Wait, the U.S. Incarcerated Japanese Peruvians during WWII? | Haiyun Lu | 9 Min Read

June 19, 2023

It was the third sunny day in May after weeks of dreadful rain. Looking longingly out of my office window in the nearly empty school building, I promised myself a long walk with my dog after the webinar. I returned my attention to the screen. To me, this webinar on the little-known topic of “Japanese Latin Americans & U.S. WWII Incarceration: Accountability and Redress” was most important, so I decided to jump in at the deep end by attending it.

Three prominent advocates and experts in the field were on the panel. Dr. Natasha Sugiyama, the panel’s moderator, is also the first person who educated me on the topic and introduced the panelists. Dr. Stephanie Moore spoke next and presented the historical background of Japanese immigration to Latin America between the early 1800s to the mid-19th century. Grace Shimizu was the third person to speak. She shared the decades-long frustrating journey of the Campaign for Justice: Redress NOW for Japanese Latin Americans. As I was listening, cold sweat covered my palms and my chest started to hurt. Words completely escaped me. There was so much I did not know. The rest of the world knows even less, which really saddened me. 

Only two months ago, I first heard about incarcerated Japanese Latin Americans during WWII.  2,264 of them from 13 different Latin American countries were abducted from their homes or businesses. The U.S. planned to use them for hostage exchange with Japan. They were incarcerated in the Crystal City Department of Justice Internment Camp in Texas. 800 of them were actually used as hostages. Once they left Peru for this camp, their families never saw them again. After the war ended, most of the internees were deported to war-devastated Japan because the U.S. assigned them “illegal entry” upon their arrival. 

This hard fact of history did not seem real to me: ordinary people lost their fundamental human rights in violent ways. It felt like watching a horror movie in which roaming gangsters controlled the world. More than three-quarters of a century later, gangsters are still in denial of their wrongdoing and refuse to acknowledge the truth. Except, the human rights destroyers are not gangsters. They represent the self-claimed “guardian of world peace”—the United States of America.

Since U.S. history has often overlooked or excluded Asian American experiences, fewer than 10% of the general public is aware…

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Haiyun Lu

Haiyun Lu, a Chinese language teacher at the University School of Milwaukee (WI), is also a writer, blogger, trainer, curriculum designer, meditator, and Co-Founder at Ignite Chinese.