Stories

In America’s Shadow: Kaleigh Komatsu talks about her book

In America’s Shadow, a book written by Kimberly and Kaleigh Komatsu, combines prose with historic and family photographs to recount the memories of ten-year-old Aiko, whose family journeys to Hanna, Wyoming, filled with dreams of building a hotel and starting a new life, only to find themselves uprooted from their home and forced into the internment camp at Manzanar.

Aiko’s family spends three years in Manzanar, but through their incarceration, Aiko comes to appreciate the dignity and grace of the Japanese. With the help of her grandfather’s optimism, her family maintains a sense of hope, despite being surrounded by barbed wire fences and guard towers. Above all, Aiko's family learns “what it is like to walk in America’s shadow” with their spirits unbroken.

Currently working in the curatorial department of the Japanese American National Museum, Kaleigh Komatsu, who co-authored the book with her sister Kimberly, reports that the initial inspiration for In America’s Shadow came from not one, but many sources, particularly family stories told by her grandmother, great-grandmother, great aunts and uncles. By writing this book, the Komatsu sisters wanted to ensure that the voices of their relatives—and others with stories like theirs—would continue to be heard, even as time passes. Many of the Komatsu family members cried when they saw parts of their lives in print, “remembering camps and remembering relatives and friends who are no longer here.” Kaleigh adds, however, that “it is a remembering that brings sadness, not despair.” The Komatsus “hope that whoever reads this story will see truth in it and will see their own story.”

In a discussion of her book, Kaleigh Komatsu revealed that she and her sister Kimberly “wanted young readers to see the Japanese American story, from immigration to incarceration, and how the incarceration affected different generations.” Ultimately, however, In America’s Shadow is “a collective story of an American experience and an American people.”

As Kevin Starr in the foreword of the book writes, “Young people reading In America’s Shadow will be challenged to grasp and meditate upon a most complex message indeed; namely, that in the midst of tragedy and injustice, nobility and family values managed to prevail and love of country engendered the beginnings of reconciliation and forgiveness.” Although the book will definitely serve as an important history lesson about Japanese Americans during World War II, the authors hope that young readers will remember the most significant statement from the book: “that you cannot imprison a spirit that refuses to be imprisoned.” The history of Japanese Americans continues to reaffirm the truth of this statement.

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