Time to record internment camp stories

By Amy Taxin

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Feb. 25 2012 11:00 p.m. MST

Inside the museum, digital screens erected inside a wooden barracks once used at Heart Mountain display black and white photographs of Japanese Americans and a message about the project, which requires participants to pay $90 to upload their stories. Museum officials also plan to reach out to former internees at screenings this year of the 1970s film "Farewell to Manzanar" at community centers in California.

It is too soon to tell what the effort will yield in the Los Angeles area, where more than 138,000 people claim some Japanese heritage, or whether the museum will achieve a critical mass of submissions.

Shishima, who volunteers at the museum, said he will probably submit his story on the site.

Franklin Odo, former director of the Asian Pacific American program at the Smithsonian Institution, said there's constantly new aspects of camp life that are being uncovered, noting a recent documentary about internees sneaking out to go fishing up in the mountains of California.

"It is like stuff coming out of the Holocaust or Civil War or any large experience," Odo said. "Every time we think we've exhausted the stories, it turns out it's not true."

That's what happened to Masako Murakami, who was 7 years old when her family was sent to a camp in Arizona, then to a segregation center in Tule Lake, Calif. because her father answered no on a government questionnaire about his willingness to swear allegiance to the United States and serve in military combat.

Murakami always thought her American-born father's answers stemmed from his lingering ties to family in Japan. Years later, after speaking with him, she learned they were an act of protest.

Her father died 10 years ago. Her mother, a seamstress, died last year, and when she did, Murakami and her sister felt compelled to write down what they remembered of the family's experiences, and share them online.

"I thought, wow, they're both gone now. We should say something so even my children will know about it, and the grandchildren and the great grandchildren," said Murakami, who lives in Monterey Park and volunteers at the museum. "They were never famous — they were just ordinary people, and I thought, I wanted to tell their story."

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