My story, I Am An American, is still part of the anthology, Pearl Harbor & More: Stories of WWII. However, I recently published it as a single.
One look at the cover will give the impression that it does not scream "NOVEL SET DURING WARTIME." No, except for the prologue and epilogue told from the point of view of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto which bracketed this story, the bulk of it takes place in a San Joaquin Valley farming community in central California. At the time, the last thing on the minds of two high school seniors planning on where they would go to college the next year was war.
In the middle of the communities now known as Livingston, Cressey and Cortez (Cortez is now a street, no little town I can find.) was the Yamato Colony comprised of about 100 families who had immigrated from Japan between 1900 and 1920. They came for opportunities to obtain farmland (later Japanese immigrants were forbidden to purchase land) and to practice their Christian faith since Christianity was not overly-popular in Japan. The majority of them raised peaches, although they did farm other crops which they packed and sold to the larger cities.
Although discrimination against anyone different than themselves ran strong among the residents of the San Joaquin Valley as it did most places in the United States (and Japan--most Japanese did not like Americans.), Ellen Osaki and Flo Kaufmann had come together and become good friends due to both of them being excellent students and sharing most of the same classes in high school. They are depicted at the top of the cover.
The structure on the cover is a tank house. I have seen these scattered around the countryside where I live and originally thought they were carriage houses. However, these structures which ranged from ten feet by ten feet to larger at the base, were at least two stories high, but generally three stories high. They were designed to hold a water tank on the top level. Gravity provided the force to deliver the water to the household and land outside. The levels were reached by stairs often built on the outside.
The image of a tank house I used on the banner for this blog was taken on Yamato Street in Livingston, what had been in the heart of the Yamato Colony. The photo of the tank house with the windmill still attached from the same era I used on the book cover was taken a few miles north of the boundaries of what had been the Yamato Colony.
As told in my story, Ellen explained to Flo she could remember when she was a young child and her family still lived in the tank house. The bottom floor was used for a living and kitchen area (although in the hot San Joaquin Valley summers, the Japanese-style stove was moved outdoors), and the family slept on the second floor. If her father hired farm laborers to help during the busy times, they often slept on the third floor around the water tank.
In the summer it seldom rains in the San Joaquin Valley, so water needed to be pumped from the ground. Also, there were several irrigation districts which had been organized decades earlier to provide the farm areas of the Valley with water from the Sierra Nevada Mountains snow melt. At certain times of the year, notably in November and early December, these canals are visited by migrating white cranes. Lily, Ellen's sister, is an artist who decided that year to create a watercolor and India ink painting for her mother's Christmas present. Flo viewed the painting and declared it to be beautiful and peaceful.
The quiet of farm life and the beauty and peace of the cranes Lily painted were in stark contrast to the hateful events and comments both Ellen and Flo experienced in the weeks following the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Here is an excerpt from the Osaki's reaction to President Roosevelt's declaration of war on Germany and Japan that they listened to on the radio December 8, 1941:
Hiro Osaki turned off the radio after listening to the same broadcast as the Kaufmann family. Harry, the oldest son, had quietly translated the President’s message into Japanese for the benefit of his mother and grandfather. Now the family sat around the radio in silence.
Hiro turned to his wife Fumiko. Fumiko’s eyes met his. She spoke first. “This will mean much trouble for our family.”
Hiro nodded in acknowledgement. The Issei were accustomed to discrimination, but this war would ratchet it up to a whole new level.
Hiro’s father spoke up. “America has been strangling life out of Japan for years. They have tried to keep our homeland a country of backward farmers. They have their own natural resources, yet like the English and Dutch they come into Asia to take away the petroleum, metals and other natural resources Japan needs to modernize and defend its people. The only way to stop America from stealing from Asia is for Japan to drive them out.”
Hiro bowed to his father. “That may be so. Still, it is a sad day for our adopted land. We have worked diligently to be friends with our Caucasian neighbors, but this declaration of war against Japan will mean even more challenges for us in the colony.”
Grandfather Osaki grunted his disdain. “You have put too much faith in your Christian religion. You will find the Caucasians do not follow the teachings of this Jesus you have chosen to believe in. The Caucasian Christians will only see your Japanese faces and turn on you.”
“We have always struggled to be accepted, Father. But we have our friends among the Caucasians. We will continue to live our Christian religion.”
Ellen bowed and spoke respectfully to her grandfather. “Ojii-chan, I don’t understand all you say about the wrongs done by the United States to Japan. But I do have faith my Caucasian friend Flo will remain my friend.”
“Bah! She will turn on you.”
You may still read this story as part of the anthology, Pearl Harbor & More. To find the book description and purchase link for I Am An American published as a single, please CLICK HERE.
I am not a gifted crossword puzzle-maker. However, I did put together a crossword puzzle of some of the key words from this story and the situation as a whole. If you are interested in working it, I suggest you right-click the image to copy and paste it to a landscape Word document set with narrow margins and then print it.