A Dedication to My Father: Born & Raised in America

Phillip M. Ozeki (nickname Mibo) was born on March 16, 1944 at Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. His parents Ben and Mae Ozeki along with his grandparents, 1-year old sister Carol, aunts, uncles, cousins were among the 120,000 Japanese American placed in internment camps during WWII under Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066. The conditions were bare minimum and Heart Mountain was not a hospitable place in the winter, especially for the many internees who were coming from the warm West Coast. My father's family were the last to arrive at the camp after their stay in horse stalls at Santa Anita Race Track, the government's temporary holding area for internees. They arrived in the winter of 1943 with no winter coats. 

The Nisei (2nd generation) worked hard to deal with the conditions of the camp and create a new normal, even with soldiers guns pointed in toward them within the confines of fences. This was a generation as a whole who tried hard to prove they were American. Some fought back and pointed to the racial injustice of their incarceration. Others stayed quiet believing the government was protecting them from harm. 

As you take a look at this collage, you will see my father's baby pictures and images of the barracks behind him. When they left the camps, like so many other internees, my family lost personal property and the land they farmed. They started from scratch and they adjusted to their new normal in Los Angeles. My dad lived an American boyhood, he joined the Boy Scouts and received all his badges with his dad by his side as Scout Master. He journeyed to Philmont and earned his Eagle Scout badge. In school, he was the mischievous child who enjoyed the occasional practical joke. He looked and lived like your typical American kid in the 1950s. 

It was not until later in his young adulthood he started to ask why he was born in an internment camp and why the U.S. government thought they were justified to imprison so many people because of their race. Also, why treat one race like animals. These questions are relevant now as much as then. The internment camps were only the American variation of the Nazi's concentration camps and yet this part of history is buried in a paragraph in our school books. At the root Dad and now I ask: what does it mean to be an American and who determines if you're American? Do I get to determine my identity if others already have a perception based on my exterior?

Closing thought: As a 4th generation Japanese American and 5th generation Chinese American, the microagression aimed at me from time to time comes in the form of the following question "no really...where are you from?"  
These questions of identity are not so much questions I need answers to, but are reflective of a situation I experience here in this country.