Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Henry Miyatake Interview VI
Narrator: Henry Miyatake
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 28, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-mhenry-06-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

HM: To me, this whole thing about Japanese American redress, to me, is a issue of what possibly can be done by individuals that's dedicated to a, for a cause and a mission. And to think of this group that we had, which is one Issei and one Kibei and the rest of us Niseis, and we tried, in my time period, I tried to get to the legal services of Japanese Americans, and they shut the door on me. For one thing, it's pro bono work. Secondly, they weren't interested in raising Cain with the public. It's too much of a controversial issue. But to have a bunch of engineers and one economist do this is a kind of a interesting case study. First of all, why wouldn't a politician be the spearhead of this kind of effort? Especially a Japanese American politician, somebody in Congress that has the right and the ability to write a bill for Congress and get it enacted? To me, having this long time period from the time we were evacuated presents a real interesting problem to Japanese America. I don't want to have our generation leave a legacy like Bill Hosokawa states in his Quiet American about being invisible in the crowd. I don't like that kind of crap. We're just as good as anybody else in the United States. Unless we stand for those constitutional rights that we are sworn to uphold, we'll never get to the point of equality. And to me, this is just the, the precursor of what we need to do. And for our own congressmen to deny their commitment to us, to me indicates there's something wrong in our society. And when a hakujin person takes it upon himself to do his commitment and we can't rely on our own kind, that leaves a lot to be desired. To me, it's a very interesting case of how one might want to implement this kind of process in the future. And it's going to be, for the Sanseis, I have a lot better hope. [Laughs] I think they're much more proactive in the sense that they could see a problem and try to rectify it and take the, take the measures to make sure it's done in a proper manner. And so the whole experience of this redress process left me with some very strong, good feelings. And on the other hand, it left me with a sense of, maybe we didn't reach all our objectives properly and be able to place the, the right remedies to the people that were most directly affected.

TI: Well, are there, what are some of those things that are still, in your mind, left on the table that still need to be addressed?

HM: Well, there's a, Ben Tong had a very interesting conversation with me when he was in Seattle during this Day of Remembrance. And he talked to me about three different instances where he was the clinical psychologist. First one was this Sansei girl running down the median of a freeway, completely naked and yelling at the top of her lungs, "Mom, they're coming after us. Mom they're coming after us." And the California Highway Patrol took her into custody. And they asked her a whole bunch of questions. And anyway, it became one of Ben's cases. And he was trying to determine what caused this person to behave in the manner she did. And it related to the camp experience that the mother had. And the fact that even though there was no conversation about the camp, because of the things that she gathered from talk about the camps from other people, that she had ingrained in her own mind this generation passing through of these memories from the mother. And this is, she was afraid that the mother was going to be incarcerated again, and she was running down the freeway. That was the first case he talked about.

Second case was this, this woman that was quite a gifted artist. And she started to make drawings, sumi-e drawings especially, of black clouds. And then there would be some kind of barrack-like structure in the scene. And it was the same case with her. The mother never, the parents never talked about evacuation or things of this nature, and yet this kind of theme was going through all the art that she was generating.

And then the other case was where they're talking about this person that was orphaned because the parents, the father shot the wife and he shot himself. It was murder, suicide type situation in camp. And this person was going through all these guilt and feelings about what had happened after she grew up, and she understood the fact that her parents had committed suicide. She was going through a terrible psychological problem. I didn't, I felt that this was a very interesting case in point.

But there was a presentation up at the Seattle Community College, North Seattle Community College several months ago. And the professor from Sacramento area came up. And she had this showing of The Children of the Camps. And she showed a kind of semi-documentary about what has happened to the children from the camps, people that were born during the camp period, and then after the camps, and what kind of psychological situations they're in. And they were having these videos that were being made of these various group discussions. And even within that time frame of the generation after the fact, this thing about this one party saying to the other guy, "You're a 'no-no' sympathizer." And the other guy coming back to him, and they're really using some foul language. And the really, the real feelings of these individuals coming out. And I thought to myself, "Gee, this is very sad, and it's a very serious situation." After that viewing, I had a long conversation with a friend of mine. And he tells me that some of his reasons why he behaves in the manner that he does is from a psychological framework. [Laughs] And he has very strong sympathy with that, that Children of the Camps documentary. And so I asked him some questions, "How come you feel that way?" We finally got into this thing. Even to his point of view, even though he wasn't directly affected and his parents were, but he wasn't directly affected, he didn't think at that time. Psychologically, this thing comes out later on in life, and we haven't, we haven't confronted ourselves with it. I guess, to me, one of the interesting things that came about from the redress process was that people were coming out of the closets, they're talking about these issues. And we're finally able to talk coherently to individuals. And in some cases still the fragmentation of society is still there. But nonetheless, we're able to talk and we're able relate to these events that took place. And so maybe redress thing has a lot of secondary effects. Maybe it'll have some beneficial effects for the Sansei. Maybe they'll recognize some of these things that went on and why their parents feel the way they do about certain social events or social contacts, and organizations and things of this nature. So to me, there's a whole evolution of Japanese American history that has taken place in the last maybe thirty years, or somewhere in that realm. And it's an interesting thing to witness. But I don't know how to solve some of these solutions because they're still inherent in the community. I'm trying to make some approaches to it, [Laughs] but I don't think they're entirely satisfactory.

TI: Yeah. And I'm not sure what the answer is either. I think part of what we're doing by interviewing and getting stories now, I think is part of that, that, you know, what will come as a solution.

HM: The one thing that really disturbs me is the fact that Japanese Americans as a, as a ethnic group, have not done their homework on what really has transpired during the evacuation process, what the background of the thing was, why we even entered into World War II, and the framework of the political drama that was going behind this. And, and I heard a news report yesterday where this person was reading a newspaper article that appeared yesterday -- this is October 27th, 1941, about the fact that Japan is no threat at all. They have second-level type of military forces, they dare not even point their gun at the United States. They have no ability to attack anything outside of the homeland areas. And this was a direct reading of a newspaper article that appeared in 1941.

TI: And so what were you thinking when you read this? What was the...?

HM: I thought to myself, this is the frame of mind that the American people had at that time, that Japan would dare not do anything, even though we pushed them up against the wall. And if you know something about prewar Japanese American history, the Americans, the British, the Dutch, and the Chinese, put an ultimatum onto Japan, saying that if they do not retreat their forces out of China, get out of Indochina areas and so forth, that they're gonna put a blockade on, which they did subsequently. And they stopped all the fuel, the fuel oil going into Japan, the rubber, scrap metal and everything else. And they stopped the commercial trade between Japan and United States in July of 1941.

TI: Which really forced Japan's hand.

HM: Yeah. They were up against the wall. So they're gonna either come out fighting or they're gonna submit, and say they surrender. But they're not about to do this kind of stuff. The military's in power.

TI: So this example is a good point of how out of sync the media and the public was with the reality of what was going on with the government.

HM: Yeah. And if you look at some of the documentation on Senator Inouye when Pearl Harbor was bombed, he was, emphatic terms that are derogatory about our ancestry. Anyway, he made statements to the effect that, how dare they bomb this place? And for him to be a teenager and not even be aware that the precursor of the war was already laid out several years beforehand, and totally be unaware of this situation, leads me to believe that part of our problem is ignorance. We got to get over this fact, and we got to be able to read some books once in a while and relate these things historically, with a coherent fashion with one another. But we don't seem to be able to do that. We seem to want to forget this whole episode and say, "Hey, I don't want to think about it because it's uncomfortable for me to think about it." Even people I approach, even today, will say that to me.

TI: Yeah, and that, again goes back to what we, we're attempting to do here because we really think this is an important chapter that needs to be studied. And with that, I'm gonna go ahead and end the interview.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.