"Dark Days of WWII: Life in a Japanese American Internment Camp"
On Nov. 5, CSUB and the Bakersfield community were privileged to hear two voices sharing their understanding of the internment camps set up to contain Japanese Americans during the second world war. Ellen Miller, who received her MA degree from CSUB several years ago and now teaches part-time at Cerro Coso Community College, offered appropriate historical background explaining the United States' history of relations with Asians in America, and particularly American attitudes toward the Japanese who migrated here, many at the invitation of the U.S. government to work in agriculture. She also shared insights she gained in researching her MA thesis on second-generation Japanese in America, namely in four counties in the southern San Joaquin Valley: Kern, Tulare, Kings, and Fresno. Her oral interviews provided first-hand testimony from those who suffered directly from discrimination against them, and the quotations she chose brilliantly captured the many challenges these people faced in making a life for themselves in the U.S.
Ellen was followed by Ben Nagatani, a native of Delano, who was a teenager when his family was taken from their home and forced to relocate, first at the county campgrounds in Fresno and then in the South, traveling by train for days across the southern U.S., with shades drawn so they would not be seen by civilians they passed. He spent the next couple years in two different camps in Arkansas. Life was difficult there, the facilities substandard. When Ben and his family were finally released at the end of the war, they were some of the fortunate ones, as they actually had a home to return to because their neighbors had looked after their property for them during that time. The transition back to teenage life, however, was difficult, and he and other Japanese Americans were taunted by some kids. Ben's story was compelling, and he displayed an amazing ability to share experiences from a painful period in his life, and to do so with humor. He also conveyed his great pride in those Japanese Americans who vounteered to fight for this county in WWII--a group only fairly recently recognized by the govenment for their valor and sacrifices.