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Ralph Lazo - A True Friend

Young people walking at Manazar War Relocation Camp, 1943. Photo by Ansel Adams, courtesy of Library of Congress.

Ralph Lazo, born in 1924 in Los Angeles, was of Mexican American and Irish descent. In 1942 at age 17, while attending Belmont High School in Los Angeles, Lazo learned that his teenage Japanese American friends and their families had received orders to relocate to government “War Relocation Centers.” Lazo was incensed. He later explained, "These people hadn't done anything that I hadn't done except to go to Japanese language school." Lazo insisted that he, too, be sent to the camps. He chose to accompany his friends to the Manzanar War Relocation Camp in Central California and is believed to have been the only person of non-Japanese descent without a Japanese American spouse to have voluntarily entered the camps during the war. There he continued his education alongside his Japanese American friends at Manzanar High School.

Ironically, in 1944, after his graduation at Manzanar, Lazo left the camp only because he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He went on to serve in the Philippines and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for heroism in combat.

After the war, Lazo graduated from UCLA and went into teaching. He remained a friend to former internees and spoke out on behalf of the redress movement for Japanese Americans interned during the war. He rarely spoke in public about his own experiences in the camp, preferring to keep the spotlight on Japanese Americans and redress. He died at the age of 67 in 1992.

Lazo is the subject of the docudrama, Stand Up for Justice, scripted by John Esaki, produced by Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress and Visual Communications, and funded by the Civil Liberties Education Fund and California Civil Liberties Fund.