Being Jewish And Japanese In 8th Grade Humanities

As someone who shares so much connection to World War II, what I’m learning in Humanities is traumatizing. But that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Lauren Bander, Columnist

In eighth grade Honors Humanities, we’re finally taking a step out of American history and focusing on World War II all over the globe. Last quarter, all of Mrs. Neel and Mrs. Baird’s Humanities classes received an introduction to the Holocaust in the form of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” and have continued this quarter with Elie Wiesel’s “Night” and “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Now the Honors class is focusing on the American-Japanese side of the war with “Farewell to Manzanar” by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston.

After every reading, I would just sit there in distress thinking about all the trauma these people have been through. And it was worse for me than for most of my peers – I have prominent ancestry on both sides.

When I read what Wiesel went through, the effect was overwhelming. He’d lost so much hope, so much culture, so much life going through the Shoah (what Jews call the Holocaust – “catastrophe” in Hebrew). Those were my people, my family. The Nazis made someone so pious lose their faith in God. And, in a way, I lost some of my own faith in the process. I’d be telling this to people while we were reading and they’d say, “It’s okay! We’ll be done soon! We’ll be moving on to a different book!”

Yeah, but that’s not much better.

My grandmother was a survivor of the Nagasaki bombings. She remembers vividly the horror of having to hide in a cave with 400 other people to escape the radiation. At age seven, she’d been through more than I will ever have to endure. Years later, she married a United States Navy serviceman and moved to this country – the country that imprisoned so many of her people in internment camps during the war.

Her family was prejudiced when they met my grandfather because of his American nationality – they basically cut off ties with my Baa-chan (“grandmother” in Japanese) when she decided to move overseas. But it paid off; she’s still married and living in the States 50 years later, and look at us now! We’re learning about this stuff in school!

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s great that we’re learning this – the learning part isn’t what bothers me.  What gets to me is the students who say things that make it exceedingly clear that they just don’t understand: “Everyone’s making such a big deal that America had internment camps when everyone else did, too.” Yeah, because it is a big deal. And both sides of my heritage spent time in camps like this  – one side in the country I was born in. Yes, nowadays, we regret what our ancestors did to the Japanese, but it still appalls me that it ever happened. America, the land of the free, keeping my people captive. Forgive me if it’s hard to wrap my head around.

But I’d rather we read and learn about the war than totally ignore the fact that it happened. Anyone who oppresses anyone for something they can’t control is in the wrong, whether it be race, religion, or something their country has done. Yes, Humanities has felt traumatizing over the past few months. Every time I am faced with learning about the oppression of my forefathers, it hurts. But, if we continue to learn about Hitler’s keeping my people captive and America ignoring their own citizens’ innocence, I have faith that history isn’t “destined to repeat itself.” Learn from the mistakes of those who supported these tragedies and made them possible.