After the Second World War, most brave Japanese Americans left the army. Their family members had just been freed from unjust prison camps. They worked their way back into American society. They told no one the history of their poor treatment with their new neighbors or their own children. In 1970 I first discovered the history of the Japanese American internment camp at college museum. Later I discovered that my Japanese American friends were learning the sad story at the same time.
I remembered this history yesterday while visiting a bonsai garden in Tacoma. All of the plants had been started after World War II. Some stood in front of photographs of Japanese Americans entering guarded internment camps, where bonsai artists would teach the interned how to create new bonsai trees. Only one tree had recently been plucked from a mountainside. Nearby, a thousand year old bristle pine looked like it was still growing on the slope of a 13 thousand foot Californian peak.
People often visit this bonsai garden. Few are Asian. All are drawn to the trees’ beauty. They collect little stories of how Japanese Americans protected that beauty from racism, transformed common American trees into symbols of an ancient culture adapting to cultural change.