“We should respect the rights of all people. It is not a matter of looks: it is a matter of heart,” reflected Terry Manji, who during his early teens was interned at Tule Lake Internment Camp during World War Two.
The Manji family was featured in a March 1944 Life Magazine feature on life at Tule Lake. In the feature, a cherub-faced 13 year-old Terry Manji is sitting on the floor of a cozy internment camp living room reading a book. The caption says that the Manji family had been “classed as disloyal.”
Fifty-seven years later, Manji continued to ponder the lesson to be taken from the experience of Japanese Americans during the war years. “We all must make sure that such an occurrence doesn’t happen again,” he stressed. The poignancy of this lesson in current times was constantly repeated by those who had experienced discrimination and war hysteria first-hand during the last Great War.
On Saturday, February 9, members of the Marysville Japanese American Citizens League and the local community gathered in the Yuba College library to remember the plight of Japanese Americans during the war and reflect on lessons to be learned from such experiences.
In the library, an exhibit of photographs and memorabilia titled “A Day of Remembrance” depicted local Japanese American history and culture and the experience of Japanese Americans during and after the war. The exhibit ran from February 4 through the 22.
Lon Hatamiya, Secretary of the California Technology Trade and Commerce Agency, served as keynote speaker at the event. In his speech, he stressed that in light of the current interest in national security and the war against terrorism, “we must tread carefully unless we are doomed to repeat history.”
On February 19, 1942, a little over two months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 ordering the internment of aliens of Japanese descent residing in the United States.
The result of this order was the forced relocation of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry. Approximately 1,000 Japanese Americans in the Yuba, Sutter, Colusa and Butte county areas found their lives suddenly uprooted. Many Japanese-owned homes and farms were lost.
In our own Yuba College community, Gladys Sasaki, Secretary in the Office of Instruction, was affected by the internment although indirectly. Her family, like hundreds of others, was interned at Tule Lake. However, with the help of a friendly neighbor, they were able to keep their family’s peach ranch in Live Oak. Many Japanese American families were not as lucky.
Sasaki’s comments echoed that of others at the reception. She simply expressed, “Hopefully this won’t happen again.”Fred Okimoto, who was eight years old when his family was relocated to the Pinedale, California Assembly Center and then subsequently to Tule Lake, recalled all the “back-breaking time spent on buses.” His family was released from the camps a year later to work on a farm in Vale, Oregon.
“This is entirely new for many young people,” he explained. “It is important to gain knowledge of something that we never want to see again.” A little over a decade later in the Korean conflict, he served the very nation that had imprisoned him and his family by joining the Air Force.
Professor Neelam Canto-Lugo, who served as the chair of the committee for planning the Day of Remembrance, stressed that we should “honor the spirit and courage of the Japanese Americans.” She continued to stress that “as members of the community, it is our responsibility to teach people how not to discriminate. We must also be aware of our responsibility to stand up and speak up in the face of discrimination.”
Even though he had been interned in a camp at the beginning of the war, Frank Iritani also served his nation during the war in the MIS, or Military Intelligence Service, in the Pacific. Moreover, one brother served in Europe and one sister enlisted in WACs, or the Women Army Corps as a nurse.
He says he understands that when “war comes, hysteria soon takes over.” He continued to reflect on his own experience of the war. “The discrimination was terrible. There was a curfew and all of our assets were frozen.”
Iritani further went on to apply the lessons of the Japanese internment to the present day. “It is important to get a dialog going and try to understand each other. We want to reach out the Muslim and Sikh community in order to convey to them hope and share the experience we went through.”
Coincidentally, the Yuba County supervisors have only just recently rescinded a January, 1945 resolution stating that the board “is strongly opposed to the return of any and all Japanese to this area and do herby request and urge all Japanese to refrain from coming to the county of Yuba.” It came as a surprise to many at the reception that such a resolution had remained for over 57 years.
Throughout the three weeks of the exhibit, volunteers from the Marysville chapter of the JACL served as guides to students interested in the experience of Japanese Americans in the local area. They helped provide a personal touch to the stories behind the photographs and memorabilia.
Nearly all of the artifacts on display in the library were contributed by Terry Manji. The photographs came from a number of sources including historical archives at Sacramento State and the Sutter County Memorial Museum.