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OBITUARY: Art Shibayama, Fighter for Japanese Latin American Redress

Isamu Carlos “Art” Shibayama testified on March 21, 2017 before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. about being forcibly removed from Peru with his family during World War II and being incarcerated in a Department of Justice camp in Texas. (Photo by Martha Nakagawa)

By MARTHA NAKAGAWA, Rafu Contributor

Isamu Carlos Arturo “Art” Shibayama, who was among the more than 2,264 Japanese Latin Americans (JLA) kidnapped during World War II by the U.S. government to be used in hostage exchanges with Japan, passed away July 31. He was 88.

He was the oldest of eight children born to Yuzo and Tatsue Ishibashi Shibayama, both from Fukuoka.

Shibayama was born in 1930 and given the birth name of Isamu, but when he was baptized in a Catholic church, the name Carlos Arturo was added. He attended a private school in Lima that taught classes in Japanese and Spanish.

His father ran a successful business importing textiles. During his summer vacations, Shibayama went over to Callao, where his maternal grandparents had a successful department store.

On Dec. 7, 1941, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Shibayama, his father and his friends were on an overnight fishing excursion, but one of the employees came looking for them and suggested that they go home.

Art Shibayama

Shortly after the U.S. entered the war, a number of Issei in Peru were arrested and detained. Shibayama’s maternal grandparents were taken away in early 1942 and imprisoned in the Seagoville Department of Justice camp in Texas. They were later used in a civilian hostage exchange between the U.S. and Japan, in which Japanese Peruvians such as Shibayama’s grandparents were exchanged for U.S. civilians who found themselves stranded in Japan at the outbreak of war. Shibayama would never see his grandparents again.

Word spread about the arrests of the Issei, and prominent men, such as Shibayama’s father, went into hiding each time word came that a U.S. transport had landed in the port of Callao.

The police visited the Shibayama household several times in search of the father, but when they could not find him, they finally arrested the mother. Shibayama’s 11-year-old sister accompanied the mother so that she would not have to spend time in jail alone. The two were not released until Shibayama’s father turned himself in to the police.

About a week later, the entire family was rounded up and placed aboard a U.S. Army ship called the Cuba in March 1944.

On the ship, the women and children were placed into cabins on the deck, while the men were forced below. Shibayama was considered older at 13 and was put down below with the men. The men were allowed to go up on deck only twice a day for ten minutes.

The ship departed from Callao and went through the Panama Canal to New Orleans. Shibayama recalled that not only were they heavily guarded by U.S. military personnel, but the ship itself was flanked by destroyers and submarines.

Arriving in America

Once the ship landed in New Orleans, the women and children were ushered into a warehouse, told to strip naked and then sprayed with an insecticide. They were then told to shower and put their clothes back on and were placed onto a train. The men were put through the same process.

The train trip from New Orleans to the Crystal City DOJ camp in Texas took two days. Once the train stopped, they were loaded onto busses and driven to camp. The Shibayama family was assigned two rooms in a barrack.

Art Shibayama participates in a Day of Remembrance program in San Francisco in 2016. (Photo by Kahn Yamada)

Shibayama started attending school at Crystal City. In Peru, he had been in the eighth grade but at Crystal City, he and other JLAs were placed into the fifth or sixth grade because classes at Crystal City were held in English or Japanese, and Shibayama and the others did not speak English and their Japanese was poor because they had been taught in Spanish for the last three years.

While attending school, Shibayama found work delivering mail to the Crystal City residents. During his free time, he joined a baseball team organized by the inmates. Once the war ended, Shibayama learned to drive a truck and found another job delivering ice in camp.

With the end of the war, school also came to a close since many of the Japanese American instructors left Crystal City. However, two Japanese American volunteers remained and taught English.

Shibayama decided to learn English since, at that point, he wasn’t sure if they were going to be deported to Japan or remain in the U.S. His father wanted to return to Peru, but the Peruvian government had made it clear that it did not want the Japanese to return.

In 1946, rumors spread that Crystal City was going to close. Some JLAs were released if they had a relative or friend in the U.S/ who would sponsor them. Since Shibayama’s father still wanted to return to Peru, the family remained in camp.

At this time, the U.S. government, which had forcibly rounded up the JLAs from 13 Latin American countries, classified them as illegal aliens and was ready to deport them to Japan.

To prevent forced deportation, civil rights attorney Wayne Collins negotiated a deal with the U.S. government to have the JLAs work at Seabrook Farms, a frozen vegetable packing company in New Jersey. The JLAs were told that if they worked at Seabrook Farms and if Peru decided to take them back, they would be offered transportation back to Peru.

A New Life in New Jersey

The Shibayama family boarded a train for Seabrook Farms in September 1946. The living accommodations there were similar to Crystal City since they lived in barrack housing and shared a communal bathroom and laundry. The only difference was that there was no fencing around the company.

Shibayama’s father worked at the frozen packing section but because Shibayama and his sister were minors, they were sent to the flower bulb garden, where they cut flowers and saved the bulbs for replanting. Since his mother was pregnant, she remained in the barrack and looked after the younger children.

Shibayama also joined the JLA baseball team at Seabrook Farms. The entire Seabrook Farms baseball roster had about 40 men, which included the day and night shifts, and they played against hakujin teams from the surrounding cities. The all-Nikkei Seabrook Farms team built a reputation for being strong, and Shibayama recalled that they took the Southern New Jersey Championship for several years.

Once Shibayama turned 17, he received special permission to join his father in the frozen packing section due to financial hardships of the family. During the peak seasons, Shibayama and the crew worked 12-hour shifts, seven days a week.

One morning, Shibayama woke up with abdominal pain and went to the Seabrook Farms infirmary. He was then sent to the nearby city of Bridgeton to have surgery to remove his appendix. When his mother came to visit him at the hospital while he was recovering, she gave birth to another boy.

Since Shibayama could not do hard labor for six months after the surgery, he was transferred to the greenhouse, where he was responsible for watering the plants.

In March 1949, after two and a half years at Seabrook Farms, the family moved to Chicago. Shibayama found work at a carbon paper making company, and every January, he was required to report to the immigration office.

In April 1952, Shibayama received a draft notice from the Army. Since he was still classified as an illegal alien and fighting deportation, he felt compelled to report to the draft board. He was surprised when his citizenship status was not brought up and he was processed like any U.S. citizen. He recalled other JLAs being similarly drafted.

Shibayama went through basic training in Arkansas, where he was the only Nikkei in the group, but he did not feel any hostility from the Caucasian men.

Before he was shipped overseas, he got engaged to his girlfriend, whom he had met at a bowling alley.

Seeking Citizenship

Shibayama was then sent overseas to Germany, where his section leader unsuccessfully tried to get him U.S. citizenship. The paperwork from Washington, D.C. denied granting him citizenship because he had not entered the U.S. legally, despite the fact that the U.S. had forcibly removed him from Peru. He was advised to visit the immigration office in Chicago after his honorable discharge in 1954.

Back in Chicago, the immigration officials were stumped. They had never seen a case like Shibayama’s. After two years, the Chicago immigration office advised him and his siblings to travel to Canada, get a letter from the Canadian immigration office, and re-enter the U.S.

Shibayama and his siblings did as advised but when they returned, they were told that they could get permanent residency but could not receive U.S. citizenship immediately. His parents, on the other hand, had received permanent residency in 1952 when the Immigration Act of 1952, also known as the Walter-McCarran Act, was passed.

Meanwhile, Shibayama enrolled in a mechanic school and after graduation, found work at a Ford dealership.

In 1955, Shibayama got married to Betty Morita, a Japanese American who had been incarcerated at the Tule Lake and Minidoka War Relocation Authority camps during World War II.

In 1963, the owners of the Ford dealership where Shibayama worked decided to retire, so he found work at a Chevrolet dealership.

In 1970, Shibayama became a U.S. citizen. In 1971, the family moved to San Jose, where he eventually opened a gas service station.

Since Shibayama’s wife had been incarcerated at Tule Lake, the couple participated in an early pilgrimage where attendees brought their own sleeping bags and slept at the Modoc County Fairgrounds. Meals were cooked by the younger generation.

Redress Denied

When the redress movement gained momentum during the 1980s, Shibayama thought the JLAs would be included in the redress bill. After the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 was enacted, he was surprised when he received a letter from the DOJ’s Office of Redress Administration, telling him that he was being denied reparations because he had not been a permanent resident at the time of imprisonment. He unsuccessfully appealed his case.

Shibayama then went to the San Jose-based Asian Law Alliance for assistance, and although they sent letters on his behalf, he was again denied.

Campaign for Justice was formed around this time to assist the many JLAs being denied reparations. At the same time, a lawsuit was filed. This became known as the Carmen Mochizuki case, since her name was at the top of the list.

Shibayama was among the JLAs willing to go on a speaking tour with Campaign for Justice and NCRR (National Coalition for Redress and Reparations) members to publicize the plight of the JLAs. They also lobbied their congressional representatives in Washington, D.C.

When the Mochizuki ruling came in 1999, the JLAs were given a token $5,000, one-fourth of the $20,000 given to Japanese Americans, and an apology. Shibayama and 16 others decided to opt out of the settlement and filed another lawsuit against the government for equitable justice. This case was dismissed.

Meanwhile, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Los Angeles) introduced the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Latin Americans of Japanese Descent Act. Support for the bill was gaining momentum until terrorists attacked the Twin Towers and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the terrorist attack, the hearing for the bill was postponed and support waned.

In 2003, Shibayama and his two brothers took their case to an international forum and filed to be heard before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an independent agency of the Organization of American States.

In 2017, 14 years after he had filed his petition, Shibayama was given a hearing before the IACHR. Those who testified last March in Washington, D.C. included Shibayama; his daughter, Bekki; and Grace Shimizu from Campaign for Justice. Attorney Paul Mills represented the delegation, and Phil Nash, on behalf of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, submitted written testimony.

After Shibayama’s testimony, Francisco Jose Eguiguren Praeli, IACHR president and commissioner from Peru, extended a personal apology to him. However, an official IACHR ruling is not expected for a number of years due to the backlog.

Shibayama is featured in the film “Hidden Internment: The Art Shibayama Story.”

There will be a Celebration of Life for Shibayama on Saturday, Aug. 25, from 2 p.m. at Wesley United Methodist Church, 566 N. 5th St. in San Jose. Casual golf or aloha shirts are welcomed.

He is survived by his wife, Betty, two children, and many relatives.

Densho contributed to this article.

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