During World War II, when his friends and neighbors were being forcibly removed as part of the Japanese American internment, Ralph Lazo did the unthinkable; he was so outraged that he joined friends on the trains that took hundreds to the Manzanar camps in May 1942. Manzanar officials never asked him about his ancestry. Lazo would later say, “It was wrong, and I couldn’t accept it… These people hadn’t done anything that I hadn’t done except go to Japanese language school.” Born of Irish and Mexican descent, Lazo was the only known nonspouse and non-Japanese American who voluntarily relocated to an internment camp. In his three years there, he attended high school, was elected president of his class, and entertained children who had been orphaned by the relocation. He remained at the camp until August 1944, when he was inducted into the US Army. After the war, Lazo returned to Los Angeles, where he graduated from UCLA. He would spend the rest of his career teaching, mentoring disabled students, and encouraging Latinxs to attend college and vote. He also helped fund-raise for a class action lawsuit, which ultimately resulted in the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, granting reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned by the US government.
“On one thing he was consistent and strong—the evacuation and internment were utterly unjustified, and he would never keep quiet about how he felt.” -Sue Kunitomi Embrey, former chairperson of the Manzanar Committee