Remembering the Japanese American Incarceration: What You Missed

Today’s post was written by library student assistant Lia Chen.

The William H. Hannon Library’s “80 Years Later: Remembering the Japanese American Incarceration” event was held on March 9 in conjunction with the pop-up exhibit highlighting items from the library’s Ichikawa Family Papers collection. The Ichikawa family had been living in Los Angeles until their forced incarceration at the Heart Mountain Camp under Executive Order 9066 that was passed by Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942. At this event, panelists discussed a wide range of topics, from their family’s experiences in the concentration camps to the use of related primary sources in classes at LMU.

English professor Julia Lee noted how recalling stories can initially bring up trauma and force people to relive those feelings; but, storytelling can eventually be a force to push toward active healing. Indeed, this event centered around recounting stories of injustice committed by Americans during World War II. Phil Shigekuni shared his experiences during this time of incarceration. The immediate impact of the evacuation order was what is now the most emotionally difficult thing for him to talk about: blocks full of forced yard sales because each family was only given a few days to get rid of everything they owned and be bused to assembly centers, which were temporary camps.

The discussion about shame was of particular interest to me. Shigekuni had explained that many of the earlier generations of Japanese Americans hold a sense of embarrassment about their incarceration. Since they do not want to talk about shameful things, these emotions often become internalized and turn into self-hatred. It both saddened and angered me when Phil expressed how it was not “cool” to be Japanese. We also heard from Patty Arra the daughter of Harry Honda, whose family was incarcerated during this time. Arra spoke about how it has taken three generations of Japanese Americans to finally start discussing their incarceration and that this third generation is fighting for redress, justice, and civil liberties. Although it was disheartening to learn that Japanese Americans felt ashamed for their forced incarceration, I think it is extremely inspiring that the grandchildren of those incarcerated are now addressing and opening conversation revolving around the topic.

It is extremely important to tell the story of the incarceration of Japanese Americans so that future generations know about it and what had happened. It is also vital to checking our understanding of the deceptive terms often used when referring to the “internment” of the “Japanese” during WWII at “relocation centers.” To support the storytelling efforts towards healing, Arra suggested using the platforms of classes and panels to hold these conversations.

Thank you, Lia, for sharing your reflections with us!