The Kitsilano Community Centre offers a Multicultural Program. Each month, it highlights different aspects of a culture. In April, it focussed on Japan.
My grandma goes to the community centre for zumba on Tuesdays, so a staff member must have assumed that she lived nearby and asked her to speak at the presentation on Japan. Someone asked her. (Even though she's never lived in Japan, was born in Canada, and has always been Canadian).
"But they don't want me to talk about the internment."
(My partner and I exchange weird looks).
". . . They told you that? They said don't talk about it?"
"Yeah, and I can understand it. I can understand why."
And she can. ("It's not pleasant").
A couple days later, I ask her what she plans to talk about.
"Ohh, I was thinking I would start with: I was born...!" She laughs. She's being facetious.
I play along. "Yeah? Well, I mean, that's true!"
She's pleased. "Yeah, I think I'll make it funny!"
I play along again. "Funny's good!"
She continues. "Yeah, and then, you know, my father ran the general store in Steveston, so I grew up in Steveston, and I went to school there... eventually, we moved to Greenwood, where I continued to go to school... I became a teacher, and oh I don't know, you know, something like that."
Keep playing along. "That sounds good. That's you!"
"Yeah, because they said they don't want me to talk about the internment, and I can understand that."
Whether it's a blessing or curse I don't know, but there is a disconnect between my grandma and the violence inherent in their request. In fact, there's a disconnect between my grandma and most (if not all) violence to do with the internment. Some people would suggest that maybe she's just traumatized in such a way that it is advantageous for her to have this disconnect between herself and the violence of the internment. Maybe. She did say it was fun because they were just kids.
I have no interest in any sort of oppression olympics, but I think it's worth saying that when I come home and she says she's been asked to give this talk but isn't allowed to talk about the internment and she understands why as if it's this sensible request easily obliged and of no consequence, I feel angry and sad.
I try to slow down and see the situation from her perspective, suppose that her willingness to oblige is not a result of particularly successful colonialism and/or assorted Anglo-Canadian bullshit, but rather a product of absolute and true peace, some simple, easy response not marred by a speck of trauma, and granted this is an imaginative exercise limited by my own reality bias (i.e. the internment was fucked up), I still get stuck.
One is not necessarily a prick or white supremacist or any variations on a theme for asking what has been asked of her, but one is certainly a fucked up motherfucker, as far as I'm concerned. If you ask a Japanese Canadian survivor of the internment to give a public talk about Japaneseness without allowing them to talk about the internment, you may be a very good person at heart (and if so, hooray), but your behaviour is fucked up.
Would you be interested in volunteering your time to give a talk about your Japaneseness without talking about the federally legislated persecution and incarceration that you experienced as a result of that Japaneseness?
She either cannot or will not see that colonialism inherent in their request, nor can she understand why it is important to be critical of colonial attitudes or actions. My grandma says that when they were interned, her dad told them, War is war! - nothing you can do about it! But if war was just war, then why don't they want her to talk about the internment?