BI: This part of history better not repeat itself

There’s an old saying that history repeats itself.

But on Bainbridge Island, there’s one piece of history that people are fighting to make sure it never happens again. That would be the incarceration of a group of people just because of their race.

That’s what happened during World War II when Japanese Americans were taken to internment camps after the bombing at Pearl Harbor.

Leading the fight today are the children and grandchildren of those who were imprisoned. They said they weren’t told much about it, but it wasn’t a “camp.” And it shouldn’t be “excused” just because it was during war.

82 years after the first Japanese-Americans were forced off of BI, a dwindling group of survivors gathered March 30 at the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial to make sure people remember.

BI City Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki read the resolution: Following an order from President Franklin D. Roosevelt – 227 BI residents of Japanese descent were forced from their homes, herded onto a ferry, and sent to unknown locations March 30, 1942.

This year’s theme, “Teach the Children,” struck a chord with the adult children of the survivors.

“We used to hear tidbits,” said Nancy Kitano, who was there with her mother, Shimako Kitano-Nishamori, 92. “They used to call it camp. As kids, we never knew what they meant. It wasn’t until junior high that we understood they were taken away.”

Her mother spent her 10th birthday that April in 1942 at Manzanar War Relocation Center in California, about 250 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

“For my parents’ generation that was just a crappy memory. They just wanted to move on,” Richard Nishamori said. He said his generation didn’t hear much about it growing up, and what they did hear mostly excused what happened.

“All through the ’50s and ’60s I heard, ‘Well it’s OK for them (the Japanese-Americans) to be away because it was a war. And they would be safer.’ It’s only the last twenty or thirty years where people have been saying that wasn’t right—that it was outrageous.”

One of the grandchildren keeping the stories alive was keynote speaker Natalie Sakuma, who spoke of the legacy of her grandfather, Satoru Sakuma.

She quoted his wish of looking to the future. “I don’t look back on things I cannot change, and dwell on what has happened. I’m sure at the time I may have felt sorry for myself in some instances. But I would rather look ahead, to make sure these things don’t happen again.”

Moriwaki said the mission of the exclusion memorial “iNidoto Nai Yoni ” (Let it not happen again), is both an aspiration, and a call to action.

“We who live on Bainbridge Island have lived with the scars of Japanese exclusion for many years. We have not forgotten, and we insist that this history not repeat itself.”

Shimako Kitano Nishamori, 92, and daughters Nancy and Pattie Kitano.

Shimako Kitano Nishamori, 92, and daughters Nancy and Pattie Kitano.