Violet Kazue de Cristoforo


Name Violet Kazue de Cristoforo
Born September 3 1917
Died October 3 2007
Birth Location Ninole, Hawaii
Generational Identifier

Poet and activist. Poet Violet Kazue Yamane Matsuda de Cristoforo (1917-2007) wrote, translated, and compiled Japanese language haiku poetry composed by Japanese immigrants and Kibei. She is best known for her collections of poems from the American concentration camps. She is also known for speaking out about her wartime incarceration experience, in particular her victimization by a Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study anthropologist at Tule Lake.

Violet de Cristoforo was born Kazue Yamane in Ninole, Hawaii on September 3, 1917. At the age of eight, she was sent to Hiroshima, Japan, for her primary education, returning to the United States at age 13 to attend high school in Fresno, CA. Upon graduation, she married Shigeru Matsuda, who owned and ran a Japanese bookstore in Fresno. The couple joined a school of haiku based in Fresno (a second, active club was based in Stockton, CA), and over time, de Cristoforo became well known for her poetry in the "kaiko" or modernist, free style haiku form. The haiku poets worked hard on their writing, putting it up to serious criticism in the clubs, and they also collected Japanese literature. de Cristoforo remembers that right before wartime forced incarceration, the Japanese American poets in Stockton and Fresno destroyed their collections of haiku and most of their Japanese literary libraries.[1]

Following passage of President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, the Matsudas were forcibly evacuated to Fresno Assembly Center at the Fresno Fairgrounds. At that time, the couple had two young children and were expecting a third. Violet was still recovering from an operation to remove a tumor and suffered from poor medical attention in the detention centers. After giving birth to her third child in a converted horse stall in 100 degree heat, the weak and exhausted family was moved to a permanent concentration camp in Jerome, Arkansas. Yet throughout the incarceration, de Cristoforo, along with dozens of other Japanese American poets, kept writing haiku in Japanese which they occasionally published in camp newspapers and literary magazines. In 1943, her husband refused to sign the so-called "loyalty questionnaire" distributed by the federal government to camp inmates, leaving questions numbered 27 and 28 blank, so he was then sent to a Justice Department camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Violet, her brother, mother-in-law, and three children were then deported to Tule Lake segregation camp and expatriated with her husband Shigeru to Japan in March 1946. After several years in post-war occupied Japan, she later resettled in the United States with her second husband, U.S. Army officer Wilfred H. de Cristoforo. Whenever possible, she scribbled poems on scraps of paper. "Throughout, haiku helped hold me together," she told the Salinas Californian in 1993. "It was an escape, and it let me express my feelings."[2]

Eventually, she would publish six books, including "Poetic Reflections of the Tule Lake Internment Camp, 1944", which was first published in 1984. The culmination of de Cristoforo's life's work is "May Sky: There Is Always Tomorrow; An Anthology of Japanese American Concentration Camp Kaiko Haiku" (1997, Sun Moon Press), the first major anthology of World War II concentration camp haiku, that she translated and entitled over fifty years.

In addition to her translation and writing, de Cristoforo worked for years as in publishing with The McGraw-Hill Companies and was a passionate advocate and activist in the Redress Movement. In particular, she was vocal about the devastating, long-term effects that the forced removal had on Japanese Americans and inquired about the U.S. government's responsibility for incarcerating its citizens without due process. In the early 90s, anthropologist Peter Suzuki, de Cristoforo and Ernest Kinzo Wakayama, two former Tule Lake inmates, charged anthropologist Rosalie Wax with violating her social-scientific "objectivity" as a fieldworker in Tule Lake, acting as a government "informer," which had catastrophic consequences for her "victims."[3] Both de Cristoforo and her brother, Tokio Yamane, testified on September 23, 1981 at the San Francisco hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (CWRIC).

In 2007, de Cristoforo was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, which recognizes artists who have contributed to folk or traditional arts of the United States over a lifetime.

She died in Salinas, California on October 3, 2007 at age ninety, just two weeks after returning from Washington D.C. to receive the National Heritage Fellowship award.

For More Information

de Cristoforo, [Violet] Kazue Matsuda. Poetic Reflections of the Tule Lake Internment Camp, 1944. Santa Clara, CA: Privately printed, 1988.

———, ed. May Sky: There is Always Tomorrow: An Anthology of Japanese American Concentration Camp Kaiko Haiku. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1997.

Ford, Karen Jackson. "Marking Time in Native America: Haiku, Elegy, Survival." American Literature 81.2 (June 2009): 333–59.

Howard, John. Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Awards website, http://arts.gov/honors/heritage/fellows/violet-de-cristoforo, accessed July 8, 2014.

Tateishi, John. And Justice For All: An Oral History of the Japanese American Detention Camps. New York: Random House, 1984. Foreword Roger Daniels. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999.

Woo, Elaine. "Violet de Cristoforo, 90; California Haiku Poet Sent to WWII Internment Camps." Los Angeles Times, Oct. 9, 2007, http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/09/local/me-cristoforo9.

Footnotes

  1. Violet de Cristoforo, ed. May Sky: There is Always Tomorrow: An Anthology of Japanese American Concentration Camp Kaiko Haiku. Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1997.
  2. Sunita Vijayan, Salinas Californian, "Salinas Lady Vi Passes". October 5, 2007, http://archive.today/LA8yw, accessed on July 8, 2014.
  3. Peter T. Suzuki, "Anthropologists in the Wartime Camps for Japanese Americans: A Documentary Study," Dialectical Anthropology 6,1 (1981): 30-32, 60 fn. 215, and "The University of California Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study: A Prolegomenon," Dialectical Anthropology 10 (1986): 193-97, 201-205; Violet Kazue de Cristoforo, "J' Accuse," Rikka 13.1 (1992)