Friday, September 14, 2001

Interned Japanese Latin
Americans having reunion

By Rosemarie Bernardo

More than 30 Japanese Latin Americans who were forced out of their homes into U.S. internment camps during World War II are expected to attend the ninth Peru-Kai Internment Reunion in Kona on Sunday.

"All the internees went through so much," said coordinator Elsa Kudo.

Internees Yasu Yamasato, 90, and Angelica Higashide, 84, will be honored at the reunion at the Keauhou Beach Hotel. Yamasato and Higashide, now both Hawaii residents, will be acknowledged for their strength and will to provide a normal lifestyle for their families during internment.

From 1941 to 1945 the U.S. government ordered 2,264 Japanese Latin Americans taken from their home countries to the United States, where they were held to be exchanged for American prisoners in Japan. Eighty percent of those forcibly taken were from Peru.

Upon arrival in New Orleans, the men, women and children were forced to strip naked and were sprayed with insecticide before boarding a train to an internment camp in Crystal City, Texas.

After World War II, some Japanese Latin Americans returned to their home countries. Others decided to stay in the United States but had constant struggles with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to obtain permanent residency.

In 1988 the U.S. government passed the Civil Liberties Act, which awarded Japanese Americans interned during the war $20,000 each and a letter of apology. The Japanese Latin Americans were excluded from the act and labeled as illegal aliens at the time of internment.

"How can we be stamped as illegal aliens when we were brought in by the U.S. military? ... That doesn't make sense," said Kudo, who was 6 years old when she was transported to Crystal City from Peru.

Eventually, a settlement provided reparations for Japanese Latin Americans, but only if there was money leftover from what was budgeted for Japanese Americans. Some Japanese Latin Americans rejected the settlement, saying the government only vaguely admitted wrongdoing.

Allison Tanaka, president of the Japanese American Citizens League in Hawaii, said many subsequently became American citizens, but "they have not received the same redress that interned Japanese Americans have received."

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