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Ruth Okimoto

Story Transcripts /
 
  + Aftermath : “I fear for those children”
+ Anger : “You’re at the mercy of the government”
+ Identity : “They will first see my Japanese face”
+ Loss : “The searchlights would come over the room”
+ Never Again : “It could happen again”
 
   
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Aftermath
“I fear for those children”
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I was devastated when I saw that. I couldn’t function as I’m sure a lot people couldn’t that day. And then when I started to hear what was happening to people who looked like the enemy, I thought about what happened to the Japanese Americans. And, of course, my attention was more on the children because I think I sort of relived through what I saw happening to them as what must have happened to us as kids. And I fear for those children today because they’re going to be impacted by the way they’re being treated today.

Anger
“You’re at the mercy of the government”
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We were in Poston at this camp, this internment camp as they called it. And we would go to school and military guards, of course, surrounding the camp guarding us. And the classrooms were very inadequate at first. They barely had tables, no chairs. And really no educational material, no books, paper, pencils, the bare necessities of school and those, gradually they began to get them as people on the outside were donating things. But we would go to school as children, pledge allegiance to the flag while guards were watching us, right? And we would sing “God Bless America” and all these things that we were doing on the outside, but it became very absurd doing it inside the camp when you’re at the mercy of the government and basically prisoners of war and yet you’re pledging allegiance to the very government that put you there. So at the time, as children, I didn’t understand that, of course. We sang, we pledged allegiance, and did all of that. But it was later as I went to school, in high school, later on as a young adult I started to think about that. And that’s when the anger and the injustice of what happened really began to surface.

Identity
“They will first see my Japanese face”
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Today I think I appreciate being an American, but I also appreciate my Japanese cultural background. And for many, many years, because of the camp experience, I tried to suppress my Japanese-ness. Refused to learn the language when my mother tried to teach us shortly after the war. But I think that I’m not just an American, I’m a Japanese American, and no matter where I go, they will first see my Japanese face. So I can’t escape that.

Loss
“The searchlights would come over the room”
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When we went to Santa Anita, we were put in this small little room that had just enough room for five cots and a little aisle way so you could get to the end of the line. And I was on the last cot, next to the wall and there was a window there, a curtainless window. So every night the searchlights would come over the room and periodically the light would just shine into the room. And that I remember vividly ’cause it was hard to sleep.

Never Again
“It could happen again”
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Under certain circumstances I think what happened to the Japanese Americans can happen to any group. We see part of that jingoism and patriotism today. And it could happen again. It’s true that if you don’t remember the past, that things will happen again and you’ll repeat the mistakes of the past. And I think the Japanese Americans almost have a duty to step forward and make sure that it doesn’t happen to another ethnic group.