First Person Singular: U.S. Rep. Michael Honda (D-Calif.)

U.S. Representative Michael Honda (CA-15) in his office at Longworth House Office Building
(Benjamin C. Tankersley)
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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Home: San Jose

Age: 68

I remember the internment camp through my parents' stories, and through three or four dreams I used to have incessantly when I was about 7 years old. I would share these dreams with my parents, and my mother would look at my dad and say, in Japanese, "This kid's strange."

We were in and out of the internment camp for four years. And my father volunteered for the Military Intelligence Service because he had language skills. So he taught Japanese to the naval intelligence officers, because the military found out that nobody in the system knew how to speak the language of the enemy. So they used them as interpreters, as code breakers, like they did with the Navajos.

When he joined, they placed him at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He started to teach and had a place, so he called us out of camp, and we were allowed to leave. We stayed with him a year and a half to two years -- long enough to have a sister and brother born in Boulder. Since my father was with the MIS, they told him at the end of the tour that he had to keep silent for 50 years. He didn't. He raised me talking about the injustices of camp, how it was a violation of the Constitution, and how they treated Japanese Americans in general. In fact, when I was in third grade, my brother and I went to see this movie called "Sands of Iwo Jima," with John Wayne. And the word "Jap" was thrown around. They were the bad guys, obviously, in the movie.

I saw that movie three times in one sitting. The next day, my father caught us playing saying, "We'll be the good guys, and you guys can be the Japs."

I heard this voice above me, "Michael!" I looked up and he said, "Michael, come up here." With a lot of trepidation, I got to the third floor, and he said, "What did you say down there when you were playing war?" I told him what I said, and he said, "You don't say that anymore. 'Jap' is not a nice word. It's derogatory and insulting, and it's referring to you, a Japanese American. And, as such, you've gotta do everything, from now on, better than a hakujin, which means white people. You have to give 110 percent." I didn't understand why.

I've taken my father's personal ammunition for social justice, to try to be a public servant to communities that do not have a voice. The reason we were sent to camp is because no one in Washington said no.

Interview by Cathy Areu

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