Although there has been some attention brought to the experience of Japanese Americans during World War II when people of Japanese descent were unjustly incarcerated in American concentration camps, it is a story about which much of the general public is not aware. These people suffered extreme racism and hatred. Surviving required hope to bring some light out of the darkness of their lives.
Most of the earliest immigrants from Japan who came to the United States arrived in the early years of the 1900’s with some arriving in the late 1800’s. They were young single men who came as laborers to make a better life for themselves. America was seen as the “land of opportunity” to them where riches could be had. They had hope for a chance to find success in this land where it seemed that anyone could make a lot of money by working hard.
Although they faced racism and discrimination at nearly every turn, they kept their hope alive. At that time, they were not allowed to become citizens of the United States even though they had made this country their home for decades. Many were able to marry and have families. Their children were American citizens. They stressed education, and many within the younger generation had earned college degrees. However, racism still affected them, and it was difficult for college graduates to find meaningful work in their fields of study. Still, they held on to the hope that light would come and conditions would improve.
Then December 7, 1941, came with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the Imperial Navy of Japan. Immediately, immigrants from Japan who had been leaders within their communities were rounded up by the FBI and put in prison. Those arrested included men who owned small businesses, leaders within community groups, Buddhist priests, and Japanese language teachers. Their families were told little or nothing about where they were being taken.
It was a dark day for all Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents. They were suspected of being the enemy. The immigrant parents thought their children would be safe because they were American citizens born in the United States. As rumors began to circulate about the government making plans to imprison all the people of Japanese heritage into camps, the parents expected it to only happen to the immigrants. They had a belief and hope that the government would not do that to its own citizens.
Yet it did happen. Around 120,000 persons of Japanese heritage, men, women, and children, were forcibly removed from their homes on the west coast and placed in American concentration camps. They were put into temporary detention centers at race tracks and fair grounds until the camps, which had been hastily constructed in remote and desolate areas of the country. were ready for occupancy. Hope was dim for a brighter day.
The Japanese American Story As Told Through A Collection of Speeches and Articles is a book which covers much of that part of American history. Many of the untold stories of this group of people are told through speeches and articles which were presented. The book contains much of the story of Japanese Americans and of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), a civil rights organization established to help gain civil rights and fight racism.
When darkness comes into life, it is necessary to fight light which can come from keeping hope alive and not giving up. Adapting to whatever changes come is essential to finding light and success. It may be necessary to make adjustments and change plans along the way. It is not easy to overcome darkness when it is permeating so heavily in daily life as it was for many who were placed in the American concentration camps of World War II. Yet hope can bring light and overcome the darkness.
The Japanese Americans eventually were able to achieve success and acceptance after the end of World War II, largely due to the patriotism and sacrifices of young Japanese Americans who served in the United States military. Most were in the segregated unit of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team/100th Battalion.