The 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, held on April 25, 2015, at the Manzanar National Historic Site, featured two “Voices From Camp”—former incarcerees who spoke about their experiences behind the barbed wire and beyond. The following are remarks by former Manzanar incarceree Pat Sakamoto.
Good afternoon and welcome to our Pilgrimage. My mother, Koo Sakamoto, never said anything about the camps. I would ask her and she would say “nothing good happened here, so, there is nothing to remember.”
Over time, she would talk to me, and she told me a few things.
When she arrived here in 1942, she was pregnant with my sister, Janice. She was born in October and in 1944, she delivered me. When it was time to sign the loyalty questionnaire, she automatically said “yes-yes,” and that she “…would join the WAVE’s (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the WAC’s (Women’s Army Corps), anything. I am an American and I am not leaving here.”
However, my father signed “no-no,” and that kind of set his fate in that he lost his citizenship and was transferred to another camp, leaving my mother here, pregnant with me, and she had to fend for herself. She was devastated that he would make this decision. In fact, I never met my father. He never stayed in contact with her. Also, his parents offered to buy my sister, Janice. My mother’s reply was they do not sell children in this country. They said, “how can you take care of a child as a single parent,” and she said, “I will do it,” and she made it happen.
When the camps were going to close in 1945, she was one of the last to leave because she had nowhere to go and she had two children. She was 22 now, and probably never had a full-time job. She was issued a trailer in Burbank and moved there and looked for a job, but the job market was very poor then, for the Japanese, because of all the prejudices. I asked her, at one point, how could you afford to send Janice and I to day care on the kind of money she made. She said she did, and I kept on pestering her. I said it does not make sense. Was someone helping her and she said no, and I kept pestering her. Finally, she yelled out at me and said, “I had to go on welfare.”
It had been the most devastating thing for her to do because she was a proud woman. But she made it through.
She eventually met another man whom I called my father, Paul Sakamoto. Actually, my sister and I found him. He wanted to know where our mother was, so we took him to her. He said to her that it was dangerous to let us run unsupervised. She replied, “what do you mean? They are just fine, everyone knows who they belong to.”
From then on, he would come by to check on us to make sure we were safe. Eventually, this turned into a relationship and they decided they wanted to get married. However, my mother needed to get a divorce from my father. When she applied for a divorce, the judge did not grant it, saying that he felt that she could reconcile with her husband. My thoughts were, “how could she? My father had already left the country to live in Japan with his parents.”
My mother said that the judge was prejudiced against Japanese. This did not stop my mother. She took up residency in Reno, Nevada. After six weeks, Paul returned to get her with a diamond ring. She got her divorce on one floor and got married on the other floor, and the four of us came back to Los Angeles.
As stated above, Pat Sakamoto was born behind the barbed wire at Manzanar in 1944. She is a long-time member of the Manzanar Committee.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Former Manzanar incarceree Pat Sakamoto, shown here during her remarks at the 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, April 25, 2015, Manzanar National Historic Site. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
News, Speeches, Reflections and Photos From The 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage/2015 Manzanar At Dusk
- Rev. Paul Nakamura:“A Ministry Bound With The Quest For Justice And Civil Rights For All” – Part 1
- Rev. Paul Nakamura: “A Ministry Bound With The Quest For Justice And Civil Rights For All” – Part 2
- Manzanar Committee’s Bruce Embrey At 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage: “Remembering Is Not Passive. We Must Act On Our Memories”
- Watashi wa Manzanar! Continuing Our Civil Rights Legacy
- Kodomo No Tame Ni, Please! For The Sake Of The Children And Grandchildren, We Need To Know!
- Hearing Stories About The Japanese American Incarceration Opens Doors To New Perspectives
- The View From Manzanar
- 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage Photos and Downloadable Printed Program
- 2015 Manzanar At Dusk – In Photos
- 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage – Official Photo Essay
- My First Manzanar Pilgrimage
- The Pain Of Unjust Incarceration Transcends Generations, Ethnicity
The Manzanar Committee’s Official web site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Manzanar Committee Official web site – Licensing and Copyright Information.