Burning Records

In Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, the author tells the story of burning treasured Japanese possessions after being warned by Mrs. Yamamoto, a Bainbridge Island resident.

"'Get rid of anything that can incriminate you, anything that can tie you too closely to Japan. that's what they're looking for--and if they find anything, they might take your husband and send him off somewhere far away, or some other terrible thing.'

"We were shaken by the call but grateful for the warning. Immediately we started looking at everything in our home. We went through every drawer, closet, cupboard, and shelf looking frantically at everything that could possible threaten our future. Papa-san and Yoneichi went through the barn and woodshed, too. We gathered all our mementos of Japan and put them together in several boxes, ready to burn after dark. We had to get rid of these things because the risk of being labeled even faintly 'disloyal' was just too great.

"That evening after dusk while we still had our work clothes on, we brought out the boxes with all of our treasures. The vigorous fire in the oil stove hurled ominous shadows against the white walls of our living room. Papa-san took out all the special Japanese phonograph records and placed them together on one side of the dining room table. Next to that Mama-san placed all the family pictures from both sides of their families in Japan. Then she brought out our beautifully crafted Japanese dolls she used to display for celebrations of Hina Matsuri, Girls' Day on March 3, and Tango no Sekku, Boys' Day on June 5. These ceremonial dolls did not indicate any sense of emperor worship in our family, yet we feared they would be seen by the FBI as symbols of loyalty to Japan. Silently Mama-san set up the tiered platform, covered it with red cloth, placed the folding screen in the background, and gently placed each of the delicate dolls of the imperial court in their places. Finally, she reached into the bottom of the last box, and brought out her treasured books of Japanese classic literature and Japanese history, along with magazines, books of fairy tales, and children's books.

"We stood in front of the table looking at all of our cultural treasures. Papa-san took a deep breath and said, 'This is it. Let's get this difficult task done.' He picked up the first phonograph record, read the label and said to Mama-san, 'This one, 'Sakura,' is my favorite. Yoshiko-san's voice is so clear and beautiful and the words evoke such feeling in me.' With doleful eyes he handed it to Mama-san who also read the label. With teary eyes she broke it into small pieces, stepped over to the stove and slipped it into the flames. One by one they looked over each record and took turns breading them, silently feeding their beloved music into the stove until every record was destroyed. The flames illuminated my parent's sad but determined faces."