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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Japanese Latin Americans Interned in WWII See Injustice for Migrants Today

 December 30, 2019 at 10:20 AM PST

Speaker 1: 00:00 Thousands of families who've come to the United States to seek asylum in recent years have ended up in detention centers, hearing about kids and parents locked behind barbed wire fences, hits close to home for one woman from the San Francisco Bay area. She spent years of her childhood in a South Texas internment camp during world war II. KQ EDIS. Judy Small recently joined her on a pilgrimage from California to a place called crystal city Speaker 2: 00:25 president Roosevelt said, and they statements a day that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii from the air. Speaker 1: 00:32 The Japanese military bombing of Pearl Harbor would change the course of Libya Yamamotos life forever. She was born in Peru to parents who immigrated from Japan decades before the family owned several thriving businesses in the coastal city of [inaudible]. Then one year after Pearl Harbor police and Peru arrested Libya's father, she was seven years old. Now she's 84 and she's on a bustle. That group of people who all share a connection to the crystal city internment camp. All these years later, Libya recalls in detail. That moment her father was loaded onto a truck and driven away subs. I would ask my mother, where's she going? And she said, shit, didn't you know, this is when you see coming back. The U S government had pressured Latin American countries to turn over thousands of people of Japanese, German and Italian ancestry under the pretext of national security. I learned about this little known chapter of world war II history 20 years ago when a friend told me that's what happened to his family. Speaker 1: 01:36 I wasn't a reporter back then and I started to help some of the Japanese Latin Americans who were demanding an apology from the U S government. That's how I first met Libya. Who recalls that a month after her father disappeared, he managed to send a letter for her sister's birthday. He had clothes pressed flowers at least, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I can't give you any birthday presents so they still have to do it. He'd been put to work in a U S army camp in Panama if the family wanted to see him again. Authority said they'd have to board a ship to the United States. Libya, her mother and two siblings joined other wives and children at the dock. Unsure of what? Lay ahead and can. We saw the soldiers lined up with guns. We thought as soon as we go to ICC, they're gonna kill us. I was so afraid. None of the families were allowed visas and the soldiers confiscated any passports. They arrived in new Orleans were immigration agents, told them they had entered the U S illegally. They sent them to a [inaudible] [inaudible] facility for quote enemy aliens, Speaker 3: 02:44 a propaganda film by the us department of justice shows families arriving by train. Here is a party of women and children arriving in crystal city following their voluntary decision to join husbands and fathers in detention. Speaker 1: 02:58 Libya's family feel like their detention Speaker 4: 03:00 was voluntary. They would spend the next four years locked in the camp along with thousands of other people from Latin America. I actually traveled to this area of Texas earlier this year to report on a new wave of families. The U S was detaining thousands of mothers and their children's seeking refuge from violence in central America had been taken into custody by immigration and customs enforcement and placed in a private prison. That prison in a town called dilly was just 45 miles away from where Libya's family was detained during world war II. Ice had denied my request to visit the facility, so one day last winter I stood outside the fenced enclosure with an immigrant advocate named Katie Mirza. Yeah, you can pretty much see the tops of the light posts. There's flood lighting at night, so people say it's even hard to sleep. Speaker 1: 03:50 Crystal city internment camp was also surrounded by high fences and flood lights, but not anymore. When Libya's bus arrives. The only recognizable site in this now barren field is a water tower. Speaker 4: 04:02 That was our central point that was, that was talking about art and there's the base of a reservoir. The parents converted into a swimming pool to make the hot summers bearable. They added a rope in the middle where they to the by the deep end, the shallow part, and then they added a diving boards. Speaker 1: 04:21 Two girls drowned in the pool, one of them Libya's friend now Libya joints, other former detainees in their families for a ceremony to honor the girls and 15 other people who died. At the camp. Speaker 5: 04:33 Oh J Speaker 1: 04:38 Buddhist minister Ron Kobata from San Francisco asks participants to honor the fortitude of the detainees with incense and white carnations at an altar. Speaker 6: 04:47 The dedication of our predecessors who endured this experience, but not with just pity and resentment, but with determination so that their offspring will not have to endure that same tragedy, Speaker 1: 05:07 but Libya and the other pilgrims see tragedy unfolding again. Speaker 4: 05:11 Oh no, never. Speaker 1: 05:20 The next day, she speaks to a crowd at a rally in San Antonio. Speaker 7: 05:24 Lately when I, I hear the immigrants getting separated by the children and parents, I feel so bad for them. Speaker 1: 05:34 The forced separation from her father in 1943 is still painful. Speaker 7: 05:38 We said goodbye to him not knowing where he was being taken openly we ever will see him again. It was a very, very traumatic day for me. Speaker 1: 05:49 After several months of separation, Libya was finally reunited with her father in crystal city. That's when they learned the U S plan to deport the family to Japan, but Libya, his father had become too ill to travel. They stayed in the camp a full two years after the war ended. In 1947 an attorney at the ACLU of Northern California finally got them released with the help of a church group. The family was able to settle with an aunt in Berkeley. Libya remembers a Japanese minister picked them up at the train station. He drove up university and all them lights. Speaker 1: 06:26 Whoa. You're just amazed though. This beautiful lies Lebbeus family lost all their property and Peru and were not allowed to return. She says her parents worked menial jobs in California for the rest of their lives. Finally, in 1998 the Japanese Latin Americans won a settlement $5,000 each and a letter of apology from president bill Clinton. While many thought it was insufficient, it was the first official acknowledgement that the U S had violated their rights. Now, Libya says she's praying that president Trump will see that his treatment of immigrant families is too harsh and that children are paying the price. I'm Julie Small.

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It turns out that the U.S. government had pressured Latin American governments to turn over legal residents and even citizens of Japanese, German or Italian ancestry, ostensibly to protect the southern hemisphere from invasion.
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