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Memorial Day: Remembering Stanley Hayami

I’m thinking this week-end of Stanley Hayami, a young man I never met but spent four years of my life getting to know in order to write a book about him. Stanley Hayami was a 16-year-old boy who began keeping a diary in November 1942, when he was a prisoner of his own country. He had committed no crime. He was an American citizen of Japanese ancestry who found his life turned upside down when war began between the United States and Japan in December of 1941. In a few short months, Stanley and more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were taken from their homes, schools and communities and held in American concentration camps solely on the basis of wartime hysteria and long standing racist hatred.

On this Memorial Day week end I’m feeling especially close to Stanley Hayami as the ugly rhetoric of racism and hate—clear echoes of the past are sounded again. His diary is laced with wonderful drawings and cartoons. He was a talented student who couldn’t decide if he wanted to be a writer/artist or a scientist who might travel to outer space or solve the mysteries of universe. But in 1944 when he turned 18, those choices were gone. The same government that had taken away his rights as a citizen, drafted him and thousands of other Nisei sons, into the US Army. He served with the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, an all-Nisei unit. Stanley, like so many of the young men of the 442nd wanted to prove their loyalty and patriotism, even as their families were held as prisoners behind barbed wire. Years later, when our government apologized for the incarceration, there was a hope that America would never forget.

Yet, the Trumpian mindset is all too willing to return to the so-called good old days – to put the good ‘ole boys back in charge of who can vote and when. Selling fear based on falsehoods, a nasty new crop of nativists work to reset the rules that govern who must leave and who can stay or even come to live in their America.

Is this what Stanley and so many thousands of others gave their lives for?

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