READ: WWII Internment Camp Survivor Visits Detention Centers, Illuminates Striking Similarities

By Sameer Rao Apr 12, 2016

Satsuki Ina understands the trauma of xenophobic rhetoric and policies well. The Japanese-American psychotherapist was born in the Tule Lake internment camp during World War II.

When Ina visited the predominantly Latino undocumented immigrants at a Dilley, Texas, family detention center, she noted the similarities between her family’s situation and the one facing the people she met there.

"The parallels, the resonance, the familiarity of the situation was really clear," Ina said in a new Los Angeles Times piece published today (April 12) about her visit. "What happened in World War II is happening again."

A few passages from that piece, which you can read here, brings those similarities to life. For instance, this selection describes how trauma compelled her parents to stay silent during the social unrest in the 1960s: 

The family later returned to San Francisco and Ina eventually attended UC Berkeley, protesting during the 1960s—to her parents’ chagrin. Even though their U.S. citizenship had been restored in 1957, they worried that she would face the same backlash they had for speaking out.

Ina wanted to help families like hers who had survived trauma, and pursued degrees as a family therapist, becoming a professor at Cal State Sacramento.

She came to recognize in herself the aftereffects of internment: an easily triggered startle response, extreme vigilance when she was the only person of color in a room and an anxious need for control in the face of uncertainty.

Ina started paying attention to the conditions of families in detention centers after reading reports that reminded her of the U.S. government’s justification for internment: 

Satsuki Ina didn’t think much about the detention of Central American families until she started seeing reports last year of officials defending conditions at the centers.

Ina thought of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democrat who signed the executive order paving the way for internment camps. Now the Obama administration was defending family detention, noting that detainees received three square meals and clean housing.

"That’s what they said about us too: You have a roof over your head," Ina said.

Ina also spoke to protesters at the family detention center, making the connections clear: 

"My family was held for four years. Today we stand together with you in unity and solidarity, because incarceration for children and families is not only unjust, it’s immoral," Ina told several hundred protesters, some carrying signs that said, "Free the families" and "Children don’t belong behind bars."

"Nobody came to protest on our behalf. Nobody, people like you, took the time to protest the unjust incarceration," Ina said. "Let’s shut it down." The crowd cheered and clapped.

Read the full piece here.