By LILY TINOCO | Reporter
Palisadian Ted Tanaka led Palisades Charter High School students through a captivating presentation of his life before, during and after being incarcerated in a World War II Japanese-American internment camp on Wednesday, December 4.
Tanaka began with stories about his early life in west Los Angeles, Sawtelle Japantown, before him and his family were forcibly detained at the Manzanar Relocation Center following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Tanaka said that is when “all hell broke loose.”
“My mom and dad and I found ourselves being bussed, no knowledge of when we would be released, what it was, what we would do there,” Tanaka said.
Together they lived in a single desert barrack where they would face scorching temperatures in the summer and cold, harsh winters. He lived on Block 24, Barracks 2 Unit #4.
“Each barrack would come with one light bulb, one pot or stove,” Tanaka said. “Each of us got one metal cot with a mattress bag filled with straw, and that was our bed for as long as we were going to be there … home.”
After being released from the internment camps, Tanaka and his family returned to Los Angeles, this time to a home one block south of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
“With just a stroke of luck, my parents had done gardening and house cleaning in Beverly Hills and a customer became a personal friend and told my mom, ‘You have our house key, whenever it is you get released … you have a place to land,’” Tanaka shared.
That year Tanaka was enrolled in Beverly Hills’ Hawthorne Elementary and started first grade. But as Tanaka grew older, he realized that his family would never acknowledge the incarceration—the subject was completely off-limits.
“My parents never uttered a word about being incarcerated, not even an expression, it’s like it never happened,” he said.
In recent times, his close friends began encouraging him to do what he is doing now, speaking from his personal experience of racial incarceration, a talk that is on its way to becoming an international speaking tour. Tanaka said that by the end of next year, he hopes to reach up to 13 cities, including Paris and Tokyo.
But Tanaka’s stop at Pali High was a collective student effort. Pali High’s Asian Student Union invited Tanaka and organized the after school event with the help of their president, Sarah Kageyama.
“My grandparents were in the Japanese internment camps and my mom actually had Ted Tanaka’s contact information,” Kageyama said. “This year in ASU I’ve been trying to organize guest speakers and a broad range of people and their experiences.”
What was originally supposed to be an event for Pali High’s Asian Student Union became a schoolwide event with hundreds of students in attendance.