Japanese American concentration camp survivors call for closure of immigrant detention centers on 78th anniversary of wartime incarceration

Members of San Francisco’s Japanese American community on Feb. 7 spoke about their experiences being incarcerated in camps during World War II, while standing in solidarity with present-day immigrants being detained at the U.S.-Mexico border.

DAY TO REMEMBER — (Left to right) Rev. Michael Yoshii of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church, former incarcerees Hiroshi Shimizu, Sadako Kashiwagi, Chizu Omori and Kaz Naganuma, filmmaker Jon Osaki, and Bay Area Day of Remembrance Consortium Chair Jeff Matsuoka. photo courtesy of Bay City News Service

Speaking at the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco’s Japantown to commemorate the incarceration of Japanese Americans in the 1940s, several survivors shared their stories.

“It was really hard, because your country tells you you’re no good. So, you reject your language, your food, your culture,” said Sadako Kashiwagi, who was sent to the Tule Lake concentration camp in Northern California along with her family.

More than 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese descent were forcibly removed from their homes and sent to concentration camps, after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942. The order essentially labeled people of Japanese descent living in the U.S. as possible spies.

“All I can say is know your language, be proud of who you are, be strong, be kind and so on. And that is important because you need a base,” Kashiwagi said.

“When Pearl Harbor happened, it was like, I didn’t even know where it was or anything. It seemed very distant, or at least it didn’t seem to have anything to do with me. But, of course, they rounded us all up,” said Chizu Omori, who lived on a farm near San Diego before her family was sent to a camp.

Kaz Naganuma, who was detained with his family for more than three years, said the main message he wants people to take away from his story is that people are continuing to be detained by the U.S. government unjustly, referring to the detainment of thousands of Mexican and Central American families at the border.

“We have to stop repeating history,” he said. “It must change, not just what’s happening with the administration (of President Donald Trump), but at the border.”

He added, “It’s hard to imagine after 75-plus years this is still happening.”

Jon Osaki, whose father was incarcerated in a camp, recently produced the film “Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066,” which explores reasons for the incarceration of Japanese Americans.

“I believe that one of the greatest lessons that must be remembered from the incarceration of our community, is that in 1942, no one stood up for us. There were no protests. There was no organized effort to insist that incarcerating an entire group of people was wrong.

“Unlike 1942, today we have an opportunity to make a stand, to speak out and send a message to the so called leaders of our country that we will not allow an injustice like the incarceration of Japanese Americans to continue,” he said.

As part of the 78th anniversary, several members of the city’s Japanese American community will take part in a rally outside the San Francisco Immigration and Customs Enforcement office on Sansome Street on Feb. 14, starting at 11:30 a.m. Participants at the “Compassion Has No Walls” event will share their experiences and call for the closure of immigrant detention centers.

On Sunday, Feb. 16, community members will take part in a Day of Remembrance at the AMC Kabuki 8 theater at 1881 Post St., starting with a 2 p.m. event, followed by a procession through Japantown.

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