Touching History

Maria de Chirikof
Posted June 18, 2009 from United States

It is about 3am here, my time, and I can not sleep because my mind keeps thinking back to a moment earlier when I was holding the list of the Attu Aleuts taken to Japan, those who died and those who made it back.

My mom, her first husband and their daughter were taken there and reading of my oldest sister, Tatiana, Born in January of 1941 and it says "died of starvation in Japan June 24, 1944. And my oldest brother born in Japan March of 1994 and died of starvation in Japan June 23, 1944.

I hope I can emulate my mother since she had taught me not to hate, period. I was just imagining if I had watched my children starve to death and die a day apart, my heart would be full of rage and anger, I think. My mom always wanted it understood she did not hate the Japanese, nor do I believe any of the Aleuts do or feel hate for the Americans for that matter. What I believe is they would love the chance to just be Aleut again, but how do we do that when things have changed so much?

There were many memories and stories my mother told me to me that I am looking to see if they are recorded anywhere else so I can compare what she told me and to others. Holding the list of survivors and deceased brought it all home again to me, that in fighting for our heritage and culture, it is something powerful and beautiful we want to recapture. So much was lost to the world and I was reading of a trip to visit 2 of the 3 "Lost villages" this summer I believe. While I can not afford to go my spirit will be with them cheering them on.

I believe most people who meet Aleuts really like them because as a peoples they are friendly and giving. This is something I hope to keep alive in living my life and teaching my daughters too. I think we manage it in small ways in that we do believe being good people matters.

My mom was 19 when this occurred, the same age as my oldest daughter. It is kind of beautiful to see my girls love and interest in the Japanese Culture, even after I told them about the events that happened to their grandmother. I believe it is what my mom would have loved to hear and know she is smiling down on us that we can help heal the wounds of the past like this. It was funny seeing their interest in Japan grow and grow over the years and I often wanted to tell them of the events that happened with their grandmother but they were so young yet. I worried telling them of their Grandma's capture and death of my 2 oldest siblings would change their interest and did not want that happening for my mom's sake.

I hope my mom would be proud of me for always trying to live as she wanted me to. To be strong and good and also that she would support my efforts to find and get in touch with other families who survived and their kids and grandkids and maybe even great-grandkids by now as my mom has surviving. I believe it can be a beautiful lesson to the world that no matter how painful the past we can heal these wounds and become One World in peace.


Comments 2

  • JaniceW
    Jun 18, 2009
    Jun 18, 2009

    Maria, I understand these thoughts as my grandmother suffered at the hands of the Japanese when they invaded China, and my great-grandfather was beheaded for the crime of being the one intellectual in his village. For this reason, my grandmother harboured a prejudice against the Japanese till the day she died. My father however, well aware of the tragedies in his family, chose to visit Japan and meet the people for himself. Like your daughters, he grew very fond of the people and their culture. With my father's open-mindedness, we grew up without prejudice but a desire to understand – to not judge but reach out so that the horror of the past would not happen again.

    Your have raised your daughters to listen with open minds, to understand that these are different times and we are all more global now in our awareness, and that by learning of the past, they can reflect on ways to prevent such tragedy occurring again. In travelling to Japan which I am sure they will do one day, they can erase any prejudices or stereotypes about Indigenous peoples by engaging with the Japanese people, and in turn, dispel any prejudices they might have about the Japanese. It is because of your grace, empathy and desire to heal, that you have four beautiful daughters who will not forget the past but use it to create a brighter future.

  • Maria de Chirikof
    Jun 18, 2009
    Jun 18, 2009

    What is really interesting to read is how the Aleuts tried to get heard but finally had to go to the Japanese Americans for help and joined with them to try to get recompensed for it. I think my mom got about $13,000 for her war experiences and not being allowed back to their village and stuff. There is so much to tell about it like how they evacuated the white woman and children earlier but left the natives and how that made them feel! So much history that is hidden!

    But I don't think any of them hated the Japanese though felt wary which is understandable I guess. There are accounts of the Japanese military guys having a lot of respect for the natives, as in culture I mean. So, I think it was also different then like in other places, but maybe it is the same and it is the media that makes it seem different... They always had a better view of us then the Americans did in a way so such strange twists and turns and friendships that formed.

    Wow, about your great-grandpa! I can so understand your great-grandma's feelings since she lost her husband and in such a brutal way but at least their son was raised as they would have wanted him to be so could understand her pain but look to peace. It is how to get to that place that we need to figure out though!

    Oh, we rented Rabbit-Proof Fence but have not watched it yet.


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