My mom learned how to speak a little Spanish in camp. You would think she had picked it up in Boyle Heights where she lived before and after the war. But she learned her first few words of Spanish by playing with other Japanese Peruvian 6 year old kids at Crystal City Internment Camp.
This July, I went to the Tule Lake Pilgrimage. It was a tremendous weekend of sharing experiences and emotions about Tule Lake. During a panel discussion, I was able to hear Grace Shimizu, from the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project speak about Japanese Peruvian internment.
In August, I talked with Grace at the Crystal City Reunion Picnic in Long Beach. She told me about her father, who was kidnapped from Peru and taken to Crystal City for hostage exchange. Graces 90-year old father, who may be one of the oldest living Japanese Peruvians, has been denied redress.
Now, I know a lot of people are tired of hearing about Redress. Most former internees got their checks years ago and are now focusing on enjoying retirement and babysitting their grandkids. The books can be closed on the past, right? Well, not quite.
Not many people know the story of the Japanese Peruvians and other Japanese Latin Americans. But as the healing continues and the stories unfold, we begin to learn more and more about our nations tragic past.
When Japanese immigration to the United States was cut off because of anti-immigrant exclusionary laws, many Japanese also emigrated to Latin America. Similar to here in the United States, these immigrants built thriving communities, farms and businesses. By 1940, there were about 26,000 people of Japanese ancestry living in Peru.
When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941 the U.S. government essentially kidnapped 2,264 people of Japanese ancestry from 13 Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and put them into U.S. concentration camps. Eighty percent of Japanese Latin Americans were from Peru. When they got here, their passports were taken away from them and just like Japanese Americans, their human rights were completely violated.
You see, the United States needed hostages available to exchange for "Americans" captured by the Japanese. And just like the Japanese Americans who were rounded up, there was no basis to justify the targeting of Japanese Latin Americans for mass deportation.
When the war ended, the U.S. government no longer needed these people and declared them "illegal aliens." About 900 of these people went to Japan as expatriates. Some repatriated to a country they had never known, having been born in Latin America. About 300 remained in the United States. Many went to Seabrook, New Jersey to work at the frozen foods factory. Other families stayed in Crystal City until as late as 1948. About 100 Peruvian-born citizens were reluctantly allowed to return to Peru.
For many Japanese Latin Americans, redress is not over. When the Civil Liberties Act was signed in 1988, which provided for redress and the apology, Japanese Latin Americans were excluded. The reason? Because they werent U.S. citizens and they certainly werent permanent residents at the time of their internment. Our government is simply not sympathetic towards undocumented immigrants, regardless of how they got here.
The Civil Liberties Act has an eligibility provision that states as its purpose to discourage the occurrence of similar violations of civil liberties and to declare concern by the U.S. over violations of human rights committed by other nations. Ironic, isnt it? Because about 300 Japanese Latin Americans were denied redress. Reality is, these people cant wait another 50 years.
On August 28, 1996, three brave individuals, Carmen Mochizuki, Alice Nishimoto and Henry Shima spoke at a press conference about the pain these actions inflicted on their families lives. They have filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the surviving victims.
Carmen Mochizuki and Alice Nishimoto were young girls when they were taken from their homes in Peru. They were deported with their families to Crystal City. Both went with their families to war-devastated Japan after the war, but eventually returned to LA and became U.S. citizens. Henry Shima, was born in Peru. He was a young adult when he was deported from Peru and imprisoned into I.N.S. detention camps in Texas and Idaho from 1943 to 1946 with no legal justification. Carmen, Alice and Henry have applied for, and been denied redress.
The lawsuit is asking for people like Carmen, Alice and Henry to be reconsidered for eligibility under the Civil Liberties Act. Grace Shimizu would like an apology and full disclosure so that people can know about this mass violation of human rights by the U.S. government. Its only fair.
What can we as individuals do to support the lawsuit? The recently-formed "Campaign for Justice: Redress Now for Japanese Latin Americans" is asking for your support. If you think that these people were really, really wronged, the Campaign for Justice needs your help. As Japanese Americans, we have a responsibility to reach out and help in this struggle. Remember, it has only been eight years since redress was passed.
On another level, you can write letters, make phone calls, or send e-mails to President Clinton and your government representatives. You can tell your friends, family and co-workers about this issue. You can ask your school, church or other organization to endorse the campaign by saying that you support redress and reparations for Japanese Latin Americans. Or, your contributions can help defray the costs of the campaign.
The founding members of the Campaign for Justice in Southern California are the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations (NCRR), Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The Japanese American Historical Society of Southern California (JAHSSC) is also endorsing the Campaign for Justice.
My Nisei mom got redress. Maybe it was Carmen or Alice who taught my mom her first few words of Spanish. Id like to see them get redress because their struggle is "our" struggle, too. Si se puede. It can be done.
For more information, contact the Campaign for Justice, c/o Paul Mills, Esq., 3435 Wilshire Blvd., 29th Floor, LA 90010-2015. Phone: (213) 381-7793. In Northern California, contact Grace Shimizu of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project (415) 431-5007.
Jenni Emiko Kuida is involved with the JAHSSC, APAN-JACL and NCRR. She has recently joined in support of the Campaign for Justice and writes from Panorama City.