Sunday marks 75 years since creation of Japanese American internment camps
February 17, 2017
A Day of Remembrance Commemoration Event
Sunday marks 75 years of the day President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which interred 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry into camps, one of which was located in south Colorado.
To commemorate the event, the local chapter of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom will hold a lunchtime gathering from 11:45 a.m.-1 p.m. Thursday at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 929 15th St. in Greeley.
Participants are encouraged to bring their own brown-bag lunch.
The event will feature two Japanese-American speakers, Jackie Tono and Marge Taniwaki. They will speak on “The Myth of Tokyo Rose and Other Tales.”
Both speakers have a direct connection to the American internment camps.
Bob Sakata was 16 years old when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Sunday marks 75 years since the signing of that presidential order that would change Sakata's life.
The date was Feb. 19, 1942 — about two months after the attacks on Pearl Harbor. The executive order sent more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans from the West Coast to 10 internment camps across the United States, including one in southern Colorado. That included Sakata, his father, and his three siblings, who were sent to Topaz Internment Camp in central Utah from their home in the bay area of California. He was the youngest.
"We were asked to leave our home, and we just left everything behind," he said. "We were put on a bus and were allowed to take one suitcase per person."
Sakata, an icon of Weld County's agricultural community and founder of Sakata Farms, was in the camp for under a year when he asked his father for his permission to leave and head to Colorado. He heard former Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr was openly defending the rights of the Japanese community, and was allowing the state to serve as a safe haven.
“We were asked to leave our home, and we just left everything behind. We were put on a bus and were allowed to take one suitcase per person.
— Bob Sakata, discussing his family being sent to Topaz Internment Camp
With the sponsorship of a Caucasian-American, Sakata became the third person to leave the camp, and he moved to Colorado. He recalled his family was in the Utah camp for almost four years until it closed.
Feb. 19 is now known as the Day of Remembrance, and each year people across the nation honor the day so it is never forgotten.
Jackie Tono of Thornton is one of those people. Tono will speak about Japanese experience this week in Greeley.
Her father, Jack, was 20 years old when the executive order was signed. He was one of 10 siblings from California sent to the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming. "They were all born in the United States — they went to grammar school here and graduated from high school from American schools," she said. "He was 20 years old and was ready to go off and make a name for himself… and that's when it happened. He couldn't."
Jackie said her mother, Mary, was in Colorado at the time of the order, so she and her family didn't get sent to the camps. But Jackie remembers her mother telling stories about how poorly Japanese Americans were treated even outside of the camps.
"She and her family were called terrible names, like 'dirty Japs'," Jackie said. "She didn't experience the camp life, but it was still hard."
Jackie said her father was a resister. He found the situation unfair, she said, and he was vocal about it. He wanted to go back to California, and she said he spoke before a judge where he promised to fight for the U.S. in the war if he could be released. He was denied, and ended up in prison for three years because of his resistance.
Jack died in 2014 at almost 95 years old. Jackie said the experience made him distrust the government.
She said it's important for people to honor and remember the day so that nothing similar happens again — something she is afraid will, given today's political climate.
"It's amazing how quickly people forget about this," she said. "If you don't take the time to remember it, then how are you going to remember not to do it again? You have to honor the day so that history does not repeat itself."
That's something Sumiko Gibson, a lecturer of Japanese at the University of Northern Colorado, agreed with. Her family dealt with the other side of the situation — her father was in Hiroshima when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb.
"It can be so easy to forget about these things," she said. "We need to remember because what happened before was bad and we learned so many things we can't forget, or else we could make those mistakes again."
Gibson said though those days in history should be remembered, feelings of hostility should be avoided.
"It was a war," she said. "Everybody knows mistakes were made. What we should do is learn from those (events) and move forward."
Sakata, now 91, said he has forgiven the U.S. government. He said he holds no animosity in his heart toward the experience or those involved.
"We forgave (the government) for it because it was really public pressure that caused such an unconstitutional thing to happen," he said. "With what I've gone through, I made it work. I had faith in this country and worked hard and obeyed the laws. If you do those things, you'll make it, too."