List of Japanese Cubans sent to WWII incarceration camps found

HAVANA  — A list of about 350 Japanese Cubans who were sent to incarceration camps by the Cuban government during World War II was found in the Central American country recently, shining a light on a long-forgotten fact in its history.

A copy of the list of Japanese immigrants to Cuba and their descendants, compiled by one of the immigrants who was relocated to one of the camps, was handed to members of a group of Japanese journalists affiliated with Kyodo News in October when they visited the country.

“Little is known about the Japanese Cubans as we are small in number. I’ll be glad if the list helps people learn about our history,” said Francisco Miyasaka, 78, a second-generation Japanese Cuban and head of the Japanese Cuban association in Havana, who found the list and handed it to the journalists.

The list, which was found among the belongings of Miyasaka’s late father Kanji who immigrated to Cuba before the war from Nagano Prefecture, was compiled by Goro Naito, another Japanese immigrant from Hiroshima Prefecture. Miyasaka’s father and Naito had been relocated to one of the camps.

In the 1980s, Naito searched for and visited about 100 former detainees of the camps and compiled the handwritten list.

The list was later typed on a word processor by Kiyotaka Kurabe, a Japanese writer in Tokyo, who worked with Naito in recording the history of the Japanese immigrants and published a book on them in 1989.

The list contains the date of their incarceration and where they come from in Japan, in addition to their names. It also includes the date of death of those who died in the camps.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. government questioned the loyalty of the ethnic Japanese on the West Coast, regarding them as a security threat. President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized incarceration and some 120,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated during the war to concentration camps.

In Cuba, the pro-American administration of President Fulgencio Batista followed the move of the U.S. government and arrested about 350 Japanese Cuban men over age 18 among the 420 such men across the Latin American country and relocated them to a jailhouse in Isla de la Juventud in southern Cuba.

Women and children under 18 were generally exempt from incarceration, but three women who had been suspected of a connection to Japanese military officers were arrested and sent to a jail in the suburbs of Havana.

Those men and women were detained even after the war ended in August 1945 until March 1946 and some of them died during their incarceration as their health deteriorated while living in abominable conditions in the camps, according to Kurabe.

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