Asking questions, listening to answers help transform memories to stories

I stumbled on a box of cassette tapes from an oral history project completed decades ago. I had recorded interviews of my Japanese American farming neighbors.

Mostly Nisei, second-generation Japanese in America, they shared personal stories about growing up in immigrant families, working the Central Valley’s fields, internment during World War II, and growing families and a community.

Listening to their voices, I stepped back into a past, recognizing their individual intonations and speaking rhythms. Most were not natural storytellers. Japanese Americans tended to be quiet, reserved with their emotions. Perhaps because I grew up around these families and was now farming along side of them, they were candid and open.

One farmer shared a story about the brutally hard work in the fields; a wife told me about her husband who treated their farm like it was his baby; another lamented about all the farm kids who had left for college and never returned.

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