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Bouncing back from years in a WWII 'war relocation' camp

Mary Takita
Posted at 4:30 AM, May 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-05 08:48:22-04

It was where Chizu Omori lived for more than three years, but it never felt like home.

"It was a sad time for me, especially towards the end of the war," Chizu explains.

Chizu and her family were forced to move to the Poston War Relocation Center when she was just 12 years old and by the time she was 15, she was still living behind those walls.

Over the years, there has been some debate over what the camps are called. The U.S. Government still refers to the camps as "internment camps" or "war relocation centers." But today, groups like the Japanese-Americans Citizens League call them "incarceration camps" or "concentration camps."

There were ten of these camps, mostly scattered across the western U.S. Two were located in Arizona: The Gila River War Relocation Center, roughly 30 miles south of Phoenix, and the Poston War Relocation Center, located in La Paz County, south of Parker.

According to historians, any individual who was at least one-sixteenth Japanese would have been required to go to one of the camps. Government records show more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans were forced to live in these camps and according to estimates, two-thirds of the Japanese-Americans sent to the camps were actually U.S. citizens.

RELATED: Chizu Omori describes how life was inside WWII 'camp' in Arizona

Chizu says even small things like home-cooked meals made her miss her life on the outside.

"I used to dream about ice cream and bakery goods, cream puffs and cake and that kind of stuff...fresh fruit."

The dividing line for who went to the camps and who got to stay in their homes actually ran right through the Valley. According to historians, if you were Japanese-American and you lived on the north side of Grand Avenue, you were able to stay in your community. If you lived on the south side, you would have been ordered to move to one of the camps.

Remembering life inside 'war relocation' camps forced upon Japanese communities

By the time WWII was ending, Chizu was finally able to leave the camp in Poston. Her parents sent her back to California to start high school. As a young woman, she describes herself as surprisingly resilient.

"I came right back out and fitted right back into American society," Chizu explains.

But it was a different story for Chizu's parents. Less than a year after leaving the camp, they went through the unexpected passing of Chizu's mother.

Chizu's last time visiting Poston was more than 30 years ago for a special memorial ceremony.

In 1988, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act and paid reparations to 80,000 Japanese-Americans nearly half a century later.

Last month, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed new legislation that creates a state holiday to honor Fred Korematsu, a Japanese-American man who was arrested for refusing to go to the camps. His case made its way all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

RELATED: Supreme Court overturned decision allowing Japanese concentration camps in Trump v. Hawaii ruling