LOS ANGELES — Food takes Doreen Nakama back to her childhood and it helps her pay tribute to her grandfather, Alton Nakama.
“Through cooking, it’s really just helped me get closer to him,” she said. I know that he’s watching, and it just helps me stay connected to that part of me.”
Doreen Nakama and her husband Adam Martinez own East Los Musubi, a street style pop-up kitchen inspired by her grandfather, who was a Japanese American from Hawaii. He married Guillermina Urias, and they raised their family in East Los Angeles. It’s through the food that he used to make for family gatherings that Nakama not only keeps his memory alive but also learns about his past.
“When we met other people or hear stories about what he did in the war, we’re just like, ‘Man, like you would never know,’” she said.
Doreen Nakama said it was hard for her grandfather to talk about the war because he lost a lot of friends. Her grandfather was part of the 442nd regimental combat unit and fought in World War II.
During the war, about 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry who lived in the U.S. mainland were forcibly relocated and incarcerated, about two-thirds were full citizens, born and raised in the U.S.
Mitch Maki is the president of Go for Broke National Education Center in Little Tokyo, which will reopen to the public on June 4. The center tells the story of Japanese Americans during World War II and the story of the Japanese American soldiers who served in the war.
The term go for broke meant they put everything on the line to win the war against the Nazis and the war against racial prejudice at home.
“The soldiers volunteered or came out of these camps to fight for liberty and justice halfway around the world, while their own families were incarcerated behind barbed wire,” Maki said.
Outside the center, you’ll also find the monument that commemorates the Japanese Americans who served in the United States Army during World War II. Among one of the fiercest and most heroic ground battles of the war was the Rescue of the Lost Battalion in October 1944.
The soldiers of the 442nd were ordered to extract a Texas National Guard unit who was trapped deep in the forest surrounded by 6,000 Nazi troops.
“Among the different units that went in there was company I and that’s where Alton Nakama served,” Maki said. “One hundred and seventy-five men walked into that forest with his unit, eight of them walked out and Alton Nakama was one of the eight.”
For Doreen Nakama, these are the story she tells every time someone asks about the food she makes. Although her grandfather died in 1992, his family celebrated what would have been his 101st birthday this month.
“They’re not stories that were told in our history books growing up,” she said.
They are stories that keep her grandfather’s memory alive and the memory of his fellow soldiers.