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From The Asian Reporter, V13, #8 (February 18-24, 2003), page 16.

Three American stories – one children’s book

Baseball Saved Us

Written by Ken Mochizuki

Illustrated by Dom Lee

Lee & Low Books, 1993

Hardcover, $15.95

By Polo

Back story

In 1941, Imperial Japan attacked United States Navy and Army bases in the American Pacific Territory of Hawai’i. Soon after, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war on Emperor Hirohito. Soon after that, the President ordered West Coast Japanese Americans out of their homes, their schools, their jobs and businesses. Families were forced to report to United States Army collection sites, then bussed or sent by train to desolate prison camps.

Every federal, state, and local system of government and justice, backed by brutal media, acted in concert to steal an entire ethnic-American community’s liberty. Innocent children, working fathers, elderly aunties, were kept behind military barbed wire on an awful assumption of mass disloyalty, deviousness, sabotage.

The Emperor surrendered in Tokyo Bay, in 1945. Families were bussed out without a word (including a string of U.S. Supreme Court denials) until President Ronald Reagan finally acknowledged the wrong, and formally apologized, four decades later.

This story

Author Ken Mochizuki and artist Dom Lee tell a terrific children’s story. They tell a modern one — tender and tough and most of all: true. All these elements are necessary if kid tales are going to retain their traditional value in contemporary America. Relevancy and efficacy, it seems, are key. Wimpy pink princesses, white-steeded studs, and foul-breathed dragons are no longer very useful. Democracy and racism and cultural integrity are a bit harder to do, but Messrs. Mochizuki and Lee do them all. Wonderfully.

More wonder, if only libraries and bookstores didn’t catalogue or shelve Baseball Saved Us in sections set aside for "Japanese Americans- Relocation," or "World War, 1939-1945," or "Prejudices-Fiction" — not the aisles careful mothers or conscientious uncles wander when shopping for nice children’s stories.

Baseball Saved Us is not only for Japanese America, not just for history buffs, and not intended for baseballers.

Three stories

Baseball Saved Us is told through the eyes and voice of an eight to 10 year-old boy. He is an unnamed American boy, in a simple brown T, under a yellow billed cap. He calls his mother, Mom. His father is Dad. His big brother is Teddy. Race enters only because that is why he and Teddy, Mom and Dad, are "in the middle of nowhere … behind a barbed-wire fence. Soldiers with guns made sure we stayed there."

"It’s wrong that we’re in here." Dad says. "We’re Americans too!" And that’s the end of it. The author doesn’t get stuck there, in that geological or sociological American desert. Instead, Japanese American families get into gear, and do what Old Worlders do best, do what America needs most — keep our eyes on the ball, ignore the craziness up in the raucous stands. Jobless and angry men get organized, idle and rebellious teens get trained, mothers make team uniforms out of pin-striped cotton mattress covers. Play ball.

Baseball Saved Us is finally a story about the redemptive power of sport. By practice practice practice, by marshalling his attention, by disciplining his rage, a small athlete spins essential esteem for himself and deserved respect from others.

In 1942, our government tore the "American" part of Japanese American off the page. Soon after, Japanese Americans proved to themselves what tenacity and grace resides in their ancestral bones. Soon after that, Japanese America proved to its tormentors what loyalty and courage lay in its immigrant heart by taking up The War’s most battle-decorated arms against America’s fascist enemies. This is an American story. Baseball Saved Us is an American story. Both are tough and tender. Both are true. Both are what children need from a story.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon