Voiceover

‘That’s Obasan's home’

December 22 2003
Voiceover

‘That’s Obasan's home’

December 22 2003

‘That’s Obasan's home’

Voiceover

In August, novelist Joy Kogawa decided on a whim to visit the Vancouver neighbourhood where she lived for the first seven years of her life. She hadn’t been back since 1942the year the federal government confiscated the home and interned her and her family, along with thousands of other Japanese Canadians, during the Second World War. Kogawa, 68, couldn’t remember the exact address, but she knew the house when she saw it-and it was for sale. That discovery led to a chain of events that is still unfolding. An ad hoc committee was formed to purchase the bungalow, the model for one of the settings in Obasan, her acclaimed 1981 novel about the internment. But before the group, which has members from across Canada, could raise enough money, some-

one else bought the house and started renovations-without a permit. Nevertheless, the committee still hopes to find a way to have the house officially designated a historic site and eventually convert it into a literary centre. Committee member Linda Ohama (below), a Vancouver filmmaker, discusses the house’s importance.

The committee’s been trying to put some light on the house, show its historical and cultural significance. We want the new owner to realize that more than just a handful of people care about the property. We were told that she was interested in renting it out basically as is. But 13 windows were taken out. They were the square, old-fashionedtype windows that make the character of the

house. The ground level was gutted except for the structural beams. So a lot of work was done in a couple of days before we noticed it and the stop-work order was put on.

The Marpole area that it’s in was home to a lot of Japanese-Canadian families before the war. Joy has brought that whole subject of what happened to the Japanese Canadians to the forefront in her literary work. So the house is a symbol-not only for Joy, but I think for our whole community-that our history makes it important enough to be saved for future reference. And it’s important not only to the Japanese-Canadian community, but to all Canadian writers. To them, that’s Obasan's home. So to set the house up as a cultural and literary centre would be recognizing those things.