Scholar shares family’s story of WWII internment at nisei center

The Maui News

Gail Okawa, a former professor and visiting scholar at various institutions, will share her family’s story of being interned during World War II at a presentation next week at the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center in Wailuku. Okawa’s talk is scheduled for 2 p.m. Jan. 13 at the center’s Maui Adult Day Care Center Hall.

The talk, “Through My Grandfather’s Eyes: American World War II Internment from Sand Island, Hawaii, to Santa Fe, New Mexico,” comes as the memorial center continues its “Internment: Stories from Maui” exhibit. The talk is free, but donations will be accepted. To reserve a seat, send email to

Okawa will share the experiences of her grandfather and other issei, or first-generation Japanese, from Maui, the Big Island, Kauai and Oahu before and following Pearl Harbor, and how they survived their captivity in remote prison camps, separated from their families for years.

Okawa is professor emeritus of English at Youngstown State University in Ohio, and a visiting scholar at the Center for Biographical Research at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Since 2002 when she was a visiting scholar at the Smithsonian Institution, she been researching the experiences of Japanese immigrants from Hawaii — including her maternal grandfather, a Christian minister on Maui and the Big Island — who were imprisoned unjustly during WWII in internment camps on the Mainland U.S. run by the Justice and War departments.

Okawa has completed a book-length study titled “Exile from Paradise: Hawaii Japanese Immigrants in World War II U.S. Department of Justice Internment.”

The exhibit runs through Feb. 23. It is open from noon to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and on Saturdays only by appointment.

The exhibit features personal stories, photographs and information on the two Maui locations that served as detention centers.