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Former Manzanar internee Marge Taniwaki speaks about her experiences in a Japanese-American internment camp on March 30 at Colorado College. (Photo by Joe Nguyen/AsiaXpress.com)


Marge Taniwaki shares internment story at Colorado College

Former Manzanar internee discusses life at Manzanar during Asian American Student Union event

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COLORADO SPRINGS – When Marge Taniwaki was 7 months old, she and her family were removed from their home in California and placed into an internment camp just because they were of Japanese ancestry.


Approximate 120,000 Japanese Americans shared the same fate during World War II after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on Feb. 19, 1942.


"How different would we be if we hadn't been imprisoned for four years of our lives?" she said.


Taniwaki shared her experiences with students during the Asian American Student Union-hosted event on March 30 at Colorado College.


Although she was only a child when her family was imprisoned, she vividly remembered life at the camp, from her mother sewing clothes to sitting with her sister watching incense fall up and down the walls of barracks. She said the Sears-Roebuck catalog became her "dream world" – an escape from the confinements of the camp.


"I entered Manzanar concentration camp when I was 7 months and I left when I was 4, and I have very strong memories of the camp," she said.


Upon their release from Manzanar in 1945, Taniwaki said her family was given $25 and a bus seat.


"We transferred from a crowded bus to an even-more crowded passenger train," she said, "where my father had to use some of our meager funds to bribe the porter to find us a place just to sit down."


As the years passed, she said, her parents never spoke to her in Japanese. It was a way to help her assimilate into the mainstream American society. She said while it kept her English flawless, she regrets missing out learning her heritage.


"What I lost was not learning my own language, not knowing the culture," she said.


Her frustration with what happened to her and her family has fed into a desire that history does not repeat itself.


"I'm often asked if I'm bitter about the experience that happened to us, to the 120,000 of us, two-third of whom were U.S. citizens," she said. "It's not so much bitterness as it's really wanting to make sure that it doesn't happen again."


Today, she said, she refuses to fill out census forms as they were the reasons why the U.S. government were able to so quickly round up Japanese Americans. She urged the students to question what is presented to them and never to just accept things for what they are.


"My plea here is to look below the surface," she said. "Investigate things before you accept a story ... because there's always more to learn, there's always another story to be told."

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