In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated during World War II.
--from the Manzanar National Historic Site website
I met Carol Shinoda and John Tateishi in a Chaucer class at UC Berkeley. I didn't know their backstory, nor did they know mine. As young, carefree college students the words camps, incarceration, round-ups, detentions and reparations were not mentioned, or even fully known. They were buried deep in our families' histories and in our psyches, only to surface many years later when we were married and about to start our families. We were all living and working in London, simultaneously by design—John & Carol, Jim and I. And once we had our first born children, we all began to think about returning to America.
"I had always thought we'd be expats forever," John told me recently. "I imagined we'd live in France eventually because the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a Japanese American unit, many of their parents interned in camps during the war, fought with courage and patriotism in the bloodiest and fierecest campaigns in Europe. The French have never forgotten that; their gratitude is still palpable. But we thought it was important for our children to know what had happened to the Japanese-American community inside America after Pearl Harbor. So we returned to America to become a part of that community."
Five years after they returned to California, John and Carol not only found a community, they became active in that community. They joined a civil rights group, the Japanese American Citizens League. John eventually became the Chair of the Regional Redress Program and, in 1978, he became National Chair. He also gathered and edited a book of oral histories called, And Justice for All, and became a lobbyist in Washington for the Redress Campaign.
Now John has published Redress: The Inside Story of the Successful Campaign for Japanese American Reparations (Heyday Books) about the day to day, week to week, year by year travails and successes of the movement that culminated in reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned. It granted each surviving internee $20,000 in compensation. A total of 82,219 received redress checks.
The United States has a long history of racism, xenophobia, and violence against immigrants and minority groups. The World War II Japanese American chapter is only one chapter in our sordid story, a fault line as shameful as the Native American genocide and enslavement. We must continue to expose these stories, resist false narratives, and write about them with courage. I am proud of my tenacious friend--the book was not easy to write-- and wish him fortitude as he embarks upon his publicity tour. Check out John's website for a schedule of appearances: https://www.johntateishi.com/
Photo: Out of focus but poignant nonetheless. This is Manzanar where John Tateishi was incarcerated as a toddler. Like most interned families, his family lost everything--or it was stolen-- the day they were shipped out. It was cold in these mountains. Japanese American Californians, accustomed to a warm climate, did not even have the right clothes.