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

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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