“If you moved, you could hear the wire,” says Janet Daijogo, a Japanese-American who lived as an internee in Topaz, Utah between the ages of 5 and 8 years old. The poem “The Wire” is loosely based on her story. In my earlier drafts of this poem it could have fit the stories of multiple Japanese-American families. In my next draft I wanted to make the experience more personal, and how it would feel for a specific family or person to deal with the Japanese internment. Then I came across Janet’s story. I was immediately drawn to her quote about the barbed wire surrounding the internment camps. When I was first starting my research on this subject I identified the barbed wire as an interesting symbol to explore in my poems, as it deals with confinement, inhumanity, and the sense that internees could never escape their current situation. I was interesting to see an internee validate my observation. In my later drafts I was able to incorporate parts of Janet’s story to give “The Wire” a more personal feel, but part of the poem is still broad-based and can be applied to various internee families, not just Janet’s situation.
I also tried to explore the seemingly overlooked horrors of Japanese internment. Obviously, Japanese-Americans lost a lot when they had to leave their homes unexpectedly, but they also lost other parts of their lives that we sometimes take for granted: their culture and family tradition. I know that if my family was forced to leave our home, valuable parts of our identity and tradition would be lost. In my final revision I was struck by Janet’s mention of the shovel she remembered in the camp. In another context, this shovel would be insignificant, but it was her only connection to her past, and only relic that she could show her offspring about her experience in the camps. How would future generations respond to her story? Would they be affected like she was? These are the questions that I tried to meditate on.
You can find more interviews and internee stories to learn more about Japanese Internment here. This archive contains numerous interviews about internees and their stories, starting form their childhoods, their experiences inside the camps, and their adjustments to life after the camps and the interment’s effect on younger generations.