California Museum brings lesson of Japanese American internment to local schools

Museum News

By Diana Lambert, The Sacramento Bee
Mar. 30, 2917

Marielle Tsukamoto was only 5 years old when her family was forced to leave its Florin home and move to a barrack in Jerome, Ark. in 1942. She remembers crying for days.

“We just wanted to go home,” she said. “We didn’t like it there.”

The Tsukamoto family was among 120,000 people of Japanese descent sent to internment camps when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942 two months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt said it was necessary for national defense.

On Wednesday, Tsukamoto, now 78, shared her experience with 100 students in the Florin High School theater as an extension of the California Museum’s “Time of Remembrance” program to middle and high school campuses.

Tsukamoto doesn’t like the use of the word “camp.”

“They were prisons,” she said. She showed students pictures and talked about the long lines to eat and use the bathroom. She told them about the lack of privacy in the uninsulated buildings that housed entire families in a single room and in bathrooms where toilets were lined up side by side.

She told them that 70 percent of the people in the camps were American citizens and that many had sons and husbands fighting in the American military. She talked about the fear of returning home after news that some Japanese Americans had been shot after their release.

During the presentation, Tsukamoto drew parallels between the events of World War II and current U.S. anti-immigrant policies.

“Some of us who lived through World War II are really worried,” she said. “We see the same pattern being repeated. We hope the lessons of the past will open the eyes of people in responsible positions so that history is not really repeated.”

Museum officials decided to take the “Day of Remembrance” program on the road because it is difficult for middle and high school students to come to the museum because of their class schedules, Tsukamoto said.

For $40, teachers can rent a trunk filled with activity sheets, lesson plans and artifacts like pieces of barbed wire and posters directing Japanese Americans to report for transport to internment camps. The trunk comes with a question: “What would you take if you were told to pack up and leave?”

The most popular items in the Florin trunk were pictures and biographies of Sacramento-area residents who had been sent to internment camps, said Carlos Garcia, who rented the trunk for his Florin High School Law Academy students.

Wednesday’s presentation from a museum docent was the culmination of the two-week lesson in Garcia’s classes.

Garcia said the California Museum program is particularly relevant to his students because of the impact that internment had on the Florin area, which had a large number of Japanese Americans at the time.

Junior Simon Xiong said he relates to the plight of the Japanese. His family were refugees from Laos in the 1970s.

“We do know how it feels to come here and not have a place to stay and not to really be wanted here,” he said.

He is concerned about the current political climate. “It’s like a mirror image,” he said. “It’s like history is repeating itself. You have to be educated. Back then it was able to be prevented. If we educate ourselves now we would be able to prevent it.”

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert