Mitsue Salador was a freshman in college in Oregon studying nursing when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Though Salador, whose parents were Japanese immigrants, was born in the United States, everything changed for her and her family.
“Many Americans feared us, suddenly we were looked at differently,” Salador, 93, of West Islip recalled before an audience at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove on Sunday.
Slightly more than two months after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order that led to the internment of Salador and more than 100,000 other Japanese-Americans during World War II in one of the darker chapters of American history.
Salador spent a summer in an internment center, separated from her family, before she was allowed to leave and attend college in Missouri. The rest of her family, except for a brother who was serving in the Army, were sent to assembly and relocation centers before they were permitted to move to Montana, then Idaho, for work. After the war, in 1945, she helped her parents return to their home in Oregon despite fears for their safety because of lingering anti-Japanese sentiment.
In 1988, the U.S. government apologized for the internments. Despite the pain her family endured, Salador said she was glad to be an American and to live “in a country that is generous enough to recognize that they had made a mistake and apologize for it.”
“That was a terrible thing that happened to us,” she said, adding that in “today’s climate” people must be careful not to make judgments about others.
“We must be very diligent so that what happened to us does not happen again to any people,” Salador said.
President Donald Trump’s attempt to block travelers from several Muslim-majority countries and his talk of building a wall along the border with Mexico, along with recent hate crimes across the nation, were the modern-day backdrop to Sunday’s event.
Steven Markowitz, chairman of the board of the center, said in introductory remarks Sunday that the stories of Salador and another speaker, Madeleine Sugimoto, were warnings with lessons “in terms of immigration today from the Mideast and Latin American and South America.”
“The Holocaust did not start with killing camps and mass shootings . . . the Holocaust started with name-calling and bullying and graffiti and physical attacks on people and general intolerance and bigotry,” Markowitz said. “Many of the same kind of behaviors we see today, unfortunately.”