Seattle Histories: Minidoka is the First Camp Your Grandma is Incarcerated in, Crystal City is the Second

Ichikawa family photo, 1955
Historic preservation in Seattle begins with community. The Seattle Histories storytelling project highlights the places, people, and events that have shaped the history of Seattle’s communities. These stories, told by community members, emphasize experiences and narratives that may have been overlooked or misrepresented in our city.

Minidoka is the First Camp Your Grandma is Incarcerated in, Crystal City is the Second

By Troy Osaki

You thumb through your grandma’s yearbook
            from when her middle school-self wore
whatever dress her mother could conjure.
            Maybe it belonged to a neighbor girl

from another barrack who grew out of it.
            Maybe it was unhemmed but fit well
enough. In camp, your grandma couldn’t miss
            school without every other kid finding out

so instead, she missed her bedroom
            the daffodils off 14th near the temple,
how smooth Lake Washington was
            midsummer. She missed her dad

who looked like her but was taken
            elsewhere. In Germany, a grenade
goes off & your grandma is shoveled
            onto a train. Texas smells like pinewood

& sunburn. There’s an unending fence
            similar to before. Your grandma is back
with both her parents & the war
            somehow feels a bit bearable.

The country you & her were born in
            eventually wins & still she isn’t
given back her dad’s laughter, his morning
            hum, all of what disappeared

for three years until her family was
            imprisoned together. Decades after
your grandma is released she returns
            to each camp her dad wrote to her from.

Montana         Louisiana         New Mexico         Texas.

            The land is bare & whatever mess hall
or guard tower was once there isn’t
            as if the war is done, as if there isn’t

a daughter left who’s separated
            from her dad. Somewhere a daughter
still is. If not in a camp, then at an airport
            or behind a wall. Somewhere a dad

not your grandma’s hasn’t seen the sun
            in three days, hasn’t breathed beyond
cement walls since before detainment.
            & still your country says it won the war,

says it’s proud of its name in its mouth.
            You are in your grandma’s home
as she bakes a sheet of sugar cookies.
            Her memory becomes a kitchen knife

you hide beneath your pillow. You sharpen
            its blade every night. You trust no country
that can smile & say its own name
            with so much of someone else’s blood

in its mouth. It’s 1941 & you are at the center
            of your grandma’s camp. She’s looking
at a mountain miles away. Says sometimes
            I stand here, right here, staring & I swear

I can hear the other side.

Troy Osaki is the grandson of Filipino and Japanese immigrants. A three-time grand slam poetry champion, he has earned fellowships from Kundiman, Hugo House, and the Jack Straw Cultural Center and is a recipient of grant support from 4Culture, Artist Trust, and the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture. His poetry has appeared in Crazyhorse, the Margins, Muzzle Magazine, Poetry Northwest, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. He holds a Juris Doctor degree from the Seattle University School of Law where he interned at Creative Justice, an arts-based alternative to incarceration for youth in King County. He lives on occupied Duwamish land known as Seattle, WA.

This piece was commissioned by the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. The opinions expressed and information contained herein do not necessarily reflect the policies, plans, beliefs, conclusions, or ideas of the City of Seattle.

Learn more about the City of Seattle’s Historic Preservation program and how you can get involved at seattle.gov/neighborhoods/historic-preservation.