A story that needs to be told

The oral histories of two men who came out of the Japanese internment camps during WWII.

November 6, 2018

On October 29, 2018, Mr. Dylan Okimoto of Renton High School orchestrated a presentation and brought two guest speakers to the Ikea Performing Arts Center (IPAC) to talk about their experiences during a historical period in America: the Japanese internment in World War II. Among the two guests was Mr. Anyo Domoto, an internment camp survivor, and the other was Dr. Joe Okimoto, Mr. Okimoto’s father, who was also held captive in the internment camps during WWII. The two speakers presented their personal experiences and recalled obstacles they had to face as a result of that time. 

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A source of inspiration 

A light sparked inside of Mr. Okimoto when he attended the teaching institution at Rutgers University in July of 2018. Mr. Okimoto discovered the institute on a Facebook post that his wife shared with him. While doing further research, he found out that the topic had to do with the Japanese incarceration. The beginning of his inspiration started here.  

“It goes back to the Teacher Institute at Rutgers… It was an American history professor who came up with the idea and invited teachers to gather to make lessons plans and curriculum and activities for students to learn about history,” shared Okimoto. 

What some do not understand

Mr. Okimoto adds on by sharing the importance of oral histories and the preservation of such stories.

“Oral history is so important in the study of history, especially for the people who took part in it. Like it’s just, ‘Wow, this really happened! And I’m talking to somebody and listening to their story, right now, who was a part of that time.’ There’s just this connection that students often don’t make. That this is something real and is something that isn’t just 80 years ago. It’s still being played out. The effects of my dad’s incarceration, as a child, still is impacting me, because now I am learning more about it and pointing my focus towards it. I’m bringing it to what I do as a teacher,” explained Okimoto. 

Repressing the memories 

During the presentation in the IPAC that morning, high school students remained silent throughout the whole presentation and were very respectful. Dr. Okimoto brought Mr. Okimoto, his son, to tears with his powerful speech. Dr. Okimoto shared with the students about his struggles and the trauma that he had to deal with, beginning from the time he was 3-years-old.

Internees suffered from shock, even after being released from the camps. The place where Dr. Okimoto had to spend 3 ½ years of his youth and was eventually released from had caused him significant trauma that affects his memories in the present day. Not every child who was in the camps had the same struggles. However, the impact of the camps on Dr. Okimoto was so traumatic, he had to repress his memories because of it. 

Dr. Okimoto asks the students to picture his trauma during the presentation.

“Just imagine me if you will, as a 3-year-old being uprooted from my usual life, first sent to a temporary prison camp at a race-track where horse stalls were converted to living space, all behind barbed wire fences and machine gun towers; then three months later being put on a train with shades drawn so the public did not see what was happening to us; and being sent to the desert of Arizona where I would spend 3 years, behind more barbed wire fences, and machine guns towers,”  Dr. Okimoto implores the students.

Summarizing Dr. Okimoto’s speech 

Dr. Okimoto represented the large community of internees who had a rough experience in the camp. He gave a voice to those who were tormented by what happened, to those who had to deal with racism, and to those who had lost their identities.   

Comparing the two views  

Many people need to realize that perspective plays a big role when it comes down to analyzing the impacts of the incarceration camps. Dr. Okimoto was an example of an individual who had a rough time in the camp and was negatively impacted after he left. In contrast, Mr. Domoto was born inside of the Granada War Relocation Center, but he had left the camp living a relatively normal life. He had friends with whom he would hang out with in the camp and was too young to have fully comprehended the situation.

The chain of knowledge 

Even though he was not interned in camps during WWII, Mr. Okimoto has been impacted by his father’s history. He says that what had happened to his father affected his choices as a teacher, what he chooses to teach, and how to teach them. As a teacher, Mr. Okimoto feels a sense of responsibility to tell the story of those who have suffered and get the message to his students to learn from these political mistakes. Currently, Mr. Okimoto feels a sense of responsibility to make sure that this story gets told, and when the time comes, to re-teach this unit again over and over. He will always allow himself to learn more on this journey, while his students accompany him as well. 

“At this point, I feel more and more responsible to make sure that this story is told, every year, time and time again. And each time, allowing myself to learn more and more about it and allowing the students to learn about it as well,” shared Okimoto. 

The 9th grade curriculum 

Why was the book, “When the Emperor Was Divine” by Julie Otsuka, chosen out of all the other books about Japanese interment to teach the minds of adolescences?

“It presents challenges for freshmen. I don’t think there has been a ton of books written on this topic since long ago. There are some titles that have been around longer than others,” explains Mr. Okimoto.

Mr. Okimoto expands to include his opinion on the book and how it attacks the topic of Japanese interment.

“Trying to create visuals using this [book] for students is very important so that maybe we would be able to access what Otsuka might be saying. You know coming up with themes is always harder than a lot of other things, I think, for students at the ninth-grade level to find,” explains Okimoto.

Okimoto shares that he thinks teens between the ages of 14-15 can handle this topic and understand what happened back then to others fighting against racism, but also how it still impacts society today. 

It’s history; why is it still relevant? 

Throughout the interview, Mr. Okimoto mentions the importance of this historical episode that took place in the United States. The topic of Japanese internment is a historical event that is relevant and still has some traces in the modern day. What the American government did to the Japanese citizens is something that America will never be able to repay. The US government stripped 3 ½ years from the Japanese citizens lives, along with their identities, and basic human rights. Questioning cultural roots and nationality was not something uncommon for Japanese-Americans who were held captive during that time.

Japanese internment is an unforgettable event in American history. The Pearl Harbor bombing happened on December 7th, of 1941, and The Executive Order 9066 was released on February 19, of 1942. It is important to collect primary information while people from this time are still alive in an effort to preserve the memory of their lives, honor their places in the American country, and to remind humanity of the unjust deeds that should not be repeated in the future.

 

Photos of Anyo Domoto

Photos of Dr. Joe Okimoto

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