Teens hear from WWII victim

Grandma Yae visited DBHS to share about her experience living in a U.S. internment camp.

Although the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II affected many people, few have the chance to see its impact on actual victims. Last month, several Diamond Bar High School students had the opportunity to meet Yayeko Nakajima, a survivor of the internment camps who goes by Grandma Yae, and learn about her experience living there as a teenager.

Her visit was arranged by English teacher Christy Moskovitz and textbook clerk Peggy Laine. For several years, Moskovitz taught her students “Farewell to Manzanar,” a memoir by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston that recounts her childhood spent in an internment camp. The memoir reminded some students of meeting Yae back in middle school.

“In past years, I heard about Grandma Yae from students who learned about her life while they attended South Pointe and Chaparral Middle Schools, but I never knew how to contact her,” Moskovitz said.

This year, when Moskovitz took her class to check out the memoir at the library, she was approached by Laine, who asked if she wanted to meet Yae.

 Laine has been friends with Yae and her family for many years and arranged for her to come to the school, personally driving Yae to and from the event.

“Because of Peggy Laine, Grandma Yae was able to share her courageous story with a small group of second period English classes,” Moskovitz said.

During her visit, Yae shared the meaningful experiences she had during her five years at an internment camp.

She took a bus there when she was 16 years old, which foiled her plans to attend USC. However, going to the camp allowed her to meet her future husband and make lifelong friends.

As she spoke about her trials at camp, Moskovitz and her students grew very emotional.

“Now that [Yae] is 96, three of her closest friends from camp passed away,” Moskovitz said. “She admitted that she was very saddened by these losses.”

Yae’s testimony was still very inspirational for Moskovitz and the attendees.

“One part of her story that I found truly meaningful is when she stated that she does not cast stones, meaning she doesn’t criticize anyone for doing what they did,” Moskovitz said. “By sharing her remarkable story, she allows all to understand a very important event in history during the 1940s.”

To sophomore Allison Lee, meeting Yae was eye-opening for different reasons. Because of Lee’s Korean heritage and the Japanese war crimes committed against her homeland, Japanese internment never seemed like a prominent issue.

After hearing Yae speak, however, she felt more sympathetic toward the Japanese Americans who faced discrimination.

“I really saw that not all Japanese people were to blame for what happened in World War II,” Lee said. “There were a lot of innocent people who also got unfairly punished.”

In the future, Lee hopes that more teachers can follow Moskovitz’s lead and host similar enriching events.

“Seeing how events in history affected real people can really change your perspectives,” Lee said.

 Yae’s presentation was filmed and will eventually be available on the school website.