EMERYVILLE, Calif. — Working out of the J-Sei Community Center in Emeryville, volunteers prepare a mailing for the first Japanese American “pilgrimage” to the World War II-era Crystal City Family Detention Center, located 100 miles south of San Antonio, Texas.
Between 1942 and 1948, this little-known U. S. Department of Justice site held dozens of Buddhist priests, hundreds of community leaders, and thousands of German- and Japanese-origin families, the majority of whom were Japanese Latin American families who had been extradited from 18 countries as part of a prisoner-of-war exchange program.
On Oct. 31, nearly 200 pilgrims, including former internees, their family members and descendants, ranging in age from 13 to 92 will travel to San Antonio where, for three days, they will participate in workshops, hear first-person accounts of detention, visit the internment site, and hold a rally with local community groups to support immigrant rights.
“By sharing our nation’s hidden histories and the powerful stories of survivors, we can begin to undo the historical amnesia that allows our government to harm children and families today,” said organizer Kaz Naganuma, whose family was forced to leave a flourishing laundry business in Peru and travel for three weeks by boat and train to Texas.
At the end of the war, many Japanese and German internees were forced to repatriate. Other families, many of whom had mixed citizenship status, remained in limbo for years. The camp finally closed in 1948, three years after the war ended.
For San Francisco resident Elizabeth Uno, this pilgrimage is a multigenerational journey. Not only is she bringing her two adult children, ages 25 and 29, but she is also helping them reconnect with their family history, including the story of their grandfather Edison Uno, who was shaped by his experience at Crystal City and who would later become a leading figure in the Japanese American redress movement.
“He felt great loyalty to the U.S., followed by great betrayal. He wanted Japanese Americans to own the experience of incarceration and use that as the basis for championing all civil rights,” she says.
Another hidden history is that of the Buddhist priests and their families. Duncan Ryuken Williams, University of Southern California professor and author of “American Sutra,” an account of the Buddhist priests who were interned during wartime, notes, “By maintaining their faith, they both preserved a small sense of freedom and upheld the constitutional promise of religious freedom.”
Williams is one of many notable pilgrimage participants, who include former Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose); former Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas); Saburo Fukuda, son of Rev. Yoshiaki Fukuda, who tirelessly aided the Japanese American community before, during and after the war; and Wayne Merrill Collins, son of Wayne Mortimer Collins, the civil rights lawyer who represented Fred Korematsu in his Supreme Court challenge to Japanese American internment and who would later represent 3,000 stateless Japanese Latin Americans.
Theirs are just some of the many hidden histories that will be shared during the pilgrimage.
To learn more about the Crystal City Detention Facility, visit:
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