When Shoichi Shingu heard there was a World War II exhibit at the Presidio in San Francisco honoring incarcerated Japanese Americans, he was heartened to think of his father being included.
The elder Shingu was born at the Gila River incarceration camp in Arizona, among the very youngest of the many thousands of people forced into camps and jails because of their Japanese ancestry.
But his name was missing from the exhibit, much to his son’s disappointment. The museum had relied on government rosters that are notoriously incomplete and riddled with errors.
“I want to honor his name, get him in there,” said Shingu, a digital marketing executive in Palm Desert. “He's kind of been forgotten and it kind of breaks my heart.”
In search of a remedy, Shingu joined an ambitious project that set out to identify every single person of Japanese descent incarcerated during WWII, the majority of them U.S. citizens.
For the past three years, project founder Duncan Ryuken Williams, who directs USC’s Shinso Ito Center for Japanese Religions and Culture, has been leading a team of scholars and volunteers around the country. The daunting task of accounting for so many people was complicated by the fact that there were 75 incarceration sites, from Hawaii to Arkansas, each operated by one of an assortment of government agencies.
But after cross-checking camp rosters against tens of thousands of documents — ranging from birth certificates to train transfer lists and army draft cards, the group has finalized a master list of 125,284 people and printed their names in a massive book.
Billed as the first “names monument” to those incarcerated, the hand-bound 1,000-page tome is being unveiled Saturday at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, where it can be viewed for the coming year. Visitors will be encouraged to use a special stamp to leave a mark by a name so that by year’s end every person will have been recognized.
“Merging everybody into this kind of enemy group is something we’re trying to repair,” Williams said. “What we want is people acknowledging this history as a way of giving people back their individuality and personhood and their names.”