California man recalls time in WWII internment camp in Arkansas


LITTLE ROCK — Frank Sata of Pasadena, Calif., was briefly overcome with emotion as he spoke Wednesday of the conditions in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans in Southeast Arkansas where he was placed as a small boy during World War II.

Speaking in Little Rock as part of the Distinguished Lecture Series of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, Sata, 81, said he has just “one traumatic recollection” about that time. He asked the audience to imagine “what it would be like to go from a house-type environment to a gang shower and a gang toilet.”

Sata, then paused, his lower lip trembling for a few moments before he regained his composure.

Born in California, Sata was placed in the Jerome Relocation Center along with his parents after President Franklin Delano Roosevelt — for whom Sata was named — signed an executive order authorizing military leaders to round up and remove people of Japanese descent from the West Coast following the United States’ entry into World War II.

The Jerome camp was one of two internment camps for Japanese-Americans in Southeast Arkansas; the other, the Rohwer Relocation Camp, housed a young George Takei, known for his role on “Star Trek.” Takei is a past Clinton School speaker.

Sata’s family was housed first at a racetrack in Santa Anita, Calif., then at Jerome and finally at an internment camp in Arizona. While he spoke Wednesday at the Ron Robinson Theater in downtown Little Rock, slides of photos and paintings by his artist father, J.T. Sata, some depicting the Arkansas and Arizona camps, were projected on a screen behind him.

Several works by J.T. Sata are on display at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies in Little Rock, along with works by other artists who were interned in Arkansas during the war.

Frank Sata discussed his career as an architect and the ways he was influenced by his father, by his internment camp experience and by the works and writings of Frank Lloyd Wright. He said that over the years he has become increasingly comfortable returning to Arkansas.

“President Clinton has often mentioned the camp, and there’s not too many presidents that I hear or I read about who clearly have the connection to our period in history in this state,” he said.

Sata said his parents tried to shield him from what was happening when they were in the camps, but now when he views his father’s paintings, “they give me a rich insight into his perspective on the situation.”

He said that as a child he did not realize how the experience of being interned affected him psychologically, but he recalled that in later years when he played war with friends, “I played the enemy.”

“It didn’t occur to me,” he said. “But now that I have a chance to think back on it, wow.”