The Mapping Project
Navarrete x Kajiyama & Element Dance Theater
SF International Arts Festival, Fri-Sun June 6-8, 8pm, $20 (tickets here)
As a part of “The Mapping Project” performance, coming to CounterPulse June 6-8, I’m creating some digital prints that illustrate stories that come from some of the dancers. We’ve interviewed the dancers about the experiences of their grandparents, relating to the second world war. Going back two generations, the family lines of these Bay-Area based dancers get flung pretty far, geographically: the stories touch on, among other things, the bombing of Frankfurt, the Japanese occupation of China, a kind of pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and the Japanese internment Camps at Rowher and Tule Lake. Most of the maps that form the backgrounds of the prints were scanned from the collection of the Prelinger Library, an absolutely wonderful resource on 8th street. Anyone who’s even remotely bookish is bound to have a great time there.
Below are two of the five prints, and their accompanying stories. If you’d like to see the full suite of five, visit the blog I’ve set up for the performance: themappingproject.blogspot.com
My family lived in Frankfurt while it was being bombed. There was an air raid and the family went down to go to the shelter. But my dad, he was about seven, he didn’t want to go. He got absolutely hysterical about it, screaming that he didn’t want to go. They gave up, and went back to their house. And found out, the next day, that the shelter had suffered a direct hit. Everyone in it had died. Dad doesn’t like to talk about this. Whenever Oma talked about it, her voice would get full of emotion, quivering, almost crying. That seemed to be one of the reasons Dad didn’t like to bring up the war – it would make Oma very emotional. He didn’t want us to learn German. I didn’t understand all the implications. I knew my grandfather was in the army, but Oma said he wasn’t in the Nazi army, he was in the “other” army. It wasn’t until much later, somehow this came up with my boyfriend, who was Jewish. I told him my Opa was in the other army, and he said “Anna, there was no other army.” And a little light went off in my head.
The main story I remember about the war was how my grandmother’s sister had been forced to kneel and crawl over broken glass by Japanese soldiers. There were many other hardships under the Japanese occupation. They tried not to eat meat unless they slaughtered it themselves. The rumor was that the meat sold at the market was actually human flesh since the Japanese took all the livestock. There were other stories—Japanese fighter planes shooting down family villages, best friends being shot down and killed in plain sight. But the story about Po-Po’s sister crawling on broken glass—that one haunted me. How could anyone do something so cruel to another person? Every time I see broken glass on the sidewalk, I think about how it would feel to have shards of glass pierce and tear into the flesh of my knees and palms.
It was that broken glass story that made me as a child understand why Po-Po hated Japanese people for so long. Funny thing is, I actually remembered the facts of that story wrong. It turns out it wasn’t the Japanese who made Po-Po’s sister crawl on glass. It was actually the Chinese communists during the Cultural Revolution. Actually, I didn’t hear the story directly from Po-Po. It was my mother who told me. I had asked her why Po-Po didn’t like the Japanese. It’s funny, in school the kids assumed that being Chinese and Japanese were the same thing. There was one Japanese boy in my class, and the other kids assumed the two of us—me being the only Chinese girl—would get married. Now my grandfather, he was in the U.S. at the time of the war. He would have been sent to Normandy as a soldier, but he got out of it. He spoke both Chinese and English, but when he got drafted, he pretended he didn’t know any English. That way he wouldn’t be sent into battle. You might think he’d want to get in there, to fight the Japanese, but he pulled one over on the army instead. It was more important to him to stay alive. He ended up stationed in Arizona and worked as an army cook.