On Tuesday, April 12, Japanese-American internment camp survivor Sam Mihara makes his first appearance at Blair Academy to speak about his experience growing up as a second-generation Japanese American in the United States in the early 1930s.
Born to Japanese parents who immigrated to the United States in the 1920s, when many were still recovering from the first World War, Mr. Mihara grew up in San Francisco in the 1930s. When World War II broke out, the U.S. government forced his family to move, first to a detention camp in Pomona, California, and then to a remote prison camp named Heart Mountain Relocation Center in northern Wyoming. There were a total of 10 of these camps in the United States, and altogether, about 120,000 West Coast residents of Japanese ancestry were detained in them, living in the poor conditions Mr. Mihara has spoken about publicly.
“Mass Imprisonment in America” is how Mr. Mihara often characterizes his family’s three grueling years living in a 20×20 square-foot room in a barracks.
“The most important takeaway from my talk [will be] that such injustice should never happen again. During WWII, it was German and Italian families. After 9/11 and Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was identified as a Muslim, there were calls for Muslims to be incarcerated. A few years ago, there was a minister in Florida who advocated for removal and imprisonment of all gays and lesbians. The next time it could be your family, relatives or friends,” said Mr. Mihara in an interview prior to the talk.
“There should be no exception to adhering to the Constitution—liberty and equal justice for all must be maintained.”
After the war ended and he and his family were released from camp, Mr. Mihara returned to San Francisco where he attended Lick-Wilmerding High School before enrolling in University of California, Berkeley, for his undergraduate degree in engineering and then UCLA for his masters, also in engineering. Upon graduating, he accepted a position as a rocket scientist for The Boeing Company. Soon thereafter, Mr. Mihara created his own high-tech consulting firm and developed his renowned “Memories of Heart Mountain” presentation to ensure that the civil rights violations that he and his family endured never happen again.
Today, Mr. Mihara is a board member of the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, a museum created in 2011 at his family’s forced relocation campsite in Wyoming. He continues to consult with individuals and takes any opportunity he gets to tell his family’s story—the most impactful audience being young individuals.
“Personally, it is very gratifying to educate people on a hidden part of our history. I have spoken to over 85,000 students of all ages across the country. Most know very little about what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII,” said Mr. Mihara.
“I found that my audiences have learned something that they did not know and did not learn in history lessons, so that is what motivates me—the pleasure of seeing my ‘students’ learn an important lesson in our history. As President George W. Bush said, ‘A great nation does not hide history—it faces mistakes and corrects them.’”
History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program, which is funded in part by the Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, is an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are thought-provoking, engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please visit Blair’s website.