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Did you or your parents ever have loyalty problems?
No, but there was that whole issue in camp, in the camps, where they had to sign a loyalty oath and my parents were, you know, they were Americans through and through. They had some relatives in Japan, but they were really Americans, you, know, very proud.
Where they Issei?
Nisei, so they never had a problem, but there were certainly people in the camps where there was a whole political thing within the camp where it divided the people. Those that were, "yes-yes" and the "no-nos." You know, the people who signed no. I found a letter that my father had written, because he was one of the people who was on the council in the camp. One of his jobs was to help to get young men signed up to go and serve in the military. What he wrote was, "Today we sent thirty-two young men, fine young men, to serve in the United States Army", from the camps. There were all these ironic, strange things that happened, like that.
Did your or your parents' attitude toward the United States ever change?
No. No, in the sense that I am a patriot, you know, I still, I love this country. I've been in Japan and I thank many times over that my parents, I mean my grandparents, left it. It isn't that I dislike Japanese, but I am glad I'm not a woman in that culture, for instance. I mean what happened in the internment was totally wrong. When Reagan was in the Presidency, they signed an act of restitution and it came, a letter to came to each one of us in camp, even those who were five years old. It was a letter of apology and acknowledgment, that injustice had been done and it came with a check for $20,000. I called my mother and I asked her how that was, and she said, "Nothing can pay for the humiliation that we endured", and she began to cry, over the phone, which was the only second time in my life I had ever witnessed my mother crying. I don't know, it was a great learning.
I think that culture that my parents were part of and that I am kind of removed from but still part of, is one that goes on. They are not going to cling to a past injustice and live in bitterness. I mean that's what my mother said, "It's not going do any good to pass bitterness to my children," and so for her... I thought they were not very good parents because they didn't tell us these things that were not right that could have affected my sense of who I was and my citizenship and my relationship. But in fact, they did the best they could. It was for me now, to do the best I could with who I was and what I was given. Which was a whole lot more than what they were given, because that generation bore the injustice. My generation the Sansai, we are the ones who benefited, and we even benefited from the scattering of the Japanese American community in many ways. I feel like I did, because I don't identify with one. You know, I am in the world and I am comfortable in the world, and I don't need to be with people who look like me. In fact, when I went to Japan I was sort of shocked. To get on those trains, and my god I faded right into the population. There are the uncomfortable things that happen to you because you are a minority. But I would not trade that ever, for being a Japanese—Japanese you know—I am American-Japanese and that's for me a good thing. It worked.
Have you told your children about your experience?
I have, and they don't care a whole lot. Because they are in their lives, you know, just, I mean. I have told them, we don't talk about it a lot. They know the history much better than I did when I was their age. I have one daughter who is a lawyer, she is an attorney, and she will not go easily into a camp, you know, if she is told to do that. But they are very much in this world and it is history to them. They think it was a mistake in American history in that way. But yes, I do tell them, and I am starting to tell my grandchildren, about it. My grand daughter is nine and she will be studying this next year for sure. So, I may just go in and talk to that class. She can watch me cry.
In class, we learned about Fred Korematsu, who resisted the US government's Japanese exclusion policies. When Korematsu arrived in the camps, he was shunned by people because he was sticking out too much. How do you feel about someone fighting back against America? Do you feel this was the right thing?
I do. I think he was way ahead of his time and his personality and he was relating to a sense of justice which was outside of the culture, because the culture teaches that you do not stick out. The worst thing, I mean the hardest thing she ever said to me was, "Janet, everything is showing on your face." You know. In other words you are supposed to be—"hmm"—you know. And you don't show, I mean, you can smile if you are happy but you certainly do not show if you are hurt or—there is kind of a pride in that. In that culture, in the Japanese culture, individualism is not valued in that way. I think it's breaking down, even in Japan little by little, but its gonna be a long long time before, there are a few rock and rollers and stuff—but even they rock and roll in the same—you know.
What were the most important lessons you learned from your experiences in the internment camp?
I think it's difficult to say what the experiences were. To isolate it to an internment camp, but there are values that I have and one is what I saw my parents practice is, "You never give up." I don't stop. There will be no failure of will, you know. For the kids I teach, and for myself and hopefully for my own children. That it's not about, it's to be able to work creatively with what you are given and to be all that you know, sorry, to be what you can be. To fulfill the promise that you have, because you were given life here. Is to fulfill that commitment. Despite your race or despite unfortunate things that happened to you. It is, you cut the muster no matter what. To live out your life as somebody who is full, who is deserving of happiness, who is able to create it, is able to create safety for their family, for the children that I teach. I think that's good enough.