywhere here.”

House Geckos? Shark fishing? Bugs everywhere? Will I fit in?

We stooped back into the grotto. My gaping mouth caught the salty sweat running down my forehead. I swallowed and breathed deeply, relieving the cottonball feeling stuck in my throat. Reeza waved me in.

“I can’t. Bugs creep me out and I’m scared of geckos, sharks and whatever else is here,” I said, lowering my head towards my flip-flops. “Maybe I should just go home now.”

“Oh!” Reeza gasped, her finger pointing at me.

A gust of wind whistled and relieved us from this tropical heat. I slowly eyed the right side of my face without moving a muscle in my body. Something was dangling, gently caressing the side of my cheek.

“Run!”

We squealed, bumping into one another on the way out. We bolted out of the grotto and leapt across the front yard. My heart was pounding, my legs were wobbling forward, one after the other. Somehow, we managed to reach the driveway. We collapsed on the cement, panting, and clutching our heavy chests.

“Look!” I yelled, pointing to her back.

Reeza shrieked and pranced in a circle, her hands waving up in the air. She’s a girl on fire. As I peeled the snakeskin off from her shirt, she slumped down and brushed her body with her hands.

“Thank you,” Reeza said, panting.

We examined this leathery object.

“It’s actually soft.”

“So pale and long.”

“My teacher last year brought snakeskin to school. She told us that snakes molt or shed their skin in one piece. They do this when they’re growing,” I said.

“I didn’t know that,” Reeza replied, tilting her head. “Snakeskins don’t scare you, but geckos and little bugs do?”

“I guess not,” I said, giggling. “I’m just not used to the ones you have here. Not yet anyway. Snakeskin is one thing, but a real snake is…”

“Gross.”

“Jinx.”

We sat, laughing and crying with the snakeskin in between us.

I wonder what else we have in common, I thought.

“Do you like soccer?”

Playing Soccer in Pototan, Iloilo Province, the Philippines.

“I love soccer!” Reeza said, beaming. “Let me get my ball and see if anyone else wants to play. I’ll be right back.”

  • Author’s Note: Tookoo! Tookoo! is the sound that a lizard makes.

Photos and story by Angelie Tumaghap Martzke, Michigan. She adds: “I was born in the Philippines and grew up part of my childhood there in my grandfather’s house... This story, set in the Iloilo Province, is inspired by my actual experiences there. Since I was 9-years old, I have gone back every two to three years and continue to speak my language of Kinaray-a. My background is in Social Work, receiving my Master’s degree in Social Work from Columbia University in 2008. I have worked with teens and adults providing individual, family and/or group therapy.”

When Spring Comes

By Robyn Bjorkman, age 10, Michigan.

When the snow starts melt,

And the grass comes into view,

People are in a happy mood.

Day by day, the temperature will rise,

And there will be more sunshine,

More people will be out,

Enjoying the season,

For there will be many reasons.

There’s no more snow,

On the roads,

You can finally ride your bike.

Warm enough to unzip your coat,

But chilly enough when the wind blows.

Pleasant enough for when you see the birds again,

But fingertips turn cold when you aren’t wearing mittens.

When Spring comes, we get Spring Fever,

And folks don’t want it to be muddy either.

But there can be lots of great things,

Like when you (again) hear the birds sing,

And when you can ride your bike,

And get as dirty as you like.                                                                                                                                    

Poem by Robyn Bjorkman, age 10, Michigan.  Robyn like to go on adventures, write stories and create songs, and read. She hope to keep on writing.