In front of several rows of spectators, a man who, at a glance, looked just like a 1950s Elvis Presley flashed on the projector screen at the Greenwood Public Library on Thursday. It was speaker Diana Morita Cole’s brother-in-law, Art Shibayama.
Morita Cole, who lives in Nelson, was in Greenwood last week to speak about her own memoir, Sideways: Memoir of a Misfit, which explore her life that began in a Japanese internment camp in the United States. Shibayama, the author said, came into her family’s life when they moved to Chicago after the war. Greenwood is well-known for being the location of the first Japanese internment camp to be set up in Canada, in 1942.
“He was fresh meat for me to tease,” Morita Cole recalled of her first impressions of the young and handsome man to the crowd that filled the small presentation space at the library. Morita Cole was a child when Shibayama began courting her older sister – that time of her life is recounted in Sideways.
But unlike Morita Cole’s family, which had been taken from the Hood River Valley in Oregon to bounce around from an internment camp in Idaho and then to Illinois after the war, Shibayama had been moved from even further away.
Shibayama was one of approximately 2,200 Latin Americans of Japanese descent whom the American government had deported to internment camps in the United States. Before the war, his family lived in Peru, where they owned a business and had settled decades earlier. After Pearl Harbor, the American government saw Shibayama’s community as a bargaining chip.
“They went hostage shopping,” Morita Cole said of the Americans’ actions in Latin America.
Shibayama’s own grandparents were sent to Japan in exchange for American prisoners, but they never told their Japanese family why they had returned, because there was a shame attached to the action.
So from Peru, through New Orleans and to an internment camp in Chrystal City, Texas, Shibayama’s family was brought to America. Morita Cole said that they documents were destroyed upon arrival as well. Because of that, her brother-in-law and his family were deemed to be illegal immigrants after the war – after all, they had no papers.
From a vegetable production plant in New Jersey to serving in the American Army in the Korean War, Shibayama finally obtained his permanent residency in the 50s, in a country he’d never planned on visiting.
He and Morita Cole’s sister would marry, move to California and have children before learning in 1988 that Latin Americans of Japanese descent, such as himself, were effectively cut out of the $20,000-per-victim reparations for Japanese interment in the Civil Liberties Act. Shibayama was offered nothing.
“Suddenly, the words, ‘With liberty and justice for all,’ that are recited in grade school every day, rang hollow,” Shibayama’s daughter testified to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2017.
So Shibayama turned his focus to seeking fair treatment, forming a coalition of Japanese Latin Americans that sued for equal reparations. In 1999, they were offered $5,000 each. He declined the sum.
Despite being turned away several times by various legal bodies, Morita Cole said, Shibayama persisted. His petition to the IACHR is still pending, though he died in 2018.
“He had a special kind of something that allowed him to transcend all that suffering,” Morita Cole recalled of the man she’d once seen as a new target for teasing.