September 21, 2011

VMMC – Volunteer Spotlight: Ann Fujii Lindwall

Posted in Japanese American Incarceration, Minidoka Pilgrimage tagged , , , , , , , at 12:31 pm by minidokapilgrimage

One of our own pilgrimage committee members had her community volunteer work spotlighted by her employer, Virginia Mason Medical Center.  Check it out!

Volunteer Spotlight: Ann Lindwall

Virginia Mason Medical Center
August 29, 2011

Near the town of Twin Falls, Idaho is a designated national monument that many of us have never heard of. But Virginia Mason’s Ann Fujii Lindwall could tell you plenty about the 73-acre site. Grandparents on her mother’s side were incarcerated there, at what was once the Minidoka Relocation Center for Japanese Americans forcibly detained during World War II.

Some may know the word “internment” to describe the detention camps, but the term is misleading. Internment is defined as the “legally permissible detention of enemy aliens in time of war;” however, at least two-thirds of the incarcerated Japanese Americans were U.S. citizens.

Today, very little remains of the original Minidoka structures, but soon an original barrack will be restored, along with reconstruction of the camp’s mess hall. Ann knows about the development first-hand since visiting the site as a volunteer and participant in the 2011 Minidoka Pilgrimage. The pilgrimage is an annual event in which families of those incarcerated, friends and others gather to share stories, tour the camp, attend workshops, visit with the local community and educate younger generations about what happened nearly 70 years ago.

“I became aware of it because of my parents,” says Ann, whose grandparents on her father’s side were also detained in a camp known as Tule Lake in California. “They were very involved in Seattle’s Japanese American community and their commitment made an impression on me.”

Ann’s dad was a young teenager when his parents had to give up their family business — a restaurant and tavern — to report to the camp at Tule Lake. Families had just days to vacate their homes, taking only what they could carry, losing farms, businesses and their way of life. Regardless of citizenship, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were ordered to evacuate the West Coast and stay at one of 10 camps located in Idaho, California, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas.

Once in the camps, material losses were overshadowed by the deconstruction of traditions and culture. For example, only the Nisei, or American-born prisoners, were permitted any authority within the camps, a humiliating dishonor to their immigrant parents and elders. More than 5,500 incarcerated Nisei renounced their American citizenship, but a federal judge later voided the renunciations, ruling that doing so while imprisoned was not valid. Despite the unrest, thousands of Japanese Americans entered the armed forces to defend the U.S., forming the all-Japanese, highly decorated 442nd Regimental Combat Team.

“We need to make sure these stories get out because they create a true picture of what happened,” says Ann. “My volunteer work with the Minidoka Pilgrimage Committee is focusing more on the fourth and fifth generations now so they will carry on the story. If we don’t have a mechanism to keep gathering and sharing the information, it can be lost.”

Ann points to the work of Seattle resident Tom Ikeda, a third-generation Japanese American who in 1996 started the nonprofit organization Densho, a Japanese term which means “to pass on to the next generation.” The initial goal was to document oral histories from Japanese Americans incarcerated in the camps. Densho’s mission has since evolved to preserve and make accessible other source materials on the incarceration, including photos, documents and newspapers. Like the Minidoka Pilgrimage, Densho works to provide a clear lens for examining a time in our country’s history when panic and intolerance tore at the fabric of our democracy.

Though Ann has volunteered for more than 30 years supporting Asian American civil rights, she considers her involvement with the Minidoka Pilgrimage her most important work. Ultimately, it’s not just about one group of Americans, she says: many groups of people have been singled out and suffered unspeakable mistreatment and loss, both in America and around the world. It’s about being aware of what can happen when emotions seed misguided actions and oppression against a people.

“Someone at our debrief meeting said it scares him that there really isn’t anything in place today to prevent something like what happened almost 70 years ago from happening again,” says Ann. “The more people know what actually happened, the more we can understand what emotions took us there. People need to understand that we’re all in this together.”