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A Former Child Interned Protests Against Detention Of Migrant Children

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In the 1800s, Fort Sill was used to jail Native Americans. Then during the Second World War, it held Japanese Americans. Now President Trump is planning to move 1,400 migrant children to the fortified Army post in Lawton, Okla., later this summer. Chizu Omori is one of a group of Japanese Americans protesting at Fort Sill. She was held in an internment camp for more than three years as a child. And she joins us now.

Hello.

CHIZU OMORI: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Almost 120,000 Japanese Americans were forced to leave their homes and were put in internment camps during World War II. Can you tell us your story?

OMORI: Well, my memories are that one day, we had to get rid of our property, our goods of whatever we owned and had and get on trains. And at that point, we didn't know where we were going. We didn't know how long we would be held. And so it was kind of frightening and a, you know, life-altering situation for us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Experts say that detention is dangerous for both the short and long-term health of children. And you were 12 years old when this happened. Does that...

OMORI: Yes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Feel true to you? How has the experience of being held in that camp stayed with you?

OMORI: Well, in a way, it was easy to not think about it, let's put it that way. After all, you know, the community had been tremendously traumatized by all this, so we were not in a mental situation to examine it or to think about it that much. I mean, people had to survive. But over the long haul, I do feel that because we had been subjected to something that was so totally outside of our control, one had to really internalize a lot of the, well, gee. You know, why did they do this to us?

And in my particular case, my parents decided that they no longer wanted to stay in this country, you know? So they signed up for what they called a repatriation. My father was not a citizen, so he had decided to go back to Japan. And for me, this was unthinkable. I just could not imagine leaving the home, the country that I knew. I'm very alienated from my parents for a while over this situation. We did not go to Japan, but that's something that will always haunt me because I was blaming my parents for something that was imposed on them, really.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What made you decide that you wanted to protest now at Fort Sill?

OMORI: Well, some of us just thought, because of our particular history, that we had, you know, the moral authority to go in and say, well, you've done it to us, so don't repeat history.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you hope to accomplish? What do you want people to understand?

OMORI: We just have this mythology about America being a melting pot and, you know, welcoming of immigrants. And we have our democratic ideals. And yet the true history is one of racism, of white supremacy. And peoples of color have never been particularly welcomed into this country. A lot of people still don't even know the history of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, so I want to go out of feeling youthful, you know, in my old age. And I think that that's something that I can talk about, you know, educate people. So what else can we do?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chizu Omori is a writer living in Oakland.

Thank you so much.

OMORI: Well, thank you for allowing me to speak up. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.