by Lisa Uyeda, NAJC Heritage Committee Chair
Not too long ago, I sat down with my grandparents for dinner. I was on my way home and I thought I would pop by for a brief hello; that quickly turned into a late evening. The three of us sat together at their wooden kitchen table, with a cup of hot ocha and a few full stomachs. The conversation picked up and a few hours later a pile of albums were pulled from the attic. I had never seen these black paged albums, filled with old photographs held in by photo corners, and described with beautiful penmanship. The albums were full of images of my family, but not the family I knew and grew up with, this was a different part of my family. For the first time, I saw my great grandparents, the issei, who were the first to migrate to Canada. I saw my grandparents as toddlers and teens, the neighbourhood they grew up in with their siblings, and where they were forced to relocate during the Second World War. That evening, I heard many nostalgic memories that portrayed happiness, hardship, innovation, and perseverance.
The stories didn’t start with “back in my day….” or continued with “when I walked to school, it was uphill both ways.” Instead, the conversation started with me asking them questions. At first the topics were general and often related to an event occurring in my life at the time. Such as, “who taught you how to cook?” as I told my story of attempting chow mein, a family favourite. I continued with “where did you first learn how to play badminton?” and “when did you first meet?” But gradually, as we were flipping through photographs, I began to ask questions that I felt to be more personal, “were you able to stay in touch with your father when he was in a prisoner of war camp?”, “how did your parents react to the racism against Japanese Canadians?”, and “when did you realize you and your family wouldn’t be returning home?” I listened intently throughout their stories and laughed with them when they briefly quibbled over dates and names. Before we knew it, the time was past 1 o’clock in the morning and I realized I needed to record their stories.
The Nikkei community has many stories to share. Stories that defy racism and boundaries, the fight for human rights, and many that reflect on building our national community before and after the Second World War. But our stories don’t stop there; they continue with memories of family, friends, events, travels, education, hobbies, food, careers, inventions, and discoveries. A fair number of these stories have been told and more recently they are being documented. Over the next few years, the NAJC National Executive Board and the Heritage Committee would like to encourage our community to continue to pursue digital storytelling initiatives. Digital storytelling is a great way to capture our community history and family moments like my grandparents’ experiences. Digital devices, such as audio and/or video recorders, or even mobile devices, are readily available and convenient to use. Find those photograph albums, get comfortable, and turn on an audio recorder. Let’s start asking questions but most importantly, let’s encourage everyone to tell their stories.
For examples on digital storytelling projects, check out Discover Nikkei’s online community at http://www.discovernikkei.org/en/, the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre’s Sedai Project at www.sedai.ca, and the Nikkei National Museum & Cultural Centre’s Oral History Collection at http://centre.nikkeiplace.org/oral-history-collection/.