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REMEMBRANCES : INTERNEE : Internee's Arrest Sparked Revolt

LOST YEARS: The Internment of Japanese-Americans. First of two parts.

February 16, 1992|Times staff writer David Reyes.

Sadayashi (George) Fujii, 76, of Garden Grove is a retired businessman. He was interned at Poston, Ariz.

Fujii, born in Seattle, was sent by his parents to Japan at age 9 for his education, an experience that created a strong sense of Japanese nationalistic pride. That kibei (American-born but Japanese-educated) pride often clashed with Nisei (second-generation Japanese-American) beliefs.

While other Japanese-Americans pushed loyalty to America, Fujii rode a cultural tightrope. "I guess you might say I was brainwashed in Japan. But in a totalitarian society, you learn that when they say turn right, you turn right. When left, you turn left."

When he returned to the United States from Japan in 1935, he was more sensitive to the prejudices and anti-Japanese sentiments in Orange County. After war with Japan broke out, he and his parents were given evacuation orders.

Forced to leave or sell their personal property at reduced prices, the family sold their vehicles, and left Fujii's prized Dodge convertible with a friend. His parents had earlier declined an offer of $4,500 for their Anaheim restaurant. But when the war started, "we had to get out fast. We got $900 for it."

At an internment camp in Poston, Ariz., Fujii was at the center of a rebellion when authorities put him and another internee in custody for allegedly assaulting a man suspected of being a camp informer. First hundreds, then thousands of internees ringed the camp office, preventing FBI and police from taking Fujii to a jail in Phoenix. Fujii eventually won his release, but not before camp residents staged a 10-day protest.

Those who know Fujii say the years have mellowed his briny tone about the internment. But there still is that edge.

"Angry? No. Looking back, the question that most pops up is, 'Why?' "

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