An article Friday about the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation misspelled the name of the foundation's executive director. She is Cherry Y. Tsutsumida. (Published 10/28/1999)
A man in the truck yelled to the little girl to lock the gate behind her. As she snapped the Yale lock shut, she wondered: Why bother? Who would break into the place, a desolate prison camp in the middle of the Arizona desert?
Cherry Y. Ysutsumida was the last person to move out of her World War II internment camp for Americans of Japanese origin. She was only too happy to climb into the truck and leave behind the rows of tar-paper barracks surrounded by barbed wire.
Today, Ysutsumida will watch a groundbreaking ceremony at the Capitol Hill site where a memorial dedicated to the Japanese Americans who fought in the war and those who were locked away in the prison camps will be built.
"This is about a group of people who, identified for no reason other than their ancestry, were incarcerated because of Pearl Harbor," Ysutsumida said. "The purpose is to signal Americans that this should not, and must not, ever happen to any other group of Americans."
Ysutsumida, 66, is the executive director of the National Japanese American Memorial Foundation, which is building the $10 million monument designed by Washington architect Davis Buckley. The center will be a statue of two cranes whose wings are tied with barbed wire surrounded by a landscape of water and shrubs. The names of the 800 Japanese American soldiers who died for their country and the names of 10 internment camps where 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry were imprisoned will be inscribed on a series of plaques.
The memorial, authorized by Congress and financed with private money, will fill a triangular federal park just south of the Capitol at Louisiana and New Jersey avenues and D Street NW. Officials expect to have it finished in one year.
Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942, ordered all people of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast to move, or be moved, to the center of the country. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, U.S. officials worried that Japanese living in the states would ally themselves with the enemy.
Former representative Norman Mineta (D-Calif.), who wrote the legislation for the memorial, was living with his family in San Jose when the executive order was signed. His father, an insurance broker, had emigrated from Japan in 1928.
"On December 7, when we came home from church, the phone was ringing," he said. "My father was a leader in the community, and everyone was calling to say, 'What does this mean for us? What will happen to us?' "
Mineta said his father began to cry. "He couldn't understand how the country of his birth had attacked the country of his heart," Mineta said.
Within two months, all the families with Japanese ancestry were forced to leave. Mineta, wearing his Cub Scout uniform, took his bat, ball and glove with him, but a military policeman confiscated the bat as a lethal weapon.
Ysutsumida said that when her family was released from the camp in 1945, they could not return to their farm in Guadalupe, Calif., because someone else had rented it. They moved instead to Chandler, Ariz.
"We lived in a shack with no running water," she said. "My father, who had run a farm, now had to work as a laborer. He was over 60 years old."
Ysutsumida, who became executive director of the foundation two years ago, worked for the federal government in health care for 35 years before going to the foundation.
"We want the memorial to be a constant reminder of what happened to us," she said. "We are concerned about the Arabs being identified as terrorists just because they come from the Middle East. We are concerned about the Chinese because we wonder whether or not that poor scientist [Wen Ho Lee, who was suspected of espionage] is getting a fair shake or is he assumed to be guilty because of the way he looks."
And Japanese Americans still have problems in American society, Ysutsumida said.
"Our other concern is that even today, people look at us and they see us as being Japanese rather than Japanese Americans."
Tens of thousands of people of Japanese ancestry living on the West coast were moved to 10 internment camps in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
State Name of center Population
Arizona Poston 17,814
Gila River 13,348
Arkansas Rohwer 8,475
California Manzanar 10,046
Tule Lake 18,789
Colorado Granada 7,318
Idaho Minidoka 9,397
Utah Topaz 8,130
Wyoming Heart Mountain 10,767
CAPTION: Monument to Japanese Americans (This map was not available)