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Brynn Saito

Brynn SaitoBrynn Saito, MA, MFA, born in Fresno, California, is the author of two books of poetry, Power Made Us Swoon(2016) and The Palace of Contemplating Departure (2013), winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award from Red Hen Press and a finalist for the Northern California Book Award.

She’s the curator of an online project and chapbook entitled, “Dear—” and she co-authored, with Traci Brimhall, the poetry chapbook, Bright Power, Dark Peace (Diode Editions, 2016). Brynn is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing in the English Department at California State University, Fresno.

Brynn is a Kundiman Asian American poetry fellow and a two-time recipient of the California State Library’s Civil Liberties Public Education grant for her work with Yonsei Memory Project (YMP).

Founded in 2017 with farmer, artist, and writer, Nikiko Masumoto, YMP utilizes arts-based inquiry to generate dialogue connecting the WWII incarceration of the Japanese American community with contemporary struggles for justice.

Recently, Brynn was featured Vogue magazine’s “Memory Keepers: Japanese American Internment Survivors and Descendants Speak Out.”

She was also a recipient of a 2019 Densho Artists Initiative grant and an artist-in-residence at the Santa Fe Arts Institute’s “Truth and Reconciliation” residency.

Brynn provided the voice-over narration for the Emmy-winning PBS documentary, Silent Sacrifice: Stories of Japanese American Incarceration.

Brynn SaitoBrynn is a fourth generation Japanese American and Korean American born and raised in Fresno, California in the same home where her parents still live.

Her poetry has been anthologized by Helen Vendler and Ishmael Reed; it has also appeared or is forthcoming in American Poetry Review, the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

Brynn has taught in Kearny Street Workshop’s Interdisciplinary Writers Lab for emerging writers of color; she’s also been a visiting writer in the MFA programs at University of San Francisco, Sierra Nevada College, Saint Mary’s College of California, and California Institute of Integral Studies.

Brynn holds degrees from Sarah Lawrence College (MFA, creative writing), New York University (MA, religious studies), and UC Berkeley (BA, philosophy).

Her two books of poetry and another co-authored, with Traci Brimhall, the poetry chapbook, Bright Power, Dark Peace are available online via the sources linked below:

Power Made Us Swoon (Red Hen Press, 2016) “It is not easy to be austerely uncertain and open-hearted at the same time, but Saito pulls it off beautifully. These strong poems are a reckoning imbued with a peculiarly western American light, gathered out of the very air between the farm towns of the Central Valley and the internment camp at Manzanar. It is a light loyal to acceptance." - David Rivard - available at: www.amazon.com

Brynn SaitoThe Palace of Contemplating Departure (Red Hen Press, 2013) "This is a sacred internal travel, carving its mighty shadow on the world. How vibrant is the voice of Brynn Saito; how angelic, bestial, seductive, and divine. The Palace of Contemplating Departure is an offering of the highest order, written in sanctuary, a promise on the tongue, a litany of urgent prayers.” - Tina Chang - available at: www.amazon.com

Bright Power, Dark Peace (Diode Editions, 2016) “Readers are guided through the ruins of a city, and perhaps a society. In this exquisite collaboration, from the ruins are the possibilities. From the unsalvageable, what will save. The magic of Saito and Brimhall’s lyricism returns what was thought to be lost into what is, for certain, miraculous. - Oliver de la Paz - available at: Diode Editions

On February 15, 2019, Donald Trump declared a national emergency at the border between the United States and Mexico.

In a press conference from the White House Rose Garden, he used the word invasion seven times, describing human traffickers, drug traffickers, and gang members streaming through the southern border, which needed a new wall.

His announcement came 77 years, almost to the day, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, in effect authorizing the incarceration of some 120,000 people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast, for “protection against espionage and against sabotage.”

Brynn SaitoTwo-thirds of them were American citizens. Many of them had been living in the country for decades, praised for their “work ethic,” their contributions to the growth of West.

Suddenly they were ordered to pack up their belongings, shutter their businesses, sell their homes and cars; some were given only a few days.

They were shipped temporarily to “assembly centers,” then to “relocation centers,” where many lived for up to four years in barrack-like camps on old ranches, racetracks, and fairgrounds.

It was the culmination of a long history of racist, restrictive immigration policies and surveillance of the Japanese community in America, which had reached a fever pitch after Pearl Harbor.

For survivors and their descendants, the trauma of incarceration remains in pockmarks of destruction and loss up and down the Golden State coast - dispersed families, severed community networks, former sites of internment.

Still, Japanese heritage thrives in these communities, where remembrance is made official every February. Photographer Katsu Naito, a Japanese native who immigrated to New York City in 1983, set out to capture a diverse group of these nikkei living in the Bay Area and Central Valley for Vogue a few weeks before this year’s Day of Remembrance, on February 19.

Brynn Saito“I know the story of my grandfather’s internment through the women in my family,” says Sita Bhaumik, an artist, writer, and educator based in Oakland, whom Naito photographed in her kitchen. As emotional stewards in their families, mothers, grandmothers, and daughters in particular have traditionally carried the weight of cultural memory.

These women are artists, creatives, writers, educators, activists, nurses. One was born in incarceration; one was a teenager; many of them are sansei and yonsei, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of incarcerated parents and grandparents.

For many in this younger generation, remembering and healing is part of larger feminist and anti-colonialist political work.

Two of them now helm their family farms, part of a tradition of Japanese agriculture in the Central Valley that was hugely disrupted by incarceration.

Six of them are docents at Wakamatsu, a tea and silk colony outside Sacramento that contains the gravesite of the first known Japanese woman buried on American soil.

What is shared among these women is a sense that history is repeating itself with horrific accuracy. The similarities of Roosevelt’s executive order in Trump’s national emergency declaration are unsettling.

Clinical language belies an American predilection for state violence. The familiarity of the word camp is especially insidious - musician Shirley Muramoto says she always believed her mother was talking about a summer camp when remembering her incarceration.

Brynn SaitoSo the act of counter-documentation becomes a form of resistance. “Telling our stories will keep us alive,” writes Tani Ikeda, a documentarian who filmed at the deadly Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville, Virginia; at the Women’s March on Washington; and at Los Angeles International Airport when Trump’s travel ban went into effect. “They will open the heart of this country by breaking it.”

Saito is Korean American and Japanese American. “My Japanese-American grandparents, Alma Teranishi Saito and Mitsuo Saito, were 26- and 21-years-old when they were evacuated from small farming towns in the Central Valley of California and incarcerated in the Gila River Camp, in Arizona,” she says.

“They met and married while in camp. My aunt, Barbara, was born during the incarceration.” She frequently touches on her family history in her work as a poet:

“The closer I get to my family’s stories of immigration, incarceration, struggle, and survival, the more I understand how history’s deep and rushing forces make and remake us and our communities, the more I know my role in imagining future worlds.”

Brynns father’s garden - forty-plus years in the making, and inspired by the gardens of Japan, holds important significance to her to this day:

“That garden connects me to the power of rootedness, nourishment, and family. The garden arrives constantly in my poems, and serves as a metaphor for our deep interconnectedness and creativity as humans.”

Brynn SaitoSaito founded the Yonsei Memory Project in the Central Valley with Nikiko Masumoto, which connects yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese Americans) with the experiences of their incarcerated elders through the arts.

The Yonsei Memory Project has begun a mapping project, collecting sites of significance for nikkei in the Central Valley. “Many in our Fresno County community still don’t know that our local Fresno Fairgrounds, for instance, had become a detention center.”

https://brynnsaito.com/





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