BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. - 80 years ago today, the Pacific Northwest marked a dark moment in history.
On March 30, 1942, 272 Japanese Americans living in Bainbridge Island were forced out of their homes and sent to internment camps. They were the first people in the United States subjected to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
Soon after, about 120,000 people of Japanese descent were forced out of their homes and land.
Of the 272 people forced to leave Bainbridge Island, about 150 returned after World War II. Currently, there are about six survivors living on the island or nearby. They were joined by community members Wednesday at the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, commemorating the 80th anniversary of that fateful day.
96-year-old Satoru Sakuma had his son Bryan and granddaughter Natalie by his side. He was just 16 years old when the exclusion occurred. After his release from the internment camp, Sakuma served with the 442nd Infantry Regiment, the most decorated regiment in U.S. history. He was also a Purple Heart recipient.
"After the war and being in that battalion, they came, and they didn’t really have anything left here. So, they went to Skagit Valley and continued their berry farm there," said Sakuma’s granddaughter, Natalie.
When asked how it felt to be back at Bainbridge Island, Sakuma said it "feels great," and he appreciated everyone attending the ceremony to recognize the moment in history. In the 80 years since the removal of Japanese-descent residents, the healing continues throughout the community.
"He never wanted the narrative to be of anger or hatred. It was just, he wanted it to be something that was never forgotten, and a narrative of hope and healing and love and community," said Natalie.
Some survivors said they remember several of their Bainbridge Island neighbors standing against the exclusion.
"They didn’t believe we could be terrorists or spies, or that we were more connected to Japan than America," said Lilly Kodama, who was sent to an internment camp at age 7.
Kodama said prejudices she experienced then don’t compare to the anti-Asian hate seen around the world now.
"Lately, people are actually attacked and hurt and well, that’s a whole different thing," said Kodama.
"Today we live in an atmosphere of manufactured fear and hysteria, creating a toxic cloud of anti-Asian bigotry, prejudice, assault and death, feeding the racial strife that daily threatens marginalized communities of color and sexual orientation. This threatens the liberty and justice for us all," said Bainbridge Island city council member, Clarence Moriwaki.
Governor Jay Inslee also gave remarks at the ceremony with a message of everyone working together to stand against the power of fear. Sakuma’s family said that’s exactly why he chose to live here his life all these years.
"His generation has continued living life. That is what you do—you just keep giving back and loving. And you just have to be that example," said Natalie. "His life is this beautiful story of courage and love. It’s my inspiration."
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