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Artist: Jonah Fenyves & Marquis Rutledge
Writer: Zach Franklin
Completed in 2018
Link to full Interview video

Roberto Santiago’s great grandfather came to the US from Japan in 1899. He was looking for work and opportunity. Roberto’s great grandfather worked in the sugar cane fields in Hawaii. Then he came to California. He had many different jobs including running a bicycle shop, and helping organize farmworkers. His family back in Japan set up an arranged marriage for him. This means Roberto’s great grandfather and great grandmother never met before she came to the US to get married. They settled down in San Diego and had a family.


In the 1940s war broke out between the US and Japan. The US government ordered all families of Japanese ancestry to leave their homes. They were sent to internment camps. At first, Roberto’s great grandparents were sent to a detention center at a racetrack. They had to clean out the horse stalls so they could have have a place to sleep. While they were gone, Roberto’s great grandparents’ home was occupied by soldiers. Then it was totally removed to make way for a navy base. After the war the US government claimed that there was never a house there. So Roberto’s family received no payment for their house.


During the war, Roberto’s grandmother, Yoshiko, was able to leave the internment camp and go to the University of Utah. Yoshiko faced a lot of discrimination in housing and jobs. But she was still able to complete her studies and become a journalist. After the war was over, Yoshiko went to work for the US Army’s newspaper. The newspaper sent her to work in Japan, even though she had never been there before. In Japan, she was often mistaken for a local. But people realized she was not a local when they saw her working with white people and speaking American English. 


Yoshiko married an American named Kelly. They moved back to the United States in 1957. Yoshiko and Kelly chose to live in Berkeley. They thought Berkeley would be the best place in the country to raise mixed-race children. 

In 1988, the US government passed a law acknowledging that the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II was wrong. In the 1990s Yoshiko got money from the US government because she had been imprisoned with her family. It was not as much money as her family lost during the war. But it was enough for Yoshiko to help Roberto’s family buy their own house in Berkeley. Roberto and his family live in that house to this day.

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