Preservation and Confinement

By Beacon Staff

Today in Los Angeles the National Park Service (NPS) is holding meetings at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy to give the public a chance to comment on a program aimed at preserving Japanese-American confinement sites from World War II. Included in this program would be a camp in Arizona where my grandmother spent a chunk of her youth.

In 2006, Congress passed a law authorizing a grant program to preserve Japanese-American confinement – or “relocation” – sites so “that present and future generations may learn and gain inspiration from these sites, and that these sites will demonstrate the nation’s commitment to equal justice under the law.” It’s essentially an effort to formally acknowledge and learn from this embarrassing stain on our country’s history, a noteworthy effort. The NPS has been tasked with gathering public input and developing a report on how to go about implementing this preservation program.

My grandmother was placed in the Gila River Relocation Camp in southern Arizona when she was 13 years old. And understandably so. She’s a terribly threatening woman. At 5-foot-2 with white hair, she may even be more intimidating now than when she was 4-foot-9 with jet-black hair.

When my grandma showed up at camp she was asked to shatter all of her vinyl records. Big band music wasn’t appropriate for Japanese Americans. She told that story once and never spoke about it again. Other than that, I know very little else about her confinement experience.

I know even less about my grandfather’s experience. He was initially placed in a confinement camp in Hawaii, I believe. But after a while, the federal government decided he and other Japanese Americans would be more useful on the front lines of European battlefields than sitting around in a camp. So with that, Mikiri “Mickey” Ogata became part of the 442nd regimental combat team, the most decorated unit in U.S. military history, including 21 Medals of Honor. My grandpa, who is deceased now, earned multiple purple hearts and medals.

From the comments it receives at today’s meetings, and from the written comments on its Web site: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/imro, the NPS will formulate its report, which will be given to Congress in mid-February. I haven’t spoken with my grandma about this program, but I intend to. Most likely, she’ll have little to say. But I know it means something.