Photo: Courtesy Of The Naganuma Family
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Tony Naganuma was too young to remember the day in 1944 when he arrived at the internment camp in Texas. Like some of the immigrant children held in U.S. detention centers today, he was just a toddler.
Naganuma, who now makes his home in San Francisco, would later learn from his older sisters about the two FBI agents who showed up that March at their home in Callao, Peru, and arrested their father, a prosperous small businessman. The feds told the bewildered family they they were going away and had only three days to prepare to leave.
Flatbed trucks took the them to the city’s port where they were marched onto a U.S. Army transport ship. Guards searched them and took all of their valuables, including the money Kiyoka, the second oldest daughter, had hidden in her shoes.
Naganuma, his parents and six siblings were among the approximately 2,000 Japanese-Peruvians who were forcibly deported — basically abducted with assistance from racist Peruvian authorities — under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s secret prisoner exchange program. The idea was to use the prisoners as bargaining chips for U.S. nationals captured by Japanese forces in Asia.
On Saturday, Naganuma will return to the Crystal City (Family) Internment Camp, where he and his family were imprisoned from 1944 to 1947. He will be joining other camp survivors — now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, some in wheelchairs or pushing walkers — for the Crystal City Pilgrimage, a protest against the Trump administration’s immigration policy and the detention of immigrants in mass incarceration centers across the country.
“After 75 years, many people are still not aware of what took place in our history at the U.S. Department of Justice Internment Camps at Crystal City,” Naganuma says.
“My family suffered badly and was deprived of our basic civil rights. We were never charged with a crime and put into prison without due process.”
The suffering endured by his family on the cargo ship was especially harrowing.
Naganuma’s father and oldest brother were kept in the ship’s hold with about 200 other male prisoners. They were allowed on the deck for 10 minutes twice a day. His mother, three daughters and the three youngest sons were crowded into a 6- by 6-foot cabin.
“Even the air we had to breathe had a distinctive stench, and we all became nauseous,” wrote Naganuma’s sisters Iwaichi and Isoka in a memoir. “The journey took approximately three weeks and we were not allowed to bathe. (Their sister) Kiyoka recalls how she begged for milk for her youngest brother, Kazumu, 20 months old at that time, and was turned down.”
Kazumu is Tony Naganuma’s Japanese name.
When the ship finally arrived at the port in New Orleans, the family had no idea what city or even what country they were in. Immediately they were herded into a warehouse, stripped naked and sprayed with DDT.
A two-day ride on a train with blacked-out windows took them to the Crystal City facility, formerly a camp for spinach-picking migrant workers, on a hot, dusty plain in west Texas. Despite their ordeal, Naganuma’s mother was heartened by the fact that they had not been executed.
“We were stripped of our personal rights, we were interned in a concentration camp in a foreign country,” the sisters wrote. “We were frightened, humiliated, treated like animals, and we lost our home, all in a matter of a few weeks. But after this horrible experience, our mother was relieved because our family was able to stay together and our lives were spared.”
About 100 people of Japanese ancestry, including former detainees, their children, grandchildren and friends are expected to take part in the Crystal City Pilgrimage. At least 31 from the Bay Area are making the journey.
The first stop Saturday will be at the camp, or what remains of it. The fences, guard towers, barracks, cottages and huts were razed long ago — only foundation slabs and a sad-looking flagpole remain today.
The group will then assemble at 2 p.m. for a demonstration outside the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, about a 90-minute drive from Crystal City. The South Texas Family Residential Center is the largest immigrant detention center in the nation.
A fanfare of Japanese taiko drums will open the program.
Pilgrimage organizers stated in a release that the protest was being staged to show support for current detainees and to express outrage that “their World War II history of unjust detention” is being repeated.
More than 10,000 individually folded paper cranes, or tsuru, the Japanese symbol of hope and healing, are being shipped by individuals and organizations throughout the country as a massive show of solidarity with the children and families confined South Texas Family Residential Center, organizers said. The cranes will be hung on the fence that surrounds the facility.
During the Second World War, more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry, many of them U.S. citizens and innocent of any crime, were forcibly removed from their homes and held under indefinite detention. Many lost their businesses, farms and other assets, often their entire life savings.
Up to 4,700 people were interned at Crystal City, with some families even held several years after the war ended. In August 1944, the camp held about 2,100 people of Japanese ancestry, many from the West Coast.
But Crystal City also imprisoned Germans and a much smaller number of Italians within its barbed-wire fences. In addition to Japanese-Peruvians and other Japanese-Latin Americans, FDR’s prisoner exchange program also targeted German nationals living in the U.S. About 800 people of German descent were held in the camp in August 1944.
No matter what their ethnicity, no resources existed for the accused. There was no right to counsel, no questioning the proceedings or their accusers.
No Crystal City prisoner — and for that matter, no one held in any of the American internment camps — was ever convicted of spying or sabotage for Axis powers.
In 1988, then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act and apologized on the government’s behalf for the internment of Japanese-Americans. Tens of thousands of survivors of the camps were paid $20,000 each in reparation.
But the Japanese-Peruvians received nothing because they had not been U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the the United States at the time of their internment.
Rather than reparations, Naganuma is seeking recognition. He wants to make sure this dark chapter of American history — the mass internment of people of Japanese descent — is not forgotten.
“I’m hoping to bring awareness to this unlawful act by our government,” he said.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/WWII-internment-survivor-to-return-to-13720509.php.