"The truth is, immigrants tend to be more American than people born here." -- Chuck Palahniuk, "Choke"
My wife Mary and I rode BART from the North Concord station to San Bruno a couple weeks ago. It was the first time we'd ridden the train beyond the Mission Street station.
Since we boarded after the last commuters were gone, we were able to take in the total panorama without disruption. It was refreshing to see the Bay come alive as each community began to stir along the way.
We had a purpose in going to San Bruno that morning. Mary prearranged with the federal immigration office to review our family records, and we were anxious to see what they contained.
We decided not to take our car and opted to ride BART to avoid the commute traffic, especially across the Bay Bridge. We also didn't know what the parking situation would be like once we got there. Although it turned out there was ample parking, we were satisfied with our choice.
The records office was a little less than a mile walk from the train station. We could've cut through the Tanforan shopping mall which would have shortened our walk by nearly a quarter mile, but it didn't matter. Walking the extra distance was good for us.
We checked in a few minutes after 10 a.m. and were warmly greeted. Mary and I signed several forms -- government standard operating procedure -- after which we were ushered into an inner studio and handed a file box filled of documents, pictures, correspondence and other records of both our families.
The documents mainly contained information regarding our parents' births, their arrival into this country, their early work history, and their children.
Since my in-laws were living in central Nevada at the onset of World War II, their family was not affected by the internment of the Japanese Americans who resided along the West Coast. They were, however, subject to travel restrictions and remained under scrutiny throughout the war.
Although there wasn't as much information in the files as we'd hoped, it at least provided us with backgrounds about our families we never thought to ask our parents while they were alive.
Life for them was no bed of roses -- especially having to learn an entirely new language and culture. I can only imagine the tears that were shed by those women in their teens and early twenties who arrived as picture brides to meet their husbands for the first time as they debarked from the ship ... not knowing if they would ever see their homeland again.
After poring through the records and copying information of interest for our families, Mary and I decided to return to the BART station by way of the Tanforan mall for a specific reason.
It was exactly 72 years ago on the very site where the mall now sits that my family lived in a converted horse stall while we awaited transportation along with 9,000 other Americans of Japanese descent to our permanent settlement in an internment camp in the heart of Utah.
The only remnant of that bleak era is the sign permanently etched on the San Bruno mountain which reads "South San Francisco the Industrial City" that was clearly visible from our stalls.
If assimilation was tough on the second-generation Japanese Americans (Nisei), it goes without saying what our pioneering parents endured during those trying times.
Brian Tracy captured their spirit when he wrote:
"Develop an attitude of gratitude, and give thanks for everything that happens to you, knowing that every step forward is a step toward achieving something bigger and better than your current situation."
Eizo Kobayashi is a Concord resident and a member of the Concord Senior Citizens Club. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.