At Community Supper last Wednesday, Grebel marked the end of Asian Heritage month with guest speaker, Susan Matsuo, sharing about the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII. Susan was unable to visit due to illness, so her granddaughter and Grebel student, Amy Matsuo, spoke on her behalf.

Beverley Fretz opened the program by introducing Amy and highlighting the value of listening to the experiences of others. “Our past is our present,” Beverley began. “The first step is to understand our history.”

Susan Matsuo was six years old when she and her family were taken to Tashme, the largest Japanese Canadian internment camp during WWII. “What was provided was truly just the bare minimum that would allow us to survive,” Susan reflected. Ice formed in the shacks during winter months, and food was scarce in the first year. Over time, the Japanese community in Tashme established a general store, administrative offices, a bakery, a butcher, a hospital, and a mortuary.

Susan’s family was released from Tashme in 1946, but they could not return to their home in BC. “Even after the war ended, and Japanese Canadians were released from the internment camps, they were not welcome in BC until April 1949,” Susan added. Sponsorship from a close friend eventually enabled them to move to Hamilton.

For decades after the war, the Japanese Canadian survivors responded with silence to their unjust detainment. It took later generations to “advocate restitution for the unfair and undemocratic practices,” shared Susan. In 1988, the Canadian Government issued a formal apology to the Japanese Canadian internment camp survivors.

Although Susan could not be present on Wednesday evening, her story—her voice—was heard. Community Supper is a place where Grebel residents, associates, faculty, and staff build connections with one another while enjoying good food, but it is also a place for learning. It provides a listening environment for those with something to share. It is a place where quiet voices are heard.

By Tim Saari