112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Poetry, Jazz, and Forgiveness

Tracee Auville-Parks, California Baptist University

Using the poetry and art created by Japanese American internees during the 1940s, we can see people struggling to make sense of the tumultuous events in which they lived. This paper focuses on how Inada’s poetry seems to provide him with the ability to process the acts of discrimination and hatred he experienced during his internment without internalizing or becoming a victim to it.


By 2002, the US and her allies went to war to fight against those who wished to do harm, such as Islamic Extremist groups like the Taliban. As a result, we continue to witness a backlash against Muslim Americans who hold no blame for the attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11. Students in this country are taught to be tolerant of others; to honor the diverse cultures found in the Unites States. Students also learn that many people have been unfairly persecuted due to their religious faith, the color of their skin, their race, their gender, and so on. 

The impetus for the subject of this paper stems from a reading of Dr. Ronald Takaki’s A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America while watching events unfold after 9/11. One of the neglected narratives Takaki reviews occurred during World War II: the Japanese American Internment Camp experience of the 1940s. Research has shown that one can find similarities between the discriminatory treatment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s and with current acts of discrimination committed against Muslim Americans. What becomes apparent upon examination is that these events are based on often-irrational fears that arise during periods of war or military conflict. 

Art and writing often provide an outlet for exploring personal truths and the resultant interpretation of the experiences of the artist. Former Oregon Poet Laureate, Lawson Inada lived in several of these Japanese internment camps, and his poetry explores the internment experience though the eyes of the child he was at the time. In addition, Inada’s use of jazz music as a backdrop to the performance of his poetry provides an added layer of interpretation by creating a pace and rhythm that mimics the syncopation of jazz coupled with the discordance of the poet’s experiences. I would argue that readers understand true tolerance and forgiveness upon reading Inada’s poetry.