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[autop] In 1973 Neil Nakadate asked his mother a question that had long been on his mind: Why had she never talked about her experiences during World War II? "It was too painful," the daughter of Japanese immigrants answered. "Well, maybe I could start talking about it now."

The conversation was a watershed moment for Nakadate, University Professor Emeritus of English at Iowa State University. His curiosity about his Oregon family’s forced evacuation and incarceration in a WWII "internment camp" in southern Idaho has led to a new book.


"Looking After Minidoka – An American Memoir" is Nakadate’s powerful story of the discrimination faced by his Japanese American family. Minidoka was the incarceration camp where members of Nakadate’s extended family lived from 1942 until their release in 1945. The 2013 memoir, published by Indiana University Press, weaves Nakadate’s family narrative within the framework of national issues of immigration, prejudice and civil rights for Japanese Americans living in the West.

Nakadate will discuss and read from his memoir on Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 7 p.m. in the Iowa State Memorial Union Sun Room. The Asian American Studies Program, the Department of English (academic units in ISU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences) and the ISU Committee on Lectures are sponsoring the lecture, which is open to the public.

Japanese Americans living in the West had been the subject of prejudice and discrimination since they began arriving in America in the late 1800s.

Then, their conditions worsened.

The U.S. government placed weighty restrictions on them immediately after the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Some were arrested because of "military necessity" and by 1942 the U.S. "had to find somewhere to put 110,000 civilians it had labeled a threat to national security," Nakadate wrote.

Nakadate’s maternal grandparents – resident aliens born in Japan – and his mother – a U.S. citizen – along with other kin were forced to leave their homes and eventually were resettled at Minidoka. They had one week to dispose of or store all their major belongings. The dusty, windblown Idaho camp housed 9,397 people of all ages. Like the other camps that quickly sprouted up west of the Mississippi, it was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and armed guards and offered few comforts.

The government eventually permitted Nakadate’s mother to leave the camp to go to Indiana to marry. Nakadate’s father, also a U.S. citizen, was a physician in residency. His Midwest locale sheltered him from incarceration faced by those in the West, although the FBI questioned him. About a year later, Neil Nakadate was born. As a toddler he spent six months at Minidoka while his mother visited her parents and attended to family business.

Ironically, while his relatives were incarcerated, Nakadate’s father entered the U.S. Army, as did many Japanese Americans. He served in Europe as a doctor and was wounded four times in battle. One near-fatal wound led to a three-month stay in an Army hospital.

For years Nakadate, who joined the Iowa State faculty in 1977, heard small bits of his family’s past, but never the entire story. "The incarceration, the internment during World War II, was not talked about much by the people who were affected, partly because it had been so traumatic and partly because they wanted to move forward; they didn’t want to keep going back.

"It was three decades after the war when my mother finally believed she could talk about it."

Researching and writing the book taught Nakadate much about the lives of the women in his family and how they overcame the challenges of the times. "Half the greatest generation was female," said Nakadate, who also realized his good fortune of growing up as a post-war American boy in Portland and earning a college education. "I became aware of how much the previous two generations had done for my generation to succeed."

Nakadate realized something else: The issues faced by his parents and grandparents were not unique to Japanese Americans.

"The concerns and the events that took place 70 years ago involved issues that continue to be important to American life: immigration, citizenship, language, workers’ rights and civil rights." [/autop]

    “Looking After Minidoka – An American Memoir” can be purchased at Indiana University Press and at Amazon.com.

[story_footer author="Steve Jones" read_more="alumni"]