Dealing with Japanese American Incarceration

Overcoming Adversity, Forgiveness, Prejudice, Asian American
Curated By
Keiko McCullough

Keiko McCullough is a doctoral student at Indiana University Bloomington studying Counseling Psychology. Keiko graduated summa cum laude from the University of Akron with her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology in 2015. Her research interests, broadly, focus on the intersections of race, gender, and new media. She additionally studies men of color and masculinities, Asian American mental health, positive psychology, and feminist issues.

In This Guide:

During World War II, over 120,000 individuals of Japanese ancestry were removed from their homes and put in American concentration camps. Of the survivors, many had nowhere to go upon release and no means of making a living. This guide will offer some things to say that may be encouraging to a survivor or descendent of a survivor of Japanese American Incarceration. 

They Might Be Thinking:

  •  I can’t talk about what happened. If I tried, no one would understand.
  • My family lost everything. We never got back what we lost. 
  • I can’t express how meaningful this history is to me and my family. Even if we don’t talk about it, it’s still there. 
  • I wish other people knew about what happened. 
  • I am beyond angry and upset. 
  • I feel disconnected from Japanese culture because my family was forced to assimilate.
  • It’s heartbreaking to me that people don’t acknowledge that this was cultural genocide. 
  • I want to move beyond the trauma we’ve experienced. 
  • I wish I knew more about what life in the camps was like. 
  • I never want this to happen to anyone, ever again. 
  • It’s confusing for me to think about both the terrible and joyous moments that happened in the camps. 
  • I wish I knew others who I could comfortably talk about this with. 
  • People don’t understand that this continues to affect my life. 
  • My family was forced to make impossible choices while in the camps.   

Words That Might Be Encouraging:

  •  I can’t imagine what you and your family have been through. 
  • You have been able to achieve so much (provide examples). Your resilience is incredible. 
  • This is a really intimate and personal history. Please know that you are welcome to share or not share whatever you would like. 
  • Given what you’ve gone through, I am in awe of your persistence and strength. 
  • What happened is almost incomprehensible. I am so sorry. 
  • Your story is important. Thank you for choosing to share it with me. 
  • I feel sad when I think about how this has negatively affected you - someone that I care very much for. 
  • Though I could never fully understand what happened, I want to learn more.
  • I appreciate the complexities of the situation and the different feelings that may come up when talking about it. What you are feeling is valid. 
  • What happened was not okay….and it has really damaging and lasting consequences.
  • I want to be here for you now in whatever way you feel is best. 

Words That Might Be Discouraging:

  • That was so long ago. How is that still relevant?
  • I don’t see how this is a big deal. I am sure it wasn’t that bad.  
  • The government has apologized. The past is in the past.
  • What a weird thing to bring up now. 
  • That would never happen again. 
  • Why are you so upset over this? 
  • Everyone was treated humanely. 
  • America messed up…but it was a stressful time in history. 
  • We don’t really need to talk about this. 
  • I think what happened made sense at the time. 
  • It wasn’t like the American government was killing people. 
  • I don’t know much about what happened. You can tell me though, right?
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