The traveling Smithsonian exhibit Righting a Wrong: Japanese Americans and WWII is here at our local Soldiers Memorial. I was aware of most of this information (after discovered this shocking episode in US history while researching for my mother’s WWII in Japan memoir), but only recently learned about Latin American Japanese sent to the US for internment. Seems some of the Latin American countries had the same attitudes about their Japanese-heritage residents as the Americans on our West Coast—deep prejudice and resentment of their successes despite discrimination. The US government gave these countries an excuse to get rid of them.
The US pressured some of the Latin American countries, especially Peru, to round up their Japanese, who were shipped to a Crystal City, Texas, “camp,” their passports confiscated. Some Italians and Germans were there, too, but apparently none of them were later deported to Italy or Germany. During the war, the US sent 800 of these Japanese campers to Japan in prisoner exchanges. After the war, the US deported about 1,000 to Japan as their home countries refused to take them back. Many of those sent to Japan had never lived in Japan, not to mention Japan was devastated by war, many people starving. Others fought to remain in the US despite being considered “illegal aliens.”
Imagine being innocent of crime and forcefully removed to another country that imprisoned you and then called you illegal – and therefore not qualified to receive the $20,000 per person the American Japanese eventually received in hard-won reparations. But, in another ten years the ones that remained in the US won $5,000 each. Some tried to fight for the full $20,000, to no avail. Who knows what happened to the ones sent to war-torn Japan or back to their countries.
This bit of history, what the US government did to Latin Americans of Japanese heritage, is little known, apparently not worth mentioning. Did any of these internees write their stories? Do any books mention much about them – anything? This wrong was never actually righted. Not that money can give back years of imprisonment because of fear and prejudice, or pay for a pre-war life destroyed for nothing. Their stories should be told as a part of the internment camp story, as warnings of what we are capable of doing to others and hopefully will not do again. Internment camp is quite a euphemism, isn’t it.
(The Smithsonian exhibit is going to Albuquerque NM later in October)
Learn more about the Latin American Japanese in this BBC news article: