This is probably going to be one of the hardest posts I’ve ever written. Not because the content is difficult to understand, mind you, but because it’s very personal. Over the course of this post, you’ll find out why.
Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the reason that Japanese-American citizens like actor-activist George Takei and his family were taken to live in concentration camps. Before the camps were built, many Japanese-Americans had to live in the stables at race tracks. One of them, Tanforan (which is now a shopping center), is only 45 minutes from where I live.
I worked with a man named Jan Kurahara who was an internee. Jan was also one of the nisei, Japanese-Americans who joined the Army to prove their loyalty to the country. Before he passed at age 91, Jan wrote a book about his experiences in the Tule Lake Relocation Center: Ganbatte: A Nisei’s Story. It is sadly out of print, but books like Farewell to Manzanar are still available for those who wish to read a first-hand account of what life was like for the Japanese during this time period.
My beloved French teacher, Lois Sato, was interned at Minidoka. She would have been 100 years old this year; she passed at age 97.
Those two dear people are why this is hard for me to write about.
I based Grace Sakamoto, in In The Eye of The Storm, on Mademoiselle Sato. Mademoiselle was a teenager when she was interned, while Grace was 11. Still, my teacher was the inspiration for that character.
This order, which I refer to as a blot on the national escutcheon, had no reason beyond fear-based racism. People who had committed no crime were rounded up, stuck behind barbed wire, and lost everything: their livelihoods, their homes, and often their lives. They were marched out of their homes at gunpoint, allowed to take one suitcase each, and had their existence upended because of the color of their skin.
I let my feelings about this order come through Veronique, in the novel, who refused to shop at the Sakamoto family’s store after they were sent away to Tanforan. She didn’t want to give money to the new owners, whom she viewed as stealing the Sakamotos’ livelihood.
I worked on the Presidio of San Francisco for a decade; I was one of the people who helped turn it over to the National Park Service. That was part of why I chose the images that I did in this article; this is very much a local matter as well as a national one for me.
Recent news events have put Executive Order 9066 firmly in my mind. We cannot let this happen again.
(All images in this article are in the public domain.)