Hisaye Yamamoto, a Japanese-American short story author and journalist, is celebrated in Tuesday’s Google Doodle in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
Yamamoto was born on August 23, 1921, in Redondo Beach, California, to Japanese immigrant parents. Her parents were from the Kumamoto Prefecture in Japan and immigrated to California where they farmed strawberries. Under the California Alien Land Law of 1913, Yamamoto’s family was not allowed to own agricultural land and so they moved around as she was growing up.
In her teens, Yamamoto wrote for a daily newspaper for Japanese Californians under the name Napoleon.
In February 1942, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, more than 112,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their homes on the West Coast and sent to internment camps, under Executive Order 9066, issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Yamamoto, then aged 20, and her family, were sent to Camp Poston in Arizona. Despite the harsh conditions at the camp, Yamamoto continued to write and worked as a reporter and columnist for the camp newspaper, the Poston Chronicle.
Yamamoto was at the camp for three years. During that time, her older brother John was killed in Italy fighting for the U.S.
Following the end of the war, Yamamoto returned to the Los Angeles area and began working as a columnist for the Black-owned newspaper, the Los Angeles Tribune, which aimed to diversify the voices in journalism and unify the Angelo Black community with Asian Americans.
Over the next three years, while working as a reporter, Yamamoto witnessed the racism that minority groups faced, which eventually led her to become a literary champion for those who were discriminated against. Following Yamamoto’s death in 2011, Elaine Woo wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Her experiences [at the Los Angeles Tribune] deepened her awareness of racism to a point of nearly unbearable anguish.”
Yamamoto published her first short story, The High-Heeled Shoes, in 1948, and then left journalism to pursue writing full-time. Her writing explored topics related to the intersection of gender, race, and ethnicity, and her work was influenced by the adversity she overcame at the prison camp.
Yamamoto remained a life-long advocate in the fight against war, racism, and violence. She wrote: “Painfully, in the two to three years of my employment, I came to realize that our internment was a trifle compared to the two hundred years or so of enslavement and prejudice that others in this country were heir to.”
In 1986, Yamamoto’s storytelling won the Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award for Lifetime Achievement for her contributions to American multicultural literature. She died in 2011 aged 89.
Artist Alyssa Winans, who illustrated today’s Google Doodle, said: “Reading Yamamoto’s work and working on this Doodle amidst all the recent news about rising violence hit especially hard. It’s difficult to see elements of history repeating itself, and my heart goes out to all the individuals and families that have been affected.
“As someone of mixed background, I have a complex relationship with different aspects of my culture, so I feel honored to be able to work on a Doodle for APAHM. I am always glad to see a space where Asian American and Pacific Islander voices, causes, and culture is elevated and celebrated.”