Japanese-Peruvian veteran of US concentration camps dies waiting for justice

Isamu (Art) Shibayama, a rights advocate for Latin Americans of Japanese descent who were detained in prison camps in the United States during World War II, died July 31 at his home in San Jose, Calif. Born in Lima, Peru, in 1930, Shibayama was 13 when his family was detained and forcibly shipped to the United States on a vessel charted by the US armed forces. They were among some 2,000 Japanese-Peruvians who were rounded up and turned over to the US military for detention after the Pearl Harbor attack. Upon their arrival in New Orleans, the family was transported to the “internment camp” for Japanese-Americans at Crystal City, Texas. The family would remain in detention until 1946.

Washington’s agenda in holding the Latin Americans of Japanese descent was twofold. One ostensible aim was to make the nation’s southern border less vulnerable to infiltration or attack; the other was to possibly trade them for US prisoners of war or civilians stranded in Japan after the war broke out. Shibayama’s  grandparents, also held at a Texas detention camp, would be deported to Japan in an exchange for Americans held there.

After the war, the rest of the Shibayama family were finally released—only to find themselves stranded in the US, because Peru refused to take them back. They fought deportation to Japan and were allowed to remain in the US on condition that they obtain the support of a sponsor. Although Shibayama was drafted into the US Army in 1952, the family only won citizenship in 1972. Shibayama eventually became a gas station owner in San Jose.

After the Office of Redress Administration was established by the Justice Department in 1988 to indemnify Japanese-Americans who had been detained during the war, Shibayama applied for reparations. His request was turned down on the basis that only Japanese-Americans who had been citizens or permanent residents during the war were eligible.

In 1996, a coalition of Japanese Latin Americans united as the Campaign for Justice, and sued for reparations. In 1999, the federal government expressed regret and awarded each of the litigants $5,000—compared with the $20,000 in tax-free restitution paid to Americans of Japanese descent for their wartime detention. Shibayama declined the payment and sued on his own, in Shibayama v. Reno. After losing in federal court, he and two of his brothers, Ken and Tac, filed a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2002. Sixteen years later, Art Shibayama’s brothers are still awaiting a decision from the IACHR. (NYT, Asian Weekly, Legacy.com, Tessaku)

The June Supreme Court decision upholding President Trump’s Muslim “travel ban” paradoxically contained language rejecting as “gravely wrong” the  1944 Korematsu case, which upheld the forced internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II.

Photo via the New York Times