One family’s story of the Japanese internment camps during WWII

Thu, 09/12/2019 - 5:45pm

Ken Nomiyama does not remember living in a Japanese internment camp during the 1940s. He was born in one in 1942, and his family left the camp in Tule Lake, California in 1946.

He and his parents returned to their home in Alameda, California, where they were living before the war. Nomiyama’s father, born in America in 1910, was a laborer, and his mother, born in 1917, also in America, was a housewife. Nomiyama’s grandparents were the first generation to live in America. His parents were second generation (“nisei”) and he is third generation (“sansei”).

But when his Japanese-American parents returned to Alameda after the war it was not the same.

“After the war ended and the Japanese returned to where they were going to go, many feared going back to their original homes. Many were afraid to go back because of the hostility that remained among the white population. Many headed east,” Nomiyama said. “My parents went back to the Bay area. It was not an easy place. There was hostility. There were signs, protests. Some of the houses were shot at. Grafitti was posted on them. My parents had to make their lives over again.”

Nomiyama added, “I was still a child when the war ended. I just went on with my life and I was not aware of it.” He became a banker who spent most of his career in the New York City area. Nomiyama now resides in Newport.

A brief history of the camps: “After Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt put in an executive order for the evacuation of all Japanese on the west coast. One hundred and twenty thousand were rounded up and put in camps. Two-thirds were American citizens. Through this Executive Order 9066, the Japanese were evacuated from homes and businesses,” Nomiyama said. “They lost all their possessions, their civil rights, and there was no due process.” There were 10 camps. Two were in California, one in Utah, one in Colorado, one in Idaho, one in Wyoming, two in Arkansas, and two in Arizona.

Their time inside the camps was not discussed at home, nor was it discussed in many Japanese-American households, so Nomiyama said he became aware of the camps when he was in junior high school. As an adult he started to study the era, and he will speak about that time and his own family’s experience at the Island Free Library on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 7 p.m.