Kiyo Sato: From a WWII Japanese Interment Camp to a Life of Service
Author: Connie Goldsmith with Kiyo Sato
Publisher: Twenty-First Century Books
release date: September 1, 2020
Format/Genre/Length: Hardback/Historical Biography/136 pages
Personal Rating: ★★★★
December 7, 1941 was a traumatic occasion for all Americans, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, but especially for those Americans of Japanese heritage. The government, in its overly suspicious infinite wisdom, decided the best thing to do in order to avoid having subversives inside the country, was to round up these citizens and send them to places where they could be closely guarded. For the safety of the nation.
Kiyo Sato was one of nine children of Shinji and Tomomi Sato. Her parents came from Japan and started not only a farm, but a family, in the Sacramento area. President Franklin Roosevelt signed two executive orders in 1942, ordering the internment of the Japanese Americans on the West Coast. Perhaps the reasoning was that they were closer to Japan and more likely to be spies. The Satos were sent to a camp in Poston, Arizona. This is their story, as related by Kiyo Sato, the oldest of the nine siblings, to Connie Goldsmith.
Looking back from a great distance, it sems inconceivable that American citizens could be treated this way simply because of their heritage. Many of them had never even been to Japan and couldn’t speak Japanese. Because they had to leave most everything behind, many of them lost their homes, their livelihoods and most of what they owned, including beloved pets. They were only permitted to bring one suitcase per person. One internment camp was an abandoned racetrack, where people slept in the former horse stalls under very unsanitary conditions.
This is a heartbreaking story, and yet it’s also a story of hope and resilience of spirit, and how one family endured and thrived. The Japanese have a saying: shikata ga nai – accept what cannot be changed. However, it is appalling to me that this ever happened, and year s later the courts agreed that there was no need for this to take place. The survivors were awarded reparations, but no amount could change what happened or give them that time back. This country should be ashamed of having their version of the German concentration camps, call them what you will. Hard to take the high moral ground after that.
I am privileged to know the niece of Kiyo Sato, Pamela Sato, who is the person who told me about the book. I think all Americans should know what their country is/was capable of – think Guantanamo Bay. I highly recommend this book. Also, Kiyo wrote a book in her own words, Kiyo’s Story, which I intend to read.