December 7, 2023 – Arlene Lyons Harman, 82 years old, was born to John and Elizabeth Lyons on December 7th, 1941. Many know this is a significant day, without being told why.
On this same day, at the same time, the United States Naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was surprisingly attacked by the Japanese Military.
Harman was born at 9:02am in Kingsburg, California and at 7:02am Hawaii time, the Japanese had launched their attack on Pearl Harbor. Harman said her mother remembered being scared to death after the attack and she covered all the windows. “You didn’t know what was going to happen next,” she said.
There was an announcement in the paper of her birth, 8 lbs, 11 ounces. Harman was born with a birthmark shaped like the United States over her left eye. “I was pretty proud of it, I was proud of my country,” Harman said, adding that she got made fun of because of it as a kid.
When Harman was asked what she would want others to know about her story, she held back tears remembering. “It was very sad what happened, it’s horrible, it shouldn’t have had to happen.”
She recalls her very first friend at school was a Japanese girl who was also named Arlene, Arlene Nashida.
Harman said they remained friends all throughout grammar school until they graduated from high school. Then they went separate ways, and Nashida went off to college. They did keep in touch until Nashida passed in 2016.
Harman said she had a lot of Japanese friends back then and they were made fun of a lot, “people would say they didn’t belong here. I stood up for them,” she said, “they were born here, they didn’t cause it!”
She remembered living on a farm in Parlier and their neighbors, the older members of the family, were taken to the internment camp at the Fresno Fair grounds.
She remembers being friends and neighbors with many Japanese kids her age, they had a special hangout she said reminded her of Happy Days. It was owned by a Japanese couple, Ben’s Café. They loved it when we all walked in. “We had a lot of fun, maybe too much fun!”
Harman’s daughter, Melissa Orozco – Simon, shared a photo book of her mother. Pictures from when she was a baby with her parents, in her grammar school days, through high school and to the present day.
Simon shared that her mother was the last full-blooded Armenian in their family with only a hand full of cousins left.
The Armenian genocide between the Turks and the Armenians was something that affected their family directly, they lost family members who were killed during the genocide.
Every birthday for Harman is somewhat bittersweet, she thinks of her Japanese friends, who were persecuted.
She felt that they were just the same as her, born here, “they were very good friends of mine.”
Harman got upset remembering others being persecuted, she herself experienced persecution, that didn’t stop her from spending time with others.
She shared she would go out with her Mexican friends and would pick grapes with them. “It was fun, we made it fun.”
Harman was very inclusive of everyone and taught that to her son, John, and daughter. “There’s good and bad in everyone,” she said. “I was always in their homes, ate their food, we were always in each other’s homes, it was good.”
Reflecting on her life, as a child, a wife, a mother, and grandmother, to Sydney & Johnny. Harman is proud to have been born on such a significant day in history.
Instead of letting this tumultuous time fill her with fear and racism, Harman took the opposite route.
She saw the humanity in every person she knew and even those she didn’t know. She was proud to have the symbol of her country as a birthmark on her face, even though she was made fun of.
She was proud to have friends of different races and cultures from her own. She was proud to stand up for them and work and play alongside them.
Harman is an example of what every person should strive to be. To love your neighbor as yourself, and to be proud of your country and who you are.