with Joy Kogawa

With Joy Kogawa at Historic Joy Kogawa House!

Joy Kogawa’s novel Obasan, about a Japanese Canadian woman’s childhood experiences in a Canadian internment camp during WW II was an eye-opener. While I had previously heard about the round-up of all Japanese from the west coast and their exile to remote British Columbia towns and prairie farms, the novel brought home not only the unjust economic and physical losses endured, but also the emotional and psychological impacts of racism on the individuals.


It also touched the political will of governments and was instrumental in bringing about official acknowledgement of wrongdoing, apologies, and redress.


Twenty years after its publication, Obasan served as one of the inspirations for me to write about my own family’s experiences with unjust Canadian laws in the memoir A Cowherd in Paradise.

See A Cowherd in Paradise here:

I was recently reminded of an event I was honoured to participate in, at historic Joy Kogawa House on June 15, 2019, when I actually met Joy Kogawa herself! Pre-Covid – it seems so long ago.


The setting was Joy Kogawa’s (née Nakayama) family home. This was the place where, as a child from age 2 – 7, she lived with her Anglican minister father, mother, and older brother. The home was described in detail in Obasan and holds a bittersweet history. It, and everything in it, as well as their car and boat were confiscated by the government and sold without their consent, to finance their internment in Slocan. The family never lived there again.


The house was slated to be demolished in the mid-2000’s, but Joy led a successful community fund-raising campaign to save it. Now it serves as a unique live/write space for writers, an event centre, and museum for Joy Kogawa’s work and the history of the Japanese Internment in Canada.

Read about the significance of Kogawa House here:


Check out Joy Kogawa’s list of books here:

The Things We Carry: Storytelling Circles was a community literary event organized by the Pacific Canada Heritage Centre – Museum of Migration (PCHC-MoM). One of the ways the museum promotes mutual understanding and respect among all people living in Canada is to collect and share histories from previously marginalized groups.

Read more about PCHC-MoM here:

This was an opportunity to share my origin story – how my family came to Canada, and some of the precious things we hold dear. The event was recorded by PCHC-MoM and made available for viewing on YouTube.

As you will see, I brought some things for show and tell. (It was also the last time my haircut was so intricate!)

Also presenting that day was Dr. Victoria Kuttainen, then Writer-in-Residence at historic Kogawa House, researching and writing about mental health and grief, place, and displacement.  Victoria is an Associate Professor at James Cook University, Queensland, Australia.

With Joy Kogawa
Posing with "Joy Kogawa"

Read more about Victoria’s scholarly research and books here.

I was thrilled that Joy Kogawa came later that afternoon, accompanied by her young grandson, and generously shared her own stories! I can hardly believe my luck in posing with the actual Joy Kogawa! The feature photo above is taken in the backyard, and from left to right is me, Jane Wong (PCHC-MoM member), Joy Kogawa, and Winnie L. Cheung (Co-founder and then President of PCHC-MoM).

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