In 1996 my elementary school sponsored auditions for a musical production featuring American heroes. Of the twelve heroes to be cast, only two of them were women. Frustrated at the apparent gender inequality, I was determined to audition for one of these two parts. However, I had been brought up within the pacifist Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), and the two women highlighted, Molly Pitcher and Annie Oakley, both carried guns. My solution to the problem was to write a supplementary musical production featuring a variety of women including Lucretia Mott, Amelia Earhart, and Harriet Tubman. With two friends, I wrote, proposed, and produced my musical for the school. I was eleven years old. My upbringing within the Religious Society of Friends has informed much of my life. In high school I developed my social consciousness through involvement in model United Nations, national peace protests, and international days of silence. The walls of my bedroom were adorned with quotes and pictures of my heroes: Gandhi, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Galileo. I wrote and defended a request to move military recruiters out of the school’s public areas. I felt that students had the right to choose whether or not they were exposed to government propaganda. I refused to be in the marching band or to wear the school’s gym uniform because both uniforms displayed the school’s mascot, a general. I was not a passive pacifist.
During these years the teachers who had the most impact on me were themselves dissenters. My world history teacher defied the school system’s curriculum in order to teach us non-Eurocentric material. She introduced me to the work of Kofi Annan, whose career with the United Nations I followed closely. We studied the apartheid in South Africa and read the works of Nelsen Mandela and Desmond Tutu. I had other teachers who were also demanding and subversive. My calculus teacher demanded that we learn two years worth of material in nine months. In English, my teacher was actually fired for having us read Russian nihilism.
While the legacy of Quakerism informed the culture in which I grew up and how I engaged the cultures around me, that legacy was far from distant. The living heros of my life worshiped with me each Sunday; they shared their stories with humble grace; they cared deeply for me a child and a friend.
While I was still in high school, the first of these heros past on. Harry Patton was likened to a bluebird in a college essay I wrote. He had been a conscientious objector during WW2; he has been imprisoned for his views and tortured. Yet Harry was one of the happiest people I have ever met. He and his son traveled the world as puppeteers and in his old-age he was never without a smile, a kind word, and silly joke.
Today, another hero of my childhood passed on. Frank Hitijkata and his wife Rose taught me about the horrors of the Japanese internment camps and demonstrated the strength of human perserverance through the witness of their lives. During a summer trip a out west when I was 11 years old, we discovered the remnants of an internment camp by the side of the road. My parents explained to me what had happened to Japanese Americans during WW2. In the event of our return home, Frank and Rose answered my young questions and shared their story.
After WW2 Earlham College (where I ended up going!) offered scholarships to Japanese Americans who had been interned and Earlham also created a Japanese studies program in honor of those students. Early lessons of restorative justice, courage, perserverance, and tragedy were taught to me by Frank and Rose. For that, and so much more, both of them will be among the community of heros in my life.
Rest in Peace dear F/friend.