Recently, I got a few pictures from a cousin of my grandmother and her family. The picture of the family is undated, but looking at the fashion and the probable age of my grandmother (she looks like a teenager), we decided the picture was taken sometime in the mid-1920’s. My parents recently sent me a picture of my great-grandmother on my maternal grandmother’s side. Again, it’s undated, but in this one, I’m not sure when it was taken. On Becky’s side, she had an old, somewhat damaged picture of her maternal grandmother and her parents. We also have paintings (Becky’s grandmother was an artist), a self-portrait and a painting of Becky’s great-grandmother. All this leads to something tangible in our pursuit to make our family tree.
When I was a kid, my mother would tell me stories about my great-grandparents, all of whom immigrated from Japan to Hawaii. I ate those stories up. I made pictures in my mind of what their lives were like. But in reality, I was making something out of air. Back then, I had hardly spent more than a few weeks in Hawaii, and I had never been to Japan. This was all an exercise of my imagination. Maybe that is why I develop such a strong need to visit Japan–I needed something tangible to connect me to the past.
With these pictures, I’m hoping to give Maya a bit of a head start. She can “see” the past, and that is no small feat. We should remember that for most of human history, we rank-and-file people left little behind to tell our descendents, this is what we looked like. That I even have a few pictures of my immigrant ancestors is a pretty amazing thing. Probably none of them had pictures of any kind of their great-grandparents. I like that we have these pictures, that we can see ourselves a little bit in these reminders of the past. They may not help us put food on the table, but they are a reminder that someone else did in harder times–and they succeeded.