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Alice Imamoto Takemoto Recalls Her Journey From Relocation Camp To Oberlin Conservatory Student

[Photo: Stephanie Jarvis/ideastream]

On February 19, 1942, just 10 weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Roosevelt signed executive order 9066, which eventually allowed the U.S. government to relocate more than 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry to internment camps. The reasoning: Because they looked like -- and shared heritage with -- the enemy, they needed to be confined for reasons of national security. Two-thirds of those rounded up were American citizens.

Alice Imamoto Takemoto was a teenager when the war first broke out, forced from her community in Norwalk, California into an assembly camp in Santa Anita before eventually being moved to a relocation camp in Arkansas.

“I blocked out so much of Arkansas, because I think it was such an unhappy time,” said Takemoto. “The wartime was difficult to explain how we as a minority felt. And being put into the camp, I thought maybe there was a reason for, maybe I did something wrong.”

At just 16 years old, Alice left Arkansas with her sister, Grace, after gaining acceptance as a conservatory student at Oberlin College. Her story, now being presented, along with photos, artifacts and essays of the nearly 40 Japanese American students who came to Oberlin during the course of World War II.

These students’ stories, once a mostly forgotten footnote in history, are being told and celebrated through a national traveling exhibit called “Courage and Compassion: Our Shared Story of the Japanese American World War II Experience”. At its stop in Northeast Ohio, Oberlin, with its proud history as a haven for the oppressed, shares its role in providing a refuge and an education to students like these.

“This is really a moment where a community stood up and said we don't need to racially profile an entire group of people in order to achieve our national security,” said Renee Romano, a history professor at Oberlin. “That is not the right way to do it. It is not the right way to protect this country. And in fact, it violates the ideals that this country stands for.”

For Alice Takemoto, the adjustment from camp to college life did not come easy.

“I remember when I walked into any class I couldn't converse with people, and it was very hard for me to make friends," said Takemoto. “I felt like I was out of place, and I did not feel… actually you know, I was not comfortable in my own skin.”

Alice found comfort in her music and the Worcester family, who took her in during her junior year.

With a smile on her face, Alice recalled seeing the old pictures of her classmates and speaking to children visiting the exhibit.

“We just saw it this morning, and what I’m pleased is to have schoolchildren come to visit and to learn something about what’s happened,” said Takemoto. “And of course I just hope that it doesn’t happen again to another group of people.”

Additional Information

History and programming schedule for the Courage and Compassion exhibit

When Oberlin Opened Its Arms To Japanese-American Students During WWII

Oberlin is the fourth stop for the traveling exhibit. Learn more about the other communities that helped support Japanese Americans during and after WWII.

stephanie.jarvis@ideastream.org | 216-916-6340