BEARING WITNESS: Don T. Nakanishi, the late UCLA emeritus professor and director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. The experiences of his parents, who never spoke of their incarceration during World War II, led him to a life in academia.
By THOMAS NAKANISHI
As my late father and former director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, Don T. Nakanishi, once said, “We must share and apply the lessons, the insights, and indeed the memories of the internment more broadly and for other individuals and groups of our society and the world…we must continue to bear witness to this society when civil liberties are being trampled, and when others are being invidiously and violently scapegoated during periods of war, economic difficulties, and profound social change.”
Like many other children of internees, my father learned about Executive Order 9066 and the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans from a textbook — in college. This led him down a path of lifelong research to comprehend what happened to his parents, who had never spoken about 1942 when they gathered outside their temple, Nishi Hongwanji in Little Tokyo, and began their set of transfers to Santa Anita Race Track and Poston, Arizona.
Surprising information about what happened arrived throughout his life. After his first reading, he realized his older brother was born in Poston. While introducing his parents to my mother’s parents before their wedding, he learned about their segregated imprisonment in Tule Lake with others who are known as No-No Boys. Once he retired from UCLA, he would find a series of letters between his parents and a lawyer to ensure that responses to the loyalty questionnaire did not impact their citizenship status.
“We must continue to bear witness to this society when civil liberties are being trampled” — Don T. Nakanishi
My late father was never done researching and trying to better understand his parents’ and the Japanese American community’s experiences during World War II, after the war during resettlement and with the rise of new generations. He encouraged his students to ask their own questions about what happened, perform their own research, arrive at their own answers and share it with the world, so similar policies and legislation would never be adopted again.
He would ask all of us now to not only unabashedly share our families’ stories to help defend those being scapegoated by the Trump Administration but also to stand up and organize with others to fight these unconstitutional actions from being repeated.
My Stories E.O. 9066 is a series of stories on the continuing impact of Executive Order 9066 on the lives of Japanese Americans.