Quite by chance, in the small-town public library of Ashland, Oregon, while searching for an engaging book to read, I was confronted by their faces: Asian children, in a black-and-white photograph, smiling incongruously from behind a barbed wire fence.
“Where could this have happened?” I wondered, thinking it was somewhere in Southeast Asia, maybe part of the Vietnam War, as I peered deeper into the pages. That was the moment I first learned, at 17, that civilians of Japanese ancestry had been rounded up and confined in America during World War II. It was even more surprising, as I am the daughter of a Japanese immigrant.
What caused America to lock up more than 120,000 civilians, two-thirds of them U.S. citizens, without due process during the war? Even now Junzo Jake Ohara struggles to answer the question. “I think it was probably because of prejudice; I don’t know,” says Ohara, 89, who was confined for three years. “They were afraid of us, I guess.”