This domestic imprisonment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II is one of the shameful potholes on our young nation’s road to freedom. Actor George Takei of “Star Trek” fame, an internee at age 5, based his new Broadway musical “Allegiance” on his own family’s banishment to the camps.
Takei in recent days has criticized Donald Trump, the billionaire presidential candidate who in an interview with Time magazine hedged his answer about whether Japanese internment camps should have been used during the war.
Takei invited “the Donald” to a performance of his musical to drive home the horror of any race singled out and “unjustly imprisoned due to a politics of fear.”
Grace’s story starts in Vacaville, Calif. She was born there, was the youngest of six children, and was raised on a simple farm. The Obata family lacked electricity, running water and indoor toilets.
Grace’s father, trained as a lawyer in Japan before he emigrated in the early 20th century and ended up an American farm laborer, died of a heart attack at age 50, when she was only 10.
Grace was an enthusiastic, accomplished athlete who leveraged her 5-foot-4-inch frame in a variety of sports. She was class valedictorian. She even won an American Legion essay contest with a paper titled — believe it or not — “American citizenship and what it means to me.”
Refusing to be bitter
It wasn’t until 1990 that President George H. W. Bush sent former internees such as Grace a letter of apology and a restitution check for $20,000.
“To me it was a waste of money.”
“I’ve never been bitter about it,” she said of her imprisonment. “The government did what they thought was necessary.”
“We didn’t think it was right,” she elaborated. “But we were not going to keep up with any bitterness, because all you do is make yourself unhappy.”
Here’s a woman who still tends to refer to the federal government as “Uncle Sam” with what sounds like genuine affection in her voice. Despite being exiled in the desert for a year. Despite getting yanked out of nursing school in San Francisco and being able to re-enroll only after internment — in St. Paul, Minn., including a stint with the Cadet Nurse Corps at an Army hospital in Clinton, Ia.
Talk about patriots: Two of her brothers even served in the U.S. Army. One of them is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
Grace and her husband, Min, before he died in 2000, were energetic speakers to schoolkids and adults alike about their World War II internment. They were led to share in part by their move to Ames (to follow Min’s academic career in agronomy). In casual conversation in Iowa decades ago, often they were met with blank stares: What internment? What camps?
Without her husband, Grace still delivers about 30 talks each year.
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