Just to set the record straight, I was too young to have been placed in a Relocation Camp during World War 2. I was not born yet. But both my Mother and my Father’s families were interned, in separate locations, shortly after Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin Roosevelt. It was a dark day in American History. But I think it is worth further examination, nevertheless.
This forcible relocation of 110,000 Japanese Americans and Japanese Nationals into “war relocation camps” was a reaction to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Ironically in Hawaii, only 1200 to 1800 of the more than 150,000 Japanese Americans were interned. A startling 62% of those interned were American citizens.
In 1988, Congress and President Reagan signed the Reparations Act, apologizing for the internment on behalf of the American government and $1.6 billion in reparations were distributed to surviving internees and their heirs. But looking beyond the onset of war, the Japanese immigrants and citizens experienced prejudice, as 90% ended up in California on farms. In 1905, a California anti-miscegenation law was amended to prohibit marriage between Caucasians, and Japanese. Further, in 1924, the Oriental Exclusion Law prevented Japanese immigrants from obtaining citizenship.
The hysteria continued to build, as many high government officials felt that the Japanese Americans were not loyal. Americans with as little as 1/16th Japanese ancestry were interned. There is evidence that the Relocation was racially motivated, rather than militarily necessary. Japanese American farmers became very successful in California, creating animosity and jealousy prior to the War. Though Japanese, German and Italian nationals were designated as enemy aliens, only the Japanese were interned.
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the military to remove enemy aliens from exclusion zones, eventually totally about 1/3 of the country. Military Area No. 1 included the Pacific Coast, to about 100 miles inland. Gradually, assets were frozen, curfews for all people of Japanese ancestry instituted, and eventually ordering them to assembly centers until permanent Relocation Camps were built and staffed.
The Relocation was popular for white farmers, who resented the Japanese farmers, as fear and prejudice ran rampant. The famous Saturday Evening Post published an interview by a Salinas farm executive as follows: “”We’re charged with wanting to get rid of the Japs for selfish reasons. We do. It’s a question of whether the white man lives on the Pacific Coast or the brown men… If all the Japs were removed tomorrow, we had never miss them in two weeks, because the white farmers can take over and produce everything the Jap grows. And we do not want them back when the war ends, either”.
The Assembly Centers were temporary facilities that were set up at horse racing tracks, fairgrounds, and other large public meeting places. After assembly and tagging, the internees were sent by bus or train to a permanent Relocation Center outside of the exclusion zones. The Department of Justice also interned about 7,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans from Latin America. My parents’ families were housed temporarily in the horse and livestock stalls at the Fresno County Fairgrounds. My Dad’s family was sent to Jerome, Arkansas, with about 8,000 other internees. My Mom’s family was sent to Poston, Arizona, with about 17,800 internees. Highway 99 in the central valley was used to determine which relocation camp the families were sent.
Among the 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans removed from their homes and farms, my parents’ families were rather fortunate. My Mom’s side had their family farm in Sanger taken care of by the Sorenson family in Parlier. They owned large amounts of farm land and a large fruit packing business, with world wide distribution. My Dad’s side had their family farm care for by a Hispanic neighbor, who owned an adjacent farm.
Most evacuees were from the West Coast and were unprepared for the cold harsh winters of Wyoming and Utah. The toilets were not partitioned, and a budget for 45 cents a day was budgeted for food per person. There was no privacy between or among families living next to each other.
However, the story gets interesting from this point. Most people on the west side of Highway 99 were already in camp, but my Dad stayed behind to finish up the last of his farm responsibilities. Since my Grandfather was an alien, the farm was in my Dad’s name. So, by the time he finished up, his family was already gone to Jerome, Arkansas, so he buddied up with some bachelors in Fresno who lived on the east side of Highway 99. For this reason, he was sent to Poston, Arizona, where my Mother’s family was also sent.
Though they knew each other a little before reaching camp, they became a twosome, and got married in Phoenix. They were given a furlough from camp for their wedding ceremony and honeymoon. From this point, the story is a little hazy, but I can hit the high points.
My paternal Grandfather was rather displeased that one of his sons was drafted into the army. I cannot imagine what must have been going through his mind. He found out that they could get an early release from Relocation camp if they joined either the war effort in the factories, or grew food on a farm apart from the West coast. So, he ended up trying to farm in eastern Colorado. But a drought wiped him out, while my Mom and Dad went to Chicago to work. Eventually, each of their siblings joined them, as they lived on Addison Street in Chicago, near Wrigley Field. When the war ended, they were allowed to return to California.
When the war ended, they came back to the farm in Kingsburg, California. I was born in 1946, and we were living in my Grandparents house. My Dad started his auto parts and repair business out of a shed in the yard, later adding another structure to expand the business. Sometime a few years after that, my parents actually moved a house from my Mom’s farm in Sanger (about 20 miles away) to my Dad’s property in Kingsburg, a distance of about 20 miles or so. That was the house I was raised in until I left home for Berkeley in 1964. It was the very house my Mom grew up in. The house is still there.
Somewhere in the late 1950’s, my Dad built a magnificent new shop on our property, about 75 yards from our house. The downside of course, was any of his customers could find him at home if the shop was closed. As I said before, we also had one of the first televisions in the Valley and in our little town. So I was raised in the same town as my Dad’s side of the family, went to the same schools, and even had some of the same teachers! That shop burned to the ground in 1970, the year I finished Pharmacy School. My Dad saved his new El Camino pick up truck, a computerized tune up machine, and his accounts receivables book. He went out the next day and found another place to build the business.
My Dad and Grandparents on both sides rarely talked about Relocation. But my Mom often did, especially when it seemed that her children were acting rather spoiled. She would tell us of the tough times, the rationing of food, the primitive living condition (tar paper barracks), and incessant sand storms. The barracks were without plumbing or cooking facilities. The spartan facilities barely met international standards. Prison cells were better equipped and more comfortable. But they also told of their social life, being with other young people the same age, going to school dances, hanging out with friends, and playing sports. It sounded like they made the best of a bad situation.
I was fortunate not to have been born in the Relocation camp. I was spared the “experience” of living behind barbed wire with armed guards, with limited rights and movement. I have read just about every book written about the experience. I have even visited the Manzanar War Relocation Center in the eastern Sierras. Though I will never know what they experienced, it will always be with me in spirit. Bless them for enduring, peacefully, and productively, like all Japanese Americans did.