Growing up in a small southern Alberta farming community isolated me from many things, including exposure to other Canadians of Japanese heritage. Until my teens, my heritage was no different than anyone else's at school. It just happened that my hair and eyes were of different colour.
It became my dream to study law when I grew up, which I did. It came as a shock to think of ideas like race, culture, and the politics of being. In fact it was while preparing a political science paper at university that I first learned of the evacuation and internment of Canadians of Japanese descent during World War II. My own family (and I grew up in a very large extended family) never mentioned this experience to me. Not once.
As I travelled and met different people over the years, I heard many untold stories that most Canadians, because of their experience or education, were unaware of. Through my visual artworks and film, I try to tell some of these stories. Our stories.
It was at a 1995 screening of my first documentary, The Last Harvest, at International Women's Day in Victoria that I first met Winifred Awmack. She was in that audience and came to speak to me afterwards. Winifred told me some of her story about teaching high school at Tashme. She had written a book about this and we did an exchange, her book for my video.
For several years we kept in touch. We talked about sharing her experiences and perspective about this part of our history on film. When Peter Raymont of White Pine Pictures approached me to do an episode of "Scattering of Seeds," I mentioned this idea and wish to him. This was the birth of Watari Dori.
The first task was to locate some Tashme High School studentswho returned to Canada since repatriation and were still living. Some of Winifred's students returned to Canada while others did not. The whole idea of the stories of immigration in the creation of Canada that underlined the "Scattering of Seeds," seemed to take a different twist. Consider someone who was born a Canadian, then through repatriation lost their Canadian birthright, only to return to Canada to reclaim Canadian citizenship in their adult years. With the aid of Winifred's Tashme student list, we found such a story in Irene Tsuyuki.
This is the story of Irene(Kato) Tsuyuki of Surrey, B.C. who was a student of Winifred Awmack's at the Tashme internment camp. She was repatriated by the Canadian government, and fought to return and reclaim her place as a Canadian.
I first spent time with Irene and Winifred separately. Then we arranged for the two women to travel to Tashme(near Hope B.C.) and reunite after 50 years. In the first few seconds of meeting, they said their hellos. But after that, they hugged and the years that had separated them fell away. Stories poured out, laughter rang, and tears were shed. They had come full circle. Both knowing that what they had shared together 50 years ago was a bond that influenced the rest of their lives.
This is Watari Dori, a Japanese word that means the migration of the birds - where year after year, generation after generation, they keep returning to their birthplace because of of something deep within, a tie or link to a place of beginning.
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