Born in Prison: Heart Mountain Relocation Center, May 10, 1943

Scott Tucker, at Kiyoshi’s memorial service, May 23, 2000: “Kiyoshi was born on May 10, 1943 and died this month one day after his 57th birthday. His birthplace was Heart Mountain in northwest Wyoming, where the government had established one of the prison camps for Japanese Americans citizens which were officially called “relocation centers.” Citizens were removed from their homes, schools, and workplaces, and were crowded into tarpapered barracks surrounded by chain link fences, barbed wire, and guard towers. Heart Mountain itself was swept by severe winters and duststorms, but despite these conditions the people there found the will and the way to improve their quarters, to plant gardens, and to print newspapers. In January 1944 the government began drafting some of the prisoners in these camps into the military. Of those, most accepted the draft as a way to prove loyalty in time of war; but a minority chose civil disobedience as a way to regain the rights of citizens, and Heart Mountain was the site of the most organized resistance. According to a government report found among Kiyoshi’s books after his death, “The resisters argued that their cases were test cases to clarify their citizenship rights. They were tried, convicted, and sentenced to three years in federal prison; appeals failed. In 1947, a Presidential pardon was granted to those who had been convicted.” And finally, towards the end of the century, the government made modest reparations to Japanese American citizens whose constitutional rights had been so deeply violated.”

“Why is it so important to remember such events in our national history at Kiyoshi’s memorial? Because memory and history were a precious part of his own being; because he and his mother, Emiko Kuromiya, revisited the place of his birth; because a framed photograph of Heart Mountain was displayed in his home; because from such a beginning he went on to challenge injustice and champion civil rights and liberties throughout his life. He took that complex karma and became a kind and clear-minded human being. Not a plaster saint, not a heroic statue, but a creature created from the lights and the shadows of this world.”


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