Almost 80 years ago, people of Japanese descent from the West Coast were evacuated and forced to live in internment camps.
122,000 men, women and children of Japanese descent were forced to leave everything behind — their businesses, homes and properties. They were only allowed to bring personal items they could carry in their arms.
Kaz Ideno was born in California and spent nearly four years of his childhood at camps in Arkansas and Texas.
"I don't know what made me arrive to the conclusion that we're in jail," said Ideno. "We're in prison."
Saturday, Jan. 19 marks the 80th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the executive order that authorized the internment camps under the argument that people of Japanese heritage posed a national security risk.
As we remember this stain in American history, a digital exhibit in Chicago called "Uprooted" aims to teach the next generation so we never forget.
"it's part of a larger effort to capture oral histories of elders," said Kat Nagasawa, lead producer of the project. "What Uprooted tries to do is really try to package those stories in a way that's accessible to students and teachers."
Through graphics and videos, it follows Ideno and two other survivors as they trace the effects of their evacuation from California to their incarceration during WWII and then finally their resettlement in Chicago.
Despite being in camp for much of his childhood, Ideno says he felt a sense of shame and internal hate that he carried with him for a long time.
"I wanted to prove I was not Japanese-American," he said. "Accept [that] everything is American."
Even when his parents pushed for Japanese schooling after they were freed from the camp, Ideno pushed back and stopped learning the language.
It took Ideno years to embrace his culture and identity. Although he doesn't speak Japanese and at one point called himself Gene, he now celebrates his identity around his home.
He also attends cultural events with traditional dancing to honor his ancestors.
"I kind of feel like I'm going full-circle in my life and coming back from leaving it," Ideno said.
The Japanese American Services Committee stores personal items from that time period to be preserved and shared.
"It's so very important for those stories to be told in the voices of the people who were directly impacted," said Emma Saito Lincoln, JASC Legacy Center director. "Whether that is the people who were incarcerated themselves or the descendants of those people."
Illinois is the first state to require teaching Asian-American history — including this hurtful chapter — in all public schools.