By NANCY REDWINE
SENTINEL STAFF WRITER
Maya Sapper was 11 years old when her father was taken by gunpoint from
their Guatemala home and sent to a prison camp in Texas.
Mary Stagnaro was five when her Italian mother, Italian-American father,
two brothers and a sister were forced to leave their Continental Street home
for a rental on Catalpa Street.
Heidi Donald and her sister Ingrid Cutler were in diapers when their German
father and American mother were blacklisted, arrested and shipped from Costa
Rica to a camp in the United States.
The childhood upheavals of these four Santa Cruz women are just part of
the story that reflects the horrific experiences of thousands of Germans,
Italians and Japanese living in the United States and Latin America during
World War Two. It is a story of displacement, relocation, dispossession,
Why is it being told now at a special exhibit “Enemy Alien: Hidden Stories
of World War II” running through Feb. 28 at the Central Branch of the Santa
Cruz Public Library?
Because those who have learned the lessons of history — like Sapper, Donald,
Cutler, Stagnaro and retired school teacher, Mas Hashimoto — don’t want them
Presented by the Friends of the Santa Cruz Library and the Santa Cruz Chapter
of the American Civil Liberties Union, “Enemy Alien Files” is 24 panels of
photos, personal testimony, oral history and quotes from internees of World
“This kind of education is imperative at times of national crisis,” said
Dorothy Ehrlich, executive director of the Northern California ACLU, and featured
speaker at tomorrow night’s exhibit reception “Night of the Enemy Aliens”
at the Central Library in downtown Santa Cruz.
Other speakers include Grace Shimizu, project director of the exhibit and
director of the Japanese Peruvian Oral History Project, Sandy Lydon, local
historian, and moderator Mike Rotkin, Santa Cruz City Council member and UC
Santa Cruz lecturer.
“We are deeply concerned that once again we are close to the brink of repeating
some of those very same mistakes.”
When Mas Hashimoto was a young social studies teacher in the ’60s, nobody
was talking about what had happened in his childhood.
“It was really different for me to bring Japanese-American internment up
in the classroom,” he said. “It was such a personal thing. It wasn’t in the
Nearly forty years after the end of the war, the 1983 re-trial of Fred Korematsu,
an Oakland man who had challenged the evacuation and internment of 120,000
Japanese Americans (and been imprisoned for it) opened the floodgates of memory
The overturning of his conviction forced the government to admit that it
had no substantial basis to intern it’s citizens of Japanese descent.
“That case was won by a group of lawyers who were the children of the Japanese
American families interned,” Ehrlich said.
“They had witnessed the silence and opened up a discussion of the issues.
By bringing it to light and seeking redress, they have prepared us to have
the kind of discussions this exhibit encourages.”
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Japanese American experience was
included in American history textbooks, once again because of the efforts
of those who had experienced internment as children.
“We felt we had a responsibility to teach about the internment,” Hashimoto
“The whole point was that it must never happen again.”
The textbooks are still incomplete, but the clear simple language of “Enemy
Aliens” begins to fill in the blanks with the stories of the 4,058 Germans,
2,264 Japanese, and 288 Italians taken from their homes in Latin America and
imprisoned in internment camps in the United States.
“There’s very little public awareness of the non-Japanese part of this story,”
Ehrlich said. “This is really the newest part of the discussion and it adds
to the dialogue in an important way.”
“When they took my father away, we didn’t know where he was going or what
was going to happen to him,” said Sapper, a retired nurse who lives in Santa
“I think it was harder on my mother than my father. He had time to rest
Sapper’s mother was moved to Guatemala City and forbidden to leave. She
was given a stipend of a hundred dollars a month from the family’s frozen
assets to support four children alone for four years.
“People — especially poor people — were very good to us,” Sapper said. “Only
once was I called a Nazi. Some people threw rocks at me. I was on my roller
skates and couldn’t get away.”
With vivid photos and documents of the times, the exhibit, which originally
opened at the National Japanese American Historical Society in San Francisco,
explores the perceived political, military and economic threats that Germans,
Italians and Japanese living in Latin America were alleged to present to the
United States during World War Two.
“My father was the opposite of a Nazi,” Sapper said. “It was an economic
war. My father had something they wanted, so they took it all.”
Like many internees of World War Two, the property taken from the Sapper
family was never returned to them. After a lawyer got Sapper released from
the camp, he was arrested again walking out of the courtroom.
His crime? Being in the country illegally. “His greatest fear was
that he would be sent to Germany like others who were being exchanged for
American captives,” Sapper said. “He didn’t want to go there.”
Returned to his family and native country on Christmas Eve 1945, Sapper
didn’t talk much of his experience. “He said ‘This is part of war and
war is never nice,’” Sapper said.
It was the experience of World War Two internees that President Bush referred
to in his post-Sept. 11 assurances that the United States would not do the
Arab-Americans what had been done to the Japanese Americans.
“So many people were so relieved to hear him say that, so proud that he
reiterated what had taken place,” Hashimoto said. “But that lasted only one
On Oct. 25, 2001, Congress overwhelmingly passed the USA PATRIOT (Uniting
and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept
and Obstruct Terrorism) Act.
Violations of constitutional rights allowed by this act — the fourth, sixth
and eighth especially — are keeping the ACLU busier than usual
these days. One aspect of the USA PATRIOT act actively contested by
the ACLU is the Special Registration Program, which requires young men from
more than 20 Middle Eastern and Muslim countries to register with the Immigration
and Naturalization Service (INS).
“Hundreds of young men who voluntarily appeared have been arrested and detained,”
Ehrlich said. “In many cases, it was that the INS had failed to update records
that would show their status was in order.”
According to Ehrlich, some of the same tools are being used against Muslim
and Middle Eastern men that were used against American and Latin American
citizens during World War Two.
“Singling people out solely on the basis of ethnic origin and without individual
suspicion is morally poisonous and useless from a national security point
of view,” she said. “Any expert in security will tell you that you don’t round
up everyone. “You simply make the haystack so big you can never find
For many years, the humiliating experience of internment threatened to keep
the stories secret. While some were told by government agents they should
never speak of what happened to them, others just wanted to leave the past
behind and get on with the future.
“There was a lot of humiliation about what happened,” Stagnaro said of her
family’s relocation during World War Two “We would have big family holidays
together, but nobody every talked about what happened.
“Now when I tell people I’m working on this exhibit and they say, ‘I didn’t
know that happened.’ My children didn’t even know it happened.”
With “Enemy Alien” organizers hope that knowledge is indeed power, and that
knowing history means that it won’t be repeated.
“The responses we’ve received show that people are making the connection
to what is happening now,” said Carol Fuller, exhibit organizer and board
member of the Santa Cruz Chapter of the ACLU.
“History shows that we have to start responding to these signs early. By
the time hysteria is in full tilt, it takes an exceptional person to speak
Contact Nancy Redwine at