This poster promoted Frank’s talk to his condo club. Top left: A recent picture of Frank giving a talk. Lower left: A family photo taken in 1945 when Frank was sent with other Nisei Army volunteers to Southeast Asia. The final shot was taken a few days after he volunteered when the ban against Japanese Canadian soldiers enlisting was lifted.
The question is not about me writing this monthly column. My answer for that question is, do what I can as long as I can. This seems to have resulted from my journalistic background.
Rather the question is: now that I’m in my mid-90s, should I keep on giving my talk? Yes. If I stay in good shape for the effort. My talk is a survivor’s account of the Japanese Canadian experiences during the Second World War and the postwar resettlement years.
Those postwar years led most of us being finally accepted as 100 per cent citizens of our country, which we had been all along—but for some of our fellow Canadians, it took longer to grow up and accept that truth. And looking at recent newspaper reports, we Japanese Canadians are no longer targets, but other groups of persons are still being attacked because of their religion, ethnicity or skin colours.
Some things never seem to change.
These thoughts have come up again because I gave an updated version of my talk to a social club in the Etobicoke condo building where Betty and I now live.
The previous talk I had given was my annual visit to Toronto’s Northern Secondary School, which two of my grandsons attend. The talk is geared towards Grade 10 students, because a brief reference to the Japanese Canadian wartime experience is covered in their history textbook.
So when Quentin, my daughter Nina’s oldest son, reached Grade 10, she informed the history teacher about the talks I have given about my experiences before, during and after the war. Those experiences are unique among the many cultural groups that make up our country’s population. Since then, Quentin joins the student audience each year when I arrive. He is graduating this year and trying to decide which university to go to. Graham, his younger brother, will be in Grade 10 next school year. I always look forward to doing the talk at Northern, especially next November when Graham will be in the audience.
Because I wondered about my own endurance, last November I spoke with Mr. Timothy Dingwall, the history teacher, asking if something could be done to continue my presentation in case the time comes when I am unable to attend. Mr. Dingwall organized a filming of my talk to the many students in the large school auditorium. I went home feeling reassured and at the same time hoping that I will still be able to attend next November anyway because it would be Graham’s first time experiencing his grandpa at his school.
As for any physical difficulties I might have to overcome, I discovered that if I stood at the podium for the 60-minutes-plus of my talk, towards the last five minutes or so, my back and legs started to give out. Last November, I was able to step to the side and rest on a nearby bench and wind down the presentation.
Last November’s talk seemed to go all right, and I haven’t yet seen the film but look forward to seeing it soon. I will always recall Quentin’s continued smile as he listened to his Jiichan talking away and his schoolmates listening.
Of course, the reason why a survivor like me has been doing these talks is to pass the word down about how we were mistreated and to help prevent any other Canadians from being treated in that wrong way.
More recently at our condo, Bistro 2000, an informal club of condo residents which meets every weekday afternoon in one of our Party Rooms, got me thinking they could be a good audience for my talk. Our fellow members are mainly senior or retired folks who can attend an afternoon event such as my talk at Bistro 2000. Another advantage is that Betty and I wouldn’t have to drive to and from the event. I don’t have a car anymore anyway. In our condo building, it is just a quick ride in the elevator to get to the Bistro 2000 event.
Marian Leslie, who looks after the club’s programs, accepted my talk offer and had a neat little poster made from photos found online. Those posters were posted on the bulletin boards in our buildings for three weeks or so before my talk. The result was happily unbelievable. Bistro 2000 usually has something like 15 to 20 attendees on any afternoon. But boosted by the effective poster, on May 14, when Betty and I went down to the club, it was obvious there would be many more attending than usual.
Along with the familiar regulars, many new persons kept joining in. The party room was organized to have the mic and speakers in one corner, and was packed with tables that had four or five chairs each. In effect, the attendance estimate was between 70 and 80 people. When I started my talk, the entire audience was not just polite, but looked interested and stayed with me to the end. I was fatigued, yes— but also delighted.
In the days following, I was told nice comments about my talk from two persons who were unable to attend the event. They had heard about it from other condo residents.
By the way, there is one other Japanese Canadian condo resident who attends Bistro 2000 regularly. His name is Roy Tamura and he’s a Scarborough-born Sansei. Recently he told me his mother was Tamiko (nee Suzuki) whom I knew from my seven-month Kaslo family camp stay (working on The New Canadian). But I also was lucky enough to get to know her sister, Naka, who was a Kaslo camp teacher.
Thinking it over, if that talk at Bistro 2000 last month was my very last one, there is one easier event that I can also do at our club. That would be a songfest with pop songs such as Pennies From Heaven and Sunny Side of the Street that we first heard from the 1930s and 1940s. I’ll supply the song sheets and accompany everyone with my harmonica.
By the way, I’ve sometimes brought out my Tombo harmonica to certain condo events, so when talking about an upcoming event, fellow residents often say to me, “You’re bringing your harmonica, aren’t you?”