Japanese Internees Remember Encampments

On February 19th, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed executive order 9066, sending an estimated 120,000 US residents of Japanese descent to relocation centers and internment camps.

Since that time, two US presidents have apologized for Roosevelt’s action and surviving camp members have received reparations from the US government. While unusual, these actions have not erased the memories of those who lived in a camp.

Karen Jiobu was a toddler when President Roosevelt signed executive order 9066. Her parents and seven brothers and sisters had three days to prepare to leave Lodi, California for the Gila river relocation camp about 50 miles from Phoenix.

Jiobu just recently obtained from her older brother the story of their family’s hurried departure from their home

Jiobu’s family traded California’s San Joaquin Valley known for grapes and abundant other produce for the Arizona desert where her siblings cautioned her not to crawl under the barbed wire fence for fear of being caught by the “Gila monster.”

Jiobu’s memories of the camp are few and not unpleasant, but over the years following her family’s time at Gila river, Jiobu’s efforts to find out more about the camp from her family were unsuccessful.

Jiobu says when she and surviving members of her family returned to the former site of the Gila river internment camp 50 years after the fact, her siblings still had trouble talking about the experience.

A few years ago, Jiobu took a public speaking course. She encountered problems while working on an assignment to write a 3-minute speech on something that affected her life.

Jiobu is working with Ohio State University history professor Judy Wu and several students on the Japanese-American internment project. Students will interview ten internees currently living in Ohio about their experiences in camps and present their findings in March.

Jiobu says she has more than one reason for breaking her years of silence about the time she spent in a camp. She’s discovered that many young people in this area have never heard of the internment camps. Jiobu says, since the terrorist attacks of 9-11, she’s seeing things happening again to other groups hate crimes . People being singled out based on the way they look.

Another reason for her eagerness to be part of the student project . She is interviewing members of her own family to learn more about their experiences at Gila River. Her siblings are in their late 70′s and, she says it’s their last chance to tell their stories.

Residents of the internment camp were not allowed to have cameras, but gee-oh-boo says some did. She’s looked at pictures from Gila River and other camps and struggled with what they don’t show.

Among the few stories Jiobu remembers from her time in the Gila River internment camp is an evening at the movies with her family.

The cicadas were humming, Karen Jiobu says, the sun was setting. It was a good memory.