2004-10-20 Grand Rapids Press "Students learn about family's perseverance"

Students learn about family's perseverance after WWII injustice
Jeff Ebihara's family members were sent to an internment camp because they are Japanese Americans.
The Grand Rapids Press

When Park Townshio clerk-elect Jeff. Ebihara's uncle was freeing Jews from Nazi concentration camps as an Army soldier during World War II, his parents and grandparents were confined to internment camps on the West Coast.

Ebihara, 42, shared the story with 165 students from 10 Ottawa and Muskegon county middle schools at the ninth annual Calling All Colors racial unity conference Tuesday at Hope College's Knickerbocker Theater.

"My grandparents started over in America twice," Ebihara told the students. "They immigrated from Japan in 1919 with nothing, but built up a successful business and owned a home, ... When they were released from the inteniment camp, they again started over with nothing."

After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, residents of Japanese descent were removed from their homes and interned in isolated, inland areas.

Ebihara said his grandparents and 120,000 others were given only one week to sell their business, their home and their belongings before being relocated to a camp in Topaz, Utah, where they Iived behind barbed wire in barracks for three years.

More than two-thirds of the 20,000 people of Japanese ancestry who were interned were like Ebihara's family - citizens who had never demonstrated any disloyalty.

"The Japanese weren't our only enemy in World War II," Ebihara said. "Why do you think people of German, Italian, Russian and Polish descent were not interned as well?"

Ebihara told students that cultural values gave his grandparents and parents the strength to survive internment and thrive
again without losing faith in the government that had failed them.

Their example of sacrifice and perseverance continues to inspire Ebihara to work as long and as hard as needed to bring to his family and do good works in his community.

"Any challenge I face today is nothing compared to what they went through," he said.