By Midori Mori
Growing up as an Asian American, Asian culture always surrounded me. In my school, at the grocery store, even in my own room. But as I got older I started to realize the negativity against my ethnicity, such as in 2nd grade, when a kid in my class made the classic “squinty eyes” and called me a chink (though I didn’t know what that meant at the time). But until I visited Heart Mountain, I never understood the true meaning of racist hatred.
Heart Mountain was a Japanese internment camp in northwest Wyoming. As many people may know, back in World War II all the Japanese Americans on the West Coast were imprisoned in 10 camps where there was no sign of civilization anywhere. And back in this time period the Japanese Americans were put in a rough spot. After all, the very country they descended from bombed an important naval base: Pearl Harbor..
Yet when these citizens proved loyalty to America, no mercy or justice was put in consideration. The very government that they believed in turned their backs on rightful citizens. The Japanese Americans were sent away and they did not complain about it. While camp residents were considered amazing optimists, this left them ignorant to what was really happening. Yes, they physically knew that they had been deceived and taken to a prison but still the Japanese American citizens remained silent. Even after the war ended they shunned the topic and denied that their imprisonment ever happened.
Being of Japanese heritage, people occasionally ask me whether I would’ve done differently. But in truth I can’t say that I would have done so. Compared to what they had to endure I am living in this golden era where Asians are mostly treated well. Sure, there is the occasional lapse, but if I complain about the injustice today it seems sort of selfish. The Japanese Americans didn’t have that luxury of acceptance. At least I have that much to be appreciative of. The living style mentally was tougher. The limited number of Asians probably made some citizens apprehensive since they couldn’t connect with Caucasian people. This made it hard for them to stand up for their rights as Americans when they were imprisoned.
I guess I’m saying that I accept their actions but that doesn’t necessarily mean I would’ve handled it the same way. I probably wouldn’t complain either because while it may be the right thing to do, it does not always make it the most easy thing to do. Except unlike the prisoners of the time I wouldn’t have shunned the topic after the war ended. I feel it’s important to remember an event no matter how painful as long as you don’t become bitter. Becoming bitter will only make you more miserable. Learning from it would accomplish more good in the world.
The main thing I would like readers to take away is something my Judo instructor told me: There are enough fighters in the world. If you truly wish to change the world you must be a peacemaker. This applies to what F.D.R decided to do with the Japanese (putting them in prison camps) and what I feel the Japanese should do about this painful topic. As long as you wish to change the world, remembering the wrongs becomes just as important as remembering the rights.
Related reading: Aki Mori, American internment in the shadow of Yellowstone
“I am 12 years old and about to enter seventh grade,” Midori says. ” I was born premature, so at first glance I might appear small. But that has only made me try harder to prove others wrong. I love judo, politics, and conditioning.”
Editor’s note: Last year, we had a 9-year-old become the first under-18 contributor to Voices of August. With that precedent in mind and a proud father, Aki Mori, serving as middleman, I invited Midori to be part of VOA 2016. So glad to add her perspective.
Tomorrow: Gil Rubio, Fate and destiny