Memories of Minidoka
Japanese-Americans revisit southern Idaho's internment camp
(page 4 of 4)
The Rev. Brooks Andrews of Seattle’s Japanese Baptist Church was a boy when his father, Rev. Emery Andrews, regularly ministered to Americans of Japanese descent. “My father founded the Japanese Baptist Church in Seattle, and after Pearl Harbor and Order 9066 came out, the church was empty,” he said. “Dad stood in the pulpit and looked out at the pews and remembered the faith of the people who were missing. I was only 5 years old when he told me we were going to Twin Falls, Idaho, because that’s where our people were now.”
As supporters of Japanese-Americans, the Andrews family was given an inhospitable reception in Twin Falls. “My father was refused service and picked up and thrown out of the cafe by the owner,” he said to the crowd gathered for Talk Stories. “That same man would stand on the sidewalk in front of our house and call us traitors and turncoats and Jap-lovers. Finally, the man bought the house we were renting, and he forced us to move.”
He paused. “So we moved across the street to another house,” he said to laughter and applause.
Jerry Kleinkopf, a football coach at Twin Falls High School whose father was superintendent of education at the Minidoka Camp, recalled the day a neighbor said to his father, “‘You’re teaching them Japs? You ought to be shooting them instead of teaching them.’”
Kleinkopf emphasized how area farmers in the 1940s would have had a nearly impossible task of harvesting their crops without the help of the internees. “At the time, you couldn’t just go out and buy new farm equipment,” he said. “The people who made tractors were making tanks. Minidoka residents were eager to work and provide labor for the farmers,” he said.
Twin Falls resident Judy Gibson held up a pair of intricately beaded, fringed and lined leather gloves and explained that the internees in Minidoka had made them for her father who worked at the camp. “My father had polio that affected his hands, and they came to him and asked to make a tracing of his hands so they could make these gloves for him, to fit him exactly,” she explained. “My father really cared about them, and the people cared for him, too.”
The Good Side
The incarceration of Japanese-American people has been described as one of the worst violations of Constitutional rights in American history. The majority of the prisoners were U.S. citizens by birth.
Even so, some who were imprisoned see another side to it.
“I have no hard feelings,” said 88-year-old George Tsugawa, who was sent to Minidoka at age 21. “My parents came to America from Japan for a better life, for freedom of religion and opportunities. I think this experience made us better people. We had to try harder. There’s still not another country like the U.S.A. It’s the greatest country in the world.”
Dr. Ruby Inouye Shu, retired physician and Minidoka internee, agreed: “I have no bitterness, because I also look at the good side. If it weren’t for the internment and the war, the Japanese people may have just stayed concentrated on the Pacific Coast and not gone eastward. But we assimilated with other people and taught them that we were okay. So, I have to look at the benefits of internment. I mean, the whole thing is wrong, but if you look at the good side, it’s that now Japanese people are all over the United States.”
“But,” she laughed, “that’s just the good side.”
- George Tsugawa
She said that the closing of camps brought with it their own set of problems. “My father was more worried about leaving the internment camp, because while they were in camp they were given housing and food and they could work and there was nothing to worry about,” she said. “But when they were taken out of the camp and on their own, what would they do to take care of a family? A lot of people had nowhere to go. They had lost everything. That was more of a worry than going to a camp.”
Karaoke, Prayers and Wishes
Following a barbeque hosted by the nearby Prescott Ranch, many in the group gathered at the Red Lion Hotel for cocktails and karaoke. Some former internees joined in to sing the old cowboy song, “Don’t Fence Me In.”
In the morning, we returned to Minidoka for a closing ceremony. The American flag was saluted, and former internee Kay Endo read the honor roll—names of internees who served in World War II. Then, as was typical during the entirety of this emotional weekend, tears were shed as Rev. Brooks Andrews offered a prayer.
“Lord, we come today having traveled a road that has stretched back some 67 years...But we are not overwhelmed. We are over-comers.
As we tell our stories and listen to other stories, we realize that each one of us is a hero of our own story. Thus, we redeem the history of this event...And so we grieve not, but take strength in what remains. Amen.”
A small piece of paper resembling the Japanese daruma doll was given to each person. The daruma is a symbol of wishes for the future, and the custom is to color one of the doll’s eyes while making a wish, and then the other if the wish comes true. We each make a wish and pin the small paper darumas to an 8-foot-tall replica of a guard tower.
It’s hard not to guess that many of us made the same wish—for what happened here 67 years ago to never happen again.