Wednesday, March 4, 2015

After the barracks . . .

"We knew we were second-class citizens," a woman I interviewed for my newest novel said to me. She had been a young woman in an internment camp in Arizona during World War II.

Even after the war, Japanese-Americans were treated harshly, finding that the people in their old home towns did not want them back. Those who had struggled inside barbed-wire fences while living in small, crowded barracks, were eager to go back home. But what would they find there?

In my novel, the Mori family returns to San Jose, California. No one wants to rent to them because they are not Caucasian. They sleep on the floor of a local church until they find a landlord willing to rent them a small apartment with a leaky faucet. They're cramped, but they were used to being without much room during their three years at Heart Mountain.

The plight of my family is fiction, true, but the prejudice feelings and hatred did exist. In the streets, in the schools, and in the newspapers.

How dangerous this thinking can be and how damaging it is for those who had to live through it. It's truly debilitating for people when they are slandered against because of the color of their skin.

I'm surprised how little North Americans know about the internment camps that existed in this country during the Second World War. There were ten of them, purposely built to house those of Japanese descent who looked like the "enemy", i.e., the Japanese military who had dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. History books seem to omit so much.

It's time to learn from the past and vow to never repeat it.

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