When growing up, Terie Miyamoto would hear her older relatives talk about something that happened while they were at “Camp” and assume they meant a summer or sleepaway camp.
It wasn’t until Miyamoto was much older that she learned the truth: “Camp” meant one of the concentration camps where the U.S. government forced Japanese-Americans to live during World War II.
To commemorate her family’s forced internment, Miyamoto and several of her relatives went to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, Calif., U.S.A. in late March 2023 to stamp her mother’s name in the Ireichō, the sacred book that holds the names of over 125,000 people incarcerated at U.S. Army, Department of Justice, Wartime Civil Control Administration and War Relocation Authority camps.
Miyamoto’s older half-sister Lilian, whose existence Miyamoto only learned about after her mother’s death, was among the relatives who joined her at the museum.
When Miyamoto’s mother Yoshiko Ogata was 16, she got pregnant and had to give up her daughter Lilian for adoption. Lilian wound up at an orphanage located at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California. Ogata, who with her family was relocated to the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho, was unable to find Lilian after the war.
“I never knew about her until after my mom had passed away,” Miyamoto says. She met Lilian for the first time in 2019, after her sister’s son tracked her down via research at the U.S. National Archives.
Going to the museum with Lilian – only the second time they had been together – and stamping her mother’s name was “very, very emotional,” according to Miyamoto. “I got very teary-eyed.”
“I really do believe that my mom’s spirit was there, [as well as those of] my relatives,” she says. “That’s what I was thinking, that we were finally there to honor them for the injustice [they went through] and that their spirits were with us.
“And we had all these serendipitous things that happened to us during the day and I thought, oh, that’s not coincidence,” she continues. “That’s my mom. And you know, our relatives, my Aunt Connie, my Aunt Marge, helping us out.”
One of the big takeaways from the museum trip for Miyamoto was “that we just have to make sure that this gets in our history books for our kids to remember,” she says.
I really do believe that my mom’s spirit was there, [as well as those of] my relatives.Terie Miyamoto
“With everything that they’re banning now, books of this and books of that, is that it’s just not being taught in schools,” according to Miyamoto. “I never really knew about it myself. In fact, when I was young, we were visiting my aunts and uncles in Seattle. They would just talk about “camp,” and I thought it was that they just went to a summer camp like we do.
“And then later on, gosh, when I was in college, then my mom talked a little bit about it and said, ‘No, it’s not summer camp. It was because we were of Japanese ancestry and we got rounded up and had to go to Idaho,'” Miyamoto says.
Miyamoto remembers one time as an adult, driving from Colorado to Washington State, and seeing a sign for the Minidoka National Historic Site in Idaho.
“So I detoured and drove there, and I’ll tell you, when I was getting closer, I got so emotional to think, ‘Here are my grandparents who didn’t really speak English, and my mom and her siblings coming from Seattle, which is so beautiful, to this prairie, this sage brush, this desolate area.’
We just have to make sure that this gets in our history books for our kids to remember.Terie Miyamoto
“And it just made, I mean, I started crying,” she continues. “It was just so emotional. And there was still a guard tower there, and there were a couple of buildings, out buildings. I think one was the mess hall, but I, I can hardly even believe that we did this to, to these people. To our people. My people.”
During that time, Miyamoto’s father was off in Europe fighting in the most decorated military unit of the war, the 442nd Infantry Regiment.
“And here was my dad. My dad had not met my mother yet, but he was fighting in the 442nd. He was fighting overseas and I thought, what is wrong with this picture?” she says.
Her father Teruo “Ted” Miyamoto, like many in the “Greatest Generation,” never spoke much about his experiences during the war, except for one instance.
When Miyamoto was in seventh grade, her Latin teacher singled her out on December 7th and asked her what day it was.
“And I knew what she meant and I just said, ‘I don’t know.’ And she ripped me apart in front of the class and she said, ‘You don’t know? You don’t know? This is the day that the J*ps bombed Pearl Harbor. And you don’t know that?’
“And I, I couldn’t even speak,” Miyamoto continues. “I was in shock. And so I went home and I told my dad, and he was furious. And so he set up a meeting with the Dean of Girls and that teacher and myself, and that’s when he said, ‘You know what? You don’t ever insinuate that my family was part of Pearl Harbor.’ He said, ‘I fought for this country and defended it during World War II and to insinuate that our family was part of Pearl Harbor is wrong.'”
I can hardly even believe that we did this to, to these people. To our people. My people.Terie Miyamoto
Miyamoto dropped the class and never had that woman as a teacher again.
“I never went back to her class and that’s when I knew my dad had served because he would never talk about it,” she says.
When Miyamoto moved to Colorado, she moved a lot of her father’s things from her childhood home to her new one.
In one of those boxes was a Bronze Star, “and so I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I never even knew Dad had this,'” she says.
“And so I had it all framed in a shadow box and I gave it to him for Father’s Day and he said, ‘I don’t want that.’ He said, ‘You just keep it at your house,’ because he just never wanted to talk about it. It was so horrific for him,” she continues.
While in Los Angeles, Miyamoto also visited the Go For Broke Monument that commemorates the service of Japanese Americans during the war.
Overall, the trip to California was a spiritual journey for Miyamoto on a myriad of levels.
“I do think it’s that spiritual connection we had at the stamping,” she says. “And my mom drawing my sister to me during our reunion. I mean, that just, it just can’t be that coincidental to me that that was her spirit.”