Family separations nothing new for Japanese Americans

John Okada at desk in New York City, 1949As documented in our new book, JOHN OKADA: The Life & Rediscovered Work of the Author of No-No Boy, the Japanese American experience was in some ways the reverse of this week’s child separations on the southern border. In our case it was the fathers — harmless men like the fathers of both John Okada and Jim Akutsu — who were ripped from their children and wives in Seattle on Feb. 21, 1942, locked up in the Immigration Detention Center on Airport Way, and then paraded out at King Street Station the morning of March 19, 1942, and put on a train for the Justice Department alien internment camp at Fort Missoula, Montana. Their children and wives reached through an iron fence and screamed out to the men in English and Japanese, not knowing if they would ever see them again.

BBC World Service logoI shared this story yesterday with the BBC World Service.  Click here to hear the five-minute interview that aired in London at 10 am on June 20. In the iPlayer window scrub nearly to the end of the audio, to the 48:00 minute mark.

Here’s the photo referenced in our book from The Seattle Times of March 19, 1942, that accompanied the story, “Tears, Staccato Chatter Flow As Jap Menfolk Leave Seattle.” The DOJ confiscated the suitcases of the Issei men, who dressed formally for the long train trip in suits and fedoras, and gave them paper bags to hold their books and toothbrushes. See the arms of their families reaching through the iron fence for one last tearful goodbye.

The Seattle Times, March 19, 1942

Under the “What I Should Have Said” Department, when the presenter offered, “Well, senior presidential advisor Stephen Miller says the policy is working, and the polls show the American public agrees with it,” I exploded with something about “Yes, but not in my name” and “He’s playing to his base which is about one-third of America.” What I should have done was challenge the premise, that this border business is a manufactured crisis, that this is another example of the big lie, that this is just the sort of dehumanization and demonizing of the other as thugs and animals that enabled our incarceration and the Nazi final solution, that those polling numbers are why the rest of America is appalled and ashamed of ourselves as a nation and working for a change in leadership.  #FamiliesBelongTogether

3 thoughts on “Family separations nothing new for Japanese Americans”

  1. Thanks for sharing, Frank. And I think it’s great that you took on the challenge of the interview. Unfortunately media culture today practices the same “soundbite” ethic that created Trump, and so even when media critics attack him, they use the same soundbite methods, so you should feel good about what you did manage to say. Sometimes it’s necessary to “fight fire with fire,” sometimes it’s impossible. The other day, when the CNN reporter badgered Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the family separation policy, I couldn’t help thinking that while his heart was in the right place, he was limiting her to the same kinds of one-line response that Trump’s people have mastered. Media culture/reality TV culture created Trump, and he can’t be beaten on that turf. If we depend on the media to overcome him, he’ll get reelected in 2020.

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