The Japanese American Experience

“The only limitations you have are the ones you put on yourself.”

By Noah Dyson

Background Information
The two speakers who came are Terry Shima and Mary Murakami to give us the Japanese American experience, specifically during World War II. Terry Shima is a veteran of the famed all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team in World War II. Mary Murakami was sent with her family to be interned at Camp Topaz during the war. Their experience showed us two perspectives of the Japanese American experience — one is fighting for a country to prove your loyalty when they have disowned you, and another is being treated less than human in a country that she thought was home. But, there is one sad and depressing similarity they both faced: discrimination and prejudice for having Japanese origin.

Our Experience
During our discussion with these profound individuals they gave us background information that you would not normally read in your US History textbook, like how families who were sent to internment camps put their possessions in a church that would eventually be broken into. We learned about the 442nd role and job during the war. This discussion showed us exactly how a race of people were able to overcome prejudice and discrimination, while forgiving those who played a big hand in it.

The Big Ideas
Shima-san and Murakami-san experiences caused a lot of debate as to what the big idea would be. Terry Shima explained the conflict between his family of how his parents were still loyal to Japan because it was their birth country, while they told their son (Terry) that he should fight for the US. And to just prove his loyalty, but because it was his duty to defend his home. From this experience we came up with the big idea “Do what you believe in. Love your country.” It truly shocked us how loyal the soldiers were to the US because on the homefront their brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers were facing discrimination and sometimes inhumane treatment. Terry Shima experienced war he had brothers who fought right by his side die in front of eyes. Yet he was loyal to his home, his country, and his duty.

Mary Murakami explained the discrimination and the unjust treatment her family faced while being in an internment camp. One of the things that her family faced was the division of loyalty and the constant struggle of being less than human. In her camp Japanese Americans were divided and interrogated to see whether or not they were loyal to Japan. Her parents were loyal to Japan, but they were also not proud of what Japan had done. But they would not deny their home country. This experience led us to make another big idea that states, “We are of the same blood, but we have different ideas of loyalty.” This was more understandable to us because we could picture ourselves in their shoes.

Murakami-san herself experienced unjust treatment when she was allowed to go to high school. She told us how the government pretty much guessed, then eventually declared that the only job was going to have in the future was a musician or a music teacher. They came to this conclusion because as a child she was active in studying the violin. But, through hard work throughout high school and later college, she became a scientist. Out of this experience we chose the big idea “The only limitation you have are the ones you put on yourself.” This stood out the most because everyone faces stereotypes and it is up to us to either live that stereotype or overcome it and be better.