As I See It – Internment Camps As Precedent

As I See It – Internment Camps As Precedent

Photo of Frances Kakugawa

Frances H. Kakugawa
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

A Caucasian woman approached me in Sacramento. “You’re a writer,” she said. “You need to respond to this article in today’s Sacramento Bee. Tell the Sansei and Yonsei to stand up and question this. They are the only remaining voices.” I promised her I would.

She was referring to Carl Higbie, the former Navy SEAL and spokesman for the pro-Trump Great America political action committee, who said the mass internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was a “precedent” for the then-president-elect’s plans to create a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries. “We’ve done it with Iran back a while ago; we did it during World War II with the Japanese,” he is quoted as having said. (Sacramento Bee, Nov. 18, 2016)

I think of a woman in Pähoa on Hawai‘i island, who never told her children about having been interned. “I didn’t want my children to know how their country shamed us so much.  I wanted them to be proud of their country and to become very good citizens,” she confided to me.

A friend and her family here in Sacramento never spoke about their time in camp. They do not want to relive the indignities and humiliation they experienced, the homes and farms that were confiscated by neighbors and strangers and their parents’ struggle to restart their lives after the camp ordeals were over.

If only this silencing of past inhumane experiences, authorized and imposed by the United States, had resulted in what Japanese Americans had sought: dignity, respect and full acceptance of Japanese Americans as American as any other citizen. If only our country had learned to never again use fear and ignorance to dehumanize fellow human beings.

But this is not happening, not even after the government in 1988 officially recognized that a horrific injustice had been perpetrated and apologized to those who suffered with the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. This law won congressional approval only after a decade-long campaign by the Japanese American community.

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Frances H. Kakugawa is a writer and poet. She also pens a monthly caregiving column for the Herald called “Dear Frances.”

Frances Kakugawa was her mother’s primary caregiver during her five-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease. A native of Kapoho on the Big Island of Hawai‘i, she now lives in Sacramento, Calif. Frances has melded her professional training as a writer and teacher and her personal experiences as her mother’s caregiver to write several books on caring for people with memory-related illnesses, including one for children. Frances is a highly sought-after speaker, both in Hawai‘i and on the Mainland, sharing strategies for caregiving, as well as coping with caregiving.


  1. The rest of the story: 1. H.Res.143 — 115th Congress (2017-2018) Recognizing the significance of the 75th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and supporting the goals of the Japanese American, German American, and Italian American communities in recognizing a National Day of Remembrance to increase public awareness of the events surrounding the restriction, exclusion, and incarceration of individuals and families during World War II. Sponsor: Rep. Takano, Mark [D-CA-41] (Introduced 02/16/2017) Cosponsors: (23). Furthermore, German Americans and Italian Americans in Hawaii were also interned.

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