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"How people respond to trauma has been a significant focus of my clinical work and writings.  Over the years I have conducted several workshops for Japanese Americans who were interned as children to explore the ways in which their current lives are being effected by that traumatic event.  It has been an intense and revealing experience."
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Dr. Satsuki Ina


 


"There is no question that the forced removal and incarceration of the Japanese Americans during WWII without due process of law was in fact a traumatic event.  Although much has been discussed and explored regarding the historical, constitutional, and human rights issues associated with this event, we have yet to fully explore the long term psychological consequences of that trauma. "
-
Dr. Satsuki Ina


Tule Lake Reunion Symposium
Sacramento, California - June 1998

By Dr. Satsuki Ina

The Children of the Camps Project began as a personal journey.  My parents were incarcerated at Tule Lake where I was born in 1944. Satsuki Ina, PhD.

Although I was only two when we left to be reunited with my father who was separated from us and incarcerated in Fort Lincoln, North Dakota, I have carried in me a life-long legacy of the Internment experience.

As a psychotherapist for over 20 years, I have worked with many individuals, adults and children, suffering from the long term effects of trauma. 

In the mental health field, trauma is defined as an experience outside of the normal range of human experience:  According to the DSM IV (the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition): "traumatic events that are experienced directly include, but are not limited to, military combat, violent personal assault, being kidnapped, being taken hostage, torture, incarceration as a prisoner of war or in a concentration camp, natural or manmade disasters, etc."  The effects may be especially severe or long-lasting when the stressor is of human design.

There is no question that the forced removal and incarceration of the Japanese Americans during WW II without due process of law was in fact a traumatic event.  Although much has been discussed and explored regarding the historical, constitutional, and human rights issues associated with this event, we have yet to fully explore the long term psychological consequences of that trauma. 

Japanese Americans traditionally have not utilized mental health services so there is very little statistical data to verify the psychological effects of the internment.  Japanese Americans are more likely to turn to their medical doctors and/or ministers for help if they seek any outside help at all.  In my own clinical practice I have found over the years that Japanese American clients were more likely to manifest their psychological symptoms via somatic concerns such as migraines, stomach problems, hypertension.

How people respond to trauma has been a significant focus of my clinical work and writings.  Over the years I have conducted several workshops for Japanese Americans who were interned as children, to explore the ways in which their current lives are being effected by that traumatic event.  It has been an intense and revealing experience.

I have learned that many factors influence the ways in which people learn how to cope with the trauma that has occurred in their lives.  For the Japanese Americans, cultural values and life as an ethnic minority in America led to the embracing of a unique coping style in response to the trauma.  Certainly, Japanese cultural values of gaman (endure), gambaru (persevere), giri (duty), oyakoko (loyalty), on (filial piety), and kodomo no tame ni (sacrifice) guided and helped family members to endure the shame, hardship, and tragedy of being incarcerated and deemed risks to the national security. 

As victims of prejudice, and status as second class citizens, Japanese Americans learned to go with the flow as a means to cope with the feelings of powerlessness and impotence.  Certainly other factors play a part, however, these two significant variables along with natural psychological defense mechanisms that occur in response to trauma have led to an important outcome.  I am proposing that for many Japanese Americans, the normal healing process from the trauma of the betrayal and incarceration has not been complete.

Because trauma often threatens the psychological integrity of the victim, it is a natural response to utilize defense mechanisms to help cope with the overwhelming reality of the event.  Amy Iwasaki Mass in her presentation at the Legacies of Camp Conference in San Francisco in March of this year expressed it well:

"...I tried to understand why so many Americans, Japanese and others were able to rationalize, justify, and deny the injustice and destructiveness of the whole event.  I came to realize that we lulled ourselves into believing the propaganda of the 1940's so that we could maintain our idealized image of a benevolent, protective Uncle Sam.  We were told we were being put away for our own safety.  We were told this was a patriotic sacrifice necessary for national security.  The pain, the trauma, and the stress of the incarceration experience was so overwhelming, we used the psychological defense mechanism of repression, denial, and rationalization to keep us from facing the truth.

"The truth was that the government we trusted, the President we idealized, the country we loved, the nation to which we pledged our loyalty, had betrayed us, had turned against us.  Our natural human feelings of rage, fear, and helplessness were turned inward and buried.  Experiencing and recognizing betrayal by a trusted source leads to a deep depression, a sense of shame, a sense that there must be something bad about me.  Our greatest loss was the loss of our sense of honor and worth."

Psychological defense mechanisms serve the immediate purpose of keeping us from being overwhelmed and disorganized.  However, when trauma is so severe and sustained, people will maintain their defenses even when the immediate source of the threat is no longer imminent.  So to repress, deny, and rationalize the significance of the trauma can cause long term psychological consequences which include, low grade depression, chronic life dissatisfaction, relationship problems, stress related disorders and somatic disorders such as ulcers, hypertension, and heart disease. 

As reflected in the work of Nobu Miyoshi, who has developed the family treatment model for Nikkei families called Exploring Family Legacies, and researchers who have studied Jewish holocaust survivors, these unresolved trauma-related issues are passed down to the next generation.

The Children of the Camps Film Project was developed as a means to facilitate a healing experience for our community.  We felt that it was important that Japanese Americans, not just the individuals who participated in the Children of the Camps workshop, but the larger Japanese American community could benefit from seeing how a group of Nikkei men and women talk honestly about their internment experience. In discussing its impact on them and their families, expressing their pain-filled anger and deeply buried sorrow, it was thought that other Nikkei might see a part of themselves mirrored in the experience, feel validated and encouraged to begin their own process of being released from the invisible barbed wires of camp.  Lawson Inada once wrote to me saying that he was still trying to "get out of camp."

In closing we all developed different ways to cope with our legacy of camp:  some of us work hard in our community, our jobs, and the political arena, some of us write poetry, gather oral histories, and paint pictures, some of us study hard, go to reunions and pilgrimages, some of us are patriotic or have given up on the system, some of us try to forget and some of us have forgiven.  There are many ways to heal from trauma.  I urge you all to commit yourselves to freeing our next generation of Nikkei from the pain of silence and denial.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Talk - Tell your story.
    Some people tell me they have told total strangers more about their experience than their own family members.  Telling your story is a self-affirming process.  In psychotherapy it is believed that by talking about the experience people can gain mastery/understanding about something they have been unable to integrate.

  • Ask and Listen - Make it safe for others to talk.
    Having an accepting, supportive witness to your experience, allows the other to move the pain from within to be shared.  I talked to a very elderly man the other day about a terribly humiliating experience he had suffered as a young boy in camp more than 50 years ago.  After he finished he said, "It was pretty terrible, wasn't it?"  Because our trauma was about betrayal we needed safety to express ourselves.

  • Accept - differences.  Don't judge other people's choices.
    In a time of crisis people respond to trauma in various ways.  We need to heal the wounds within our community and families that occurred because of differences in the way we chose to cope.  The "no, nos", the soldiers, the Kibeis and Niseis, the loyalists, the MIS and the renunciants, the repatriats and the citizens, and even those labeled as "inu" - we were all victims, responding to an untenable circumstance, and we must not turn against one another or shut out our understanding of the other person's choices.  Feeling shame is inherent in our experience.  Amy Iwasaki Mass describes in her paper that as a 6-year-old, the shades drawn on the train taking her to camp meant that she, her family, and "all the Japanese Americans had done something so bad that the people didn't even want to look at us."

  • Empathize - Try to understand how others coped.
    Walk in the other person's shoes and honor how they survived whether it has been through their silence, depression, alcoholism, rage, disengagement or their over-achieving, demanding need to succeed, or by leaving the JA community and finding solace in their anonymity in the larger society.

  • Feel - your feelings and express them.
    Our trauma was extremely wounding but the pain was difficult to express because there was not one person we could identify as the perpetrator.  How do we conceptualize "our government," "the President," "national security," as the perpetrator?  And how do we conceptualize ourselves as prisoners or internees, as citizens or non-alien internees, as "Japs" or as Americans?  When a human being is wounded, it is natural to feel hurt.  When the hurt is so profound, and so ambiguous, we often cannot express the pain so we respond naturally with anger as a protective response to the wounding.  However, if its viewed as unsafe to express any anger, that there could be even more harmful consequences, we bury the anger and sometimes turn that inward in order to cope.  Post traumatic stress disorder is a phenomenon whereby even years later, the buried emotions begin to break through the defenses and memories and even body sensations are re-experienced.  Our minds may forget, but our bodies never do, and deep inside of every cell a memory trace is stored of every event we ever experienced and the sensations and feelings that occurred with them.  Expressing feelings allows us to resolve our grief and get closure.  As a community some of this occurred with the redress.  As individuals, talking, acknowledging, listening with empathy can support the process of healing.

  • Acknowledge - the truth about your losses.

  • Identify - the strengths you gained.

  • Finish - any unfinished business.
    Are there family members or family friends to whom you might need to make amends, ask questions, provide answers?

  • Teach - tolerance is learned.
    Stand up for others whose rights to equality are being challenged whether it is a racial joke or slur or a piece of legislation.  Speak up and teach others, children and adults, about the injustices that could occur when people are dehumanized by stereotyping and prejudice.

  • Cherish - your freedom.
    Vote, participate in being heard.  Encourage others to do the same.

 




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