Setsuko's Secret: Heart Mountain and the Legacy of the Japanese American Incarceration
As children, Shirley Ann Higuchi and her brothers knew Heart Mountain only as the place their parents met, imagining it as a great Stardust Ballroom in rural Wyoming. As they grew older, they would come to recognize the name as a source of great sadness and shame for the generation of Japanese Americans forced into the hastily built concentration camp in the aftermath of Executive Order 9066.
Only after a serious cancer diagnosis did Shirley’s mother, Setsuko, share her vision for a museum at the site of the former camp, where she had been donating funds and volunteering in secret for many years. After Setsuko’s death, Shirley skeptically accepted an invitation to visit the site, a journey that would forever change her life and introduce her to a part of her mother she never knew.
Navigating the complicated terrain of the Japanese American experience, Shirley patched together Setsuko’s story and came to understand the forces and generational trauma that shaped her own life. Moving seamlessly between family and communal history, Setsuko’s Secret offers a clear window into the “camp life” that was rarely revealed to the children of the incarcerated. This volume powerfully insists that we reckon with the pain in our collective American past.
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Advance Praise for Setsuko's Secret
“An encyclopedic narrative on the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and its haunting sway still on the conscience of the nation. Interwoven throughout is a moving personal family history of pain, loss, and resilience. This is an essential American story.”
—George Takei, Actor
“As a former incarceree of Heart Mountain, reading this was tremendously gratifying. In this deeply researched and compellingly written history, Higuchi captures the tragedy and triumph of the Japanese American experience and incarceration.”
—Norman Mineta, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and Transportation
“Only Shirley Ann Higuchi could tell so powerfully a story so needed to be told. This is the culmination of her vision and mission—to honestly share the deep passion of a proud family heritage forged in the saddest of times.”
—Alan Simpson, U.S. Senator, Wyoming, ret.
“Poignant. How the power of an untold secret can affect how one lives and, with its revelation, can spark others to tell their own. With a good story, we can change ourselves, our country, our world for the better. Setsuko’s Secret is one of the good stories.”
—Tamlyn Tomita, Actress
"Higuchi captures the essence of the Nisei generation's reluctance to discuss the trauma and tragedy that shaped their lives and those of their children. This is the book I wish I had written about my own family's experience with the wrongful incarceration of the Japanese American community during WWII."
—Lance Ito, former Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge
Sign up for Setsuko's Book Club!
Buy the book, register here, and join us on January 2, 2021, Setsuko's birthday, for a live event with Shirley. You'll get a signed book plate, a magnet and other surprises.
“Setsuko’s Secret is an intense, personal chronicle of the unconscionable internment of Japanese Americans during World War II…
Setsuko Higuchi may have kept her internment memories private, but her unique spirit inspired the founding of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center and this extraordinary testament to a sorrowful episode in American history.”
Read the full review here.