Although writing can help decipher history, it’s our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Former Malibu resident remembers forced WWII internment

A memorial marker denoting the relocation of 1,000 local residents, including former Malibu resident Amy Ioki, to the Manzanar camp during World War II, will be placed at an intersection in Venice.

Amy Ioki was a member of the only Japanese American family in Malibu-and just 16 years old-when the callcame to assemble at the corner of Lincoln and Venice boulevards in Venice, Calif.

It was April 1942, four months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the United States entered the World War II stage as one of the Allied Big Three. Ioki's family, the Takahashis, was ordered to board the bus en route to the Manzanar War Relocation Authority Camp. It didn't matter that the high school junior, her two older brothers and three sisters were U.S. born; their crime was simply being Japanese.

“It was really like a concentration camp until they found out we were really harmless,” Ioki said.

Ioki, now 85, is one of the few surviving Southern California Japanese American citizens who will revisit next week, 69 years later, that fated intersection where 1,000 local residents who were removed from their homes were gathered and sent to the camp in Inyo County. The April 25 event, at 10 a.m., will be a groundbreaking for a memorial plaque to be located at the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln.

On the marker is an abbreviated synopsis of President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 that allowed the U.S. government to declare the states of California, Oregon and Washington-at the time populated with more than 120,000 Japanese people-as “militarily sensitive” due to Pearl Harbor. Another command gave those families just days to dispose of their property and possessions, essentially forcing them to drop their lives.

It was a different story before the war, when Ioki, then Amy Takahashi, wasn't ostracized in the least by her fellow Caucasian peers.

“We lived in Malibu, I never felt any prejudice,” she said. “We all went on the same bus, day in and day out, and all became good friends.”

The trek to Manzanar, cramped in a dirty, stifled bus, poked and prodded through a round of vaccinations, was a far cry from the bucolic life in Malibu, where Ioki's parents were immigrant farmers from Yokohama. Luckily, because the Takahashis were a large family, they were placed in their own barrack, Block 23.

“If you were in a small family, they were put in a room with three other families,” Ioki said.

Overall conditions were poor: food consisted of tinned rations and school for the children consisted of hardly anything conducive to learning. It would remain that way for three years, until the end of the war.

“We sat on the floor and it was cold,” Ioki said. “No books, and the teachers were very young and probably just starting. Who would come out to a place like that if you were a good teacher?”

Their Japanese culture is what kept them going. Not long after being imprisoned, the internees found some solace through gardening and the arts. Ioki would go on to work in the camp hospital, which led to her later career path of medical stenography.

“When we were in camp, you had to make a life for yourself,” Ioki said, “because there were people from all phases of life, and the Japanese are for education, they had all kinds of classes.”

Ioki missed her high school graduation. And as she remained in the prison camp, her friends back in Malibu went off to attend Santa Monica City College or UCLA.

Ioki credits her parents' strong resolve as survivors for getting them through the wartime period.

“I think it's still part of the Japanese not to complain,” she said. “I never heard them complain about anything. We had to pick up everything and go. They never said a word, and my father never resented that they treated us differently. He never said anything against America. That's the mentality of the Japanese.”

She continued, “Our folks were brought up that way; that we do as we're told.”

Though the connections came through tragedy, Ioki said she is grateful to have bonded with so many other Japanese during her time at Manzanar, like Mae Kakehashi, Arnold Maeda and Kazumi Tatsumi.

“We actually made many friends in camp. We stayed friends for 70 years now,” she said. “I guess we all had something in common. Everybody was the same. Everybody lived in a barrack. After we were released and we'd meet another Japanese, they'd ask, ‘What camp were you in?' The conversation would start there.”

An ad-hoc group, VJAMM, the Venice Japanese Memorial Marker Committee, was formed specifically to create and place the memorial at the Venice street corner. The pedestal and accompanying plaque's design of suitcases and luggage, created by artist Emily Winters, symbolize, in part, the sudden displacement of the Japanese that day in April 1942.

VJAMM member Suzanne Thompson, also a co-founder of the Venice Arts Council, said the project originated through Venice High School teacher Phyllis Hayashibara, whose students reached out to Los Angeles District 11 Council Member Bill Rosendahl. Rosendahl became interested in the project, Thompson said, and took the steps to obtain permits for the memorial's construction, and also fronted $5,000 for the project. VJAMM has also raised about $2,500, but still needs $15,000 more to cover all expenses. Both the Venice Community Housing Corporation and the arts council are overseeing the donation fund.

After being released from Manzanar, Ioki, who now lives in Mar Vista, later married and had four children, who all graduated from UCLA. Ioki's husband died last year.

Ioki said the marker is special for her because it pays respect to her parents and all the Japanese mothers and fathers who were forced to uproot their families.

“I think it's a nice thing for people because they had a lot of Japanese farmers. It would be a nice thing for them all to be remembered like that,” she said. “We don't want something like this to happen again.”

Contributions toward the memorial marker can be made to the VCHC/VAC (“VJAMM” in the memo section of personal checks) and mailed to the Venice Arts Council/VJAMM, P.O. Box 993, Venice, CA 90294. More information can be obtained by calling 310.570.5419 or online at 

Reprint from The Malibu Times; By Paul Sisolak / Special to The Malibu Times

Friday, April 22, 2011

They Call Me Moses Masaoka

Mike Masaru Masaoka (October 15, 1915–June 26, 1991) was born in Fresno, California. The family moved to Salt Lake City where Masaoka legally changed his first name to "Mike," and became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He became a champion debater and graduated in 1937 from the University of Utah in economics and political science. At the age of 25, Masaoka was named National Secretary and Field Executive of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) just before the outbreak of World War II.
Masaoka was a key player in JACL's decision to cooperate with the Japanese American internment during the war, seeing that resistance would be counterproductive and increase the tension between the Nikkei and the FDR Administration. In his position as a national spokesman he urged cooperation and opposed legal challenges to the government, advised the government on how to run the camps (thus to reduce friction between the internees and their captors). He also advocated the segregation of so‑called "troublemakers," though the War Relocation Authority cast the net more broadly than Masaoka had anticipated. The government used him as their liaison with the entire Japanese American population in the camps, although he himself was never imprisoned in a camp.
Masaoka was involved in leading the call for the formation of the Nisei 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and later served as publicist for the highly-decorated volunteer units, so that the contributions (and heavy price paid) of the Japanese Americans would be known nationwide.
He later served as Technical Consultant for the 1951 film Go For Broke! which not only portrayed the heroics of the 442nd RCT and 100th Battalion, but starred several veterans of the 442nd.
Near the end of his life, Masaoka strongly implied (without directly stating) that the government had pressured him to make statements and "suggestions" to go along with their policies. In a Public Broadcasting Service interview, he said "it was a kind of a shibai . . .We were pretty desperate." Shibai is Japanese for performance or show.
In 1950 Masaoka was involved in successfully lobbying for the rights of the Issei (Japanese immigrants) to naturalize as citizens.In 1952 he worked with the ACLU to bring a case in his mother's name, Masaoka vs. the State of California, to the California State Supreme Court that was one of the two cases that overturned the Alien Land Law (Masaoka v. People , 39 Cal.2d 883). He represented the JACL as a founding member of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, and joined Dr. Martin Luther King's 1963 March on Washington. With his own consulting firm, Mike Masaoka Associates, he also lobbied on behalf of American and Japanese commercial interests.
In 1972 he left JACL to become a full‑time lobbyist. His autobiography, They Call Me Moses Masaoka, written with Bill Hosokawa, was published in 1987. Associates considered the title a sign of his ego, though the title was originally bestowed derisively by political opponents during the 1940s.
Masaoka was married to Etsu Mineta Masaoka, the elder sister of Secretary of Transportation and Congressman Norman Mineta.  Masaoka died in Washington, DC in 1991.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Japanese American Youth Answer World War II’s Allegiance Question

By Christine McFadden, Correspondent
First published April 15, 2011

What would you do if you were forced to declare your allegiance to a country that betrays your constitutional rights?

When faced with the government’s loyalty questionnaire while incarcerated in Jerome, Arkansas during World War II, Roy Nakano’s parents took a bold stand.

Asked about their willingness to serve the United States and swear “unqualified allegiance” to America in question No. 28 of the infamous loyalty questionnaire, Nakano’s parents both answered that they were “undecided.” Both U.S. citizens born in Hawaii, they cited the “existing racial discrimination and prejudice” of the “unconstitutional compulsory evacuation,” as their reason, stating: “As long as I have citizenship, I wish to remain neutral.” 

As a result, Nakano’s parents and their family were transferred to Tule Lake. Once there, they took their protest a step further and both renounced their U.S. citizenship. 

“I would not have had the guts to do what they did,” said Nakano, an attorney in Southern California and one of the founders of the National Coalition for Redress and Reparations (NCRR).

It’s a question many younger Japanese Americans may not want to think about: What would you do if you were in your grandparents’ or your parents’ shoes during WWII and were asked to declare allegiance to the country that incarcerated you? 

While many teenage Yonsei say they would have asserted their rebellious intentions, under the same circumstances, they say they would ultimately stay subdued in the face of war hysteria and mass incarceration. 

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, JAs were looked upon with suspicion and forced in many ways to prove their loyalty to the U.S. Some joined a segregated unit of the U.S. Army to prove their allegiance, others took a stand, while still others renounced their American citizenship in disgust.

“Allegiance,” a new musical play about “love, loss and heroism in the backdrop of the Japanese American internment” has sparked controversy by trying to address the question of allegiance.

The musical by Jay Kuo, which aims to open in New York City next year, features a scene with an actor playing WWII JACL National Secretary Mike Masaoka, who called for JAs to be calm and cooperative with the president’s order for a mass evacuation. In a stage reading performed before an audience, which was recorded and placed on YouTube, actor Paolo Montalban said it’s “a little known fact that Masaoka worked with the U.S. government to implement the Japanese American internment.”

The scars of the allegiance question during WWII still affect the JA community today. And many say that if faced with the same circumstances, they would have done nothing different.

Joan Coe, whose mother Mary Hara was incarcerated as a young teenager at Minidoka near Twin Falls, Idaho, would not have rebelled. 

“You have to go with the flow,” said Coe, a Sansei. “You had to do it — you’re a minor. You’re a kid, and you’re going to do what your mom and dad say and you’re going to be sad about it and you’re going to be embarrassed, too. It’s humiliating.”

Hara was the youngest of seven children, born in Gresham, Oregon to Issei parents. No matter how confused, scared or angry, Coe said she would not have violated Executive Order 9066, the curfew orders, or rebelled in any way unless she felt immediately physically threatened. 

“Right now, you and I have hindsight, and you can see it’s wrong, but at that time they’re telling you it’s for your protection,” said Coe. “The government is convincing you it’s for your own good. The government tells you to go, and you go.” 

Both of Hara’s brothers served in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated JA unit of the U.S., but Coe’s 16-year-old Yonsei son Alexander said he would not have made the decision to serve.

“I’d be much more likely to run away or something than to join the military division [442nd] or take it to court,” he said. 

Many Issei and Nisei often describe their wartime experience as something that could not be helped — shikata ga nai.

“I would ask my dad, ‘Why didn’t you do something about it [the internment]?’” said Connie Masuoka, a Sansei Portland JACL board member. “We would go round and round about this and then he would get mad and say there was nothing he could have done.”

“I used to think my father’s answer was a poor one, but actually it was an honest one. Would I risk going to jail or prison by breaking curfew or refusing to join the military?” she said. 

Justin Hayase, who co-founded the Japanese American Student Union at Yale, recognizes that being raised as a Yonsei “is very different from the world that my Nisei grandparents lived in.” 

“Having gone through a college environment where speaking out against injustice is encouraged, I would more than likely react more like the Korematsus and the Endos, based on my experience,” he said.

During WWII, Korematsu defied the evacuation orders and took his battle all the way to the Supreme Court. Mitsuye Endo similarly hired a lawyer to represent her legal protest against the forced evacuation.

In spite of these statements of rebellion, Hayase points out the different time periods and ultimately has a change of heart. 

“I can say this now because a precedence has already been set,” he said. “I would imagine things were much scarier 70 years ago, and JAs simply didn’t have the resources that we might utilize today in fighting against injustice.

“To be honest, I suppose if I were alive in 1942, I likely would have reacted in the same way that the majority of JAs did, which was a reaction of stoic endurance and survival,” he added.
Rachel Seeman, a 19-year-old student in California, says she could see herself rebelling inside the internment camps, although she would have been torn between wanting to show her allegiance to the U.S. and defending her Constitutional rights.

“I would have been very angry and fighting for my rights … I can’t see myself having any other choice,” she said.

Katie Nakano, a freshman at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said although she is sympathetic of her grandparents’ plight during WWII, if she were forced to answer the allegiance question at the age she is now — 18 — she would be “extremely rebellious.”

Coe, who was born in the 1950s, noted the generational differences between her generation and the youth of today.

“Kids were more compliant then, and that’s the way I am,” she said. “That’s my generation. We did as we were told.”

Today’s generational differences notwithstanding, many Yonsei would have admittedly taken the same path if they were placed in their grandparents’ shoes during the incarceration. 

“Looking back at the way my grandparents responded to the camps, I’m extremely grateful to them,” Hayase said. “They persevered through the hardship, and they didn’t let it break their spirit.”

“Their suffering was their motivation to work harder to give their grandchildren the opportunities that were taken away from them, and today I use that knowledge as my own motivation.” 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Harry Ueno: Hero to Japanese Americans in Internment Camps

Harry Ueno stood up to corrupt officials during the internment of Japanese Americans at Manzanar during World War II.    Mr. Ueno, born in Hawaii, took a job on a merchant ship as a teenager and abandoned it when it docked on the American mainland. He settled in Los Angeles, where he married and reared three sons while selling produce.

That life was interrupted in 1941 after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Mr. Ueno and his family were taken to the Manzanar internment camp, at the base of Mount Whitney, which eventually housed 10,000 men, women and children.

While working in the mess hall, Mr. Ueno realized that camp operators were selling sugar, which was intended for his fellow internees, on the wartime black market. He confronted them and was arrested for beating up JACL leader Fred Tayama. An uprising ensued for Harry's release but then turned ugly as groups of men went looking for those who they thought were spies and began beatings across the camp. But at the police station where Harry was being held, the young soldiers panicked and fired into the crowd; two young internees were killed; eleven others were wounded in the official record. (Many more were wounded however didn't go to the hospital in fear of being arrested and therefore treated themselves. That number is unknown.) For more than three years, Mr. Ueno was moved from jail to jail around the West, spending a year in solitary confinement, though he was never charged with a crime or given a hearing.

After the war, he received $15 and a train ticket to San Jose, Calif. He began a new life there, raising strawberries and cherries and retiring in 1972. His story has been included in an oral history, "Manzanar Martyr"; a documentary film by a fellow internee, Emiko Omori, "Rabbit in the Moon"; and a book about the internment, "And Justice for All."

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Even though I am from Kansas, I enjoy venturing into other worlds from around the globe which is why my writing focuses on diversity. With fluid accessibility to modern media and traveling opportunities, my Midwestern world can expand and explore beyond my own backyard. In addition to studying cultures, I take pleasure in studying history. Submitting to a moment in time allows us to remember, or to muse even, over our society’s past. Although writing can educate as well as entertain, yet what makes art incredibly amazing, to that of paintings, photographs, and music, it transposes emotion into another form of humanity, and therefore, it is our humanity which keeps all of us striving for an improved future.

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