Grandfather’s Letter

Grandfather’s Letter

A guest post by David Hirata

History can seem like such a fragile thing. Documents, drawings, and entire buildings can literally crumble into dust. Museums protect fragile mementos behind velvet ropes, beneath bell jars, and in argon gas atmospheres behind thick sealed glass.

But in this digital age, historical artifacts can pop onto our desktops at 600 dpi resolution. Like a letter that was written by my grandfather during World War II, which I found in an online archive, as fresh as the day it was written. In the letter, my grandfather pleads the case for his release from US military custody in the stockade at the Tule Lake Segregation Center in 1944.

But in this digital age, historical artifacts can pop onto our desktops at 600 dpi resolution. Like a letter that was written by my grandfather during World War II, which I found in an online archive, as fresh as the day it was written.


Letter photo from Willard E. Schmidt Papers, Courtesy of San Jose State University Library Special Collections and Archives

In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. This authorized the eviction of 112,000 Japanese-Americans and resident Japanese aliens from their homes and their imprisonment in camps run by the US War Department. This included my maternal grandparents and their children.


Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

The posters announcing the forced relocation are an image as familiar to me as the Declaration of Independence or “Uncle Sam Wants You!” They are, after all, a part of my family history. That familiarity has made these posters seem more historical rather than personal over the years, but the image of a letter in Grandpa’s own hand is another thing entirely. His respectful, dignified manner paints a vivid picture of this dismal story as he relates the physical and emotional pain of the incarceration of him and his family that is part of my family history, and my history as an American.


The Tule Lake Stockade as it is today. Photo by David Hirata.

A few years ago, I took my family to the site of the Tule Lake Segregation Center in Northern California, in the hopes that we could touch this personal history. I was grateful to the efforts of the National Park Service to preserve and teach this history. The stockade building is crumbling and fragile, with a protective roof placed over it by the park service. I was glad to be able to show it to my wife and daughter, and I think I was a little comforted by how small and fragile it appeared. This story is in the past, fading with the years, the stockade seemed to say. Or perhaps that was just me, listening through a filter of complacency.

The events of the past few years, as we subject those our government has deemed “outsiders” to brutal cruelty, have brought the spirit of this history to life again. All the more fitting that Grandpa’s voice has found another way to reach out from the past, to give me another way to consider the story.


David Hirata is the Director of Artists & Staff Relations at the Marsh as well as the Program Manager of our Marsh Risings series. His show, A Box Without A Bottom plays at The Marsh Berkeley October 26 – December 1. Tickets and more info can be found HERE!

Are you a Marsh performer or patron with a story to tell? Drop us a note at Marketing@TheMarsh.org to get the ball rolling!


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