On Friday, March 16, Beyond Baroque reprised a 2010 reading of Kaiko haiku, free-style haiku not bound by the traditions of three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, written in Japanese by internees of Japanese ancestry while incarcerated in assembly centers and American concentration camps during World War II.
The Reverend John Iwohara of the Gardena Buddhist Church, and Emily Kariya, teacher of Japanese language at Santa Monica High School, repeated their roles from eight years ago to read selected haiku in Japanese. Richard Modiano, Executive Director of Beyond Baroque; Amy Uyematsu, Sansei poet; and Laurel Ann Bogen, Venice poet; read the English translations. Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee members Phyllis Hayashibara, Alice Stek, and Emily Winters read the prose introductions establishing the sections of haiku, originally selected and curated by poet and essayist Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo in 2010, from May Sky, There is Always Tomorrow; An Anthology of Japanese American Concentration Camp Kaiko Haiku, compiled, translated, and prefaced by Violet Kazue de Cristoforo.
VJAMM member and filmmaker Brian Maeda prefaced the haiku recitation with his research on the life of Violet de Cristoforo. Violet had compiled and translated American concentration camp haiku for her 1997 book, May Sky, published by Doug Messerli of Sun and Moon Press. May Sky, the first major anthology of World War II concentration camp haiku, collected kaiko haiku from assembly centers and American concentration camps. Poets had written haiku in haiku clubs before World War II, and continued to write haiku during their incarceration, publishing their reflections on life in camp in camp newsletters and literary magazines.
After her high school graduation, Violet married Shigeru Matsuda, a charter member of the [Fresno] Valley Ginsha Haiku Kai, and she became a member of the Kaiko (free style) School of Haiku. Together they owned and ran the Matsuda Book Store in Fresno. But many poets in haiku clubs destroyed their work in the wake of Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; the U. S. declaration of war against Japan; and Executive Order 9066 signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942, which led to the forced removal of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry from the west coast and into American concentration camps for the duration of World War II.
Maeda, in preparing for his latest film, “We Said NO NO,” about the Tule Lake Segregation Center, discovered that Matsuda had refused to complete the “loyalty questionnaire” while incarcerated in Jerome, Arkansas. As a result, Matsuda was sent to a detention facility in Santa Fe, New Mexico, while Violet and her three children were once again forcibly removed, this time to the Segregation Center at Tule Lake, California. In 1946, Violet was repatriated to Japan, only to be met with the sad news that both her parents were victims of the U. S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and that her husband had remarried after his own repatriation to Japan.
Violet herself remarried in 1953, and resettled back in California. In 1981, Violet testified before the Congressional Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC) on the socio-psychological impact of the internment of persons of Japanese ancestry. In 1984, she was instrumental in the installation of California Registered Historic Landmark No. 934, at the location of the former Salinas Assembly Center. In 1987, she published Ino Hana: Poetic Reflections of Tule Lake Internment – 1944. In 1997, she published May Sky, which was translated into Japanese in 1995. In 2007, Violet was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, in recognition of her contributions to folk or traditional arts in the U. S. over a lifetime.
Though difficult to select just a few haiku from Violet’s collection, these selections reflect life in assembly centers and camps, most amid seasonal signs of nature:
BABA NI OKI FUSHITE MITSUKI SUIKA HANASAKI – Living, morning and night/ Three months in racetrack/ Watermelon flowers.
BABI NI SUMI KURASU AKI NO SUZUKAKE ME GA NOBI – Fall/ Still housed in stable/New sprouts on plantain tree.
WAKARETE KYO WA ICHINEN NIWA NO BOKE MO SAITE IYO – Separated a year ago today/Chinese quince/ Must be blooming in my garden.
TEJYO SARE HIKARE YUKU OTTO O MIOKURISHI SAMA KYO MO – Hand-cuffed and taken away/ I see my husband/ Even today.
Beyond Baroque and the VJAMM Committee dedicated the Kaiko haiku reading in memory of Bruce and Francis Kaji, who passed away in 2017 and 2016, respectively. Bruce had been incarcerated at Manzanar, California, and Frances in Poston, Arizona. Bruce co-founded Merit Savings and Loan, won election as Gardena City Treasurer, and co-established the Little Tokyo Redevelopment Association and co-founded the Japanese American National Museum. Frances joined her husband in many community affairs and civic organizations, and won induction into the City of Gardena’s Hall of Fame. Bruce had participated in the panel discussion on May Sky at Beyond Baroque on December 11, 2010, with May Sky publisher Doug Messerli of Sun and Moon Press; Patricia Wakida, a curator at the Japanese American National Museum; and Phyllis Hayashibara, a member of the Venice Japanese American Memorial Monument Committee.
Submitted by Phyllis Hayashibara