Freedom Prison Home – Epilogue

September 13, 2014 by Admin

By Laurin Mayeno

Author’s Note: Laurin Mayeno wrote this piece as a tribute to her father and a continuation of the story of his life.


2013 – I am Arthur and Rebecca’s second child and eldest daughter. My father, Arthur, is now 85 years old and still has many memories of the camp experience.

Forty-six years after Dad was forced to leave his Seattle home, my life was also drastically impacted by war. My husband, Wilfredo, a Salvadoran activist was killed by the Salvadoran army when he returned to his homeland to support the liberation movement there. The final time I saw him, our son Danny was conceived.

Wilfredo and I last lived in a one-bedroom apartment across town from my parents’ home on Walnut Street. My parents invited me to live with them, so I wouldn’t be alone when the baby was born. I was soon back in my childhood home, which became my son Danny’s first home. We lived there until we had a home of our own–nearly three years.

My sister Sara and her husband, David, soon returned from Boston with their young son. At the time, housing prices had gone up, and we thought a cheaper way to get a home would be to buy a duplex together. When we started looking, we found that all the good ones had been sold. One day, Sara called me at work. “We found a house on a big lot with enough room for another house. Dad says he’ll build a house in the back for you and Danny.”

I had no doubt he could do it; Dad has always had an uncanny ability to figure things out. He built a three-story children’s playhouse behind our rental unit when I was about four. Then, at Walnut Street, he never stopped building, remodeling, and adding touches to the house. The room he built for my brother in the backyard became a cottage when he added a kitchenette and bathroom. Now that my mother is gone, Dad has moved into the back cottage and just added a bathtub.

I’m not exactly sure how the camp experience impacted my Dad or what has been passed down to my siblings and me. Perhaps his longing for home and Mr. Nakano’s advice compelled him to build a home for Danny and me. Perhaps building the chin-up bar nurtured the inventiveness, creativity, and “do-it-yourself” attitude that we grew up with. Perhaps the years of waiting for freedom helped him to develop patience and perseverance. I don’t know for sure, but I do know this: Dad used his redress money to help build my house.

Somehow, during his retirement, Dad figured out how to design a whole house with only a little help from his architect brother, Jim, and a few hours of consultation from a structural engineer. Without any formal training, he was able to draw all the necessary architectural drawings, including the foundation, basement, first floor and roof and have the design approved by the zoning department.

Somehow he knew how to construct the frames for the foundation, how to build the frame, how to put in the electrical wiring and plumbing, how to make it earthquake proof, how to run the pipes for water, electricity, and sewage all the way from the front. And at each step of the way, his work passed city building inspections.

The house Dad built wasn’t just functional; it was a work of art–from the perfect use of natural light to the beautiful hardwood to the Mexican paver tiles laid in different patterns to the special handmade wooden door fasteners. I asked Dad, “Where did your creativity come from?”

“When I was little, Jim and I invented a game,” he said. “We would take turns thinking of an object and both of us would draw it from our imagination.” By the time their father, Kunizo, got home from work, the two boys had stacks of drawings of different objects. Kunizo would then judge which was the best. Dad’s drawings were often chosen. “This made me happy,” said Dad, “because it was the only thing I was better at than Jim.”

Dad also spent many hours in Japanese school drawing whatever popped into his head, rather than focusing on the lessons. His grades in Japanese school, except for calligraphy, were among the lowest in the class. After Dad got out of the army, he decided to go to art school, against his parents’ advice. Kunizo and Masaye would have preferred that he study something more prestigious and financially promising like dentistry. Dad, however, thought that art was where his talents lay, and they didn’t interfere with his decision.

When Dad was in his mid 60s, he dug trenches in the hard, claylike Berkeley soil, hours at a time, to lay the pipes for my house. With only a small pathway between the front house and the street, we had to carry every piece of the house through the gate to the back of the lot. Like Dad, my brother Ian was inventive and built a special cart out of wheels and boards to enable us to carry timber, wallboard, and other large objects.

It took him over two years to build the house, including drawing the design and waiting for the permit process. During much of that time, Sara and her husband, David, helped out as much as they could, from breaking ground to raising the frame, to cutting and nailing on wallboards, to laying tiles and floorboards. They also tolerated a construction zone in their backyard, with heaps of scraps and nails scattered around. After the house was built, Dad created a path using discarded bricks from a friend’s chimney that fell down in the 1989 earthquake.

Danny was nearly three years old when we moved in to the home he would grow up in. The next summer we made our first trip to El Salvador where we met his grandmother Andrea and other members of his family for the first time. We also made a trek to the village where his father was killed and buried. Here is something I wrote in my journal upon returning home:

I enter my home and find peace. My eyes find pleasure, the wooden hues sing in perfect harmony with the colors, textures, shapes, and forms that join together to welcome us back from our journey. I feel myself embraced by the love of family and by the togetherness of all who have passed through my door.

Author’s Note: Thanks to Dorothy Imai, Nancy Mayeno, Jim Mayeno and Sara Mayeno for helping us remember. Thanks to Brian Komei Dempster and Danny Moreno for review and editorial support and to Jill Shiraki for making this project possible.


In the aftermath of World War II, more than 110,000 persons of Japanese ancestry – roughly two-thirds of whom were American citizens – were released from forced imprisonment in U.S. concentration camps. But released to return where, after being taken from their homes along the West Coast? When they were finally allowed to leave the internment camps, they faced a new challenge: How do you resume a life so interrupted.
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