JOURNEY TO TEXAS: Japanese Americans Protest Family Separations

Satsuki Ina (right) and other Crystal City detainees share about their WWII experience of family separation and indefinite detention during a protest rally outside the South Texas Family Residential Center, a detention center in Dilley, Texas, on March 29. (Photos by MARTHA NAKAGAWA)

Second of three parts

By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

More than a 100 people turned out for a protest rally outside the Dilley Detention Center, which is currently imprisoning 2,400 women and children immigrants.

The more than 25,000 cranes sent to the Grassroots Leadership office were strung along the detention center’s barbed-wire fence by former Crystal City incarceree and their supporters.

Juan Mancias, head of the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe, who are the indigenous people of the area, opened the protest rally.

“Right now, we are building villages along the Rio Grande to monitor the abuses of Homeland Security and to monitor the abuse of the Border Patrol,” said Mancias. “Nobody has been holding them accountable. It’s time that we, the original people, start taking the land back and our villages back.”

Mancias also noted that they are known as the Crane Clan and commented that it was not a coincidence that the Japanese American community would bring thousands of folded cranes as a show of solidarity.

Before leading the group in a protest chant, Mike Ishii, a Yonsei, said, “We are here, not only to oppose what’s happening in these camps, but also for the healing of our people who were also incarcerated, so it’s important for us to be here. We had to be here today. And each one of us represents thousands of people back home from all over the country who are here in spirit. And each of these cranes represent family members who were incarcerated. It represents our ancestors whom we bring here today.

“We understand the long-term, multi-generational effects of what happens when you lock people up and take away their human and civil rights. When you lock children up, when you drug them, when you tase them like animals and deny them proper medical care and strip them away from their families — this is unacceptable. This is absolutely unacceptable. So we have come here from across the United States today because we couldn’t just speak out. We had to bring our physical bodies here to say this is not okay.”

Satsuki Ina was among the former Crystal City survivors who spoke at the rally. “We’re here to protest what happened to Japanese Americans over 75 years ago,” she said. “Hatred, racism, political failure has led to a repetition of mass incarceration of innocent people here and we’re grateful to have you here to participate in this protest. Our mission, our purpose for this is we’re just a grassroots group of people who were incarcerated as children. We want the children inside to hear our voices.”

Marge Taniwaki, a former Manzanar incarceree, places a strand of origami cranes on the Dilley fence.

James Arima, who came from Washington state to participate in the protest rally, was born in Crystal City. His father was taken away on Dec. 7, 1941 and was not reunited with his mother and older siblings for three years. He was the product of that reunion at Crystal City.

“I didn’t know what I could do,” said Arima. “But I just felt that something had to be done, so when I heard about this Dilley rally, I said I’ve got to go. I didn’t know what I was going to be doing here but at least for myself, I needed to be here.

“It’s bad enough for the adults here, but for the children to be separated from their parents, and some of them will never be reunited because of the incompetency of our government and policies.

“At least our family got together, and we may have gotten our physical freedom, but emotionally, I think, we’re still captive. I think our community is still captive.”

Kazumu Julio Cesar Naganuma, another Crystal City survivor, said, “My family was kidnapped from Peru. We were stripped of our human rights, civil rights. We were never charged with a crime. We were imprisoned without due process. We don’t want this to happen again. In other words, stop repeating history. Never again now means never again NOW.”

Marge Yamada Taniwaki, a former Manzanar incarceree who came from Denver, found it difficult to place the strands of tsuru on the barbed-wire fence at Dilley.

“When I went up and saw the barbed wires, it reminded me of one of my strongest memories of Manzanar, where my mother told me never to touch the barbed-wire fence because people had been shot and killed for doing that,” said Taniwaki. “Our barrack was near the perimeter, and I would always look up and see the soldier standing on guard duty. He always held a rifle with a fixed bayonet. Thinking back on that, I don’t think any child should have those kinds of memories.”

Taniwaki felt that her childhood incarceration contributed to her politicization later in life. “For about 30 years now, I’ve produced a radio show at KGNU in Boulder, Colo., and have dealt with migrants fleeing oppression from Central and South America, so this is very close to my heart.

“I was also hoping that participating in this event will bring more light to this ongoing atrocities that is happening to our fellow human beings. We really need to fight when we say it should never happen again. We truly need to mean it and put all our efforts behind it to change our governance structure to make life equal for all.”