Ja­panese Amer­i­cans stand up to han­dling of mi­grants

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Insight - BY KYUNG MI LEE km­[email protected]

Chris­tine Umeda, 81, has been plagued by the same re­cur­ring night­mare for most of her adult life.

She finds her­self on a stretcher, un­able to move. She is pushed into the back of a large panel truck. The doors slam shut and she screams.

For years she strug­gled to iden­tify the cause of it, to piece to­gether decades­old mem­o­ries she seemed to have erased from her mind. Umeda, a sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion Ja­panese Amer­i­can, even­tu­ally re­al­ized the dream was a child­hood mem­ory of in­car­cer­a­tion dur­ing World War II.

Now, as an ac­tive mem­ber of the Florin Ja­panese Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League, she is part of a grow­ing co­hort of Ja­panese Amer­i­cans around the coun­try protest­ing the de­ten­tion of im­mi­grant chil­dren at the south­ern bor­der.

Tsuru for Sol­i­dar­ity, as the ad hoc group is called, be­gan with a protest at the South Texas Fam­ily Res­i­den­tial Cen­ter in March.

Since then, they have or­ga­nized twice at Fort Sill, Ok­la­homa, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a fed­eral plan to house 1,400 mi­grant chil­dren in the same in­stal­la­tion that held 700 Ja­panese im­mi­grants in 1942.

In their most re­cent trip, they joined a na­tional coali­tion of activist or­ga­ni­za­tions, with rep­re­sen­ta­tion from Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes, Black Lives Mat­ter Ok­la­homa, and the lo­cal Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, ac­cord­ing to The Ok­la­homan.

Mi­grant de­ten­tion and refugee re­set­tle­ment mal­prac­tices evoke a fa­mil­iar past for the Ja­panese Amer­i­can com­mu­nity: The in­car­cer­a­tion of nearly 120,000 Ja­panese Amer­i­cans and im­mi­grants la­beled as “sus­pected en­emy aliens” dur­ing World War II. Tsuru for Sol­i­dar­ity is mo­bi­liz­ing sur­vivors and descen­dants to the front lines of the bat­tle against mass in­car­cer­a­tion and de­por­ta­tion of un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants.


Tsuru, the Ja­panese word for crane, rep­re­sents peace and non­vi­o­lence, as in­ter­na­tion­ally memo­ri­al­ized by the story of Sadako Sasaki, a 12-year-old vic­tim of the Amer­i­can atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Sasaki folded 1,000 pa­per cranes as a sym­bol of hope be­fore her death.

When the group first is­sued a call for 10,000 origami cranes to be hung in March at the South Texas de­ten­tion cen­ter, sup­port­ers from around the world sent 30,000 cranes, in­clud­ing 4,000 from the in­mates of San Quentin State Prison.

Over 60 Ja­panese Amer­i­cans, many of them in­car­cerees dur­ing World War II, joined a lo­cal Texas non­profit in sol­i­dar­ity with the de­tainees. Col­or­ful origami cranes draped the fence sur­round­ing the fa­cil­ity and a taiko en­sem­ble drummed a mes­sage of hope to the mostly women and chil­dren im­pris­oned in­side.

Just 40 miles away from the Dil­ley, Texas, de­ten­tion cen­ter is the Crys­tal City Fam­ily In­tern­ment Camp, where co-or­ga­nizer and psychother­apist Sat­suki Ina, 75, re­united with her father at the end of the war. He was sep­a­rated from his fam­ily and charged with sedi­tion for his protest of the gov­ern­ment's ef­fort to seg­re­gate the Ja­panese Amer­i­cans through a loy­alty ques­tion­naire.

Years af­ter their re­lease, she found an en­try in her mother's di­ary that high­lighted the de­spair dur­ing her in­car­cer­a­tion:

“I won­der if to­day is the day,” her mother wrote, “when they're go­ing to line us up and shoot us.”


Walk­ing around Crys­tal City, see­ing the rem­nants of build­ings that once im­pris­oned her, Ina re­called a chill­ing res­o­nance to “all the sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances of in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion and fam­ily sep­a­ra­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to the Texas His­tor­i­cal Com­mis­sion, the Crys­tal City Fam­ily In­tern­ment Camp held 4,751 De­part­ment of Jus­tice pris­on­ers from 1942 to 1945, over two-thirds of whom were of Ja­panese an­ces­try.

Ina knew the kind of con­di­tions the chil­dren in Dil­ley could be sub­ject to. At the re­quest of an Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union lawyer who sought her ex­per­tise, she joined a lo­cal re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tion in a covert ar­range­ment to en­ter the Karnes County Res­i­den­tial Cen­ter in 2015, one of the three Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment fam­ily de­ten­tion cen­ters, to in­ter­view de­tainees.

The moth­ers and chil­dren she met lived in fear of de­por­ta­tion, suf­fer­ing from the trauma of their lives at home, their jour­ney to the bor­der and their in­car­cer­a­tion upon reach­ing the United States. One of the chil­dren strug­gled to fall asleep, fright­ened by fre­quent night ter­rors of a hound bar­ing its teeth into her face. She re­mem­bered the bor­der pa­trol ca­nine vi­o­lently snap­ping at her when they sur­ren­dered for asy­lum, her mother ex­plained to Ina. An­other child re­fused to par­tic­i­pate in school, sob­bing when­ever her peers would go miss­ing from class. When asked by Ina, “What hap­pens when some­body is miss­ing from the class­room?” She an­swered, “They're sent back home and mur­dered.”

“The degra­da­tion of in­car­cer­a­tion,” Ina said, was “be­ing charged with threat of na­tional se­cu­rity when there was never any ev­i­dence or proof.”

In her time as a psy­chol­o­gist spe­cial­iz­ing in com­mu­nity trauma, she in­ter­viewed many Ja­panese Amer­i­can sur­vivors of in­car­cer­a­tion who sup­pressed their mem­o­ries of camp.

Umeda, for ex­am­ple, was 4 years old when her fam­ily was sent to the Tule Lake Seg­re­ga­tion Cen­ter in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She re­mem­bers lit­tle about her own time in de­ten­tion. Her re­main­ing rec­ol­lec­tions are bro­ken frag­ments of child­hood con­fu­sion and dis­tress.

“It ap­pears that I have blocked ev­ery­thing [from my mem­ory] re­gard­ing Tule Lake. … I re­mem­ber my brother cry­ing when go­ing to the bath­room,” she said. “When [my older sis­ters] took me to preschool, I cried and wouldn't let them leave.”

She sat in on a com­mu­nity work­shop for sur­vivors of Ja­panese Amer­i­can prison camps led by Ina, lis­ten­ing to other sur­vivors share vivid mem­o­ries of their child­hood. She found her­self ask­ing, “How come I don't re­mem­ber any­thing that hap­pened to me?”

Af­ter dig­ging through archival gov­ern­ment records and con­sult­ing her older sis­ters, she learned that she con­tracted pneu­mo­nia two weeks af­ter ar­riv­ing at the Ar­boga Assem­bly Cen­ter in Marysville and was trans­ported, alone, to a nearby med­i­cal fa­cil­ity. She said her older sis­ters re­mem­ber “the doors slam­ming on that panel truck” as she screamed.

“My hus­band al­ways jokes that I never close any­thing – draw­ers half open and medicine cabi­net doors not closed,” she said. “I told him, ‘Maybe you're right.'”


Umeda took part in the Crys­tal City pil­grim­age and Dil­ley protest through her on­go­ing ac­tivism with the Florin Ja­panese Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens League. Since its found­ing in 1935, the Florin chap­ter has ac­tively pre­served Ja­panese cul­tural her­itage and pro­moted so­cial jus­tice.

Joshua Kaizuka, the co-pres­i­dent of the Florin JACL, sees op­po­si­tion to im­mi­grant de­ten­tion as “a re­spon­si­bil­ity based on the his­tory and in­jus­tice of what's hap­pened to” the Ja­panese Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

“Fam­ily de­ten­tion: Does that hit home for Ja­panese Amer­i­cans?” he asked. “Ab­so­lutely.”

In 1980, the con­gres­sional Com­mis­sion on Wartime Re­lo­ca­tion and In­tern­ment of Civil­ians found that “race prej­u­dice, war hys­te­ria and a fail­ure of po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship” re­sulted in the in­car­cer­a­tion of Ja­panese Amer­i­cans. Kaizuka com­pared the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion's fear-mon­ger­ing to war hys­te­ria against the Ja­panese dur­ing World War II.

“The racism it­self is iden­ti­cal,” he said.

He cited an in­ci­dent in Ok­la­homa on June 22, when a mil­i­tary po­lice of­fi­cer in­ter­rupted a Tsuru for Sol­i­dar­ity protest of six for­mer in­car­cerees. Ina was present, stand­ing shoul­der-to-shoul­der with fel­low sur­vivors, hold­ing a black-and-white pho­to­graph of her­self as a child in Tule Lake. As the el­ders shared a mi­cro­phone, an Army of­fi­cer tried to push the protest off mil­i­tary prop­erty. “You need to move now!” he shouted. “What don't you peo­ple un­der­stand? It's English. Get out!”

PAUL KITAGAKI JR. pkita­[email protected]

Chris­tine Umeda, who was in­terned dur­ing World War II, speaks about her ex­pe­ri­ence dur­ing a news con­fer­ence at Salam Is­lamic Cen­ter in Sacra­mento in 2017.

Chris­tine Umeda

Chris­tine Umeda (right) at the Topaz War Re­lo­ca­tion Cen­ter in Delta Utah, 1944.

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