Looking Like the Enemy:
My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps

by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald

NewSage Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-939-16553-7.
Reviewed by Sherry Wachter
Posted on 07/28/2010

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: History/Current Events; Nonfiction: Life Lessons

My relationship with Looking Like the Enemy began five years ago, when Maureen Michelson at NewSage Press sent me the manuscript. "We're going to be publishing this book," she told me. "I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on it." This was hardly a bolt from the blue; I had been designing book covers and typesetting interiors for NewSage Press for a few years at the time.

I sat down, opened the paper box holding the manuscript, and began to read. I have never had a stronger initial reaction to a book, particularly one that hasn't made it all the way through the editing process. Mary Matsuda Gruenewald, age 80, had at long last written about her experience as a Nisei—a second-generation Japanese-American citizen—interned during World War II. The memoir is remarkable on many levels, not least because the subject is one that many Japanese-Americans avoid speaking of to this day.

Gruenewald recounts hearing the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor—in the kitchen of their family strawberry farm on Vashon Island, off the coast of Seattle. She writes movingly of seeing wartime caricatures in magazines, and then looking at her own face in the mirror and wondering, "Is that how they see me?" She writes of her family's desperate efforts to prove a loyalty that should never have been called into question—US Government studies done at the time demonstrated that there was no "loyalty problem" among the Japanese-American population. Those efforts included burning family heirlooms, and even sending the family's only son, Yoneichi, to fight for the country that had imprisoned him, and his family. In short, Gruenewald movingly portrays what it felt like to be a high school senior, on the verge of beginning her life, and then to suddenly have that life stripped away and replaced with a prison camp existence.

Reading the memoir was stunning, partly because the Japanese-American internment camps are a largely ignored page in American history. I had heard occasional references to the "camps," but Looking Like the Enemy took those references and gave them a human face. I cried as I read of the camp women banding together to sew a protective sash for Yoneichi when he decides to enlist. The need for such a sash was more than symbolic; the desire many Japanese-Americans felt to prove their loyalty meant that their military units often saw the most brutal action, and took the heaviest casualties. The irony is most biting perhaps because Gruenewald leaves it largely unsaid.

When I finished that initial read-through, I knew that this was a book that was more than just a good read—it was going to be important for the questions it raises: questions that were pressing at the time, and have become increasingly so in the years since Looking Like the Enemy first hit bookstore shelves.

How do we decide who the "real Americans" are? How do we deal with immigrants from nations with which we are at war? How do we judge loyalty? Under what circumstances, if ever, is it appropriate to strip American citizens of their rights? Does national security trump personal liberty? Perhaps most significant, is loyalty a one-way street? Can we require loyalty of citizens from whom we have stripped basic rights? Looking Like the Enemy is more than a book about our national past: it raises questions about how we deal with immigrant populations here and now.

Gruenewald's story is enhanced by images from her private collection, from the National Archives, and from various other sources. Some of the images included were taken by Ansel Adams, and donated for public use. The images combined with the story make Looking Like the Enemy an important resource for understanding a little-known facet of American history.

This memoir is used in university, college, and advanced high school classes. In Fall 2010, a Young Reader's edition of Looking Like the Enemy will be available for readers in grades 5 through 8. It will include many of the images from the adult version.

In 2005 Mary Matsuda Gruenewald celebrated her eightieth birthday as well as the publication of her first book. She began writing her story in her seventies, no longer willing to stay within what she describes as "the self-imposed barbed-wire fenced built around my experiences in the camps." With her book, Gruenewald breaks her silence as a Nisei, American-born, second generation child of Isseis.

After her release from an internment camp, Gruenewald entered nursing school and became a registered nurse. She worked as an R.N. for more than twenty-five years. She established the Consulting Nurse Service within the Group Health Cooperative in 1971, which has become a national model for numerous health care providers. In 2002 she was a medical delegate representing seniors on behalf of Medicare Plus Choice. At that meeting she was selected along with ten other delegates to speak with President George W. Bush on health care issues.

Her articles on internment during WW II have appeared in newspapers nationally, and she has presented radio commentaries for NPR, KPLU. Gruenewald also consulted with the National Park Service during its establishment of Minidoka Internment Camp as a National Park. She speaks to many schools and community groups about her internment. Gruenewald received an Asian American Living Pioneer Award in 2003. Visit her website.

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