Monday, October 8, 2012

Learning Fumio Ralph Fujimoto's Story

Last Saturday, I did something a little different from the usual archiving activities. Instead of continuing my investigations into the Arai family files, I was assigned to read over a piece written by Fumio Ralph Fujimoto which recounts his life story, from the time of his parents making their way in California, through his time in an internment camp, to his success as a CPA building bridges between Japanese and U.S. businesses. The story is especially intriguing to me as my own grandfather's life parallels Fumio's in some ways.
Fumio's parents were successful farmers and grocers in California. My grandmother also grew up on a farm, but was in Montana, and was able to escape the targeting when Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps.

Pictured above are Fumio's parents. Like many Japanese Americans before the war, Fumio's family was fairly successful, and lived a comfortable life. Although many were recent immigrants, they were able to prosper and become essential members of the community. Fumio notes that although he did not understand the economic position of his family (as he was only a few years old at the time) he points out that his little outfits looked quite posh, suggesting that his family was well - established in the California home. 
Pictured above is Fumio in a baseball outfit, learning young the love for America's favorite pastime. 

After Pearl Harbor, this California life would only be a memory. Although my grandmother was able to escape incarceration, my grandfather was not as lucky. He too was forced to face the loss of a home and a livelihood when he was sent to an internment camp in Arizona. Fumio was a teenager when he first entered the camps. Schooling in the camps was subpar, but not fully absent. Over time, families in the camps began building a true community and establishing different little businesses in order to remain productive while interned. Fumio worked many odd jobs, some harder than others. While I know very little about my grandfather's experience while in the camp, I do know that he, like Fumio, was drafted out of the camps and into the army. 

Following their service in the army and the end of the war, both my grandfather and Mr. Fujimoto moved to Chicago in hopes of finding a new home. Many Japanese Americans immigrated to Chicago after the war ended because they were not permitted to return to their homes on the West Coast. Furthermore, there was very little to return to as the families were forced to sell most of their assets before internment. Chicago, the next biggest city east of California became a haven for Japanese Americans. Fumio began working in the Rogers Park area at different odd jobs. When I read this section, I could not help but feel connected to Fumio's story as I was able to recognize the landmarks he mentioned, and the street names he lived on. My grandparents also set up their new home on the northside of Chicago after many years of finding their bearings. Later Fumio also mentioned that his family moved to live on Sedgwick, the very same street where my family lives today. I have also learned of many other stories, through my time at the CJAHS, about the similar struggles of many different Japanese American families after the end of the war. Fortunately, like Fumio's and my family's story, they end in success. 

While my family opened up a chain of successful laundromats, Fumio became a CPA focused on Japanese - U.S. business relations. Strangely enough, my father (who is descended from Greek and Irish New Yorkers) is also a CPA whose work has somehow found its way in the world of Asian - American business relations. One thing I've learned from this archive work is that although studying these many artifacts and the many diverse people connected to them might appear to lead me to a complex series of stories far beyond my own world, it seems that every time, I am brought much closer back to my own history. Reading Fumio's story only reaffirmed this. I cannot help but think that in studying history that is far from us, we will always be able to find a road back to home. 

All photos from an album dedicated to Fumio Ralph Fujimoto made by his sister for his 80th birthday.

No comments:

Post a Comment