This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage.
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page

Internees recall their time
behind barbed wire
March 1, 1999

Nearly 60 years after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing the mass removal and detention of Japanese Americans during World War II, two Japanese Americans reminisced about their experiences of being imprisoned behind barbed wires for the "crime" of being of Japanese ancestry.

"There is an enduring, even sacred belief in this country that in a democracy, majority rule is somehow always right," said Roger Buckley, professor of history and director of the Asian American Studies Institute. "But there have been times in our history when our democracy has been on trial, when the majority has been horribly wrong."

The Day of Remembrance, sponsored by the institute and the Asian American Cultural Center, was an opportunity for reflection and dialogue.

Sharing their experiences with the audience at the Asian American Cultural Center February 19 were Motoko Ikeda-Spiegel, an artist from New York City, and Glenn Kumekawa, professor emeritus at the University of Rhode Island, who were both 14 when their families were interned at Heart Mountain in Wyoming and at Topaz in Utah respectively.

Kumekawa said it was a result of systemic failure that Executive Order 9066 was given support by Congress and the Supreme Court. Yet other wartime enemies, such as Germans and Italians, were not subject to this detention, he said.

Kumekawa, who attended Bates College in Maine after leaving the camp, and continued his studies at Brown University, discussed the surrealism that characterized the internment. There were boy scouts with trumpets and drums, for example, who "welcomed" them to camps that were surrounded by barbed wired fences and armed guard. And there was the irony that Japanese Americans were serving in the U.S. armed forces while their families were detained in American-style concentration camps, he said.

Ikeda-Spiegel said that it was not until 1976, when she wrote a college term paper about her camp experience while studying for her degree, that the healing process began. She said researching and writing the paper was a traumatic experience.

Sonali Arseculeratne