Art Shibayama, who continued fight for Japanese Latin American redress, dies

Art Shibayama testified March 21 at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. photo by Martha Nakagawa

Isamu Carlos Arturo “Art” Shibayama, who was among the 2,264 Japanese Latin Americans kidnapped during World War II by the United States government to be used in hostage exchanges with Japan, passed away July 31, 2018. He was 88.

He was the oldest of eight children born to Yuzo and Tatsue Ishibashi Shibayama, both from Fukuoka.

Shibayama was born in 1930 and given the birth name of Isamu, but when he got baptized in the Catholic church, the name Carlos Arturo, was added. He attended a private school in Lima that taught classes in Japanese and Spanish.

His father ran a successful business importing textiles. During his summer vacations, Shibayama went over to Callao, where his maternal grandparents had a successful department store.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Shibayama and his father and his friends were on an overnight fishing excursion when an employee came looking for them and suggested that they go home.

Shortly after the United States entered the war, a number of Issei in Peru were arrested and hauled away. Shibayama’s maternal grandparents were taken away in early 1942 and imprisoned in the Seagoville Department of Justice camp in Texas. They were later used in a civilian hostage exchange between the U.S. and Japan, where Japanese Peruvians such as Shibayama’s grandparents were exchanged for U.S. civilians who found themselves stranded in Japan at the outbreak of war. Shibayama would never see his grandparents again.

Word spread about the arrests of the Issei. Prominent men, such as Shibayama’s father, went into hiding each time they heard that a U.S. transport had landed in the port of Callao.

The police visited the Shibayama household several times in search of the father, but when they could not find him, they finally arrested the mother. Shibayama’s 11-year-old sister accompanied the mother since she did not want her to spend time in jail alone. The two were not released until Shibayama’s father turned himself in to the police.

About a week later, the entire family was rounded up and placed aboard the U.S. Army ship called the Cuba in March 1944.

On the ship, the women and children were placed into cabins on the deck, while the men were forced below. Shibayama was considered older at 13 and was put down below with the men. The men were allowed to go up on deck only twice a day for 10 minutes.

The ship departed from Callao, went through the Panama Canal to New Orleans. Shibayama recalled that not only were they heavily guarded by U.S. military personnel but the ship itself was flanked by destroyers and submarines.

Once the ship landed in New Orleans, the women and children were ushered into a warehouse, told to strip naked and then sprayed with an insecticide. They were then told to shower, put their clothes back on and placed onto a train. The men were put through the same process.

The train trip from New Orleans to the Crystal City DOJ camp in Texas took two days. Once the train stopped, they were loaded onto busses and driven to camp.

The Shibayama family was assigned two rooms in a barrack.

Shibayama started attending school at Crystal City. In Peru, he had been in the eighth grade, but at Crystal City, he and other JLAs were placed in the fifth or sixth grade because classes there were held in English or Japanese, and Shibayama and the other JLAs did not speak English. Their Japanese was poor because they had been taught in Spanish for the last three years.

While attending school, Shibayama found work delivering mail to the Crystal City residents. During his free time, he joined the baseball team organized by the JLAs. Once the war ended, Shibayama learned to drive a truck and found another job delivering ice in camp.

With the end of the war, school also came to a close since many of the Japanese American instructors left Crystal City. However, two volunteer Japanese Americans remained and taught English to the JLAs.

Shibayama decided to learn English since, at that point, he wasn’t sure if they were going to be deported to Japan or remain in the U.S.

Shibayama’s father wanted to return to Peru, but the Peruvian government had made it clear that it did not want the Nikkei to return.

In 1946, rumors spread that Crystal City was going to close. Some JLAs were released if they had a relative or friend in the U.S. who would sponsor them. Since Shibayama’s father wanted to return to Peru, the family remained in the camp.

At this time, the U.S. government, which had forcibly rounded up the JLAs from 13 different Latin American countries, classified the JLAs as illegal aliens and was ready to deport them to Japan.

To prevent forced deportation, civil rights attorney Wayne Collins negotiated a deal with the U.S. government to have the JLAs work at Seabrook Farms, a frozen vegetable packing company in New Jersey. The JLAs were told that if they worked at Seabrook Farms and if Peru decided to take them back, they would be offered transportation back to Peru.

The Shibayama family boarded a train for Seabrook Farms in September 1946.

The living accommodations at Seabrook Farms was similar to Crystal City since they lived in barrack housing and shared a communal bathroom and laundry. The only difference was that there was no fencing around the company.

Shibayama’s father worked at the frozen packing section, but because Shibayama and his sister were minors, they were sent to the flower bulb garden where they cut flowers and saved the bulbs for replanting. Since his mother was pregnant, she remained in the barrack and looked after the younger children.

Shibayama also joined the JLA baseball team at Seabrook Farms. The entire Seabrook Farms baseball roster had about 40 men, which included the day and night shifts, and the team played against white teams from the surrounding cities. The all-Nikkei Seabrook Farms team built a reputation for being strong, and Shibayama recalled that they took the Southern New Jersey Championship for several years.

Once Shibayama turned 17, he received special permission to join his father in the frozen packing section due to the family’s financial hardships.

During the peak seasons, Shibayama and the crew worked 12 hour shifts, seven days a week.

One morning, Shibayama woke up with abdominal pain and went to the Seabrook Farms infirmary. He was then sent to the nearby city of Bridgeton to have surgery to remove his appendix. When his mother came to visit him at the hospital while he was recovering, she gave birth to another boy.

Since Shibayama could not do hard labor for six months after the surgery, he was transferred to the greenhouse where he was responsible for watering the plants. In March 1949, after two-and-a-half years at Seabrook Farms, the family moved to Chicago. Shibayama found work at a carbon paper making company. Every January, he was required to report to the immigration office.

In April 1952, Shibayama received a draft notice from the U.S. Army. Since he was still classified as an illegal alien and fighting deportation, he felt compelled to report to the draft board. He was surprised when his citizenship status was not brought up and he was processed like any other U.S. citizen. He recalled other JLAs being similarly drafted.

Shibayama went through basic training in Arkansas. While he was the only Japanese American in the group, he did not feel any hostility from the white men.

Before Shibayama was shipped overseas, he got engaged to his girlfriend, whom he had met at a bowling alley.

He was then sent overseas to Germany where his section leader unsuccessfully tried to get Shibayama U.S. citizenship. The paperwork from Washington, D.C. denied granting Shibayama U.S. citizenship because he had not entered the U.S. legally, despite the fact that the U.S. had forcibly removed him from Peru. He was advised to visit the immigration office in Chicago after his honorable discharge in 1954.

Back in Chicago, the immigration officials were stumped. They had never seen a case like Shibayama’s. After two years, the Chicago immigration office advised Shibayama and his siblings to travel to Canada, get a letter from the Canadian immigration office and re-enter the U.S. Shibayama and his siblings did as advised, but when they returned, they were told that they could get permanent residency but could not receive U.S citizenship immediately. His parents, on the other hand, had received permanent residency in 1952 when the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, also known as The McCarran-Walter Act, was passed.

Meanwhile, Shibayama enrolled in a mechanic school and after graduation, found work at a Ford dealership.

In 1955, Shibayama married Betty Morita, a Japanese American who had been incarcerated at the Tule Lake and Minidoka War Relocation Authority Center in California and Idaho, during World War II.

In 1963, the Ford dealership owners where Shibayama worked decided to retire so Shibayama found work at a Chevrolet dealership.

In 1970, Shibayama became a U.S. citizen. In 1971, the family moved to San Jose, Calif., where Shibayama eventually opened a gas service station.

Since Shibayama’s wife, Betty, had been incarcerated at Tule Lake, the couple participated in an early pilgrimage where attendees brought their own sleeping bags and slept at the Fairgrounds. Meals were cooked by the younger generation.

When the redress movement gained momentum during the 1980s, Shibayama thought the JLAs would be included in the redress bill. He was surprised when he received a letter from the Office of Redress Administration, telling him that he was being denied reparations because he had not been a permanent resident at the time of imprisonment. He unsuccessfully appealed his case.

Shibayama then went to the Asian Law Alliance for assistance, and although they sent letters on his behalf, Shibayama was again denied.

Campaign for Justice: Redress Now For Japanese Latin Americans! was formed around this time to assist the many JLAs being denied reparations. At the same time, a lawsuit was filed. This became known as the Carmen Mochizuki case, since her name was at the top of the list.

Shibayama was among the JLAs willing to go on a speaking tour with Campaign for Justice and National Coalition for Redress and Reparations members to publicize the plight of the JLAs. They also lobbied their Congress members in Washington, D.C.

The Mochizuki ruling came in 1999 where the JLAs were given a token $5,000, one fourth of the $20,000 given to Japanese Americans, and an apology. Shibayama and 16 others decided to opt out of the Mochizuki settlement and filed another lawsuit against the government for equitable justice. This case was dismissed.

Meanwhile, Sen. Daniel Inouye and Rep. Xavier Becerra introduced the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Latin Americans of Japanese Descent Act. Support for the bill was gaining momentum until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Following the terrorist attack, the hearing for the bill was postponed and support waned.

In 2003, Shibayama and his two brothers took their case to an international forum and filed to be heard before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an independent agency of the Organization of American states.

In 2017, 14 years after he had filed his petition, Shibayama was given a hearing before the IACHR. Those who testified last March in Washington, D.C included Shibayama; his daughter, Bekki; and Grace Shimizu from Campaign for Justice: Redress Now For Japanese Latin Americans!.

Attorney Paul Mills represented the delegation, and Phil Nash, on behalf of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, submitted a written testimony.

Francisco José Eguiguren Praeli, IACHR president and commissioner from Peru, extended a personal apology to Shibayama after Shibyama testified. However, an official IACHR ruling is not expected for a number of years due to the backlog.

Shibayama is featured in the film, “Hidden Internment: The Art Shibayama Story.”

Art is predeceased by his parents Yuzo and Tatsue Shibayama, his siblings Fusa Sumimoto, Susan Hikida and Kazuko Shibayama, He is survived by his wife Betty, and his two children Bekki and Brian, and by his brothers Kenbo, Tac, and George and his sister Rose Nishimura.

There will be a Celebration of Life for Shibayama on Saturday, Aug 25, from 2 p.m. at the Wesley United Methodist Church, 566 North Fifth St. in San Jose’s Japantown. Casual golf or aloha shirt is welcomed.

He is survived by his wife, Betty, two children, and many relatives.

(Densho contributed to this article.)

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