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On Memory and Kiku Hughes's Displacement

There are corners of United States history that have been successfully -- but incompletely -- papered over. These are the events and circumstances that have passing familiarity among most high school students or adults. For years, we have heard these terms - internment camp, Jim Crow, Trail of Tears - and understood that the appropriate response is one of serious but mild dismay. We provide the requisite disapproval, the mournful look backwards that carries with it a sense of relief that at least we're past that.

Of course, the reality is we're not past that. We're only just now beginning to reckon with it. Books like Displacement by Kiku Hughes do the excellent work of bringing the past to the present, in this case quite literally.

On a trip to San Francisco, Kiku unexpectedly finds herself transported back in time, participating as her grandmother is transported and incarcerated with her family and the other Japanese Americans then viewed as a threat to the United States. As Kiku lives through what her ancestors experienced, she realizes that her knowledge of this piece of her personal history is mostly absent.

Kiku's time in the temporary camp (Tanforan) and the permanent relocation center (Topaz) reveals to her (and to the reader) the truth of the deplorable conditions as well as the efforts to improve their surroundings; the reality of resistance and the very real fear of death or danger; the uncertainty and unknowing that led to a feeling of hopelessness; and the possibility of finding friends, fun, and even romance despite the circumstances.

When she finally is returned to the present, Kiku somehow musters the courage to tell her mother what has happened to her, and together, they consider the weight of memory and the importance of unearthing those stories. Kiku's mother realizes,

I think sometimes a community's experience is so traumatic, it stays rooted in us even generations later. And the later generations continue to rediscover that experience, since it's still shaping us in ways we might not realize.

And Kiku, too, vows to hold their memories, to recognize the strength possible through bringing trauma to light:

But when a community comes together to demand more, when we do not let trauma stay obscured but bring it up to the surface and remember it together -- we can make sure it is not repeated.

By folding Kiku's story into the events surrounding the 2018 "zero-tolerance" immigration policy that resulted in family separations and prolonged incarceration in immigration detention facilities, Hughes is able to draw a clear line between the past and the present, insisting that we hold these stories in our collective memory, always working toward a better tomorrow.


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