Two hours north of Yuma, is a monument symbolizing a lost moment in American History.
“It was so painful for parents that they did not talk about it.”
Marlene Shigekawa is the Project Director for the Poston Community and is honoring her parents who were once incarcerated because of their Japanese heritage.”There was shame associated with it.”
Following the Attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, President D. Roosevelt issued an executive order sending more than 120,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps along the west coast of the country. The Poston War Relocation Authority held nearly 18,000 from 1942 to 1945.
“I just remember her mentioning that they used to play up in the mountains up there.” Kathy Takemoto is thinking of her mother. “It seems like a long walk but they had time to do that.”
She’s honoring her mother by tying up origami hearts around the monument, making sure it’s doubled knotted so the strong desert winds don’t blow the charm away.’I remember her mentioning to us that the teachers they had were ‘Quakers’ because they were the only ones who would come out and teach them.’
‘It’s really a reminder of what went on at Poston and that these were concentration camps,’ said Marlene. ‘People lost their freedoms, and people should never forget that we as descendants of Poston needs to learn their experience and tell others,’ but for someone like Louise Nakashimi, she’s visiting the camp that was once her home nearly 80 years ago.
‘It was kind of sad because we couldn’t sell everything, we had to leave and only carry what we had, so all of our barn equipment was left in the barn as it was.” Despite having her rights and freedom taken away, she felt her family was protected from public scrutiny from the war. ‘On the other hand, if we were on the west coast while the war was going on, someone might’ve lost their son or daughter. Who knows might’ve been shot when you were back there…it could be that it may have been ‘ok’ to put us in the camps. Although it was wrong, it seems like it was safe for Japanese Americans.’
During their time incarcerated internees were put to work and made the best of what was available in the limited space. Whether it was stuffing hay into pillows, working in the fields under extremely hot temperatures, or contributing to the war.
‘My older brother was in the army already, he was in there for a year, but still, he got ’rounded’ up. Jim Aznamba is another internee from Camp 2, and is remembering the discrimination Japanese-Americans faced in the military.’They had him wrapped in the Prisoner of War jackets and kids would throw rocks at him, it was unfair but what can you do.’
Nakashimi said she also contributed to the war by making camouflage nets for the army.
‘That was an experience,’ she smiles. ‘I’d figure they would give you outside pay and they only gave us 16-17 dollars a month and outside pay was higher with the top wages, so, it was nice.”
It was a time of hysteria, confusion, and adversity for those who survived the experience.For others learning about this dark chapter in American history, it opens the metaphor if history could repeat itself.
‘I hear on the news now with people separating things with what ‘color’ they are or what ‘religion’ they are, it kind of harkens back to that day that you do these things.’ Dennis Patch is the Chairman of the Colorado River Tribes and has been involved with local tribes and the Poston community. ‘It can happen again when you speak without knowing the true history of this country.’
For Marlene, she remembers a ‘saying’ her mother has told growing up. “It’s kind of like acceptance. I’m a survivor cause they are survivors and also being able to overcome adverse circumstances because I have it in my DNA. I feel like I can soar or overcome everything because of what they went through.
Photo Courtesy: National Archives,Pinterest, and family members involved in this story,