Fuji Itami & Suzanne Hug

“It’s time to raise our voices together and demand action. Demand that our country, my country, treat people as people.” –Suzanne Hug

Fuji Itami & Suzanne Hug

(Fuji: 1915 – 1998 and Suzanne: b. 1981)

Fear ran rampant after the bombing of Pearl Harbor and fear controlled what came next.

Fuji Itami, a petite Japanese American woman and her family were forced to leave their home, following Executive Order 9066, and be “relocated.” No charges, no trial, just taken to an incarceration camp in the middle of the desert. Most have heard them called, “Internment Camps” but that is a euphemism, as is “relocation,” used by the government at the time. The barracks were primitive structures made of tar paper and wood and offered no insulation. The camp itself was enclosed by a fence topped with barbed wire as a guard stood watch in a tower.

The rest of the story about Fuji, as granddaughter Suzanne remembers her grandmother telling her, goes like this: 

“This woman was an American born citizen. Her husband had naturalized and her young son was an American too. Born in Seattle, Washington and named for our president Thomas Jefferson. None of that mattered to the security guards who herded them like livestock.

A few months later, my Grandma found out she was pregnant again. Even in those harsh conditions, this was an exciting event. Our family was together and was able to celebrate. The men found scrap wood and made a crib and the women worked on making and collecting baby clothes and blankets.

When it was time for delivery she went in… alone.

My Grandma Fuji had a large round belly and had prayed for a healthy child. Her husband waited anxiously outside. Finally she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy… and then, another one. Twin sons!

Beautiful, perfect babies. They both cried out. But they had come a little early and their lungs weren’t quite ready for the cold outside air [in Idaho]. It was January 25th and there was no insulation in the long row barracks the families were packed into. Luckily there was an incubator.

But it was just one.

So the doctor turned to her, as she held her sons and said, ‘You have to choose.’

‘You have to choose which one will live.’

How do you make that choice? Her family was outside, and this woman had to choose on her own. With quiet tears she chose her first born, my Uncle Teddy. And my Uncle Kenneth died. 

As he walked away, she head the doctor say, “Well that’s one less Jap to kill later.”

My uncle Teddy will celebrate his birthday next month, and my Father turns 80 in the spring. My grandmother never had another child after that. She was still a kind, caring woman, and treasured her children. They built a good life in Idaho and both her sons served in the U.S. Army during Vietnam. But the pain of that choice never left.

Our family was kept together – today families are separated.

Today those same barbed wire fences deny the humanity of so many women facing impossible choices. It’s time to raise our voices together and demand action. Demand that our country, my country, treat people as people. No matter how they look, or what is in their wallet.”

Many years after “relocation,” Suzanne’s parents and relatives began a letter-writing campaign and demanded redress (compensation) and it was granted after much effort. Having this kind of activism as an example and the family story so embedded in Suzanne’s memory, as well as witnessing the treatment of the asylum seekers, women, and minorities, propelled her to run for Arizona’s House of Representatives in District 25 in the 2020 election.

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