Daughter Of Japanese-American Internment Survivor Reflects On UConn's Impact

Feb 15, 2017

President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and his campaign talk about requiring Muslims to register in a database has sparked protests around the country and raised legal questions. For some, today’s political climate reignites memories of World War II, when the country sent Japanese-Americans to internment camps.

In 1942, shortly after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that led to the military forcing all Japanese-Americans to evacuate the West Coast. Over 100,000 people were sent to one of 10 internment camps in the country amid rumors of their threat to U.S. security.

During that time University of Connecticut was one of hundreds of schools that opened up their campuses to college-age male, Japanese-Americans. It was a way for the university to demonstrate the values of democratic inclusivity and equality.

UConn took about 18 students. One of them was George Fukui, who was a college student in California when the executive order was signed. He and his family were sent to an internment camp in Utah.

Speaking on WNPR’s Where We Live, Fukui's daughter Lisa Fukui talked about her late father's experience at UConn.

"He spoke of the University of Connecticut with great fondness for the rest of his life," she said. "It gave him opportunities that he never would have had had he stayed in California -- just the fact that people were kind to him and to my mother from the moment they arrived on the campus."

Fukui’s parents met at the internment camp. Her father went on to get his PhD from Cornell University and became a research scientist in immunology and microbiology.

In 1995, George Fukui went back to UConn. He spoke about what it was like to enter the internment camp.

"Essentially, when they closed the gate behind you, it’s kind of an awesome feeling. Suddenly you feel that your freedom is gone. Possibly your dignity, security, etc. But then, you know, instead of looking on the dark side, I thought indeed I could contribute something to the society within the fence," Fukui said in an archived recording.

The numbers of Japanese-American students who came east during the war have thinned with the years, and according to Glenn Mitoma of the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, many never returned home to the West Coast.