Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp
A Nisei Youth behind a World War II Fence
Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey
Foreword by Cherstin Lyon
Western History / Autobiography and Memoir
Lily Nakai and her family lived in Southern California, where sometimes she and a friend dreamt of climbing the Hollywood sign that lit the night. At age ten, after believing that her family was simply going on a camping trip, she found herself living in a tar-papered barrack, gazing out instead at the nightly searchlight. She wondered if anything would ever be normal again.
In this creative memoir, Lily Havey combines storytelling, watercolor, and personal photographs to recount her youth in two Japanese American internment camps during World War II. She uses short vignettes—snapshots of people, recreated scenes and events—to describe how a ten-year-old girl grew into a teenager inside these camps. Vintage photographs reveal the historical, cultural, and familial contexts of that growth and of the Nakai family’s dislocation. They reveal the recollected lives of her mother and father in Japan and then America, where they began their arranged marriage and had two children. Havey’s vivid and poignant watercolors depict decades-old memories and dreams and reflect moments of daily camp life illuminated by the author’s adult perspective. The paintings and her animated writing draw readers into a turbulent era when America disgracefully incarcerated, without due process, thousands of American citizens because of their race.
These stories of love, loss, and discovery recall a girl balanced precariously between childhood and adolescence. In turns funny, wrenching, touching, and biting but consistently engrossing, they elucidate the daily challenges of life in the camp.
When, in 1980, Havey travelled across the Pacific and for the first time met her uncle Iwatake, a Zen Buddhist priest, she finally understood, in retrospect, the words her mother had spoken years earlier in camp: “You are American, but you are also Japanese.”
Lily Havey was born in Los Angeles. In 1942, along with 120,000 persons of Japanese descent, she was incarcerated in Japanese-American internment camps. After World War II her family moved to Salt Lake City. She graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, pursued an MFA at the University of Utah, and taught high school for thirteen years before establishing a stained-glass business.
Table of Contents:
Foreword by Cherstin Lyon
1. Camping at Santa Anita
2. Settling at Amache
3. Seasons, Joys, and Sorrows
4. Stepping toward Freedom
Praise and Reviews:
“Havey has a distinctive voice and a gift for writing—the text flows, even when she is discussing emotionally difficult material. She also has a talent for putting herself inside the head of her rebellious preteen self and explaining how she felt at the time, which gives the work immediacy. The book not only speaks eloquently about the pressures on the camp inmates, but provides useful insight into some hitherto hidden matters.”
—Greg Robinson, author of A Tragedy of Democracy: Japanese Confinement in North America and After Camp: Portraits in Midcentury Japanese American Life and Politics
“The writing is at times highly evocative, but it is the addition of Havey's artwork that sets this work apart from and adds a new dimension to the Japanese concentration camp story. Havey includes numerous small details that make the period come alive and shed new light on the prison camp experience.”
—Nancy Matsumoto, writer and contributor to Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and The Densho Encyclopedia of the Japanese American Incarceration
“Through a sophisticated blend of artwork, prose, and photographic images, Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey has crafted in Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp what is assuredly among the very most exquisite, insightful, and candid memoirs of the World War II Japanese American confinement experience.”
—Arthur A. Hansen, Professor Emeritus of History and Asian American Studies, California State University, Fullerton
“This is a book that must be read, shared, discussed, taught,—and savored!”
—Nichi Bei Weekly
“This is a one-of-a-kind memoir, reading like the best fiction yet shot through with scenes that, whether in paint or print, evoke the vivid reality of a life unfairly confined. I loved every page.”
—The King’s English Bookshop
“What an absolutely amazing book! There can be no other estimation for such an important document that is part of the long-standing recovery effort related to the Japanese American internment experience.… One must pick up this essential and new addition to the canon of internment literatures.”
—Asian American Literature Fans
“This memoir will open your eyes and heart to the history of Japanese internment in America.”
Evans Biography Award 2015
Finalist in the Trade Book Illustrated category of the Southwest Book Design & Production Awards