I Love Immigrants, Part 4 (Past and Present)

“We don’t want something like this to happen ever again. The way the country is going, you never know.”
– Kay Nakao (97), a Japanese-American woman who was forced into a Japanese Internment camp during World War II

Last week I heard two stories on NPR that touched my heart. The first one about immigrants showed how in a small community how two different cultures can co-exist with RESPECT. Those two cultures are Yemeni immigrants with Polish immigrants. When people are open-minded and open-hearted these kinds of ways of being together are possible.

The segment on NPR was from 3/28/17 and called: “Hamtramck, Michigan: An Evolving City of Immigrants”

Stories such as these give me hope. I felt that hope when heard this.

The second story serves a a warning and comes from crippling fear and hatred from the past, during World War II after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. At that time in December 1941, about 120,000 Japanese Americans lived in the USA. The non-Japanese Americans became very afraid of the Japanese-Americans who were legal immigrants in this country. The Roosevelt administration did NOT calm these fears. Thus, all Japanese-Americans were put into Internment Camps in different parts of the USA (many in the West) for the duration of World War II. During the time that Japanese-American families were in these camps, the US military approached some of the Japanese-American males and some of them served in World War II in Europe fighting for the USA in Italy. The fact that these soldiers’ families were still forced to continue to stay in the camps, I find horrifying.

About 30 years ago, I was with a friend and together we went to look at an internment camp that is near Lone Pine, California. That camp was called Manzanar. Here are images of Manzanar. Some of them are from the 1940s.


When I saw Manazar, all that was left of that camp was the steps that led into the housing where the Japanese-Americans were forced to live. All I could think at that time when I saw only the cement steps was that the US government was trying to get rid of the horrible evidence of the past. At the end of World War II, they recycled the wood from those flimsy buildings in Manzanar to build houses for the returning American soldiers.

In Lone Pine there was a museum to the Japanese-Americans who lived in the Manzanar Internment camp. The man running it was a Japanese-American. We asked this gentleman why all the people were smiling in the photos that were taken at that time. He said the people there were trying to live as normally as they could in poor conditions. Every Japanese-American person there had lost their businesses and whatever property they had had except what they could fit into one suitcase. Reparations were paid to Japanese-American families finally in 1999. $20,000 was paid to 82,210 Japanese-Americans.

When I walked away from that Manzanar Camp, I felt very ashamed of my country. My own mother who recently died had told me that she had been very fearful after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. She had NO Japanese-American friends her whole life until the last 12 years of her life when she lived at a senior living facility. My mother liked everyone, but she said she had despised Japanese people until she befriended a Japanese-American woman (at the senior living center) who had health issues left over from the poor food she ate while she was a young woman in a Japanese-American interment camp.

KLCC.org, part of Northwest USA’s NPR, did this story on 3/31/17 about the 75th Anniversary of the internment camps in the State of Washington.


These two stories show two very different ways to handle and respond to immigrant “problems”. Fear and hatred towards large groups of immigrants, merely creates a lot of human suffering, as happened at the time of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. That is a history I am fervently opposed to repeating. Rational decisions are impossible to make when decisions about immigrants are made and fueled by hate and fear.


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