Silent Herons. By Selfa Chew. Toshiya Kamei, translator. ISBN 978-1888205442. $16.95.
On December 7, 1941, a Japanese suicide squadron attacked Pearl Harbor, marking the beginning of the Pacific War against Japan in all fronts. After this event, the U.S. and its military engaged in an unforgiving and furious campaign against Japan, which reached Mexico and hundreds of Mexican citizens. This offensive took place gradually and systematically in the Mexican Republic. Japanese immigrants—and their (Mexican) descendants in Mexico—suffered, as in the United States, the consequences of World War II in various ignominious ways: some families were sent to concentration camps in Mexico City and Guadalajara, while others were destroyed by the selective detention of hundreds of men in the Perote Prison, the forced sale of their property, and deportation. This book gives a partial account of the history and reprehensible treatment of the Japanese-Mexican community during World War II in Mexico.
On December 7, 1941, a suicide squadron that had left Japan weeks earlier attacked Pearl Harbor. After this event, the U.S. military campaign against Japan and other Axis countries reached hundreds of Mexican citizens. There were even ivilian deaths.
This “collateral damage” took place slowly and systematically in the Mexican Republic. Japanese immigrants and their descendants suffered the consequences of World War II in various ways: some families were sent to concentration camps or designated areas in Mexico City and Guadalajara, while others were destroyed by the selective detention of hundreds of men in Perote Prison, the forced sale of their property, and deportation. This book gives a partial account of the history of the Japanese-Mexican community during World War II. However, it makes no attempt to be a historically accurate source of information. The task of narrating this story is so complex that it is necessary to incorporate interviews, legal documents, police reports, memoirs, poems, and short stories without specifying the genre, the degree of veracity, or the exact origin of the texts. All names have been changed, and while some situations are fictional, others are told in the first person by those affected to give the reader an opportunity to measure the dimensions of the human heart.
The documents that served as the basis for this book can be found at the General Archives of the Nation of Mexico and the National Archives of the United States. However, oral histories are the cornerstone of this text. I must inform my reader, therefore, that this story is also the work of Fidelia Takaki de Noriega, Eva Watanabe Matsuo, Rodolfo Nakamura Ortiz, the Tanaka Otsuka family, Raúl Hiromoto Yoshino, María Fujigaki Lechuga, and Susana Kobashi Sánchez, as well as the officials of various government departments who wrote the reports, memos, and certificates that appear in this volume.
Selfa A. Chew holds an MFA in creative writing and a PhD in borderlands history from the University of Texas at El Paso. She is an editor for Border Senses Literary Review. She teaches at the University of Texas at El Paso and New Mexico State University.