How judge hopes to keep alive memory of Japanese held in internment camps

Kathy Saito Yuille was born in a Japanese internment camp during World War II and spent the first two years of her life there.

“My family didn’t talk about it, they talked very little about it,” she recalled on Wednesday.

“My parents were the first generation, they were young of the first generation. And I’m a second generation, but a lot of my friends were the third generation. But anyway, the culture of the Japanese was so big that they really never – and this is important, too – they really didn’t talk harshly about what happened to them. And I remember talking to my parents and there are two words that the Japanese use a lot, “said Yuille.

These sentences translate into “it cannot be changed” and “endure and persevere”.

“Those two words encompass the culture and feelings of the people who were put into these camps,” she said.

Yuille was meeting with others who remained in internment camps at the Salt Lake City Buddhist Temple on Wednesday when a judge from California stopped Utah with two 48-star American flags that he was carrying across the country for survivors to sign .

Santa Clara District Superior Court Judge Johnny Cepeda Gogo originally volunteered a few years ago to help another judge contact Japanese internment survivors. When he became a judge himself, Gogo and his colleague, whose parents were interned during the war, continued to help with public relations and training.

“And I just thought, ‘How can I get more people involved in this process, in this educational event?’ And that’s when I thought about getting a 48-star flag that represents the era of World War II, which also represents the years that these prison camps were in operation, “he explained.

The internment of Japanese immigrants and citizens began shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which raised national security fears. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered the military to evacuate “anyone deemed a threat” from the west coast to detention centers further inland. More than 110,000 people were sent to these camps, although “none of these citizens have been charged with infidelity,” according to the National Archives. Many of their homes and possessions have been claimed by others and they have had no opportunity “to object to their loss of property and personal freedom”.

Gogo has attempted to bring together those interned in some of the 10 large camps – one in Utah, the Topaz War Relocation Center in Millard County – and smaller camps set up during the war. He asked them to sign a flag “to honor their sacrifice, to honor their memories and the memories of their family members who were also in the camps but are no longer with us today, and also their courage to do so have to go through this really unlawful detention. “

A flag issued on Wednesday has already been filled with signatures and is going to the San Jose Japanese American Museum. Gogo hopes to donate a second flag to the National Japanese American Museum in Los Angeles.

Retired Judge Raymond S. Uno, 90, of Utah, was admitted to Heart Mountain Detention Center when he was about 12 years old. His father died of coronary thrombosis, a blood clot in the heart, about nine months after his family entered the camp.

“My father died and it was an unusual circumstance. And my mother was a housekeeper, so she really had no way of looking after the family. But because my father died, she had to do what she could to take care of the family, “recalls Uno.

“We were having a tough time because we had me, the youngest, my sister, and my brother. And she had to take every kind of job she could get, so she took a job as a cook and housekeeper with a Methodist woman at home “, he said.

Boys couldn’t stay at home, so he had to find an apartment. When he was 15, he was working on the Nevada desert railroad.

Jeanette Mitari Misaka, left, and Yoshiko Mayeda Uno look at photos from WWII concentration camps like Heart Mountain and Topaz at the Buddhist temple in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Yuille said she remembered asking her mother about the family’s time at Heart Mountain Camp. Her mother responded by stating that “war is a terrible thing” and that terrible things were happening to American soldiers at that time too.

“So that was kind of a philosophy. It helped them hold out and persevere in a terrible time,” said Yuille.

“It was probably painful, they wanted to look ahead rather than back. They thought of their children and made a life for them, so once they were out of camp they focused on the future, otherwise it would be painful. ” ,” She said.

Many Japanese immigrants lost their farms and businesses during this period. After Yuille’s father originally emigrated to America and studied English in night school, he ran a business in Oakland, California before internment.

“And they wanted to be citizens, but of course they couldn’t become citizens at the time. And the terrible thing is that the people who were incarcerated, four-fifths of American citizens, were my brothers, my siblings, my sister, they were born here, but they were incarcerated, “said Yuille.

She described the opportunity to gather to sign a flag as “another healing time”.

“It is a time when I think the voices are finally being heard by some, but not all. There was redress, but there are still prejudices; and some of the things that happen now, when Asians are not attacked for any other reason, ”it doesn’t make any sense. So it focuses on these people who were imprisoned, were US citizens, who fought for their country, “said Yuille.

Shirley Ann Higuchi, Yuille’s niece and Chair of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, said, “I think the event kind of symbolizes what happened to young Japanese-American children during World War II. I mean, a lot of the detainees were only 10, 11 years old, 12 years old, they didn’t know what was going on. So if we reunite in 2021 to share this experience, we can remember what happened in 1942. “

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