Family History and Memoir with David Mas Masumoto

Red Hen Press
5 min readApr 18, 2023

By Lizzy Young

David Mas Masumoto has recently become a member of the Red Hen family with the publication of his memoir, Secret Harvest: A Hidden Story of Separation and the Resilience of a Family Farm:

I discover a “lost” aunt, separated from our family due to racism and discrimination against the disabled. She had a mental disability due to childhood meningitis. She was taken away in 1942 when all Japanese Americans were considered the enemy and imprisoned. She then became a “ward” of the state. We believed she had died, but 70 years later found her alive and living a few miles from our family farm. How did she survive? Why was she kept hidden? How did both shame and resilience empower my family to forge forward in a land that did not want them? I am haunted and driven to explore my identity and the meaning of family — especially as farmers tied to the land. I uncover family secrets that bind us to a sense of history buried in the earth that we work and a sense of place that defines us.

Original artwork by Patricia Wakida, depicting a hooded woman emerging from a nest of foliage. Text reads “Secret Harvests: A Hidden Story of Separation and the Resilience of a Family Farm”, a memoir by David Mas Masumoto, illustrated by Patricia Wakida

Because today is his pub day, we wanted to highlight him and his amazing work on the blog. Keep reading to find out more about his work!

Lizzy Young: What prompted you to delve into family history in this memoir?

David Mas Masumoto: This story came to me — I was contacted by a funeral home that a “lost aunt” had a stroke and was in hospice. All my family had thought this mysterious aunt Shizuko had passed away decades ago. Suddenly after 70 years of separation, she came back into our lives.

My journey was to piece together what happened and how family secrets fill our histories.

LY: How did the partnership between you and Patricia Wakida come about?

DMM: As I worked on early drafts, our family had no image nor photographs of my “lost” aunt — and I realized my words could become more meaningful with some sort of image that helps to trigger emotions.

An ink drawing of peach leaves by Patricia Wakida
“Peach Leaves” Artwork by Patricia Wakida

LY: You recently had a very successful event at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Tell us about how that went and the energy you felt in the audience.

DMM: Amazing — the audience was filled with many who also had hidden questions about their own families and we were all exploring the baggage of history we carry — not just about our own personal stories but also the context of the past as we try to come to grips with moments that continue to define us. For many Japanese Americans in the audience, the World War II Internment and Relocation of our families into desolate prison camps have left generational trauma we are still struggling with. The Museum event could be one moment of coming to grips with a sense of history in our families.

I also had family members in the audience and it was moving for all of us to come together in a public setting. When stories remain hidden, they are too often forgotten and lost. When stories are shared publicly, we can foster a type of generational healing and strengthen our own memories as the past trauma is shared in the company of others.

LY: What were the easiest and most difficult things to write as you revisited your past in this book?

DMM: Family and family. This work was and remains about secrets that defined our family and yet screamed out to be explored and discovered. Questions drove my motivation as I hoped to uncover truths and most importantly understand the context of history and how difficult choices were made. I was not present at many moments of my family saga with aunt Shizuko; it’s hard not to judge those decisions and overlook the historical realities of the past. My goal was to explore and allow emotions and imagination to fill in the gaps in all our family histories.

Suddenly, simple family stories gained new meaning and I had long conversations with my aunt, uncle, cousins, and especially my mother. They all seemed to want to uncover more meaning and find how pieces of a family history fit and don’t fit.

One of the challenging major elements of writing Secret Harvests was the theme of disabilities, especially mental health. For most of us, such family sagas were too often hidden and carried the weight of shame, especially for a generation or two before me and those of us in the Asian community. Trying to understand that dynamic and educate myself proved to be complicated and personally revealing. The story of my aunt Shizuko evolved into my own personal journey into my sense of the past and my own ignorance and failings. Revealing to say the least.

Two key concepts of Japanese American culture I sought to investigate: the term “gaman” which means to endure and the phrase “shikata ga nai/it can’t be helped.” How did those words change my own history.

LY: Family, history, and memory: these are all themes in Secret Harvests. How are they interconnected in your memoir and what do you hope readers take away from them?

DMM: I hope readers will begin to ask their own questions about their family. Secrets need not be all negative and painful — they can be a deeply person story that defines our identity as we grow with a sense of history and a sense of the places we call home.

LY: What other works inspired your memoir?

DMM: The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka and Alice Wong and the Disability Visibility Project.

David Mas Masumoto author photo where he is holding peaches and laughing.

David Mas Masumoto is an organic farmer, author, and activist. His book Epitaph for a Peach won the Julia Child Cookbook award and was a finalist for a James Beard award. His writing has been awarded a Commonwealth Club of California silver medal and the Independent Publisher Books bronze medal. He has been honored by Rodale Institute as an “Organic Pioneer.” He has served on the boards of the James Irvine Foundation, Public Policy Institute of California, Cal Humanities, and the National Council on the Arts with nomination by President Obama. He farms with his wife Marcy and two adult children, Nikiko and Koro. They reside in a hundred-year-old farmhouse surrounded by their eighty-acre organic peach, nectarine, apricot, and raisin farm outside of Fresno, California.

We are so grateful that Mas is now part of the Red Hen Family! Pick up a copy of his moving memoir now at this link!

If you are in the Los Angeles area, come see him at a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books on Sunday, April 23 at 1:30 PM!

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Red Hen Press

Nonprofit independent literary publisher aiming to amplify unheard and underrepresented voices and improve literacy in schools. www.redhen.org