Lake Reunion Symposium
Dr. Satsuki Ina
California - June 1998
Children of the Camps Project began as a personal journey.
My parents were incarcerated at Tule Lake where I was born in
I was only two when we left to be reunited with my father who
was separated from us and incarcerated in Fort Lincoln, North
Dakota, I have carried in me a life-long legacy of the Internment
a psychotherapist for over 20 years, I have worked with many
individuals, adults and children, suffering from the long term
effects of trauma.
the mental health field, trauma is defined as an experience outside
of the normal range of human experience: According to the
DSM IV (the American Psychiatric Associations Diagnostic
and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition):
"traumatic events that are experienced directly include,
but are not limited to, military combat, violent personal assault,
being kidnapped, being taken hostage, torture, incarceration
as a prisoner of war or in a concentration camp, natural or manmade
disasters, etc." The effects may be especially severe
or long-lasting when the stressor is of human design.
is no question that the forced removal and incarceration of the
Japanese Americans during WW II without due process of law was
in fact a traumatic event. Although much has been discussed
and explored regarding the historical, constitutional, and human
rights issues associated with this event, we have yet to fully
explore the long term psychological consequences of that trauma.
Japanese Americans traditionally have not utilized mental health services so there is very little statistical data to verify the psychological effects of the incarceration. Japanese Americans are more likely to turn to their medical doctors and/or ministers for help if they seek any outside help at all. In my own clinical practice I have found over the years that Japanese American clients were more likely to manifest their psychological symptoms via somatic concerns such as migraines, stomach problems, hypertension.
How people respond to trauma has been a significant focus of my clinical work and writings. Over the years I have conducted several workshops for Japanese Americans who were incarcerated as children, to explore the ways in which their current lives are being effected by that traumatic event. It has been an intense and revealing experience.
learned that many factors influence the ways in which people
learn how to cope with the trauma that has occurred in their
lives. For the Japanese Americans, cultural values and
life as an ethnic minority in America led to the embracing of
a unique coping style in response to the trauma. Certainly,
Japanese cultural values of gaman (endure), gambaru
(persevere), giri (duty), oyakoko (loyalty), on
(filial piety), and kodomo no tame ni (sacrifice) guided
and helped family members to endure the shame, hardship, and
tragedy of being incarcerated and deemed risks to the national
victims of prejudice, and status as second class citizens, Japanese
Americans learned to go with the flow as a means to cope with
the feelings of powerlessness and impotence. Certainly
other factors play a part, however, these two significant variables
along with natural psychological defense mechanisms that occur
in response to trauma have led to an important outcome.
I am proposing that for many Japanese Americans, the normal healing
process from the trauma of the betrayal and incarceration has
not been complete.
trauma often threatens the psychological integrity of the victim,
it is a natural response to utilize defense mechanisms to help
cope with the overwhelming reality of the event. Amy Iwasaki
Mass in her presentation at the Legacies of Camp Conference in
San Francisco in March of this year expressed it well:
to understand why so many Americans, Japanese and others were
able to rationalize, justify, and deny the injustice and destructiveness
of the whole event. I came to realize that we lulled ourselves
into believing the propaganda of the 1940's so that we could
maintain our idealized image of a benevolent, protective Uncle
Sam. We were told we were being put away for our own safety.
We were told this was a patriotic sacrifice necessary for national
security. The pain, the trauma, and the stress of the incarceration
experience was so overwhelming, we used the psychological defense
mechanism of repression, denial, and rationalization to keep
us from facing the truth.
truth was that the government we trusted, the President we idealized,
the country we loved, the nation to which we pledged our loyalty,
had betrayed us, had turned against us. Our natural human
feelings of rage, fear, and helplessness were turned inward and
buried. Experiencing and recognizing betrayal by a trusted
source leads to a deep depression, a sense of shame, a sense
that there must be something bad about me. Our greatest
loss was the loss of our sense of honor and worth."
defense mechanisms serve the immediate purpose of keeping us
from being overwhelmed and disorganized. However, when
trauma is so severe and sustained, people will maintain their
defenses even when the immediate source of the threat is no longer
imminent. So to repress, deny, and rationalize the significance
of the trauma can cause long term psychological consequences
which include, low grade depression, chronic life dissatisfaction,
relationship problems, stress related disorders and somatic disorders
such as ulcers, hypertension, and heart disease.
reflected in the work of Nobu Miyoshi who has developed the family
treatment model for Nikkei families called Exploring Family Legacies,
and researchers who have studied Jewish holocaust survivors,
these unresolved trauma-related issues are passed down to the
The Children of the Camps Film Project was developed as a means to facilitate a healing experience for our community. We felt that it was important that Japanese Americans, not just the individuals who participated in the Children of the Camps workshop, but the larger Japanese American community could benefit from seeing how a group of Nikkei men and women talk honestly about their incarceration experience. In discussing its impact on them and their families, expressing their pain-filled anger and deeply buried sorrow, it was thought that other Nikkei might see a part of themselves mirrored in the experience, feel validated and encouraged to begin their own process of being released from the invisible barbed wires of camp. Lawson Inada once wrote to me saying that he was still trying to "get out of camp."
closing we all developed different ways to cope with our legacy
of camp: some of us work hard in our community, our jobs,
and the political arena, some of us write poetry, gather oral
histories, and paint pictures, some of us study hard, go to reunions
and pilgrimages, some of us are patriotic or have given up on
the system, some of us try to forget and some of us have forgiven.
There are many ways to heal from trauma. I urge you all
to commit yourselves to freeing our next generation of Nikkei
from the pain of silence and denial. Here are a few suggestions:
- Tell your story.
people tell me they have told total strangers more about their
experience than their own family members. Telling your
story is a self-affirming process. In psychotherapy it
is believed that by talking about the experience people can gain
mastery/understanding about something they have been unable to
and Listen - Make it safe for others to talk.
an accepting, supportive witness to your experience, allows the
other to move the pain from within to be shared. I talked
to a very elderly man the other day about a terribly humiliating
experience he had suffered as a young boy in camp more than 50
years ago. After he finished he said, "It was pretty
terrible, wasn't it?" Because our trauma was about
betrayal we needed safety to express ourselves.
- differences. Don't judge other people's choices.
a time of crisis people respond to trauma in various ways.
We need to heal the wounds within our community and families
that occurred because of differences in the way we chose to cope.
The "no, nos", the soldiers, the Kibeis and Niseis,
the loyalists and the MIS and the renunciants, the repatriats
and the citizens, and even those labeled as "inu" -
we were all victims, responding to an untenable circumstance,
and we must not turn against one another or shut out our understanding
of the other person's choices. Feeling shame is inherent in our
experience. Amy Iwasaki Mass describes in her paper that as a
6-year-old, the shades drawn on the train taking her to camp
meant that she, her family, and "all the Japanese Americans
had done something so bad that the people didn't even want to
look at us."
- Try to understand how others coped.
in the other person's shoes and honor how they survived whether
it has been through their silence, depression, alcoholism, rage,
disengagement or their over-achieving, demanding need to succeed,
or by leaving the JA community and finding solace in their anonymity
in the larger society.
- your feelings and express them.
Our trauma was extremely wounding but the pain was difficult to express because there was not one person we could identify as the perpetrator. How do we conceptualize "our government," "the President," "national security," as the perpetrator? And how do we conceptualize ourselves as prisoners or internees, as citizens or non-alien internees, as "Japs" or as Americans? When a human being is wounded, it is natural to feel hurt. When the hurt is so profound, and so ambiguous, we often cannot express the pain so we respond naturally with anger as a protective response to the wounding. However, if its viewed as unsafe to express any anger, that there could be even more harmful consequences, we bury the anger and sometimes turn that inward in order to cope. Post traumatic stress disorder is a phenomenon whereby even years later, the buried emotions begin to break through the defenses and memories and even body sensations are re-experienced. Our minds may forget, but our bodies never do, and deep inside of every cell a memory trace is stored of every event we ever experienced and the sensations and feelings that occurred with them. Expressing feelings allows us to resolve our grief and get closure. As a community some of this occurred with the redress. As individuals, talking, acknowledging, listening with empathy can support the process of healing.
- the truth about your losses.
- the strengths you gained.
- any unfinished business.
there family members or family friends to whom you might need
to make amends, ask questions, provide answers?
- tolerance is learned.
up for others whose rights to equality are being challenged whether
it is a racial joke or slur or a piece of legislation. Speak
up and teach others, children and adults, about the injustices
that could occur when people are dehumanized by stereotyping
- your freedom.
participate in being heard. Encourage others to do the