At eight years old, Grace Eiko Nishikihama was forcibly removed from her Vancouver home and interned with her parents and siblings in the BC Interior. Chiru Sakura--Falling Cherry Blossoms is a moving and politically outspoken memoir written by Grace, now a grandmother, with passages from a journal kept by her late mother, Sawae Nishikihama. An educated woman, Sawae married a naturalized Canadian man and immigrated to Canada in 1930. They came with great hopes and dreams of what Canada could offer them. However, within just a little more than a decade after settling happily in Paueru Gai (Powell Street) area, her dreams, and those of her husband's, were completely shattered.
It was 1942 and more than 22,000 Japanese Canadians on the West Coast were interned and had their belongings, property and homes confiscated, and then sold off by the Government of Canada. After the war ended, restrictions on Japanese Canadians' movement continued for another four years and the Government ordered anyone of Japanese ancestry to move "east of the Rockies," or be deported to Japan. There was nothing on the West Coast to return to, so the Nishikihama family moved first to rural Manitoba and, when government restrictions were lifted, later to Winnipeg.
At eighty-four years of age, Sawae began writing her memories for her children, ensuring they would know their family's story. While translating her mother's journal, Grace began to add her own experiences alongside her mother's, exploring how generational trauma can endure, and how differently she and her mother interpreted those years of struggle.
Despite her years spent studying art and working as a gallery director and curator, translating her mother's writings, and her country's perceived efforts to simply move on from a dark period in Canada's history, Grace continues to seek an understanding of her past, while facing both sexism and racism. As an advocate for reconciliation, she openly shares her story with the next generations; throughout, Grace returns to her mother's teachings of hope and resilience symbolized in the cherry blossoms around what was once their home.
Grace Eiko Thomson
Grace Eiko Thomson is a second-generation Japanese Canadian, who, with her parents and siblings, lived in Paueru Gai (Powell Street, Downtown Eastside) in Vancouver until 1942 when they were sent to the internment site of Minto Mines, BC, then in 1945 to rural Manitoba. After restrictions were lifted, they re-settled in the City of Winnipeg (1950). Grace's education focused on her need to overcome memories of racism and identity issues, through investigation of her cultural roots and through art. She graduated from University of Manitoba (BFA Hons. 1973-77) and University of Leeds, UK, (M. Soc. History of Art, 1990-91). As curator of various art galleries (1983-98), she concentrated on cross-cultural issues as well as women's issues. In 2000, as Director/Curator, she launched the Japanese Canadian National Museum. She was President of the National Association of Japanese Canadians in 2008 and served on the National Executive Board from 2005 to 2010. She is mother to two sons and grandmother to five grandchildren, and currently participates in various Downtown Eastside activities and issues in Vancouver, BC.
"'Art is solely about living--living and doing without necessarily having to consciously interpret, define or choose. '--Thus says Grace Eiko Thompson, former curator and now memoirist, in her book Chiru Sakura--Falling Cherry Blossoms. Told in parts by her mother's translated memoir, and by Thompson's reflection on her mother's words, the story of this mother and daughter is wise and memorable; in short, a work of art. "
--Sally Ito, author of The Emperor's Orphans, a cultural memoir of a Japanese Canadian family
"Grace Eiko Thomson is a prominent member of the Japanese Canadian community. She has dedicated her life to discovering, exploring, and preserving the culture and traditions of Japanese Canadian life. In Chiru Sakura--Falling Cherry Blossoms, she continues to do so through the engaging stories of her mother and her own. A worthwhile read in her depiction of the deprivation, injustice, poignancy and joy of our common experience. "
--Terry Watada, author of Mysterious Dreams of the Dead and The Four Sufferings
"An honest and articulate troublemaker, Grace Eiko Thomson offers readers an alternative to the model minority narrative as she fearlessly calls out injustices and sets a courageous path for future generations. Sharing her Issei (first generation) mother's diary and her own life journey, Thomson provides precious details and reflects on the impact of Japanese Canadians' dispossession during World War II. Ultimately, she urges humanity to move forward in the fight for social justice and equity. "
--Emiko Morita, Powell Street Festival
"Grace's stories about growing up in the Powell Street (Paueru Gai) area of Vancouver, juxtaposed with her mother's recollections, bring to life the once vibrant Japanese Canadian community that existed prior to the forced uprooting of Japanese Canadians in 1942. Her compelling family story seen from both her and her mother's eyes give us insight into generational differences, separation of family, and the internment experiences of women and girls, which is something you won't find in history textbooks. "
--Lorene Oikawa, president of the National Association of Japanese Canadians
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