HAVANA – A list of about 350 Japanese-Cubans sent to internment camps by the Cuban government during World War II was found in the Caribbean nation recently, shining a light on a long-forgotten episode in its history.
A copy of the list of Japanese immigrants to Cuba and their descendants, compiled by an immigrant interned in one of the camps, was handed to Japanese journalists affiliated with Kyodo News in October when they visited the country.
“Little is known about the Japanese-Cubans as we are small in number. I’ll be glad if the list helps people learn about our history,” said Francisco Miyasaka, 78, a second-generation Japanese-Cuban and head of the Japanese-Cuban association in Havana, who found the list and handed it to the journalists.
The list, found among the belongings of Miyasaka’s late father, Kanji, who immigrated to Cuba before the war from Nagano Prefecture, had been compiled by Goro Naito, an immigrant from Hiroshima Prefecture. Miyasaka’s father and Naito both were relocated to one of the camps.
In the 1980s, Naito searched for and visited about 100 former detainees and compiled the handwritten list. The list was later typed on a word processor by Kiyotaka Kurabe, a writer in Tokyo who worked with Naito on recording the history of the Japanese immigrants and published a book about them in 1989.
The list contains the date of their internment and where they originated from in Japan, in addition to their names. It also includes the date of death of those who died in the camps.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the U.S. government questioned the loyalty of ethnic Japanese living on the West Coast, regarding them as a security threat.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized internment and some 120,000 Japanese-Americans were forcibly relocated during the war to camps.
In Cuba, the pro-American administration of President Fulgencio Batista followed the U.S. lead and arrested about 350 Japanese-Cuban men over the age of 18 among the 420 such men in the country and relocated them to a jailhouse in Isla de la Juventud in western Cuba.
Women and children under 18 were generally exempt from internment, but three women who were suspected of having connections to Japanese military officers were arrested and sent to a jail in the suburbs of Havana.
Those men and women were detained until March 1946, long after the war ended, and some died during internment as their health deteriorated while living in abominable conditions in the camps, according to Kurabe.
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