Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey will share her internment-camp memories
The Friends of the Park City Library’s annual author luncheon is not a fundraiser for the nonprofit that helps supplement the Park City Library’s budget.
It’s a reward to the community for its support throughout the year, according to Jean Daly, who is co-president of the Friends of the Park City Library board with Marlene Peacock.
“This is a way for us to show appreciation to the Park City community,” Daly said.
This year’s luncheon, which will be held at Deer Valley’s Silver Lake Lodge on Monday, Oct. 10, will feature Salt Lake City’s Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey, author of the memoir “Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp: A Nisei youth Behind a World War II Fence.”
“We always try to get local authors and other interesting people who live in Utah to speak,” Daly said.
Other past speakers include Park Record columnist Tom Clyde, former Utah Symphony Associate Concert Master and mystery writer Gerald Elias and filmmaker Jennifer Jordan.
Havey, who received a Merit of Honor Award from the University of Utah Alumni Association last year, will give a PowerPoint presentation about her book, which is about her experiences when she and her family were incarcerated at Santa Anita Assembly Center and the Amache Relocation Center, two Japanese-American internment camps during World War II.
The term “gasa gasa” is a Japanese slang for hyper activity, according to Havey.
“I tell people that if I were in school today, undoubtedly the teacher would send a note home that says, ‘I think Lily is a candidate for Ritalin,’ you know?” Havey said with a laugh during an interview at her Salt Lake City home. “I was just impatient. So, when we were looking for a title, I have a section in my book called ‘Gasa Gasa Girl’ and the editor thought that would be a good title.”
The book is not to be confused with the Naomi Hirahara mystery novel “Gasa Gasa Girl.”
“We didn’t know that when we went to press, so, that’s been kind of funny,” Havey said.
Part of the reason Havey began writing “Gasa Gasa Girl” was because she felt like she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, the book didn’t start out with the written word. Instead, it all started with watercolor paintings.
“In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, the Vietnam veterans were having problems with post-traumatic stress,” Havey said. “There was an article in the New Yorker about a therapy they were doing. The veterans would be exposed once again to the noises, smells and sights of the war. Then, afterwards, some of them would write and some would paint.”
Havey thought the painting and writing helped the vets cope with their anxieties, and decided to try it out herself.
“I’ve always had this free-floating anxiety,” she said. “For example, I hate bright lights. I hate sudden noises. There are other things, and I just wondered that might be due to the four years I spent in camp.”
So, she began painting watercolors that were inspired by her memories of the camps.
“Now, these are what I call creative memoirs,” Havey said. “I start the paintings by painting a person and then in my mind ask the person in the painting about what they would like in the painting with them.”
When she would display the paintings in art galleries and other places, curators would ask her to write little blurbs about her works.
“I began writing a couple of sentences for each painting, and I found that I couldn’t stop because there were full stories behind them,” Havey said. “I would write the blurb and then file away the story in my mind, and then I found that I could put the stories together and that was what became the book.”
Because of the way it is put together, “Gasa Gasa Girl” isn’t written in linear narrative, but what she calls snapshots.
One scene in the book highlights Havey as a little girl, having to go to the public restroom in the camp in the middle of the night.
The guard saw her moving and shone the spotlight on her, which made her wonder if he was going to shoot her.
“People would ask how I remember the scenes because we didn’t have cameras with us, but I would visualize what I remembered what it was like and what I saw,” said Havey, a recipient of the Evans Biography Award from the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies at Utah State University. “So, what it is in the book may be completely different than others would have visualized, so I want to emphasize the creative part of the memoir.”
While many Japanese-American families have said that their parents and grand parents — known as Iseis (first generation Japanese Americans) — who were sent to these camps never talked about their experiences, Havey’s situation was different.
“After the War, the Iseis were so busy trying to regroup and get their lives going again after they had lost everything that they didn’t have time to sit down and talk, and I remember my mother being so busy that the only time she did talk with me was after I started a stained-glass business,” Havey said. “She would come downstairs to help me and that’s when she would have the time to talk with me about her stories.”
Those stories, mostly about her mother’s childhood, found their way into Havey’s book.
“As I wrote the parts about the camps, I found that some things related to her childhood,” Havey said. “So, I stuck in her childhood memories as well as the camp recollections.”
It wasn’t difficult to relive those memories, Havey said.
“It was just about remembering what had happened,” she explained. “However, there were times when I could feel the heat and the dust, but it is all past. And there are times when I do get choked up when I read something in the book, but it does get easier.”
After a few publishing companies turned down Havey’s manuscript, the University of Utah Press agreed to publish the book.
“Some didn’t want to print the pictures because they said it was too expensive, and I thought, well, they’ve missed the point,” she said.
As in the book, Havey’s presentation during the Friends of the Park City Library author luncheon will feature projected images of her paintings and the stories that go with them.
“After that, I will take questions from the audience,” she said. “That is always the most fun.”
The Friends of the Park City Library’s annual author luncheon will be held at Deer Valley’s Silver Lake Lodge on Monday, Oct. 10. The keynote speaker will be Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey, author of “Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp.” The doors open at 11 a.m. Tickets are $36 and can be purchased at the Park City Library circulation desk, 1255 Park Ave., or online by vising http://www.squareup.com/store/friends-of-the-park-city-library. For more information about Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey, visit lilyyurikohavey.com or http://www.facebook.com/Lily-Yuriko-Havey-693919930692868.
Utah’s Poet Laureate Paisley Rekdal will perform her book-length work ‘West: A Translation’ Thursday at the Kimball Art Center