Gila River, Arizona
by Linda Okazaki
It was 100 degrees when we got out of the car on this late September afternoon. Dry. Barren. Windswept. Flat. Beautiful mountains in the distance. We parked next to what had formerly been the Native American Gift Shop. Surrounded by chain linked fence and litter, it had been closed for about four years. Supposedly there was a tribute to the internment camps inside, but there was no way to know for sure.
Just outside of the fence stood three plaques honoring the internees and also those who lost their lives in WWII. As we approached the markers, dozens of dark-colored birds flew from the overhanging tree. We carefully cleaned the droppings from the display in order to read the inscriptions.
Visiting the actual internment camp would have been more challenging. The site sits on Native American land and a permit is required. Unfortunately, this $200 permit takes up to six weeks to secure. If we ever have the chance to return, we will be sure to obtain the paperwork in advance.
Imagine what Hamako must have felt arriving here. She left Japan as a 17 year old newlywed who barely knew her husband. After living the American dream for a few years and starting a family, her husband was arrested by the FBI. Communication with him was infrequent and heavily censored. She and her children were forcibly taken to first live in the horse stables at the Tulare fairgrounds before being sent by train to Gila River. Tee and other Nissei recall listening to their mothers, grandmothers and aunties weeping, but not really understanding why.
Now I weep for them.