People | Legacies

What Internment Did to My Family

The court finally condemned Korematsu v. US, but the lessons of history are being overlooked by those claiming to have recognized them.


It can’t be helped

It opened in 1963, crossing the Los Angeles harbor and linking San Pedro and Long Beach to Terminal Island, which was a Japanese American fishing community before World War II.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the Japanese Americans of Terminal Island were sent to internment camps. Today, Terminal Island is home to a federal prison visible from the hills of San Pedro, where many aging Japanese Americans reside.

image via wikimedia

 the author’s father in 1978

The youngest of the brothers, Dad was a California version of the all-American boy. He skateboarded on sidewalks and bluffs, drove to Mexico to chase the swells with his surfboard, and played guitar in a band. He let his hair grow to his shoulders, thick black locks that didn’t quite wisp and curl like the hair of white rock stars he saw on MTV. The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who—he learned their songs, and could rock his way up the Stairway to Heaven.

Her thinning grey hair shone like fragile silver chains in the afternoon sunlight, her frail body sinking into an ocean of pristine hospital cotton.

Many days a week, I’d drive over the Vincent Thomas Bridge to see her. She had late-stage Alzheimer’s and could no longer tell if I was a friend from camp, or her granddaughter. At her beside, I read and wrote, texted and breathed. The sun warmed the skin on the back of my neck, as it had many a time through the balcony windows in her old house on the hill in San Pedro.

the author’s grandmother in 1971

Korematsu v. United States



That day, Grandma had spoken in a fog, asking her long-deceased mother if she could go watch the military men train outside of the barbed-wire fence. Her friends were going to watch, and she wanted to join them. Explosions for entertainment.

I pressed my cheek against the window and felt the warmth of the summer evening. Behind us were the humble silhouettes of the Pedro hills, and all around was the spread of the city and the ocean.

I could tell Dad felt chilly, though the weather was temperate. We listened to a recording of Donald Trump announcing his candidacy. Trump promised to fight “Islamic terrorism” and “foreign threats,” and my dad groaned and turned down the radio.

the Kumamoto family in 1965