This past summer, incoming St. Mary’s freshmen read Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a novel by author Jamie Ford that depicts the story of two Northwest families swept up in the events of Japanese-American internment during World War II. This is a chapter of American history which, until recently, has been all but absent from historical narratives. The freshmen of St. Mary’s Academy have spent their fall quarter examining the complex issues of nationalism, race, social justice, and the ethical and moral dilemmas that Japanese-American internment represents.
In order to deepen student reflection on the complex issues raised in the novel, freshmen visited the Japanese American Historical Plaza, Oregon Nikkei Foundation’s memorial to Japanese-American interment, located on the South Waterfront Park in Portland’s Old Town. While visiting the plaza and reflecting on its meanings, students took pictures and rubbings of the various bronze relief columns and stones engraved with haiku and the names of the internment camps. Students will use these photos and rubbings to create artwork, which they will include in their Integrated Books at the end of the semester.
Returning to St. Mary’s from their visit to the plaza, students engaged in a guided kanji meditation, during which they reflected on the events leading up to and surrounding the Japanese-American internment and created calligraphic symbols using the kanji script. These kanji characters will be mounted and displayed in students’ Integrated Books as well.
Culminating their study, the Class of 2019 welcomed Mr. Henry Sakamoto, grandfather of Jaiden Sakamoto ’16, a Japanese-American from Portland whose family was interned. Mr. Sakamoto shared his story to a rapt audience of freshmen in the St. Mary’s auditorium on November 3. One freshman exiting the presentation remarked, “It was so quiet, you could have heard a pin drop. We didn’t want to miss any part of his story.” Freshman Olivia Groshong added, “Hearing his story in person really made the entire issue come to life for me.”
The Class of 2019 presented Mr. Sakamoto with thank you cards, a donation in his honor to the Oregon Nikkei Foundation, and a sketch of Mr. Sakamoto done by freshman Ames Vinson.