Digging through old documents, my mom stumbled across my grandmother’s original testimony for the redress of the Japanese American internment of 1942, during which Japanese-American citizens were violated of their rights, discriminated against, and forced into internment camps. This period of unconstitutional alienation separated many loved ones, stripped individuals of everything they worked for, and left people in a daze with no assuring idea of the present or the future. Upon the movement for redress the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was created, attempting to recompense the losses of those affected by the internment 46 years later.
As I read these accounts, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude at the comfortable conditions I am able to live in every day. And struck with an indescribable love I will always feel for the grandmother I knew the first 18 years of my life, the grandfather I never met, and the rest of my family who consistently amazes me in the amount of compassion and strength they exhibit, in past generations and in current.
I am inexpressibly proud to be the grandson of Miyo Maude Senzaki. The grandson of Stomo Senzaki. A member of my immediate and extended family.
These people gave me a vision of the person I am today, and continue to give me an idea of who I aspire to be. It is reassuring to believe that every ounce of kindness, hardship, and courage bestowed in our families resonates alongside us. That the amazing people I have come to know, such as my grandmother, have a concrete and profound effect on my character.
It is these people that remind me to rejoice in the brightest aspects of our lives. Loving and persevering characters such as my grandmother, my entire family, and all of the friends I have come to know over the years, for which I am undoubtedly grateful.
Selections from the testimony follow:
“I was working on Sunday, December 7, 1941. People were pulling their cars over to the curb, their faces tense and listening to their radios. A stranger came up to me and asked me if I was a Jap or an American. I replied, I am a Japanese American. To this he remarked, you are just lucky and walked away. By the end of the day our jobs were terminated. My parents were ordered to close their business one by one until they had only one stand in Rosemead a town 15 miles away from the heart of Los Angeles. By now, January 1942 all the Japanese schools were forced to close down.
[…] Rumors came that we would be evacuated according to the zone where we lived. Since my fiance lived in Los Angeles he heard that we would not see each other again unless we got married. March 31, 1942 we were married at the Japanese Union Church in Los Angeles. My parents were able to witness the marriage since we were able to get a travel permit for them.
The days to follow were days of fear, anxiety and a deep feeling of being unwanted. In May we were ordered to evacuate for destination unknown. We were braced for the worse. […] Santa Anita Assembly Center became the home for the Senzaki’s for the next 4 months. In one sense I was extremely happy to be with my husband and on the other hand I would get depressed wondering if I would ever see my family again. My sisters and my mother came to visit me in Santa Anita to say goodbye to me as they received their orders for evacuation. We said our farewells across barbed wire fences with tears in our eyes. […] I remember the riot in camp when soldiers patrolled the camp for several days. These were frightening times.
Again rumors raced through camp that we would be shipped out to destination unknown. September found us travelling for 5 days on a train wondering where next? Late at night we arrived in Rohwer, Arkansas. Summers were hot and humid, winters damp and cold. […] I found out that I was expecting a child.
[…] March of 1944, I found out that I was expecting my second child. Suddenly I could not bear the thought of having my second child in camp. The war could continue for years. There was no future for us and I felt a sense of guilt to have to rear the children behind barbed wire fences. That evening my husband promised me that I could have this child outside the camp.
June 28, 1944 was a day of excitement with the help of my father-in-law, we were finally leaving behind the sentry towers and barbed wire fences. […] December 15, 1944 my second son was born. I felt secure and happy. The day I was to leave the hospital, I received a message that my husband was detained at the draft board. Why were they drafting him now. He volunteered several months before the outbreak of the war. He was so anxious to serve our country that he went to the draft board asking them to hurry and take him. They told him he was reclassified as an alien, 4-C. He came home late that night to tell me the army did not want him. With tears in his eyes, he told me they found he had tuberculosis. I cannot tell you how my heartached. On January 1945, he entered Glen Lake Sanatorium. He remained there for one year and 4 months. The W.R.A. gave me support of $55.00 a month. This was not enough but I managed by working in a garment factory and working for my pediatrician who gave my children all the free medical care. My parents worked in a home. We leased a huge house where 12 of us lived, sharing expenses.
When we finally moved back to California in 1961 after 17 years in Minneapolis with 4 children, our first incident of discrimination was still there. When we found a house we planned on purchasing, we were told by the realtor that he would send a petition around the neighborhood to see if we would be accepted. My husband became angry and told him to forget it.
On March 16, 1971 my husband passed away.
My second son, a very sensitive person did not believe in the Vietnam war. He had an apartment near the Santa Anita Race Tracks. Whenever he would see the tracks lit up, he used to tell us that he couldn’t help but wonder why the government put us there. I feel intensely that his decision to go to Canada had a psychological effect on him. I only wish that my husband could have lived long enough to see my son return.
On November 1978 on Thanksgiving Day, my children, my son from Canada and a grandson who came to fill the void in my heart gathered to give thanks to the Lord.
I believe for each and every individual whose dignity and freedom was stripped during the war, a monetary redress. The amount of redress cannot be measured in terms of dollars alone.
I thank you for allowing me to speak before you.