PORTFOLIO

Japanese American Internment Revisited

Junzo Jake Ohara, 84, Takeshi Motoyasu, 84, and Eddie Tetsuji Kato, 86, outside Kato’s Monterey Park, California, home in 2013.
PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
Junzo Jake Ohara, 84, Takeshi Motoyasu, 84, and Eddie Tetsuji Kato, 86, outside Kato’s Monterey Park, California, home in 2013.
Paul Kitagaki Jr., the son of Japanese American Internment Camp internees, tracked down survivors to document their experiences for his book Behind Barbed Wire.

Some images echo across generations. When you see pictures of migrants incarcerated in camps on the U.S.-Mexico border, they bear a haunting similarity to pictures from another event in U.S. history: the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the removal of Japanese Americans, many of whom lived in California, into 10 relocation centers. Nearly 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly moved to internment camps in 1942, in violation of their right to due process.

Most of those who were incarcerated have passed away. Paul Kitagaki Jr., the son of internees and a photographer for the Sacramento Bee, spent 14 years tracking down survivors in an effort to document their experiences. “My mom was at Poston, and my dad was at Topaz,” Kitagaki says. “They didn’t talk about it. I found out by accident, taking a history class in high school. I came home and asked my parents about what happened.”

Behind Barbed Wire, by Paul Kitagaki Jr., CityFiles Press, 152 Pages, $34.95
Behind Barbed Wire, by Paul Kitagaki Jr., CityFiles Press, 152 Pages, $34.95

Kitagaki located the subjects of more than 60 photos taken by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and others who visited the camps and shot images of the internees, including Kitagaki’s family. His book, Behind Barbed Wire, pairs his photos with the originals in a moving presentation of injustice. (For more Lange photographs, see page 34.)

In 1982, a federal commission concluded that racial prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership had led to the mass incarceration—not a credible threat to the country. The United States apologized and paid survivors $20,000 each—a pittance when set against their lost farms, homes, and dreams.

Boy Scouts Junzo Jake Ohara, Takeshi Motoyasu, and Eddie Tetsuji Kato (from left) honor the American flag during a ceremony at the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, in Wyoming, in 1943. “I never thought of myself as a Jap, you know,” Kato told Paul Kitagaki Jr. “I just thought of myself as an American citizen, because that’s how I was raised.” PAT COFFEY/NATIONAL ARCHIVES
Boy Scouts Junzo Jake Ohara, Takeshi Motoyasu, and Eddie Tetsuji Kato (from left) honor the American flag during a ceremony at the Heart Mountain War Relocation Center, in Wyoming, in 1943. “I never thought of myself as a Jap, you know,” Kato told Paul Kitagaki Jr. “I just thought of myself as an American citizen, because that’s how I was raised.”
Junzo Jake Ohara, 84, Takeshi Motoyasu, 84, and Eddie Tetsuji Kato, 86, outside Kato’s Monterey Park, California, home in 2013.PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
Junzo Jake Ohara, 84, Takeshi Motoyasu, 84, and Eddie Tetsuji Kato, 86, outside Kato’s Monterey Park, California, home in 2013.
Seven-year-olds Hideno Nakamoto (left) and Yoko Itashiki (center) pledge allegiance at Raphael Weill School in 1942 before being sent to an assembly center and eventually transferred to the Topaz War Relocation Center, in Utah. Itashiki’s mother was sent to a camp in Pacifica, California, where she died. “It was pretty traumatic because her body came back, and we had a funeral in Topaz,” Itashiki said. “It was really hard for me being a child seeing her like that when I hadn’t seen her in a long time.”DOROTHEA LANGE/NATIONAL ARCHIVE
Seven-year-olds Hideno Nakamoto (left) and Yoko Itashiki (center) pledge allegiance at Raphael Weill School in 1942 before being sent to an assembly center and eventually transferred to the Topaz War Relocation Center, in Utah. Itashiki’s mother was sent to a camp in Pacifica, California, where she died. “It was pretty traumatic because her body came back, and we had a funeral in Topaz,” Itashiki said. “It was really hard for me being a child seeing her like that when I hadn’t seen her in a long time.”
Helene (formerly Hideno) Nakamoto Mihara, 72, and Mary Ann Yahiro (formerly Yoko Itashiki), 72, at Rosa Parks Elementary School (formerly Raphael Weill School), in San Francisco, in 2007.PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
Helene (formerly Hideno) Nakamoto Mihara, 72, and Mary Ann Yahiro (formerly Yoko Itashiki), 72, at Rosa Parks Elementary School (formerly Raphael Weill School), in San Francisco, in 2007.
Below: Owned by the Masuda family, the Wanto Shokai grocery store was located in downtown Oakland. Tetsuo Masuda, a graduate of UC Berkeley, took over the business after his sisters, Mineko and Yoshiko, were sent to an internment camp. Tetsuo created the “I Am an American” sign in 1943. The remaining family members moved to Fresno County, hoping they would not be evacuated. The whole family ended up at the Gila River Relocation Center, in Arizona.DOROTHEA LANGE/NATIONAL ARCHIVE
Below: Owned by the Masuda family, the Wanto Shokai grocery store was located in downtown Oakland. Tetsuo Masuda, a graduate of UC Berkeley, took over the business after his sisters, Mineko and Yoshiko, were sent to an internment camp. Tetsuo created the “I Am an American” sign in 1943. The remaining family members moved to Fresno County, hoping they would not be evacuated. The whole family ended up at the Gila River Relocation Center, in Arizona.
Gerry Naruo, 68, Karen Hashimoto, 73, and Ted Tanisawa, 71, all cousins on the Masuda side of the family, photographed in 2016 where their family’s Oakland store was once located.PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
Gerry Naruo, 68, Karen Hashimoto, 73, and Ted Tanisawa, 71, all cousins on the Masuda side of the family, photographed in 2016 where their family’s Oakland store was once located.
Holding an apple, two-year-old Yukiko Okinaga Hayakawa sits with her luggage at Union Station, in Los Angeles, in 1942 after she and her single mother are forced to leave their home in Little Tokyo. They would spend three years at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, in California. “She got me this red corduroy outfit, and that’s what I am wearing,” Hayakawa said. “And she got me those lovely shoes. I said, ‘You bought those for me for the evacuation?’ She said, ‘Yes, because you didn’t have anything to wear.’ And I thought, ‘How many people did that?’ ” Hayakawa learned English after the war when she and her mother relocated to Cleveland, where her mom supported the family as a seamstress. “When I went to school in Cleveland, people yelled at me and called me names,” she said. “ ‘There goes that dirty Jap.’ And I didn’t know what that meant. My mom would say, ‘Well, that’s the way it goes. Shikata ga nai.’ ”DOROTHEA LANGE/NATIONAL ARCHIVE
Holding an apple, two-year-old Yukiko Okinaga Hayakawa sits with her luggage at Union Station, in Los Angeles, in 1942 after she and her single mother are forced to leave their home in Little Tokyo. They would spend three years at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, in California. “She got me this red corduroy outfit, and that’s what I am wearing,” Hayakawa said. “And she got me those lovely shoes. I said, ‘You bought those for me for the evacuation?’ She said, ‘Yes, because you didn’t have anything to wear.’ And I thought, ‘How many people did that?’ ” Hayakawa learned English after the war when she and her mother relocated to Cleveland, where her mom supported the family as a seamstress. “When I went to school in Cleveland, people yelled at me and called me names,” she said. “ ‘There goes that dirty Jap.’ And I didn’t know what that meant. My mom would say, ‘Well, that’s the way it goes. Shikata ga nai.’ ”
Yukiko Okinaga Llewellyn, 66, revisits the Manzanar War Relocation Center in 2005.PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
Yukiko Okinaga Llewellyn, 66, revisits the Manzanar War Relocation Center in 2005.
Walter Yoshiharu Sakawye, 17 months old, hangs off the back of his paternal grandfather, Torazo Sakawye, at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, in California, in 1942. Walter was born in East Los Angeles in 1941, and his father was a trucker in Venice, California, hauling produce from the fields to a market downtown. The family owned a double lot, with a house on one lot and three trucks on the other. When they returned after the war, the trucks and all their tools were gone. Torazo was a truck farmer who had immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1902. He died in the internment camp at age 68. “He passed away, I think, more or less of a broken heart,” Walter says. “In the picture, he just appears to be saying, ‘What’d I do? Why am I here?’ ”DOROTHEA LANGE/NATIONAL ARCHIVE
Walter Yoshiharu Sakawye, 17 months old, hangs off the back of his paternal grandfather, Torazo Sakawye, at the Manzanar War Relocation Center, in California, in 1942. Walter was born in East Los Angeles in 1941, and his father was a trucker in Venice, California, hauling produce from the fields to a market downtown. The family owned a double lot, with a house on one lot and three trucks on the other. When they returned after the war, the trucks and all their tools were gone. Torazo was a truck farmer who had immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1902. He died in the internment camp at age 68. “He passed away, I think, more or less of a broken heart,” Walter says. “In the picture, he just appears to be saying, ‘What’d I do? Why am I here?’ ”
Walter Yoshiharu Sakawye, 76, at his McKinney, Texas, home in 2017.PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
Walter Yoshiharu Sakawye, 76, at his McKinney, Texas, home in 2017.