A trip home crystalizes connections | Guest Column | Sept. 9

My grandmother, Toyo Makishi Rogers Kaponpon, was in her early 20s when she met John Rogers, an American sailor in her hometown of Okinawa, Japan in 1946.

They married in Japan and moved back to the United States, living in Seattle for two years, and then moved to Bainbridge Island in 1954, where they raised three children.

Now age 91, she recalls making the decision to move to the island. “I moved here because of the Japanese American community, and because it was close to Seattle.”

As a child growing up on Bainbridge Island, I always felt the special connection between my family and the community, especially because of my Japanese heritage.

Although I didn’t learn the Japanese language, I was told many stories of the journey that my grandmother had gone through moving to Bainbridge Island as a young woman.

I was always encouraged to respect and learn from others, as I recognized that many people, even in my own community, didn’t always have it as easy as I did.

I remember my grandmother taking me to the annual summer picnics hosted by the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community at Battle Point Park, creating memories that I recall fondly.

Even though I looked forward to them and loved the sense of community that had passed down through generations, it wasn’t until I was a few years older that I began to understand just how significant the connection and history between some of the Japanese American residents of the island was, which my grandmother had known for years.

This unique strength and spirit was also very present during the opening of the Bainbridge Japanese American Exclusion Memorial at Pritchard Park last month.

When I attended this year’s BIJAC picnic, I saw many familiar faces as well as many new ones. One person who was particularly welcoming was Clarence Moriwaki, past president and board member of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community, who introduced himself to me as I helped myself to the delicious assortment of authentic Japanese food.

As we connected through our memories and appreciation of Bainbridge Island, he reflected on the island’s history of a big heart from WWII to present day.

He shared his thoughts about what made Bainbridge Island unique from other areas, especially during the WWII era when the Japanese American residents were forced to evacuate the island.

He also expressed that it was the bond between the Japanese Americans and the greater Bainbridge Island community that made it really special for them to come home to. As he put it:

“Friends looking after property, paying land taxes, the fact that our community through its friendship and bonds took care of their neighbors is what we should be most proud of … and the heart of the community, that’s the real American spirit.”

Maria Rogers recently ended her communications internship with the Chamber of Commerce and is set to  graduate from Western Washington.


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