My relationship with Looking Like the Enemy began five years ago, when Maureen Michelson at NewSage Press sent me the manuscript. “We’re going to be publishing this book,” she told me. “I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on it.” This was hardly a bolt from the blue; I had been designing book covers and typesetting interiors for NewSage Press for a few years at the time.
I sat down, opened the paper box holding the manuscript, and began to read. I have never had a stronger initial reaction to a book, particularly one that hasn’t made it all the way through the editing process. Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, age 80, had at long last written about her experience as a Nisei–a second-generation Japanese-American citizen–interned during World War II. The memoir is remarkable on many levels, not least because the subject is one that many Japanese-Americans avoid speaking of to this day.
Gruenewald recounts hearing the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor–in the kitchen of their family strawberry farm on Vashon Island, off the coast of Seattle. She writes movingly of seeing wartime caricatures in magazines, and then looking at her own face in the mirror and wondering, “Is that how they see me?” She writes of her family’s desperate efforts to prove a loyalty that should never have been called into question–US Government studies done at the time demonstrated that there was no “loyalty problem” among the Japanese-American population. Those efforts included burning family heirlooms, and even sending the family’s only son, Yoneichi, to fight for the country that had imprisoned him, and his family. In short, Gruenewald movingly portrays what it felt like to be a high school senior, on the verge of beginning her life, and then to suddenly have that life stripped away and replaced with a prison camp existence.
Reading the memoir was stunning, partly because the Japanese-American internment camps are a largely ignored page in American history. I had heard occasional references to the “camps,” but Looking Like the Enemy took those references and gave them a human face. I cried as I read of the camp women banding together to sew a protective sash for Yoneichi when he decides to enlist. The need for such a sash was more than symbolic; the driving need many Japanese-Americans felt to prove their loyalty meant that their military units often saw the most brutal action, and took the heaviest casualties. The irony is most biting perhaps because Gruenewald leaves it largely unsaid.
When I finished that initial read-through, I knew that this was a book that was more than just a good read–it was going to be important for the questions it raises: questions that were pressing at the time, and have become increasingly so in the years since Looking Like the Enemy first hit bookstore shelves.
How do we decide who the “real Americans” are? How do we deal with immigrants from nations with which we are at war? How do we judge loyalty? Under what circumstances, if ever, is it appropriate to strip American citizens of their rights? Does national security trump personal liberty? Perhaps most significant, is loyalty a one-way street? Can we require loyalty of citizens from whom we have stripped basic rights? Looking Like the Enemy is more than a book about our national past: it raises questions about how we deal with immigrant populations here and now.
Gruenewald’s story is enhanced by a plethora of images from her private collection, from the National Archives, and from various other sources. Some of the images included were taken by Ansel Adams, and donated for public use. The images combined with the story make Looking Like the Enemy an important resource for understanding a little-known facet of American history.
This memoir is used in university, college, and advanced high school classes. In Fall 2010, a Young Reader’s edition of Looking Like the Enemy will be available for readers in grades 5 through 8. It will include many of the images from the adult version.
Mary Matsuda Gruenewald speaks to educational, library, and community groups regularly about her internment during World War II. She also traveled to Japan after the publication of her book and spoke to many different Japanese groups about this difficult chapter in American history.
For further information or to reach Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, email NewSage Press.