Saturday, July 13, 2019

San Diego TV Program Features Clara Breed

Hurray to the recent San Diego KGTV special program that featured Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! One of the highlights of the program was about Clara Breed, a San Diego Librarian (1906-1994). Let me applaud Rina Nakano who produced the program, having learned about hundreds of letters (she exquisitely called “letters of hope”) exchanged between the children of Japanese descent in the World War II internment camps and Clara Breed, then serving as the children’s librarian in San Diego. I hope Rina had a chance to visit the Japanese-American National Museum (JANM) in Los Angeles to see the original handwritten letters by the children. I went there myself in 1995, after Breed’s funeral. I had worked together with Clara Breed on the Planning Stage Committee of the Japanese Friendship Garden to be established inside Balboa Park. The committee was presided by Wil Hippen, Jr., Honorary Consul General of Japan. I represented my Japanese employer, and Clara was the voluntary substitute secretary of the committee. This was arranged by Liz Yamada, who sat on the committee along with Joe Yamada, her husband. I didn’t really know who Clara was at the time. I did notice that the minutes she wrote were superb and I voiced my appreciation.

I contacted Liz Yamada after reading Clara’s obituary, having learned about how a box full of children’s letters addressed to her have been donated to JANM. I immediately visited JANM and found the letters in the process of being scanned. I was able to copy some of them in the hope of writing about Clara Breed. I also contacted the Japanese-American Historical Society of San Diego (JAHSSD). Joyce League, then editor of JAHSSD “Footprint”, told me about a New York writer named Joanne Oppenheim who had started interviewing their members for a book. She advised me to wait for her book to be published.

To make a long story short, I read Joanne’s book, titled Dear Miss Breed, when it first came out and felt it my mission to translate it into Japanese. I wanted as many young Japanese children as possible to know that there was an American woman who gave “letters of immense help” and hope to the children who found themselves under adverse circumstances.

My translation had a print run of 6,000 copies in 2007 and I’m glad they reached all major metropolitan city libraries as well as libraries of major educational institutions in Japan.