Students, faculty and community members gathered on Thurs., Feb. 23 to listen to Sam Mihara’s harrowing experience in a Wyoming Japanese internment camp during World War II.
Mihara, along with his family and friends, were relocated from his San Francisco home to Heart Mountain as a result of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, which granted the removal of Japanese Americans from their homes into internment camps due to the rising tension between the United States and Japan.
Mihara is a first generation Japanese American, and as such he has the full legal protection of the Constitution. In 1942, however, the executive order overlooked his constitutional rights, a concept which he reiterated throughout his presentation.
For three years he was dubbed “26737D” instead of Sam Mihara. His home was no longer the familiar Japantown in San Francisco, rather room “14-22-C” – a 20-by-20 foot barrack shared by his five-member family. He had to use a bathroom without dividers, just one of many limits on his privacy. There were curfews and rules strictly enforced by armed military personnel.
Mihara and the other 120,000 Japanese Americans held throughout the country were released after three years. During his detention, Mihara’s family had to endure the passing of his grandfather, as well as his father going blind from inadequate healthcare.
In 2011, Mihara helped create the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, a museum on the campsite. He went on to graduate from University of California, Berkeley and University of California, Los Angeles graduate school with engineering degrees. Later, he worked as a rocket scientist with Boeing and has helped launch rockets into space.
Mihara drew comparisons between racial intolerance towards Japanese to prejudices which those from the Middle East, in particular, experience today.
“As a community, Japanese Americans were the first to help the plight of Muslims,” Mihara said.
Audience members asked questions suggesting that they saw similarities between this legal failure and what courts will hear defense attorneys argue in upcoming challenges to President Trump’s Executive Order 13769, frequently referred to as the “Muslim Ban.”
Mihara emphasized the importance of tolerance for cultures, and put his firsthand experience with racism in the context of the political atmosphere in 2017. He concluded his presentation by explaining what factors allowed for this stain in American history.
“Prejudice, hysteria and leaders fail[ing] led to this,” Mihara said. “I could see the characteristics of those three right now.”