by Lillian Nakamura Maguire
My parents lived for over 60 years in Canada. My father, Sadato Nakamura, had worked in Canada in the early 1930s with my grandfather, Senroku, but they returned home to Itoshima, Japan, a few years later. My father went to chick-sexing school in Nagoya, a trade which later provided a means to greater mobility and a career until his retirement at the age of 72.
He married Aiko Kikuchi in June 1936 in an arranged marriage. My mother told me that she wanted to continue her career as a nurse, but her father, Yasosuke, said that it was time for her to get married and so she did at age 18. My mother stayed in Japan, likely because of restrictive immigration laws, which allowed a limited number of Japanese into Canada. Finally, in January 1940, my mother arrived here.
My father worked on contract for Bolivar Hatcheries in New Westminster, B.C. They settled into their home and started a family with my eldest brother, Sadamu “Sam,” born in October 1940. But their life was to change drastically when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and Canada declared war on Japan.
“Invest to Insure Your Freedom”- that was the headline on the $60 Victory Bond that my father purchased on Feb. 26, 1942. This was a sizable amount of his wages since the average wage in 1942 was about $28 a week. Ironically, Feb. 26 was the same day that the notice was issued by the Canadian government ordering all persons of “the Japanese race” to leave the West Coast.
On March 6, 1942, one week later, their freedom was further taken away from them when my father received a “Notice to Enemy Aliens.” He was ordered to leave his home in New Westminster and sent to a work camp in the interior near Valemont, B.C. Eventually, the family obtained permission to move to Winnipeg and finally to settle in Regina in January 1943, where my father gained employment as a chick-sexer and cabinet maker. As fate would have it, the federal government was given the power to sell, without my parents’ consent, their property in B.C.
Finally on March 31, 1949, all restrictions imposed under the War Measures Act were lifted, people were allowed to vote and to move anywhere in Canada.
When I learned about this family history, in the late 1980s during the Redress Movement of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, I wondered how my parents withstood the discrimination and restrictions on their lives from 1941 to 1949. Why didn’t they choose to take up the Canadian government’s offer to
“repatriate” to Japan like 4,000 others did after 1945?
At my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary, my father told the story of why they decided to stay in Canada, and Regina in particular, even though they had experienced discrimination and hardship. He said it was because of the kindness, support and friendship of the McCann family and others in the neighbourhood who made a difference to our family. My brother and the McCanns’ son would play and visit at each other’s houses. My parents developed a taste for Ukrainian cabbage rolls.
I would not be here today if it were not for the actions of these neighbours and employers willing to hire my father. One family made a difference to our family. Employers provided opportunities for my father to support a family of seven children.
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Remember March 21 - the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Let us stand together against racism and discrimination.
March 21 is a day observed all around the world to focus attention on the problems of racism and the need to promote racial harmony.
The United Nations made this designation in 1966 to mark a tragic event that took place on March 21, 1960 in Sharpeville, South Africa, when 69 peaceful demonstrators were killed during a protest against apartheid.