By Ken Feltman
I was surprised by the number of her friends and former co-workers who contacted me after I wrote about my former assistant, Kazuko. Thank you for your good wishes and the several wonderful stories and insights into a very private but outgoing Japanese-American. As one former co-worker put it, “That tiny lady made a powerful impression.”
Kaz finally reached her sister in Japan. All family members are safe. Kaz’s boyfriend (of many years) has reached his family, too. All are safe but many are displaced.
To answer two questions: (1) Kaz and her boyfriend never married. Kaz, nicknamed “American Girl” by her Japanese and then her American friends, grew up loving Hollywood movies and everything American. She moved easily between her Japanese friends and culture and conventional American friends and culture.
But “American Girl” was also very Japanese. When her mother refused to return to Japan because she did not want to see the devastation of World War II, Kaz honored her mother, all of her mother’s life. She cared for her mother, first and always. Her boyfriend never questioned that loyalty: “Of course, it is our way.”
(2) Kaz is approaching 80 and is not in the best of health. She cannot travel to Japan. She was last in Japan some years ago. Now that they have reestablished contact, Kaz and her family in Japan are in regular communication again.
Kaz lives at the bend of a river in a pleasant suburb of Chicago. Every day, she looks out the window at the running water. It is not the Pacific that she came to love as a child in Japan and then in San Francisco. But, as Kaz says, “It is my part of America.”