‘December 7, 1941. A date which will live in infamy’
For most Americans, Pearl Harbor Day is a day to remember and honor the 2,403 US Citizens who were in killed in the Japanese surprise attack upon Pearl Harbor. It signifies the beginning of the United States’ involvement in WWII.
For Japanese-Americans, this day has a different cultural significance. This is the day in which we became seen as the enemy. Everything was different. Every action was suspect. 74 days later, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order No. 9066 which forced us to vacate our homes on the West Coast and were forced at gun point to board trains to designated relocation camps. Over 70% of those interned were American Citizens. My family was detained at the Turlock Assembly Center until the internment camp was completed at Gila River, Arizona.
This day brings me a great deal of cultural conflict. I’m fiercely proud of all of my family. My mother’s German Irish American story can be traced back to the founding years of American history. My father’s Japanese American story began much later. My grandfather, born in Japan, came to the US on a barge, alone, at age 11 in 1924. My grandmother’s family arrived a few years earlier and she was actually born in the US.
One of my earliest memories was hearing a conversation about internment. I was so young and didn’t understand the context. I just remember hearing that my sister and I were more than 1/16th Japanese, which meant that we would have been interned. All I heard was that we were different, and not white. From that day forth, I always felt the burden of the sacrifice that my Japanese American relatives had to endure during the war. Growing up, when others would joke around about squinty eyes, I felt deep shame, but also immense reverence and gratitude to my family.
I had family that was fighting the Japanese. Family interned for being Japanese-American. And years later I was able to learn more about the path of my grandfather’s relatives in Japan who worked in factories to support war efforts against America. No wonder I feel such conflict.