Kiyo Sato leaves footprints through writing — Encourages others to do same

March 11, 2014

Dandelion

You’ve been stepped on for how many days?

Today you bloom

John Shinji Sato

 

“You are facing a non-alien and a prisoner,” said ninety-year-old Kiyo Sato to a room filled with members and guests at a meeting of the California Writers Club, Sacramento Branch.

Immediately, we were spellbound.

Dandelion Through the CrackSato is the author of an award-winning memoir, Dandelion Through The Crack (now Kiyo’s Story, published by Soho Press), in which she lays out the story of her family’s deportation to a Japanese internment camp during World War II.

It’s a chilling story, told to an audience who had scant formal knowledge of this period in our history. By the end of the author’s presentation, there wasn’t, as they say, a dry eye in the house—which includes men as well as women.

The author grew up in the Sacramento area on a thriving family farm that produced strawberries and table grapes. “I am the oldest of nine children,” she said of her close-knit family. “I’m so lucky to be a wanted child.” It was, for Sato, an idyllic childhood.

Then came the attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor, followed by the U.S. Government’s decision to round up some 120,000 American citizens of Japanese descent and relocate them to what Sato unapologetically called “Concentration Camps.”

“We had ten days to leave,” she said. Many farmers managed to hide seeds and tools among their possessions. “Those things were so very important. Not jewelry. Not photographs.”

Family belongings, including beloved pets, were left behind. .

At the train station, rows of guards bearing bayonets looked on as The Sato family and others were herded aboard a train. “When that train started moving, my world fell apart,” said Sato.

I won’t try to recount more of Kiyo’s story in this short space. I don’t want to deprive you of the honor or reading her memoir, which won the prestigious 2008 William Saroyan Prize for International Writing.

What I want to point out is that Kiyo decided to write her memoir at a point in life when many of us are tempted to give in to retirement inertia. After entering the Poston internment camp at age 18, Kiyo returned to her former life on the family farm. She then joined the United States Air Force, became a public health nurse and developed the innovative Blackbird Vision Screening System www.blackbirdvision.com for detecting eye problems in young children. When she turned 80, she decided it was time to chronicle her Poston experiences for the rest of us.

“I went to the donut shop every morning,” she explained. “I wrote and wrote and wrote and finished the book in four years.” Writing her memoir is what she calls, “Leaving her footprints,” something she encourages all of us to do.

Kiyo Sato is an example of an author whose writing is making a difference in the world. Her record of this shameful period serves as a cautionary tale and will inform and touch the lives of generations to come.Kiyo_Story_paperback_on

Even more important is that this amazing woman has reminded me that age is an illusion and that it is never too late to change your world—one written word at a time, one brush stroke at a time, one kind thought or loving gesture at a time. I am so grateful for her example.

 Kiyo’s Story available at Amazon