The Kidnapping and Imprisonment of the Naganuma Family by the U.S. Government:
The Experience of Iwaichi and Isoka Naganuma and Family
March 1944 – September 1947
by Kiyoka (Naganuma) Matsuoka, Kazumi Naganuma, and Sumika Naganuma
In early March of 1944, two men came to our father’s place of business in Callao, Peru, South America. They identified themselves as United States FBI agents and asked the whereabouts of our father. The FBI agents were told that we did not know when he was returning; however, they waited the entire day for him.
There were rumors that Japanese-Peruvian men (older boys and their fathers) were being put into jail during this period. Therefore, our father and his oldest son, Kazumi, stayed away for fear of being arrested and separated from the family. The next day the FBI agents returned and asked for our father again. At that time without any explanation, we were told that he was going to be taken away immediately. However, he was allowed to stay and was given only three days to get our entire family ready to be taken away.
It was difficult to realize at that time what we were losing. How can the FBI agents take away all of our valuable property, our home, our father’s business and practically all of our personal belongings in a matter of three days? Being an immigrant from Japan, our father at age 25 started with nothing. But with hard work and working with the people in his community, he established a good reputation as a leader and was one of the founders and builders of the Japanese School in Callao, Peru. He established a very successful business and after 30 years, ended up with nothing, due to the intrusion of the FBI agents.
Our family was taken to the port of departure in two separate open-bed trucks, keeping our father and his oldest son separated from the rest of the family. As we boarded a U.S. Army transport, we were searched thoroughly by armed guards from head to toe. Kiyoka, the second oldest daughter, remembers the guards taking money that she hid in her shoes. All of our personal belongings such as money, jewelry and food were confiscated.
Our father and Kazumi were crammed into the hold of the ship along with approximately 200 other male Japanese-Peruvians. The rest of the family (our mother, 3 sisters and 3 younger brothers) were put into a 6 x 6 ft room, during the entire period. Our destination was unknown.
The conditions that we had to endure during the journey were unbearable. Even the air we had to breathe had a distinctive stench, and we all became nauseous. The journey took approximately three weeks and we were not allowed to bathe. Kiyoka recalls how she begged for milk repeatedly for our youngest brother, Kazumu, 20 months old at that time, and was turned down.
When we arrived at port, we did not know where we were or even what country. We were taken off the ship and herded towards a warehouse-like building. We were frightened, not knowing what laid ahead. At that moment, our mother thought that this could possibly be the end of our family. When the women and children entered the warehouse first, we were stripped naked and sprayed with DDT. It was difficult to explain the humiliation we felt, which came from this inhumane treatment.
After the DDT spraying, we put our clothes back on. Then, we were joined by the men and older boys and immediately taken to board a train. At this time, we had no idea where our extra clothes and personal belongings were. Our main concern was still not knowing our destination and not knowing what country we were in. You see, we only spoke Japanese and Spanish. All the shades in the train were drawn and we were given something to eat at this juncture. The next morning when the shades were still drawn, we realized that we had arrived at our destination. There were Japanese people to greet us and, not knowing where we were, our first impression was that we might possibly be in Japan. The Japanese people turned out to be the drivers of the buses that took us to our final destination, which was the U.S. Department of Justice Internment Camp in Crystal City, Texas. We later found out that the port of entry was New Orleans, Louisiana and that we had traveled through the Panama Canal from Peru.
We were stripped of our personal rights and interned in the concentration camp in a foreign country. We were frightened, humiliated, treated like animals, and we lost our home, all in a matter of a few weeks. But after this horrible experience, our mother was relieved because our family was able to stay together and our lives were spared.
In the camp, Reverend Yoshiaki Fukuda of the Konko Church helped the family get acclimated and to navigate through the camp and overcome some social hardships. Coming from Peru and not speaking English, our mom recalled the family and Peruvians being ridiculed by some Japanese Americans in the camp for not speaking English.
Wayne Collins, Reverend Fukuda’s attorney, filed several lawsuits in California to stop the deportation of the Japanese Peruvians in an effort to prevent their removal. In 1946, the Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) in Washington, D.C. established the policy allowing Japanese Peruvians to be paroled out of camp and not deported if they could find U.S. sponsors who would secure jobs for them and a place to live. By 1947 there were still families, like ours, in Crystal City Internment Camp with nowhere to go. Reverend Fukuda told the INS that the Konko Church in San Francisco would sponsor the remaining Japanese Peruvians. In September of 1947, our family was released from camp. The Peruvian government confiscated everything from us and didn’t want the Japanese back. This is why and how we ended up staying here in San Francisco, U.S.
Kazumu Julio Cesar Naganuma, the youngest of Iwaichi and Isoka Naganuma’s eight children, was born in Callao, Peru. At 20 months of age, he and his family were kidnapped in Peru by the FBI, forcibly transported across international waters and imprisoned at Crystal City Internment Camp. The U.S. government secretly planned to use them in a hostage exchange for U.S. citizens trapped in the Far East. After three years and six months of imprisonment, the Naganumas were released and settled in San Francisco.
Today, Kazumu is a Creative Director for NDD Creative, the design and communications firm he established, and semi-retired. Because of the Naganuma family’s WWII incarceration, Kazumu/NDD Creative was asked by Ros Tonai/NJAHS and Grace Shimizu/JPOHP to design the Enemy Alien Files traveling exhibit in 2001. Last year, NDD was asked to update and redesign the exhibit. Kaz is currently involved with several community projects, including Alameda’s “Tonarigumi” Historic Japantown markers, the “Dreams Interrupted” Issei Women’s Legacy website, and the Crystal City Pilgrimage scheduled for October 2023. Kazumu explained what drives him to donate most of his services to his community, “I got involved as a co-chair with the Crystal City pilgrimage because of our family’s unjust and illegal incarceration. We, like many Japanese Peruvian families, were imprisoned without due process or representation. We were never charged with a crime.”
Photos courtesy of the Naganuma Family Collection