Andrea Warren, an award-winning author of eight nonfiction history books, is publishing her ninth — this time about a boy who was imprisoned in a Japanese-American concentration camp during World War II.
A Johnson County resident for nearly 30 years who now lives in Prairie Village, Warren said she feels compelled to tell the stories of major historical events and significant time periods — written almost entirely through the perspectives of children. The forced registration, bank account closures and, eventually, imprisonment of 120,000 Japanese Americans who lived along the Pacific coast was one of them.
“The stuff you find when you start digging into archives is revolting and vomit-inducing,” Warren said. “It’s just so horrible. Complete racism. There is just no other word. How could we have done this?”
Titled “Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a Boy Imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp During World War II,” is the first book to be published about Mineta’s experience, Warren said. The Mineta family was interned with 10,000 other Japanese Americans at Heart Mountain War Relocation Center near Cody, Wyoming.
Many years after the war, Mineta went on to serve several terms as a U.S. congressman representing California; he also served on two presidential cabinets and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Japanese award, the Grand Cordon, Order of the Rising Sun. And while in Congress, he grew closer to a lifelong friend — a U.S. senator his age named Alan Simpson — whom he had first met when the two were Boy Scouts and Simpson’s troop paid the internment camp a visit in the summer of 1943.
“They had a blast, the best time ever that day,” she said. “Alan left the camp that day really changed. He could not believe here were men, women and children living in shacks behind barbed wire and guns aimed at these people.”
A lifelong friendship in politics, civil rights
Because of what happened that summer 45 years earlier, Mineta and Simpson played major roles in securing the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which granted reparations and a formal apology from the U.S. government to all Japanese Americans.
Tracking down Mineta was a bit difficult, and convincing him to share his story in such a vulnerable way was also a challenge. But he ultimately agreed to share his story because Warren’s target audience is young people.
“He feels that they are the ones who must learn this history and step up to prevent such a thing from happening again,” she said.
Mineta’s reluctance isn’t unique: Many people, especially adults, who were imprisoned in the camps — patriotic though they were, donning American military uniforms after the war to work as interpreters during the occupation of Japan — went silent on the subject as if it never happened.
Published by Holiday House, Warren’s book will be released Tuesday, April 30, in bookstores, including Rainy Day Books in Fairway, Barnes & Noble and online retailers. Warren will introduce her book in a short program and book signing at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Kansas City Public Library Plaza Branch, 4801 Main St., Kansas City, Missouri.
Warren’s books are often used in the schools and have won many awards, including the Horn Book Award, a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book Award, several Orbus Pictus awards, the William Allen White Award and several Kansas Notable Book designations.
Around the same time Warren began writing her book, a team of filmmakers were producing a documentary about Mineta’s story. “Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Story” debuts at 8 p.m. CST May 20 on PBS.