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Columbus woman shares story about her time in Japanese Internment Camp as a child

Karen Jiobu and her family were among the 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry forced out of their homes and moved to internment camps.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the culture and diversity that brings people together, but the history of how this country treated Asian Americans has a dark past.

Eighty years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that led to Japanese Americans being forced into internment camps. It followed the attack on the American Naval base at Pearl Harbor. 

One of those families was Karen Jiobu who now lives in Columbus.

"I was about two years old and we were interned in a place called Keeler River Relocation Camp," said Jiobu. "I remember a time when my whole family was standing in front of the barracks, and my mother was crying and my father was yelling. Later I found out it was when the whole camp had to sign a loyalty oath."

This is Jiobu's lived experience. She was born in California but was treated as an enemy of the state when she was a toddler.

"When I look back, I thought, you know, I thought we were pretty cute," joked Jiobu. "So I didn't understand why people were not smiling at us, but I realized, you know, what they were thinking."

During World War II, Karen, her parents and five siblings were among the 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry forced out of their homes and moved to internment camps.

Roughly two-thirds were estimated to be U.S. citizens. The executive order by then-President Roosevelt is considered one of the most atrocious violations of American civil rights in the 20th century.

The last Japanese internment camp closed in March 1946, but it wasn't until 30 years later when then-President Gerald Ford officially repealed the Executive Order. Finally, in 1988, Congress issued a formal apology and the Civil Liberties Act.

It awarded $20,000 each to over 80,000 Japanese Americans as reparations for their treatment.

Karen is now a well-known volunteer for the Asian Festival in Columbus since retiring from Mount Carmel in 2002. For her, this month is about inclusivity.

“And then just, you know, more about not just World War II, but the Korean War. You know, how the Koreans immigrated here, after the Vietnam War. We have the LAO, the Vietnamese that came here. And, you know, the contributions they've made,” said Jiobu.

Jiobu has since compiled her memories into a presentation for schools whenever possible and now making it her mission to educate local students about Asian American history in the U.S. and why celebrating Asian American history must also acknowledge the pain.

"I just feel that that's what's lacking is that people go to college and they learned about Japan, Korea, Vietnam, but not about the Asian Americans that are living here,” said Jiobu. "When we look back and remember history, it is a lesson for us today as well. So I guess that's why I feel passionate about teaching.

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