Exhibit recalls Japanese-American internment of WWII

Twin Cities residents Lucy Kirihara, left, and Sally Sudo
Twin Cities residents Lucy Kirihara, left, and Sally Sudo both spent over 3 years of their childhoods living with their families in the Minidoka incarceration camp in Idaho in the early 1940s. They spoke to the media at the Historic Fort Snelling Visitor Center in St. Paul on Friday, June 29, 2018.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

For Sally Sudo, the recent news of separated migrant children conjures up childhood devastation of life in an internment camp.

"I know what it's like to be put in a prison at a young age. It affects you," the 82-year-old said. "Maybe you don't have any physical scars, but you certainly have emotional and psychological scars that are going to affect you the rest of your life."

Sudo, who lives in Edina, and her family were rounded up in 1942 as part of the government-mandated relocation and incarceration of Japanese-Americans during War World II. Sudo was only 6.

"It was a very confusing time for me; I didn't understand what was going on," she recalled. "Why do I have to live in this small room with my family? Why are we going through this?"

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Edwin 'Bud' Nakasone of St. Paul reads a display.
Edwin "Bud" Nakasone of St. Paul reads a display about Minnesota's secret school for language of which he was a part.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

Her older brother served as a linguist during the war and trained at the military language school at Fort Snelling. The family joined him in Minnesota after three and a half years at the Minidoka Camp in Idaho.

Sudo's story is part of a new exhibit called "Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American World War II Experience," which opens Saturday at Historic Fort Snelling. It chronicles the internment, military service and resettlement of Japanese-Americans in Minnesota upon release. The events took place more than 75 years ago, but Sudo said they are relevant in today's political climate.

"I think the exhibit is so timely because people will learn why the Japanese-Americans were forced to live in these prison camps," Sudo said. "It was really purely based on their race, the fact there was so much hysteria because of the war and the failure of political leadership that did not protect our constitutional rights. We see too much of the same thing happening today."

Fort Snelling, where the Military Intelligence Service Language School was located, is the sixth stop on the traveling exhibit's 10-city tour. Go for Broke National Education Center, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, created the exhibit. The Twin Cities Japanese American Citizens League contributed family photos and other personal items to document the local experience. It also includes oral histories, military uniforms and service medals awarded to soldiers serving the U.S. during World War II.

Mitchell Maki, president and CEO of Go For Broke National Education Center
Mitchell Maki, president and CEO of Go For Broke National Education Center in Los Angeles, looks over part of the traveling exhibit.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

Mitchell Maki, president and CEO of Go for Broke, said the exhibit presents an important story of everyday Americans standing up for constitutional and moral rights in the time of crisis. "And that was needed in 1942, 1943, 1944 as much as it's needed today, when we are faced with issues of crisis in our own nation," he said.

Sudo and her family moved to south Minneapolis in 1945. She said Japanese-Americans faced discrimination in Minnesota. Her family received hate mail.

"'We don't want any Japs in the neighborhood, get out or else,'" said Sudo, recalling the message in one of the letters. "That was scary."

Sudo said the internment camp experience relegated Japanese-Americans to the status of second-class citizens. And she struggled with low self-esteem until she and her husband moved to Japan for his job.

Bud Nakasone of St. Paul points out his jacket and medals in the display.
Edwin "Bud" Nakasone of St. Paul points out his jacket and medals featured in a display.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

"I learned there to appreciate my culture and my identity," she said.

Sudo and other members of the local group previewed the exhibit Friday. She said she hopes it inspires visitors to act against discrimination.

"We need to make sure it takes people, ordinary people, to stand up and speak out, because in our case, unfortunately, there weren't enough people standing up and speaking out for us," she said.

The exhibit runs until Sept. 3.