Last weekend I had the privilege of hearing an 88-year-old Japanese-American woman tell of her experiences in internment camps during WWII. For this university program, we first watched the movie American Pastime, set in the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah, and then Janice told us her story. Hesitant at first, she became a delightful speaker showing a sense of droll humor that had us laughing as we learned. She had never seen American Pastime before and was astonished at how “rich” the Japanese-Americans seemed to be there—the people in the camps she lived in had had their bank accounts frozen and so had little money and were clothed in rags. After two months at a terrible temporary makeshift army barracks thrown together in California, the people were shipped to Arkansas where life was a little bit nicer although they were still prisoners crowded together and watched over by machine-gun wielding guards.
Janice’s eye-witness stories were eye-opening. She did not seem to have any bitterness, even though her family lost all they had. She was considered to be Japanese in America, but an American in Japan when she moved there soon after the war for family reasons. Ironically, she was treated as an alien in both countries.
Many people have been through bad experiences. Through the passage of time, their memories become softer, the emotions hazier with distance until they can speak their stories more easily. Today we are finding more WWII survivors willing to share their memories. There is so much to learn, and may we learn from their history.