Hidden Histories

“No More Kids in Cages!
Not Ok in 1942, Not Ok Today”

By Susan Hayase

April 12, 2019

Japanese American former detainees protest immigrant detention in South Texas
By: John Ota, Susan Hayase and Tom Izu – Videos by Konrad Aderer and Lauren Sumida.
Dilley, TX – Over 100 protestors converged March 30 at the immigration detention center here in south Texas, the largest such facility in the U.S., holding some 2,500 children and women immigrants, including babies under one year old.
What set the March 30 protest here against U.S. detention of immigrants apart from similar actions was that it was led by Japanese Americans who, when they were children, were incarcerated by the U.S. during World War II, along with their families and the descendants of other wartime detainees.
Indigenous tribal leader Juan Mancias gave a blessing, followed by Buddhist minister Ron Kobata’s welcoming remarks.
Indigenous leader Juan Mancias blessing the gathering. Photo: Judy Shintani.
Addressing the detained immigrants inside the center, Mike Ishii of New York, a protest organizer, said, “Families and children, take heart. We have not forgotten you. We think of you every day. We are fighting for you here and we are fighting for you back home.”
Banners hung on the barbed wire fence conveyed the message that today’s detention of tens of thousands of immigrants is just as wrong as the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans in 1942. “No More U.S. Concentration Camps!”, “Stop Repeating History” and “Never Again Is Now.”
Strings of paper cranes, banners and signs on fence at Dilley, TX detention center. Photo: Judy Shintani.
The Dilley action was co-sponsored by the Crystal City Pilgrimage Committee (CCPC) and Grassroots Leadership. CCPC is a group of Japanese American former detainees, descendants of former detainees and supporters. Grassroots Leadership is a San Antonio organization that supports immigrants and opposes mass detention.

Tsuru for Solidarity

The highlight of the action took place when waves of protestors hung thousands of colorful folded paper cranes.(“tsuru” in Japanese) on the barbed wire fence around the detention center. The cranes made by supporters from some 150 cities across the country, are symbols of healing, hope and solidarity.
Organizers had put out a call for 10,000 folded cranes from supporters around the country and were stunned when they received over 25,000. Many were shipped to San Antonio in some 150 boxes and packages from all over the country, Honolulu to Maine, Florida to Seattle, San Quentin prison to Minnesota.
Participants hoped to be heard by immigrant detainees in the facility through loud chanting, singing and thunderous drumming provided by One World Taiko of Denver and Soh Daiko of New York. Chants of “Free the Children, Set Them Free!” and “No Ban, No Wall, No Camps, NO NO!” and others in Spanish and Japanese, rang out.
Paper cranes on fence at Dilley, TX detention center. Photo: Judy Shintani.
“No more concentration camps! No more separating families! Stop repeating history!” Karina Alvarez of Laredo Immigrant Alliance said in her remarks.
“I wanted to bring attention to the abuse the women and children at Dilley are going through. {It is] very similar to what my family experienced” in the Crystal City prison camp, said Kaz Naganuma, 76, of San Francisco, who was taking part in his first public protest ever.
Organizer Satsuki Ina made it clear that the Dilley protest was not a one-time event. Another, bigger action and related events are planned for November.
Organizer Satsuki Ina and Becca Asaki at sanctuary press conference in Austin, TX. Photo: John Ota

Crystal City Pilgrimage

Hours before the Dilley protest, Japanese Americans who, as children, were imprisoned during World War II in a U.S. detention camp in Crystal City, TX, plus their families and supporters, visited the remains of that camp an hour down the highway from the Dilley detention center.
Seven former Crystal City child detainees, Satsuki Ina, Kaz Naganuma, Hiroshi Shimizu. Joe Ozaki, Kiyoshi Ina, James Arima and Hiroshi Fukuda, were honored, following solemn ceremonies and remarks by Buddhist and Christian leaders. A moving offering of song and taiko drumming was performed by One World Taiko of Colorado. Several performers are descendants of Crystal City detainees.
The visit was a pilgrimage, one of many which have taken place at the sites of incarceration centers which held over 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry behind barbed wire and under armed guard during the 1940’s. It was also the third Crystal City pilgrimage by former Japanese detainees. The first was in 1997.
Kiyoshi Ina and Satsuki Ina with their mother in detention during World War II. Photo courtesy of the Ina Family.
During World War II, the Crystal City detention center held over 4,000 persons of Japanese, German and Italian ancestry, many of whom were U.S. citizens by birth. Those of Japanese descent included Japanese Americans and Japanese from Peru, who were part of over 2,200 Japanese Latin Americans imprisoned in the U.S. during the war. Many of the Japanese Latin Americans were used by the U.S. in prisoner of war exchanges with Japan.
Local Latino residents warmly welcomed the visitors. Local officials greeted and addressed the pilgrims when they arrived, and local school officials, teachers and students hosted a lunch at a school which included Mexican folklore dancing by students in brilliant, colorful traditional dresses.
Local and nearby residents joined in the protest. Photo: John Ota.
Unexpectedly, a local historian showed up at the lunch to present former detainees with a piece of the foundation of the former swimming area at the Crystal City detention camp.
In another sign that local residents know about and remember the former detention center, a local librarian, who maintains historic records of the wartime facility – broke into tears when approached by a pilgrimage representative. The librarian knew of the wartime detention camp because she had fielded inquiries from former detainees and their families.

Solidarity in Shared Pain

Not content with a loud and colorful protest at the Dilley detention center, organizers planned other events during their time in Texas aimed at building solidarity on a personal level with immigrants who are targets of an intensifying U.S. campaign of repression and demonization.
On March 31, the day after the Dilley action, a contingent of pilgrims went to the Laredo, TX border entry point to meet with immigrants and their supporters. Satsuki Ina and other former child detainees shared experiences with recently detained immigrants. Ina told them, “We have come back to tell you there is hope. We’re going to keep coming back” because what is happening at the border is “inhumane.”
A woman who did Spanish translations during the meeting broke down in tears on hearing Ina’s and others’ stories of their childhood years in barbed wire camps and the grim toll it took on their families. The recognition of shared firsthand pain from family separations and child detention –70 years ago and today – brought deep emotions to the surface.
Former detainees Satsuki Ina and Hiroshi Shimizu talked with immigrants in Laredo, TX. Photo: Kiyoshi Ina.
A woman who did Spanish translations during the meeting broke down in tears on hearing Ina’s and others’ stories of their childhood years in barbed wire camps and the grim toll it took on their families. The recognition of shared firsthand pain from family separations and child detention –70 years ago and today – brought deep emotions to the surface.
Pilgrims also crossed the border and hung strings of paper cranes on the border fence in solidarity with the immigrants and asylum seekers trying to enter the U.S.
Another group of pilgrims spent the day assisting volunteers from the Interfaith Welcome Coalition (IWC) in San Antonio. The IWC hands out backpacks with supplies, and food to immigrants who are dumped by immigration officials at Greyhound bus stations, and to other immigrants who arrive at the bus stations on their own.
The IWC does this work day and night at bus stations in many cities in south Texas. Pilgrims also gave the IWC children’s books, stuffed animals, food and other supplies they had collected prior to their visit.

Immigrants in Sanctuary

On April 1, pilgrims traveled to Austin to meet with two immigrants, H. and A., who have taken sanctuary in local churches due to the threat of imminent deportation. The two are also leaders of the Austin Sanctuary Network. Recent detainees and World War II detainees again shared their experiences and bonded.
Pilgrimage organizer Nancy Ukai showed H., who, with her son, was detained by immigration officials for months – a work, “This Is Not My America” by Ruth Sasaki, showing small figures, representing immigrants, held inside a cage. H. asked if she could add two more figures, representing herself and her son, to the piece.
Organizer Nancy Ukai with H, an immigrant in sanctuary. Photo: Kiyoshi Ina.
A press conference was held, with H., A., wartime detainees and supporters speaking in front of signs from the Dilley protest draped with strings of paper cranes. The signs were enlarged childhood photos of former detainees with headings such as “40,000 Kids Then, Too Many Kids Now” and “Concentration Camp Survivor.”
H. described how immigration authorities threatened to take her son away from her and detained her for seven months. She talked of her pain at being in sanctuary without her son and not being able to go to his soccer games.
“Separating families is criminal” said A. through an interpreter. He said that if he is deported, he will lose his life. Due to the stress he is under, he now has diabetes, despite no family history of the condition.

“We’ll Keep Coming Back”

“I wanted my grandmother to know that people care. I’m here for them,” said Becca Asaki of New York, referring to her grandparents who were detained long ago, “and for what’s happening now.”
Organizer Nancy Ukai explained that the paper cranes were “a symbol of our desire to work with you.”
“We want to express our moral outrage that this is happening,” said Mike Ishii, referring to the current detention of tens of thousands of immigrants. “We needed to come back here to express solidarity,” he added.
Organizer Mike Ishi speaking at Dilley protest. Photo: John Ota.
“We’re going to keep coming back to say that this is inhumane and we won’t let it happen again,” promised Satsuki Ina.
For updated information on the return to south Texas planned for November, check the Crystal City Pilgrimage or the Friends of Crystal City Facebook pages.

Authors’ Bios: John Ota was active in the campaign for Japanese American reparations and redress. Susan Hayase and Tom Izu are long-time San Jose Japanese American community activists and members of San Jose Nikkei Resisters.

Filmmaker’s Bio: Konrad Aderer is a New York City-based filmmaker and video journalist, who directed the feature documentaries Resistance at Tule Lake and Enemy Alien.

Filmmaker’s Bio: Lauren Sumida is a New York-based social worker who loves being able to incorporate art into her youth advocacy work. She is currently working on a multimedia project exploring the history of her family’s WWII Japanese incarceration experiences.

Bonus Video by Konrad Aderer
“As yonsei filmmaker from a family of incarcerated Japanese Americans, I felt it was important to go on this pilgrimage and document it for the movement to end family detention.”
Bonus Video by Lauren Sumida
“In 1942, while at Santa Anita Temporary Detention Center, my great-uncle Marshall was mentioned in a Center newspaper article about an airplane contest. His hand-launched glider remained airborne for 22 seconds. This animated piece is my reimagining of those 22 seconds. I have always loved how stop-motion animation works: split-second, teeny-tiny changes between still frames that add up to an action, a movement, a story. It is in that spirit that I wanted to draw these connections between our Japanese American histories and present day detentions of families and children. In solidarity, our voices and actions can build new narratives and change.”
Additional photos:
Sign at Dilley protest. Photo: John Ota.
Karina Alvarez of the Laredo Immigrant Alliance speaking. Photo: John Ota.
Rev. Ron Kobata of the San Francisco Buddhist Church led a commemoration ceremony in Crystal City, TX. Photo: Judy Shintani.