In the five-part series "Prisoners in Their Own Land," KING 5’s Lori Matsukawa explores how many people in Western Washington were touched by the executive order that sent approximately 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry to U.S. concentration* camps. Now a new generation is re-telling the story to make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else.
A powerful performance by spoken word artist Troy Osaki. He is a 22-year-old Seattle University law student. His grandmother, Etsuko, was 11 when she was incarcerated at Minidoka concentration camp. He says it took him two years to write the poem which reads in part:
“My grandmother was just another yellow-faced Jap, another kamikaze pilot holstered with explosives, threats of suicide campaigns, another enemy spy, war hysteria was just another euphemism for scapegoats as if evacuation was meant for her own protection but guard towers were not safe when gooks and Orientals were lynched with barbed wire barricades at gunpoint.”
In 2015, Seattle Opera presented “An American Dream,” offering Puget Sound audiences a small taste of the incarceration experience. Soprano Nina Yoshida Nelsen’s grandmother survived camp.
“My grandma said it was kind of the end of the family, because all of a sudden, families weren't eating together, weren't praying together. They weren't normally doing what they did as a family,” said Nelsen.
Painter Roger Shimomura created scores of camp images inspired by his grandmother's diaries.
Today, Shimomura sees new targets of racism and says Americans must remain vigilant.
“We all need to be reminded that this government is capable of repeating its past mistakes,” he said.
Osaki thinks about his grandmother’s patient dedication to her culture and identity despite being imprisoned during the war years.
“She had a lot of strength, right? A lot of strength to survive and keep our culture alive. And not abandon our traditions, but make sure they're carried forward to her grandchildren.”
Special Presentation - Return to Minidoka: This year marks the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. In a half-hour KING 5 special presentation of Prisoners in Their Own Land, we follow a woman who revisits the concentration camp where she spent her early years, and ask the question: Can this happen again?
Related links and resources:
*Internment Camp vs. Concentration Camp
Some viewers may be wondering what to call these wartime camps. The words "internment camp" are considered imprecise by scholars, since those were used for holding dangerous aliens and prisoners of war. I use the words "concentration camp" in my reports because that's what the people I interviewed called them and, by definition, that's what they were, according to history website DENSHO: “Prison camps outside the normal criminal justice system, designated to confine civilians for military or political purposes on the basis of race and ethnicity." This is not meant to take away from what happened to Jews and others in Europe, who were imprisoned in "concentration camps," which some now acknowledge was a euphemism for Nazi "death camps." - Lori Matsukawa