No one knew the lyrics of the Crystal City song at first, but that didn’t seem to matter. When roughly 180 pilgrims gathered in the large meeting room at San Antonio’s La Quinta Hotel for the first official Crystal City Pilgrimage last weekend, music filled the air.

It’s true that everyone was a little hesitant, not knowing how to fit all the words written by Eloy Maoki to the tune of the Japanese song “Shina no Yoru.” Maoki was one of 19 Japanese Peruvians present who were imprisoned at Crystal City, and singing was just one way of letting off steam for the years these families suffered in silence.

This pilgrimage provided the first time they could be reunited to share tragic stories of their fathers literally being kidnapped from their homes in Peru, arrested, and forced to go to a country that spoke a language they didn’t even understand.

“Crystal City Camp-u, Crystal City Camp-u yo!

Boldly Isseis left Japan

Sought new life in a strange, new land.

Toiled, struggled, raised their families

Filled dreams they had planned.”

Even when trauma this severe happens to 9- or 10-year-old children, their memories are amazingly intact. Take Libia Yamamoto, for example, who served on the hard-working committee that helped put this well-oiled pilgrimage together. Missing her dialysis treatment to attend the pilgrimage, she hardly took a break to rest, knowing how important it was to share her first-hand story with the reporters who pursued her throughout the three-day weekend.

She wanted people to know how much she cried when she learned that her father had been arrested for no apparent reason. She also wanted to tell her story of the arduous and long journey that brought her family to the U.S. to finally be reunited with him, how they were stripped and sprayed with DDT when they arrived in America, and how they tried to make the best of this horrendous situation.

Libia Yamamoto and Blanca Katsura, Japanese Latin Peruvian sisters imprisoned at Crystal City. (Photo by Momii Palapaz)

“Stars were bright in Texas, air was pure, and skies were wide and blue!

But confined by barbed-wire fence,

Trying to make the world make sense —-

School, sports, and art and music

Helped make life less tense.”

Once they arrived in Texas, there was a sense of relief at seeing other Japanese faces. Fearing the worst, even death, they were thankful to be housed in barrack-like “apartments” with other children to play with. Libia, her sister Blanca, and her brother Eloy were all at the pilgrimage to talk about how they coped as children trying to make the best of everything.

Still, it wasn’t easy for Libia to see two of her friends, Aiko Oyakawa and Sachiko Tanabe, drown in the large swimming hole that once served as a vast reservoir for irrigating crops. It was one of the few remaining markers on the grounds where 4,000 people, roughly one-third of German descent, were kept. Libia and her brother remembered well how easily it was to be pulled into the deep end of the water, which was separated from the shallow end by a rope and covered with slimy moss on the concrete bottom, making it easy to slip. They, too, had fallen on the slippery slime when they almost went under.

Japanese Peruvians were not the only ones at the pilgrimage who were at Crystal City awaiting deportation to Japan. Roughly 360 former Tule Lake detainees who had answered “no-no” to the so-called loyalty questionnaire were also kept there for months after the war ended, and pilgrimage co-chair Hiroshi Shimizu was one of them. His father worked alongside attorney Wayne Mortimer Collins (whose son Wayne Merrill Collins spoke to ever-grateful pilgrims) to try to find American sponsors to take families in as a way of avoiding deportation.

As a 4-year-old child, his babysitter was none other than civil rights leader Edison Uno, the man who initiated and led the fight for redress. The Uno family was at the pilgrimage in force, with Victor Uno at the helm directing pilgrimage activities without fanfare and Karissa Tom (Edison’s 26-year-old granddaughter) providing skilled moderating duties and youthful energy.

There were too many other pilgrimage attendees to even begin to be mentioned here, but another who stands out is Saburo Fukuda, son of Rev. Yoshiaki Fukuda, a man who was responsible for working hard to find homes and sponsors for Japanese Peruvians, including pilgrimage co-chair Kaz Naganuma, American “enemy aliens” who were not welcome back in Peru. Were it not for the San Francisco minister’s support, Naganuma and his family of seven siblings caught in this rendition program would have remained without a country to call their own.

Brought from out of the shadows, the families detained at Crystal City, once shunned by even their own fellow people of Japanese ancestry, were given an opportunity to sing out with pride at what they endured. At last, they were able to joyfully reunite and speak out loudly against the injustice of it all.

“Crystal City Camp-u, Crystal City Camp-u yo!

We have gathered here today

To remember yesterday.

Our precious ties and mem’ries

Shall not fade away!”


Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached at Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.


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  1. Crystal City is the only camp that the government made a propaganda video about. You can see it on You Tube. You can see the kids getting off the train.