Black Excellence Month — Poetry

29 Lines of Poetry by Barbara J. Fukuda

Every year that passes, Black Excellence (History) Month becomes more and more essential for America (and the world) as we continue to create what we want our future to look like. The works of many creatives go unseen, which is why it’s crucial that we continue to dig up and explore our past to manifest the most ideal pathway we’d like to take as a country.

Recently, my family and I were going through old boxes and it was such an honor to come across the poem shared below written by my mother, Barbara J. Fukuda. It is 29-lines of poetry about the Japanese American internment camps that my father’s family experienced during WWII.

I wanted to honor my mother this month as a Black writer and poet for her hauntingly accurate account of what many families of Japanese ancestry went through during that time. If you wanted a glimpse into understanding what people faced at that time, her poem says it all. Her ability to capture the experience in the way that she did is noteworthy in terms of Black artistry and self-expression, yet heartbreaking in the world of history.

Photo Credit: Japanese Americans: From Relocation to Redress

Quiet Americans: The Stalls in Santa Anita, 1942 — by Barbara J. Fukuda

At the gate of the barbed wire enclosure,
Japanese evacuees are waiting for ID numbers —
just like prisoners of war;
each family assigned a stall
accepting it like a lifeless horse.
Yesterday, the families were educators, bankers,
gardeners, and business owners.
Today, they are awakened to a flashlight shoved
down their throats, and have to watch while their
homes are destroyed.
The smell of the asphalt floors
makes them puke on the hard cots at night;
the eight cots that sank from the heat
in a twenty by twenty-two foot stall.
Patriots that believed in the dream are inmates
under armed guard, fed like convicts in mess hall lines;
dinner is a boiled potato, canned Vienna sausages
and two slices of bread.
Young brides share toilets with no partitions,
and showers with two wide boards anchored to the walls;
they feel humiliated and tearfully embarrassed.
Sobbing is heard in Stall Number 60. They are citizens
stripped of all rights. Death is more becoming.
Men are wearing government-issued pea coats
that drag the ground,
the ground with scents of horse feces;
wondering what they did to deserve this treatment.
Obedient and silent, they watch guards with guns drawn.
Will someone make the wrong move?

Copyright 1990.

This poem is a reminder to all of us that our freedom cannot be taken for granted and to be persistent about revealing our past mistakes so that we don’t repeat them again.

Barbara Fukuda is a Doctor of Divinity, teacher, healer, writer, songwriter, poet, & mother.