From 1981... Burden of Shame

The Burden of Shame
By Jane O'Reilly;David S. Jackson/Washington; Jeff Melvin/Los Angeles
Monday, Aug. 17, 1981

At last, amends for World War II internment camps? 

"When I heard rumors that all Japanese would be interned, I couldn't believe it. I kept saying that I was a loyal American citizen and that it just couldn't happen in a democracy." —Testimony of Mabel Ota

It did happen. In the months after Pearl Harbor, more than 110,000 "persons of Japanese ancestry" (those with 1/16th Japanese blood or more) were forcibly relocated from the West Coast to inland internment camps in desolate areas of Wyoming, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Arizona. Most were American citizens. One-third were resident aliens born in Japan and therefore, under the law of the time, ineligible for citizenship. No act of espionage or sabotage was attributed to a Japanese American during World War II. They were summarily imprisoned and their constitutional rights suspended solely because of their race. One thousand Aleut Indians were also interned, simply because of their "proximity to a war zone." 

Now, nearly 40 years later, the process of understanding what happened and making reparations has begun. The Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, created last year by Congress, is holding a summer-long series of public hearings. Last week in Los Angeles, the audience listened with hushed respect to stories almost too painful to remember, but too important to forget. 

The spring of 1942. They had little notice, perhaps a week. Given numbers and allowed to bring only what they could carry, they were herded into "assembly centers" at fairgrounds and race tracks stinking of manure and animals. Finally, they were transported to ten barely habitable camps for the duration of World War II. Mabel Ota, now 64, was sent to Poston, Ariz  (block 6-2-A). 

She would, after the war, become the first Asian school principal in Los Angeles, but would spend her life believing that the camp's poor diet and worse medical care caused her father's death, and her daughter to be brain-damaged at birth (in Poston).....

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