Making Home from War: Stories of Japanese American Exile and Resettlement

We are no longer prisoners, but are we really free?

Many books have chronicled the experience of Japanese Americans in the early days of World War II, when over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, two-thirds of whom were American citizens, were taken from their homes along the West Coast and imprisoned in concentration camps. When they were finally allowed to leave, a new challenge faced them—how do you resume a life so interrupted?

For most, going home meant learning to live in a hostile, racist environment. Some returned to find they had lost their homes and had little choice but to bide their time in transitional housing, including community halls, churches, housing projects, and tent camps. Their employment options were also limited; they often worked as domestics, dishwashers, and field laborers to help support their families. The effects of these experiences reverberate to this day, and Making Home from War reaches into the past, melds together what was once hidden, and tells the often neglected or hushed story of what happened after the war.

With honesty and an eye for detail, Making Home from War is the long-awaited sequel to the award-winning From Our Side of the Fence. Written by twelve Japanese American elders who gathered regularly at the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, Making Home from War is a collection of stories about their exodus from concentration camps into a world that in a few short years had drastically changed. In order to survive, they found the resilience they needed in the form of community, and gathered reserves of strength from family and friends. Through a spectrum of conflicting and rich emotions, Making Home from War demonstrates the depth of human resolve and faith during a time of devastating upheaval.


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“I remember my release from Manzanar as scary and intense, but until now so little has been said about this aspect of the internment experience. This is an important book, its stories ground-breaking and memorable.”—Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, author of Farewell to Manzanar


“The Nisei memoirists emerge from the creative process voicing this collective yet richly variegated conclusion: ‘while resettlement will never be a truly definitive entity, we are nonetheless finding our way back home in the discovery and telling of our stories.’”—Arthur A. Hansen, Professor Emeritus of History and Asian American Studies at California State University, Fullerton


“These stories tiptoe gently into the heart, wipe clear the windows of our memories, and release the frozen tears of our outrage and triumphs. A deeply moving accounting of life after imprisonment, its lingering stigma, and the true meaning of freedom.”—Dr. Satsuki Ina, producer of Children of the Camps


“In my teacher professional development work nationally and internationally . . . I will [promote] Making Home from War. The readings . . . are very accessible to secondary school students and I highly recommend their use in social studies and language arts classrooms. The lesson plans are a unique feature to the anthologies and offer teachers tools to help set the context for the readings and to help students debrief them.”—Gary Mukai, Director of Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education

About the Editor

Brian Komei DempsterBrian Komei Dempster is a Sansei (third-generation Japanese American). He received BAs in American ethnic studies and English from the University of Washington and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. His poems have been published in various journals and anthologies. Dempster is the editor of From Our Side of the Fence: Growing Up in America’s Concentration Camps, which received a 2007 Nisei Voices Award from the National Japanese American Historical Society. His debut book of poems, Topaz, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in fall 2013.  He is a professor of rhetoric and language and a faculty member of Asian Pacific American studies at the University of San Francisco.  Currently, he divides his time between teaching and serving as Director of Administration for the master of arts program in Asia Pacific studies. Read more on his website.

Photo by Grace Chow