The discovery of a small metal box leads to the uncovering of a family story, shrouded in silence for more than 60 years. Woven through their censored letters, diary entries, and haiku poetry, is the story of a young Japanese American couple whose dreams are shattered when, months after their wedding, they find themselves held captive, first in race track horse stables and later, in tar paper barracks.
Abandoned by America, the country of their birth, Shizuko and Itaru endure four years of life behind barbed wires in American concentration camps during WWII. Itaru, incensed by the indignities of prison camp life, is charged with sedition for speaking out in protest of the government's efforts to separate the "loyal" from the "disloyal" by imposing a Loyalty Questionnaire on all adult prisoners.
In his speech, Itaru demands that Japanese Americans be "treated equal to the free people" before they are required to fight in the war. Those identified as loyal would become eligible for the military draft, while the "disloyals" would be segregated to the Tule Lake Segregation Center in northern California. In answering "no" to the questions regarding his willingness to bear arms against the enemy and disavow loyalty to the Emperor of Japan, Itaru is identified as a trouble-maker, and he, his wife and two small children are segregated to Tule Lake.
Faced with deteriorating conditions regarding food, coal supplies, medical care, and milk for her children, Shizuko falls into despair. Militant pro-Japan groups begin to proliferate in the turmoil-ridden segregation camp and rumors sweep through the barracks. What initially appears to be a crisis-of-loyalty, becomes more clearly, a crisis-of-faith… in their own country.
In her diary, Shizuko writes, "because our children have Japanese faces, I don't want them to be Americans." Ultimately, they decide that their only hope for freedom is to declare their loyalty to Japan. They renounce their American citizenship and request repatriation to Japan on a prisoner exchange ship. With this decision, Itaru becomes increasingly involved in the Hoshi Dan, a political pro-Japan organization focused on returning to a victorious Japan.
Prison authorities wanting to be rid of the dissidents encourage the renunciation movement and consequently apprehend Hoshi Dan leaders, separate them from their families and send them to Department of Justice Internment camps for enemy aliens. Itaru is sent to Ft. Lincoln in Bismarck, North Dakota.
Writing letters almost daily during their two-year separation, Shizuko and Itaru struggle with the reality of Japan's defeat and now fear starvation and homelessness if they are deported to Japan.
At a mitigation hearing, without access to counsel, witnesses, and without knowing the charges against them, they attempt to avert the forced deportation order, but are deemed enemy aliens "dangerous to the public peace and safety of the United States," and are ordered to depart in 30 days. The apparently capricious act of a low-ranking camp administrator changes the course of their lives forever.
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