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Taking a journey through the unknown

Weekend exhibit on WWII Japanese-American history features talks by former internees

Amy Imai was 11 when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked Pearl Harbor.

"We were American citizens, but we were far from integrated. We had our own little community [in Mountain View and we kept to ourselves," she recalled. "When Pearl Harbor was attacked we knew instinctively that we were in trouble and nothing would ever be the same."

Two months later, in February 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which allowed the armed forces to designate "military" or "exclusion" zones from which "any and all persons may be prohibited."

Everyone of Japanese descent was prohibited from living on the entire West Coast and up to 100 miles inland.

"We were given one month to settle all of our affairs before we were forced to leave our home. All we were allowed to bring was what we could carry with us. We left everything we knew behind, and we had no idea where we were going," Imai said.

That sense of being uprooted and heading toward an uncertain future is the theme of a three-day event this weekend at the Buddhist Temple of Palo Alto, "Journey Through the Unknown."

The event begins Friday and features artwork, photographs, memorabilia and guest speakers on the internment of Japanese Americans more than 60 years ago.

A full-scale re-creation of a typical camp barrack -- complete with folding cots, a potbellied stove and a single bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling -- is on exhibit. Similar 14-by-20-foot shacks were standard housing for small families, four men or four women. A miniature replica of one of the armed-guard towers that lined the camp's perimeters stands nearby.

Ann Okamura and her family were housed at the Heart Mountain Detention Center in Northern Wyoming, where most Japanese-American families from the Bay Area and surrounding communities were sent.

"As a kid, I grew up knowing the word 'camp' to mean a fun place where American kids went during the summer. We came to understand, though, that they weren't camps -- they were prisons," said Okamura, now a Redwood City resident.

"Most of us would prefer it if they were called what they really were, which is 'concentration camps,'" she said.

Palo Alto resident Lois Takaoka remembers the day-long ride in a cramped and filthy train car to the Santa Anita Racetrack in Southern California. The racetrack served as a makeshift assembly center and sorting area for Japanese Americans while the last of the detainment centers were being hastily constructed.

"I had never seen so many other Japanese people before the train ride and the assembly center. I remember that every time we passed through a town, the guards forced us to shut the curtains on the windows and get out of sight," Takaoka said.

Imai recalled the scene: "When we got off the train there were these big piles of straw everywhere. It was a racetrack, so I figured they were for the horses. Then the guards gave us each a canvas bag and instructed us to fill it with straw. I didn't understand why at first, but I eventually figured out that these were going to be our beds."

The centerpiece of the weekend exhibit is "The 120,000 Tassel Tapestry," which was crafted by 503 eighth-grade students from Lafayette, Ind., as a tribute to all those involved in the internment. The students created the tapestry to coincide with the dedication of the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in Washington D.C. in November 2000.

The 120,000 tassels represent the estimated number of Japanese Americans interned during the war, according to Vernon Hayashida of the Japanese American Museum of San Jose.

"What's so amazing is that this incredible tribute was made by Caucasian school kids from Indiana. They were just so moved by the story of our wartime experience that they wanted to commemorate the struggle," he said.

The hanging tapestry is made up of 12 quilted panels featuring artwork, photographs, news clippings, wartime memorabilia and poetry. Among the work's major themes are the patriotism and dedication that Japanese Americans showed to their country.

Kats Hikido, a veteran of the segregated 442nd U.S. Army unit, will speak at the event. He served first in Southern France and then in Italy, where he was wounded in action by a landmine blast that killed two of his fellow soldiers.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team had been activated by President Roosevelt on Feb. 1, 1943. About 4,500 volunteers from Hawaii and the mainland U.S. were expected to enlist; the Army instead got approximately 11,250 Nisei, or first-generation Japanese-American, volunteers. Many Nisei from the mainland went directly from internment camps to basic training.

"Being part of a segregated unit was good and bad," Hikido said. "If we had been integrated with the rest of the military it's hard to imagine many of us surviving combat. There was a lot of resentment towards Japanese at the time -- regardless of your citizenship or your patriotism."

The 442nd went on to be one of the most highly decorated units in the history of the United States Armed Forces.

The Japanese Americans affected by wartime internment have never forgotten those who came to their aid during the crisis. An exhibit in the temple's Dharma School classrooms called "Friends of the Japanese American Community" honors those who helped the Japanese Americans at the onset of, during and after the war.

"At Christmas, there was a party for the kids at Heart Mountain, and each of us got a present. I found out much later that the gifts were donated by the Quakers, who were one of the biggest supporters of Japanese-American internees," Okamura said.

After Takaoka and her family were released, they received help from Frank and Josephine Duveneck, who founded Hidden Villa Ranch in Los Altos Hills.

"The Duveneck family played a huge part in helping families resettle after the war. You have to understand that when we left the camps we had nothing, and in a lot of ways, life after the internment was harder than the camps themselves. We were starting over from scratch," Takaoka said.

The Duveneck family helped the Takaokas find a home and re-establish themselves. Those fortunate enough to have connections in their communities were sometimes spared the loss of houses and businesses by generous patrons who paid property taxes and maintained the internee's homes in their absence.

"We have a duty to remind people, I think," Hikido said of mounting the exhibit. "People shouldn't forget, because really, this is recent history. It's America's history."

"Journey Through the Unknown" will take place at the Palo Alto Buddhist Temple, 2751 Louis Road, Palo Alto, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Sunday. The event is free. For information, visit http://www.pabt.org .

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Enough-Is-Enough!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2008 at 8:20 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jack Wills
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2008 at 10:03 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Where are you coming from?
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Feb 2, 2008 at 8:31 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Child of Internees
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2008 at 1:28 pm

It saddens me to think that, still to this day, people think it was right and justified to incarcerate my parents and my grandparents for their ancestral heritage. Not only were my parents citizens born in CA, but all four of my grandparents were as well. They had absolutely no ties to the Japanese government or military and it infuriated my grandfather to imply that they were. I can understand that the US government had a "freak out" moment when 9066 was issued, but to have my family's possessions and dignity stripped should not have been part of the executive order. They didn't even get to return home until a full year after the war had ended. How can anyone associate the atrocities of the Japanese military with citizens of another country? That's like saying all those of German decent hate the Jewish based on the holocaust. This world has enough hate in it already and I'm not here to berate someone because of their ignorance. The first poster was partially right in regards to "get over it". For the most part my family has moved on, but we continue to remember because it's a story of how my family became what it is today. I'll be telling these stories to my son as well. Not so he can grieve or hold a grudge, but to learn that his generation can't make the same mistake.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by child of internees
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2008 at 1:31 pm

It's disappointing to see how others totally missed the point of the story on the WWII Japanese - American history. The focus of the exhibit is to provide the public with more of an understanding of what happened to those Japanese Americans who were placed in the US concentration camps. It is part of American history and intended to provide more knowledge on this part of our history.

These comments show a lack of understanding of how this event affected the Japanese Americans,what they had to endure during those years. Sadly, there are other stories that may never be told, such as how a Japanese American family returns home after leaving the camps, only to find their home burned down and all their belongings are gone. These families were forced to rebuild their lives and after the many challenges, managed to overcome the obstacles and have very successful lives. This story is not about taking away from others who suffered during wars, it's just piece of history being shared by people who want to tell their story of what happened during the years of WWII.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Read-Some-History
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2008 at 2:10 pm

> It saddens me to think that, still to this day, people think it was
> right and justified to incarcerate my parents and my grandparents
> for their ancestral heritage.

They were NOT incarcerated for their heritage--they were incarcerated to protect public security.

> Not only were my parents citizens born in CA, but all four of
> my grandparents were as well.
> They had absolutely no ties to the Japanese government or
> military and it infuriated my grandfather to imply that they were.

At the time, the concern was an attack by the Japanese military on the American mainland. While there might have been no ties clearly established between the American Japanese and the Homeland Japanese at the beginning of the War, the concern about a possible landing of Japanese military forces in California, or perhaps Mexico, was paramount to the Washington-based War Department in 1942. Had Japanese Forces established a landfall, the concern was that the native Japanese (living in California) might have become allied with them in some way (such as becoming guides and translators).

> I can understand that the US government had a "freak out" moment
> when 9066 was issued, but to have my family's possessions and
> dignity stripped should not have been part of the executive order.

55M people were killed during WWII. The people who were incarcerated were not treated badly as the millions of those who lost their lives.

> They didn't even get to return home until a full year after the
> war had ended.

As was the case for millions of GIs who served in the US Armed Services.

> How can anyone associate the atrocities of the Japanese
> military with citizens of another country?

As pointed out above, 20,000 Japanese Americans ended up in the Japanese War effort, with hundreds joining the Japanese Army. The problem was not what the Japanese here in the US had done prior to the evacuation, but what they might do after a possible invasion.

The War Department was tasked to consider all possibilities--and it did.

.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2008 at 4:13 pm

S. I. Hayakawa said, "wolf-pack of dissident young Japanese-Americans" was making an unconscionable raid upon the U.S. Treasury. He, in turn, was called a banana, yellow on the outside and white on the inside."

Web Link

The above link is quite informative.


Roosevelt had a ton of evidence that the resident Japanese on the west coast were a threat in time of war. He took the action necessary to defend this country.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ashamed
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2008 at 4:39 pm

Child,

The anti-Japanese and anti-Japanese-American sentiment expressed here make me ashamed to be American.

What we did to Japanese-Americans was loathsome, a stain we should never forget. I've taught my kids.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2008 at 4:51 pm

I am not ashamed one bit, just as Germans today should have no shame at all for what Germans did 2 generations ago.

The comments here are to help those who do not understand context and history to UNDERSTAND context and history.

Please stop to think....20,000 Japanese-Americans fought against America..These were CITIZENS of America, who were of Japanese heritage.

I understand that it was atrocious to the many-times more numbers of Japanese who WERE loyal to the USA, but there was no way to know who was loyal and who was going to sabatoge us.

I am of a different nation's heritage, and was born there even..I am a naturalized citizen.....If that nation attacks this country, as loyal as I am, as much as I love this country and know that it is the best in the world, I will not be surprised if I am carted off until after the war.

What IS completely unacceptable is not protecting what what belonged to the interned Japanese-Americans...everything else, though horrible for those interned, I can understand why.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by no cop
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2008 at 4:53 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by pay
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 2, 2008 at 4:55 pm

if america doesent acknowledge all life, it will continue to fall


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2008 at 4:56 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by one last thought
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Also, I have to say...I don't see one, single, anti-Japanese or anti-Japanese-American comment here..not one. Please show me one..

I see an attempt at historical perspective education.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2008 at 8:52 pm

Decisions made in wartime cannot be adequately assessed afterward. Those interned were compensated in the coin of the day, then recompensated several times afterward. I always maintained that any compensation should have been in the same form and spirit as the compensation we received from China after the Boxer Rebellion. The internees took the money instead - Sic transit nobility, just another bunch of rent seekers.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ashamed
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2008 at 10:11 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2008 at 5:19 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 3, 2008 at 8:26 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ashamed
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 3, 2008 at 12:00 pm

Walter,

You got the wrong end of the stick. Freeing our Asian brothers from the Japanese jackboot was a good thing.

I was referring to the not-uncommon practice among GIs in the Pacific theater of taking human trophies (ears, teeth, skulls), to the summary execution of Japanese POWs, to the race-based and racist propaganda churned out by the U.S. government, to the cowardly parroting of this line by our newspapers. None of this went on with regard to the fighting in Europe. (To forestall the inevitable misreading by the quasi-literate, I should add that, yes, the Japanese did much worse to U.S. soldiers, Asian soldiers, and the civilian men, women and children they captured. Also that the war was obviously driven by the racist notions of the Japanese leaders.)

One result is now we have guys like Jim who think its peachy to throw people into concentration camps because of their ethnic ancestry. They're shocked at the idea that personal property was taken from Japanese-Americans but not at the idea of taking their liberty. This tells you how highly they value others' liberty, if not their own. If we're not careful, one day it could happen again that the U.S. government tries to curtail the rights of its citizens. Watch out.





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