The 1941 attack of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by the Japanese Army launched the United States into World War II. Tragically, the US Government responded to the attack by projecting suspicion onto all Japanese-Americans living in the US. On February 19, 1942, president Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing that United States residents of Japanese descent be removed from their homes and detained in camps. This led to over three years of internment for most Japanese-American families living on the West Coast.
In Berkeley, more than one thousand Japanese American residents were taken from their homes and sent to Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno. Racetracks such as Tanforan, considered a luxury item during the War, were converted to detention centers. Residents who were forced to relocate to the racetracks had to clean horse manure out of the stables that would become their housing.
Minoru Sano was in his sophomore year at U.C. Berkeley when his education was interrupted by these events. The Sano family was sent to Tanforan Assembly Center for 6 months. They were detained in Topaz, Utah for another two and one half years. In Topaz Internment Camp the detainees, uprooted from their homes and jobs, were forced to live in barracks with minimal privacy in harsh desert conditions.
Minoru was given permission to leave Topaz to attend and graduate from the University of Denver. While in Denver he met Yaeko. They married in 1946, right after he finished his service with the US Army. Both Minoru and Yaeko are second generation American-born Japanese and refer to themselves as “Nisei.” Yaeko’s family lived in Portland, Oregon and made their living by growing fruits and vegetables. Nursery work was one of the few types of employment available to Japanese immigrants in the early 1900s.
The difficulty of obtaining American citizenship had an interesting affect on the real estate holdings of the Sano family. Minoru’s parents, first generation immigrants, were unable to obtain citizenship until 1950. In order to purchase a home in South Berkeley in 1927, they had to put it in the name of an Amer- ican citizen. So, Minoru Sano, their American-born son, became a homeowner at the age of 6.
A highlight of Minoru’s youth in Berkeley was playing football for the Lumpe Lions, a football team for Japanese American kids sponsored by the Lion’s Club and coached by Mr. Frank Lumpe, a teacher at Edison Jr. High. Minoru’s love of sports led him to help organize the Berkeley Bears Youth Organization, which provided opportunity for about 120 boys and girls of Japanese ancestry to play basketball and baseball. He did this for forty years. The Berkeley Bears taught that fair play is more important than win- ning. Their motto was “It’s the way you play the game that counts”. Minoru’s nickname when he coached the team was Papa Bear.
Though prejudice uprooted Minoru and Yaeko Sano’s lives, they held steadfast to their family and to the belief that “with hard work and fair play, ours will remain a worthy and a proud family community.” We thank them for the work they did and the lives they touched. We hope all people of the United States learn from the mistakes of the past. Let us remember to treat each other with respect and love, regardless of nationality or ethnic background.