My grandmother was born in an internment camp.
She has told me many stories of when her family left Rohwer, Arkansas; how they faced hardship and discrimination after their lifestyle had been snatched away from them when President Roosevelt made the choice to sign Executive Order 9066.
Even though my grandma was too young to remember the camp, her older siblings clearly remember being forced to pack all of their belongings into one suitcase, leaving behind their farm in Stockton, California. Even years after the war ended, my grandma says that she felt the repercussions of incarceration. She told me how she had no friends in school because no parent wanted their kids to invite an “alien” to their birthday party. She said that one day when she was selling eggs from her family’s shack, a man threw the eggs back at her, screaming, “I’m not buying these from a Jap”.
What amazed me the most about these stories was that she did not react with violence or anger. My grandma responded peacefully. She did not let it consume or control her.
My grandma is the person who taught me empathy and selflessness. All of my life, she has always been there for me, living in the house next door. She taught me how to read, and about our Japanese heritage. She also encouraged me to stand up for what I believe in.
On February 19, 2017, my sisters and I attended the 75th annual ceremony for the Day of Remembrance with my grandma and her friends. We stood on the corner of Jackson and 5th in San Jose Japantown. My grandma pushed me to lead our march into the San Jose Buddhist Church, where the ceremony was held. Lifting our signs in the air, we shouted, “Never again”.
I remember being surrounded by community members; each one having their own experiences in internment camps. Speakers, like Jimi Yamaichi, who had resisted the military draft, and Congressman Mike Honda urged everyone to take a stand against today’s travel ban and a possible Muslim registry. Then, I knew what my grandma meant by standing up for what I believe in.
History cannot and will not repeat itself again. We will not have another “relocation center”, discriminating against fellow citizens just because they believe in a different god or have a different color skin. We must support, educate, and love each other in order to become aware of our differences and choose to become kind citizens. With compassion and understanding, we will be able to make decisions that will have a positive, lasting impact on the future.
My grandma was born in an internment camp, but she did not let it define her. She decided to keep a positive outlook, which continues to inspire me today.
Fighting for what you feel is right is a choice. From my grandma’s influence and my own experiences, I choose love and acceptance, to keep an open mind, and stand up for what I believe in.