Westfield State Interim President Reflects On Time In Internment Camp

WESTFIELD, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — In the wake of recent anti-Asian American violence in the U.S., there have been many gatherings and discussions about the issue. This month, Westfield State University is celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. Interim President Dr. Roy Saigo, who is a Japanese American, will be a speaker during the celebration.

During World War II, Saigo and his family were placed in an internment camp in Arizona. He was a toddler at the time and did not get out until he was 5 years old.

“When we got back, it’s curious because most people say ‘Well, you got back and you are able to go home.’ Well, we had no home. We had no place to go,” Saigo said.

He remembers staying in a gymnasium on cots until his father found a job with a farmer. Saigo’s family then moved to the country.

Saigo said there were some parts of working on the farm he didn't like. His father then told him "'Well, go to school. Get an education and that’s one thing they can’t take away from you.’" So, that's what Saigo did.

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According to Saigo, anti-Asian sentient is nothing new. He said there is "a lot of residual hatred" left over from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

"Through the pandemic, we’ve had issues that have surfaced that have pretty much kept under wraps. And I think we’re losing the sense of shame and the frustrations have just eroded to a point where we are now acting them out," Saigo said.

Saigo will be speaking at the school via Zoom on Monday, April 5 at 10:30 a.m. His talk is titled "Truth in History, Positionality, and Solidarity in Practice: A Leadership Dialogue with President Saigo."

“By honoring President Saigo’s lifelong experiences — including his personal and family experiences of Japanese American incarceration — we hope attendees will learn about this important part of United States history,” Juliet Lee, Ph.D., assistant professor of education at Westfield State and one of the event’s organizers, said. “We also hope they will take away insights on intersectionality, positionality, and solidarity, in hearing the ways President Saigo’s racial, ethnic, political, and cultural identities inform how he engages in leadership in our communities, including Westfield State.”

Listen to full conversation between WBZ NewsRadio's Ben Parker's (@radiobenparker) and Westfield State Interim President Dr. Roy Saigo:

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(Photo: Courtesy of Westfield State University)

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