"I am proud that I am an American of Japanese ancestry I believe in this nation's institutions, ideals, and traditions I glory in her heritage I boast of her history I trust in her future" Mike M. Masaoka 442nd Regimental Combat Team
Japanese internment has always fascinated me. How could the United States, paragon of democratic ideals, persecute hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans? How could President Roosevelt and Earl Warren, relatively progressive politicians and supporters of civil reform, promote a fundamental violation of human rights? And why was it only the Japanese--not the Germans, Italians, or Spanish*--whose rights were seized?
My maternal great-grandparents, George Mori and Nancy Shimozaki, were both interned at Tule Lake, California during World War II. Although I was fortunate enough to know my great-grandfather, we never talked about his incarceration. There was a sizable language barrier between us, and I was too young to ever ask about internment or his experiences during World War II. Unfortunately, many Japanese Americans who witnessed the true strains and struggles of internment, including my great-grandparents, have passed away. Many were too bitter or traumatized to share their stories. As a result, I'm afraid that my generation will never hear these stories, and will live with an incomplete perception of wartime injustice.
On this site, I've transcribed four interviews with survivors of internment. I lightly edited interviews at the request of the interviewee or simply for clarity. Although some survivors were too young to remember many aspects of camp life, their memory of how they came to terms with internment as teenagers and adults is poignant and illuminating.
Three interviewees married into my great-grandmother's family, the Shimozakis. In each interview, I learned that all internees have their unique story. Since all my interviewees were interned at young ages, each interviewee experienced internment in some of the most formative years of their life. I also spoke with my great-aunt Sherian Hamamoto, who was born in the Tule Lake concentration camp. I asked her a few questions about her familial history and experiences with reparations.
As a small extension of the project, I decided to create a photo gallery to document Japanese-American history from the pre-war era to the present. Although you'll find many pictures from the internment era, I highlight the 442nd "Go For Broke" Regiment of Japanese American WWII veterans, and several other Japanese-American historical endeavors.
As you explore this site, I hope you find insightful analysis, articles, and annotations. The scope of my research extends far beyond Japanese internment, into jazz and World War II war efforts.
*Edit: July 31, 2019 To be clear, the United States did incarcerate a few thousand Germans, Spanish, and Italians during the World War II. However, these people were not American nationals, and were actually sent from Latin American countries to the United States.
Euphemisms of Wartime
Throughout this website, you'll see wartime terms used to describe the facilities and policies of incarceration. Many of these terms were deliberately used by the United States to veil the intent of internment policy. Although I tried to avoid using the following euphemisms in my writing, I did not change the original wording of transcribed interviews.
Internment: During the summer of 2019, I studied Japanese-American incarceration history with Ithaca College Professor Wendsor Yamashita. During our time together, I read Words Can Lie or Clarify, a scholarly paper by Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga. Aiko argues thatthe term "internment" is inherently euphemistic, because by definition, it describes a well-defined legal process that places enemy nationals in wartime confinement. Instead, "incarceration" or "banishment" of Japanese-Americans are more precise terms to use to refer to these rights violations.
During my studies with Professor Yamashita, I struggled to reconcile the practicality of the term "internment" with the precision of the term "incarceration." Of course, this period is widely known as Japanese internment, and for most people, "the incarceration history of Japanese-Americans" is a much more wordy and perhaps more confusing (albeit more precise) description of the same event. On my website, I have chosen not to replace my language that I wrote prior to the summer of 2019. However, from then on, I will attempt to use as precise language as possible.
Evacuation: While evacuation implies rescuing people threatened by some kind of natural disaster or threat, the government used this word to describe the process of forcefully relocating Japanese Americans to internment camps. You might also see relocation used in a similar context.
Relocation centers: These are better known as concentration camps. The National Japanese-American Museum uses "concentration camp" to describe internment because of its common definition as a place where people are imprisoned not because of any crimes they have committed, but simply because of who they are. Even though we frequently associate concentration camps with death camps in Nazi-controlled Europe, organized killing is not necessarily associated with concentration camps in general. However, using "concentration camp" to describe camps in the United States in no way is meant to equate the experience of Japanese Americans to Jews and other minority groups in Europe. Despite their obvious differences, the linking factor between definitions is that people in power removed a minority group from the general population, and the rest of society stayed complicit in that government action.