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Separation policy stirs internment memories for Japanese Americans in Chicago

A consortium of Asian American groups brought together by the Japanese American Service Community to participate in the Families Belong Together march starting in Daley Plaza on Saturday. | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

Talbert Shinsako doesn’t remember much about Tule Lake, the California internment camp he was born at while his family was incarcerated during World War II.

Even without memories of the place, Shinsako said that he wants to make sure families never go through a similar experience.

Video by James Foster | Talbert Shinsak, who was born in an American internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II,

On Saturday, ahead of the larger Families Belong Together march, Shinsako joined around 100 other Japanese and Asian Americans outside of the Chicago Cultural Center to call for changes in immigration policies and to unite Asian American groups to increase their visibility and make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself.

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“I wanted to show support for what’s going on and to stop what’s happening to people,” Shinsako said. “We don’t want to see what happened to us happen to anyone else.”

Separating children from parents at the border reminded speakers at the rally of similar policies that broke apart families during World War II — when Japanese families were taken from their homes and placed in internment camps — though many use the term “incarcerated” in place of “internment” because they were citizens.

Parallels in Trump administration policies are the reason why Japanese and other Asian American organizations came together Saturday. Their post-war motto of “Never again” was revived and revised to “Never again is now.”

For Ryan Yokota, development and legacy center director for the Japanese American Service Committee, said Saturday’s demonstrations were a “battle for the soul [of the U.S.] and what it means to be American.” His great grandfather was also incarcerated at the Fort Missoula camp in Montana.

Yokota says that while many Japanese Americans know the rally and march will not end contentious immigration policies, they do see the actions as a launch pad for a larger movement.

“We in this community realized we couldn’t stand idly by and watch this happen again,” Yokota said. “‘Never again is now’ is our motto to show that we stand with those who’ve been separated and that the moment to stop this is now.”