Japanese American Heroes

My pre-ordered copy of the latest Daniel James Brown book, Facing the Mountain, arrived the first week of May and I eagerly dug in. I was not taught about Japanese American Exclusion in high school. The administration played F.D.R’s “Day of Infamy” speech over the intercom every December 7th and we learned about the devastating attacks on Pearl Harbor –  but the fact that American citizens of Japanese descent lost their homes, businesses, land, possessions and freedom was glossed over, if it was mentioned at all. Imagine my surprise in Pol-Sci 101 my freshman year of college when I learned what “internment” was.

Last weekend my family went to Bainbridge Island to see the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. We parked near the Bainbridge Historical Museum and took our bicycles off the rack. Fortunately, the museum is partially re-opened, and we were able to read about the history of the island. Local resident Lilly Kodama shared her story of growing up on a farm near Fletcher Bay and her experience when her family was forcibly removed from the island in 1942, along with other families of Japanese descent. We got on our bikes and pedaled (Bainbridge is not flat!) to Eagle Harbor, site of the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. Hundreds of origami paper cranes, left by visitors, sway in the wind. The names and ages of those sent to camps are listed, by family. Small rocks have been used to spell words such as “never again” and “remember” and an artistic portrait of a young Japanese woman behind barbed wire adorn the long walkway.  It is a place of quiet respect. In total, 227 members of the Bainbridge community were rounded up and sent to Minidoka in Idaho. Two thirds of the people were American Citizens.

It wasn’t until 1988 that President Reagan apologized to Japanese American people by signing into law the Civil Liberties Act stating “One hundred twenty thousand persons of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes and placed into makeshift internment camps,” Reagan said. “This action was taken without trial, without jury. It was based solely on race.”

Bainbridge Island is a 25 minute ferry ride from Seattle. Take your family for the day and ensure the remembrances of another group of American citizens who lost their civil rights due to their ancestry and race.

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