How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'It's important for us to capture the remaining stories': On Japanese American internment

Photo by DB's travels/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The entrance to the Manzanar National Historic Site in the arid Owens Valley, the location of one of ten internment camps in which Japanese Americans were held during World War II.

Earlier this week, I posted an essay from the son of a Japanese American internment camp survivor called "The Pencil Box." In it contributor David Toyoshima recalled how his mother, the grandchild of Japanese immigrants, managed to take a small prized possession with her to a internment camp when she and her family were forced to leave their farm, rounded up and incarcerated, as were more than 100,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.

The box eventually became his, but failing to truly appreciate it in his youth, he gave it away. Years later, after his mother's death, it made its way back to him.

One of the responses to the essay was especially powerful:

I'm also yonsei, and while this is the thousandth story like this I've read, each one causes this crazy visceral reaction and I end up in tears.

Thank you for sharing your story - I know it's hard for JAs to share these painful stories of our family, and we've hidden them with our silences even within our families. Now that we have few survivors of the camps living, it's important for us to capture the remaining stories and tell our community's history.

The reader, who posted as fookayuki, used a term referring to fourth-generation Japanese Americans, yonsei. These are the fourth generation of nikkei, which describes the greater Japanese emigrant diaspora.

This Sunday, Feb. 19 marks the 70th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of United States Executive Order 9066, which authorized the forced relocation of Japanese Americans to the camps. Today the social justice magazine ColorLines published several photos from the era, drawing the oft-discussed parallels between then and the period following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as experienced by Arab Americans and others.

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