During World War II, 33 families were removed from Bellingham and sent to Japanese internment camps. They didn't come back, and they lost all their property.
"A lot of them had been here for years and years," said Carole Teshima Morris, who has studied Bellingham's history during the war. Her family lived in New Mexico and avoided the internment camps, and her father volunteered to fight with the Army's 442nd infantry regiment.
Morris is one of the panelists who will be speaking at a Whatcom READS! event from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Bellingham Public Library. She and other speakers will discuss what life was like for Japanese-Americans during World War II, in connection with this year's Whatcom READS! book, "Snow Falling on Cedars."
The book, written by David Guterson, centers on a Japanese-American man accused of murder in the 1950s on an island in the Puget Sound. The panel is one of several events that will work off of themes in the book, including Japanese internment during the war and anti-Japanese sentiment after the war ended.
Fellow panelist Fumio Otsu is familiar with both; he was born in Tule Lake internment camp in California. Last summer, he revisited Tule Lake with other survivors of the camp, which was termed a disloyalist camp, a repository for people who wouldn't sign an oath of American allegiance and wouldn't agree to fight with the U.S. military.
Morris and Otsu see parallels between WWII-era Japanese prejudice and now, especially in how Muslims and people of Middle Eastern descent were treated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"They immediately get this reaction that they're part of the enemy, basically because they're Muslim," Otsu said. "That's the feeling of 'Snow Falling on Cedars.' The Japanese Americans were associated with Japan, which was the enemy."
In the frenzy and trauma of war, Otsu said, sometimes shameful decisions are made in the name of protection, and a kind of mob mentality can make the wrong things seem right. It's an important point for people to think about and connect to current events, Morris said.
"It can always happen again," Morris said. "I just think it's the old saying, 'If you don't know your history, you're doomed to repeat it.'"
WHATCOM READS! EVENTS
Whatcom READS! will include a variety of events to go along with this year's featured book, "Snow Falling on Cedars." Here are a few; all are free except Pickford Film Center screening.
A panel will discuss the internment and the Japanese-American experience during World War II from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 12, at the Bellingham Public Library.
A woman who taught at a Japanese internment camp in Colorado will share her stories from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Everson Library.
Ethics in journalism in the book and today will be discussed from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at the Fairhaven Library.
People can see the film version of the book at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, at the Pickford Film Center. Buy tickets at pickfordcinema.org.
There also will be a public screening of the movie from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at the North Fork Library in Maple Falls, followed by a community discussion.
"Snow Falling on Cedars" author David Guterson will be on hand to discuss his book from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the Bellingham Public Library. That same day, he'll appear from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Jansen Art Center, 321 Front St., Lynden.
From 7:30 to 9 p.m. Feb. 20, he'll be at Whatcom Community College's Syre Center.
From 4 to 6 p.m., Feb. 21, he'll discuss the writing process at Western Washington University in Miller Hall, room 138.