My Meaningful Image

…is a photograph of my mother’s parents and the only grandparents that I ever knew. They lived in Geraldton, Ontario, where I was born. Although we moved to BC shortly thereafter, mom would take us to visit them in the summers and I have very fond memories of these times. The photo is meaningful on many levels: It’s of two people that I miss and love dearly; and it’s a rare, formal portrait of the two of them together. In fact, very few photos exist of them or their 6 children growing up. It was only later in life, when their own children had grown up and had families of their own that snap shots started to proliferate.


Their lives were turned upside down during WWII when they and 23,000 other Japanese Canadians were forced to leave their homes and everything in it, save for one suitcase of their belongings each, and herded off to prison camps in the Interior of BC. My mother was four at the time. She lived in the camps with her mother, younger sister, and two older brothers while her father was separated from them and sent off to do road work. He eventually rejoined them and when they were released, they resettled in Geraldton where grandpa got a job running the printing press at the Northern Star Newspaper.


This photo is particularly meaningful to me because it feels like evidence or "proof" that my ancestors existed. It is a precious remnant of our family history, which was irreversibly ruptured with the evacuation, imprisonment, and relocation. I look at this picture of my grandparents and see them as very dignified and resilient after all they had been through. The photo feels like one of many fragile threads that hold my family together and connects us to each other and to our past. My mother made copies of the photo; my step-father made miniature recreations of the wooden trunk that my grandmother packed her belongings in when she first came by ship to Canada from Japan, The photo along with copies of Grandma's official ID were placed inside the trunk and each member of the family received one.


This exploration of meaning and image has sparked a desire in me to dig deeper into the hidden histories and untold stories of our family.