“I was 20 months old when I arrived with my family at the Crystal City camp [in Texas], so I don’t remember those events,” said Kazumu Naganuma. “I learned about this experience thanks to my older siblings.”
According to Naganuma, the United States paid $25 million to Peru to ship hundreds of Peruvian-Japanese citizens to the United States.
Naganuma’s father migrated to Peru in 1925, and he had worked hard to start and develop his own business.
“My father married my mother by an arrangement, which was a common practice in those days,” said Naganuma. “So she traveled all the way from Japan to Peru to marry a man she didn’t know.”
“My father boarded a ship with many other young men [headed] to Peru hoping to find a job. In those days, there wasn’t much information about other countries like today,” explains Naganuma.
“Many of those men returned to Japan because they couldn’t find a job. My father started a laundry business that later became successful. He owned three laundry-service shops. My family became somehow wealthy.”
In the 1940s, there was social unrest in Peru. The government, as Naganuma explains, didn’t like the Japanese, “perhaps because there were lots of Japanese in the country.”
Both the Peruvian and U.S. governments targeted successful Japanese. “My father was very influential in the Japanese community; he helped to found the Japanese School in Callao,” said Naganuma.
One day, FBI agents showed up at one of the Naganumas’ businesses asking for the father and the oldest son. “They carried rifles.” They waited but the elder Naganuma didn’t show up, so the agents returned the following day.
The FBI wanted the men separated from their families so they could control the entire family. The agents finally found the elder Naganuma and gave him three days to get on the ship.
“What my family built in 20 years was gone in three days,” said Naganuma. “Worst of all, they didn’t tell us where we were heading to.”
And under what conditions.
“Our family was taken to the port of departure in two separate open-bed trucks, keeping our father and his oldest son separated from the rest of the family. As we boarded a U.S. Army transport, we were searched thoroughly by armed guards from head to toe.
“Kiyoka, the second oldest daughter, remembers the guards taking money that she hid in her shoes. All of our personal belongings such as money, jewelry and food were confiscated,” reads a testimony written by Kiyoka (Naganuma) Matsuoka, Kazumi Naganuma and Sumika Naganuma on the Campaign for Justice website.
“The conditions that we had to endure during the journey were unbearable. Even the air we had to breathe had a distinctive stench, and we all became nauseous. The journey took approximately three weeks, and we were not allowed to bathe. Kiyoka recalls how she begged for milk repeatedly for our youngest brother, Kazumu, 20 months old at that time, and was turned down.
“When we arrived at [the] port, we did not know where we were or even what country. We were taken off the ship and herded towards a warehouse-like building. We were frightened, not knowing what lay ahead. At that moment, our mother thought that this could possibly be the end of our family.
“When the women and children entered the warehouse first, we were stripped naked and sprayed with DDT. It was difficult to explain the humiliation we felt, which came from this inhumane treatment.”
It is reminiscent of the treatment of the Jews who were taken to the concentration camps by the Nazis.
After enduring mistreatment and humiliation, the Naganuma family found nowhere to go after the war (1945). The U.S. authorities agreed to release those incarcerated if they could get sponsored by an individual or an institution. The Naganuma family got such a sponsor from a church in San Francisco, where they moved in 1947.
They endured difficulties at the beginning, such as the lack of a job. However, the family stood firm and moved forward. Later, Kazumu Naganuma became a designer and has his own business in San Francisco.
In 2019, Naganuma joined a group of concerned citizens who protested at the Mexico-U.S. border where immigrant children were in detention centers and separated from their families. Some of them were even placed in cages. Naganuma is also involved in other humanitarian activities.
To what extent did the dramatic experience of the Naganuma family contribute to his motivation to fight for social justice, especially when children are involved? The U.S. actions of kidnapping foreign citizens and bringing them to concentration camps is an inhuman and violent act of terrorism. Only a well-informed, dedicated and organized society can stop this from happening again.