Memories of internment during WWII
Mar 24, 2010
Lily Hatanaka still remembers the taunt her classmates chanted as she walked to San Diego High School the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor:
“You dirty yellow Japs. You dirty yellow Japs,” Hatanaka says, her voice dropping to a low, robotic drone. “All the way to the campus.” The next day, her principal, Dr. Aseltine, held a special assembly.
“He reminded everyone that we have about 60 Japanese Americans, and they are Americans and they are to be respected and treated like Americans,” she says.
She also remembers a moment she shared with her grandfather during their incarceration at Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona.
“He had planted sweet peas and they had just started to grow,” says Hatanaka, 85, as she stirs a cup of coffee in her Kamoku Street apartment. “He looked at me and smiled and I thought, never in my life have I seen such a beautiful smile. It was so peaceful and so calm and he was so glad that he could share that moment with me.”
Hatanaka’s story is one of six recorded for the University of Hawaii Center for Oral History’s ongoing project, Captive on the U.S. Mainland: Oral Histories of Hawaii-born Nisei. The project seeks to disrupt the misconception that World War II confinement was limited to only prominent, established Hawaii Japanese and their families. Instead, the interviews illuminate the life stories of transplanted Hawaii Japanese, most of them students attending colleges in California, who were also incarcerated.
In September of 1941, Hatanaka, a Maui native, moved to San Diego at the age of 16 to start her senior year of high school, with hopes of establishing residency and attending the University of California Berkeley to study nursing. None of those hopes came true. On Sunday, December 7, 1941, a day Hatanaka spent tossing a football to her cousins outside of the San Diego Zoo, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
In May, Hatanaka, along with her aunt, uncle and grandfather, with whom she lived, were incarcerated at Poston, the largest of the 10 relocation centers. The way Hatanaka describes it, her 10-month stay at Poston was like summer camp.
“I was so excited,” she says. “I said, ‘This is living history. I can’t miss anything’… I think most people must have thought it was like the Holocaust. And it wasn’t.”
Instead, her days were spent singing in a ‘ukulele trio with friends, fishing at a nearby river where a man once tried to escape on an elaborately constructed raft (“He was maybe 10 minutes down the river before the FBI got him”) and cheering on her camp’s baseball team. Little moments, like the choir’s Christmas concert in which she sang, stay preserved in Hatanaka’s mind.
“That Hallelujah choir against that Arizona sky, those stars so bright you could almost pluck them out of the sky. Oh it was just wonderful,” she says. “We ended with a sevenfold Amen. And when that last Amen faded you just felt like you touched God. It was just so beautiful.”
Hatanaka is quick to point out that her experience as a transplanted college student was markedly different from the experiences of mainland Japanese who lost their property, jobs and livelihoods.
“Those Californians, I admire them so much. For all their losses, they just put it behind them and just dug in and started all over again. Everyone was busy doing something. Nobody sulked,” says Hatanaka, who retired from Kaiser High School as a social studies teacher in 1976. “My family was safe on Maui and that was the main thing. Once I realized they were safe the adventure became real to me. I didn’t have to worry.”
For Hatanaka, sharing her story felt liberating. “It was something I think I needed,” she says. “My family never asked me questions because I think they felt very guilty. They just couldn’t ask. I always felt like I was a part of a living history. And we cannot bury it. We have to tell it and everyone in America should know about it.”
When asked how she’s able to remember the tiniest details of her past so vividly, Hatanaka smiles. “That’s what grandpa taught me,” she says.
Since we currently do not have a museum to publicly display Poston artifacts, pictures of the recent donations we received are being posted here for your viewing.
Photo: Large trunk belonging to the K. Oda family, formerly from Dinuba, CA. Donated by Mrs. Rose Oda.
Photo: Two wooden crates owned by the K. Oda family. Donated by the Mrs. Rose Oda.
Photo: 1945 Campus Echoes yearbook from the Parker Valley High School. Donated by L. (Nagata) Kiyomoto.
W. Wade Head, was born in Eldorado, Arkansas, and employed with the Bureau of Indian Affairs as an Area Director for many years. He served as the Project Director of the Poston Relocation Center (aka the Colorado River Relocation Center) from 1942-1944. He died on January 25, 1997 at the age of 89 years.
Photo: Two hand-made gifts from the Poston internees to W. Wade Head. The desk was constructed from mahogany. The hand-carved buddha figure is thought be made from local mesquite wood. Donor: Bill Head, son of W. Wade Head.
It's coming up very soon!
...A bus trip from the Golden Nugget-Las Vegas to Poston during the Poston III reunion in less than two weeks!!!! I'm pumped...as my kids would say..
I infiltrated the Poston III reunion committee meeting this year and finally (!) convinced the head honchos that they need to reach out to the descendants of the Poston III internees. The surviving internees are now in their 80-90's. I know one who will celebrating her 101st birthday this year!!!
I have heard some friends of mine who said their parents would not talk/or refused to talk about their camp experience. Others said that their parents were very vague and only said "it was hot, dusty and complained about the food". Those of us--their kids (their next of kin) who no longer have their parents living, now wish that their parents would have talked more about their experiences at camp..... But its too late now.....they are gone....
Well, let me tell you (since you ARE reading this) that (I think) I have succeeded in getting this year's Camp III Reunion planning committee to finally plan some educational events and branch out to all Poston I, III and III survivors. Yes, there were THREE (3) separate camps at Poston. A total population less than 18,000 people displaced in that desert in Arizona, which at that time, made Poston the 3rd largest city in Arizona! I understand that camp I and II have not had regular reunions. The former school-aged kids from Camp III regularly planned reunions and alternated the hosting job. (The Central Valley, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego.) After all, as someone told me, they were friends and went to school with each other. Most of them were stuck out there for three years!!!
And YES, they ALL lived in the same place--the Colorado River Indian Reservation in Arizona. So what if the three (3) camps were separated by 3-5 miles of desert---the living conditions were all the same. I think it will be a good learning experience for the former internees to learn about the successes of the other guys---the former Poston internees who lived at Poston I and II. Why not?
By using the term 'camps', you should know that they were not really "camps". They were 24/7 in detention. When I was growing up, all I had heard was "I know so and so" because they were 'at camp'. I had always thought that they were referring to 'church' camp. A few months ago, I was reminded that I was not the only one person who thought it was 'church' camp. Hey, a whole generation of us baby boomers--the Sansei generation---were clueless. It WAS NEVER in our U.S. History books. We deserve to learn about it.
So PLEASE, invite the rapidly growing new group of Sr. citizens (us baby boomers---the Sansei generation) to attend your reunions! PLEASE educate and talk to us. WE WANT TO KNOW. WE WILL LISTEN. Don't take it to the grave with you.
As a side note, the reunion committee gave me the look. You know, of being overwhelmed with the thought of having to be responsible for the record-keeping of a bus tour -- in addition to the cost of reserving the conference site. One would think that they were planning an elaborate wedding!
Silly me~I volunteered to coordinate the bus trip myself! Let them get their well-deserved sleep at night. The bus trip is separate from the "official" reunion planned events. There! Let that put that issue to rest in their minds... Hey, I can pull this thing off.
Ahem...I am proud to announce that Chizuko Judy (Sugita) de Queiroz (Poston camp I), an international award-winning watercolor artist, will be in attendance at the reunion. She will have her "Camp Days 1942-1945" collection available for viewing and/or purchase.
I suggest you take a 'sneak peek' of her collection, which is posted on her website:
I am honored to announce that Kiyo Sato (Poston camp II) will be giving a presentation on Wed. April 7th at 10:00 am. Her book,"Dandelion Through the Crack" published by Willow Valley Press is now out-of-print. The new edition has been printed under a different title, "Kiyo's Story: A Japanese Family's Quest for the American Dream" by Soho Press.
Kiyo has received many awards for "Dandelion Through the Crack", including the William Saroyan International Prize for writing in non-fiction by Stanford University Libraries/William Saroyan Foundation, the Award of Excellence in Publications-Sacramento Co. Historical Society, the Gold Award for Best First Book-Northern California Publishers & Authors, and was honored for her accomplishments by the California Writers Club-Sacramento Branch, and by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell. Last year, Kiyo spoke at the 2009 Annual Day of Remembrance at the Smithsonian, in Washington, DC. She belongs to the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Nisei Post 8985, and has given numerous talks to school-aged children about her own personal experiences at the Pinedale Assembly Center and the Poston Relocation Center (aka Colorado Relocation Center) during WW II. Kiyo is an EXCELLENT speaker--take my word for it.
Photo: Kiyo Sato. 2010
The Japanese-American Historical Society of San Diego will be will be in attendance and have agreed to have available for purchase, items that will be of interest to the reunion attendees, such as:
1. 13th Poston III Reunion (San Diego) booklet "Last Dance"
2. "Dear Miss Breed" Limited copies available. http://www.dearmissbreed.com/
3. "Japanese Americans in San Diego Images of America: California" paperback
4. Mohaveland (reprint of the Poston III Buddhist Church Pictorial directory)
5. Hi-Times Spotlight volumes 1 & 2 reprint of the school newspaper
6. "Democracy Under Pressure" DVD
The Poston Restoration Project will, of course be there. We will have tables with the Poston I, II, III blueprints, which have been ENLARGED so that you can actually see the barrack numbers and read the map legend. Block maps will be on display. These are 'draft" copies, as attendees will verify and correct the internee names in the barracks for each block. (If you are coming & were at camp I or II, let me know so that I will bring your block map for you to review.) Magnifying glasses will be provided--I kid you not!.
Items available for purchase:
1. "Passing Poston" DVD
2. " Sharing a Desert Home: Life on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, Poston, Arizona, 1942-1945" by Ruth Y Okimoto, PhD. Limited copies available. Read my review on Amazon.com:
3. "Poston Block 211" by Jack Matsuoka (Poston II). Limited copies available. Read a review on Amazon.com
Our videographer, Wayne & his lovely assistant, Heather, will be on recording oral histories for the Poston Restoration Project. PLEASE stop by and sign up for an appointment. Our same marvelous camera duo will assist with "class" and "block" group photos during the Tues April 6th evening banquet---just before the I-CAN'T-WAIT ( I really can't) performance of the Grateful Crane Ensemble. http://www.gratefulcrane.com/
There won't be a dry eye or still foot in the audience, I guarantee it. Some couples might even get up and dance! I wouldn't doubt it....
Okay, so back to the bus trip to Poston, there is NO set fee. NO.
Bring your tax-deductible donation to "The Poston Restoration Project" in lieu of a "fee" for the tour.
So I want that bus filled to capacity--58. Sign up now & reserve your seat.
Hope to see you very soon..........
P/S: Guess what? I counted over 320 have registered to attend!
Have you heard of the song, "Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing? Ever wonder where all the barracks went to if you drive out to Poston today?
Here's a collection of recent photos courtesy of former Poston resident, Kimberly. Thank you!
Here's a collection of recent photos courtesy of former Poston resident, Kimberly. Thank you!
March 15, 2010
By Gwen Muranaka, Rafu English Editor
Mikawaya celebrated its 100th anniversary with, what else— mochi. From traditional manju to mochi ice cream, the Little Tokyo confectionary has found success taking a traditional Japanese dessert and transforming it with a uniquely Japanese American spin.
“It was my parents’ wish, to provide traditional Japanese pastries in Los Angeles and by doing this they would continue the celebrations of traditional Japanese holidays such as girls day with sakura mochi, Boys Day with kashiwa mochi and New Year’s with kasane mochi,” said Frances Hashimoto, president of Mikawaya USA.
On Monday evening, Mikawaya hosted a celebratory dinner at the Kyoto Grand Hotel and Gardens in Little Tokyo. Among well-wishers included George Takei, who emceed the event, Consul General Junichi Ihara and Councilmember Jan Perry.
Mikawaya first opened at 365 E. First Street in Little Tokyo in 1910. Haru and Koroku Hashimoto purchased the business in 1925 and ran it until 1942 when they were incarcerated at Poston relocation center, where Frances was born. (Poston Block 26-13-C) They returned in 1945 and reopened the shop in Little Tokyo.
Hashimoto took over in 1973 and under her husband Joel Friedman’s stewardship, Mikawaya has expanded to include five retail stores, a bakery, a warehouse and an ice cream manufacturing facility. The company is also opening a new 100,000 square foot facility in Vernon that is designed to meet the increasing demand for Mikawaya’s products and will be the headquarters for new product research and development of frozen desserts.
“Although my dad passed away in 1958 and my mother lived to be 101, her greatest joy was to work at the retail store and talk to customers and friends,” said Hashimoto. “Tonight I would like to say I am proud to carry on that tradition and with my husband Joel and a great crew who are Mikawaya family also.”
Friedman explained that the new emphasis on low-sugar desserts has been a challenge and opportunity for Mikawaya. He also introduced son Ryan, as the fourth generation of the pastry company.
Friedman presented the company’s latest inventions—mochilato, gelato wrapped in mochi, and mochiquitos, a dessert topping— emphasizing that Mikawaya’s goal is to make mochi as “commonplace as apple pie.”
“The trend among many dessertmakers is to try to make better-for-you desserts. While it may sound like an oxymoron it is in fact not only happening but is producing some interesting ideas and opportunities,” said Friedman. “Mikawaya is working very hard at finding new ways at bringing to our current customers and hopefully new customers products that they want or will want in the future.”
Former Student to Receive Honorary Degree
Monday, December 8, 1941 was a day Carl Yoshimine has never forgotten. It isn’t so much the details he recalls as the strange feeling he couldn’t seem to shake.
“Emotionally, it was awkward,” he remembers.
The day before, he had been as shocked as everyone by news that the Japanese navy had attacked Pearl Harbor. This was the first day of classes since the attack and much of the country was still coming to grips with the stunning developments that would plunge America into World War II. When he arrived on campus from his family’s home in Ocean Beach, the first semester freshman encountered a subdued student body.
“Everybody was in small groups. All the students were kind of shocked and they were talking with each other,” Yoshimine recalls. “And I guess because of my ancestry – I’m of Japanese ancestry – I just felt kind of awkward. I wasn’t responsible for any of it and I didn’t feel guilty, but it was just an awkward day for me.”
As Yoshimine remembers it, none of his classmates were hostile or accusatory. He has no memory of a negative incident at San Diego State.
“Not on campus,” he insists. “There were other incidents after that when we were in public places. There were some remarks that were not very pleasant, but never on campus.”
As months passed, Yoshimine fell back into the routine of studying business and economics; classes the teenager thought would provide the best background for a solid career. But he came to discover a new favorite subject.
“I enjoyed history,” he recalls. “At the time there was Dr. (A.P.) Nasatir and I thought he was someone with a very good grasp of the South American culture and I really enjoyed his classes.”
Before Yoshimine could change educational directions, however, a government decree would alter the course of his life. Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, authorized the U.S. military to relocate Japanese Americans, including Yoshimine and his family, from along the Pacific coast to inland internment camps.
“AND SO WE GOT ON THE TRAIN”
Word came suddenly in April, 1942. “We received that order and so we had to move. We had to leave our homes,” the San Diego native and Point Loma High School graduate remembers. He and his family were told to report to the downtown train station.
“According to the order, you were only to take what you could carry, so we each packed a suitcase and then we packed a duffel bag because it was too difficult to carry two suitcases. It was just the basic things that we would need - mostly clothing and necessities. We heard that we may go to some area that, weather-wise, was not like San Diego. It seems strange now because nowadays everyone is wearing jeans and Levis and things like that, but in those days I hadn’t even seen what Levis were like, but we went and bought Levis to be equipped for a harsher climate.
“We couldn’t take furniture. It was so limited we just left everything. We didn’t have that much time. We would just take out our furniture in front of our house and have people buy it or just give it away. My older brother, Masao, turned in our personal car to the Dodge dealer, which was about two or three blocks from the Santa Fe Station in San Diego and then he walked back to the station. And so we got on the train.”
“WE HAD TO DO WHAT WE HAD TO DO”
Just like that. Was there any thought of organizing a protest or at least laying plans to someday return and claim their property?
“I think things in that era were such that when certain laws were put in place you just were obedient and did it,” Yoshimine explains. “I don’t think the frame of mind of people was thinking ahead. They just were so intense at the time. I didn’t feel that anyone said, ‘We’ll come back’ or anything like that. It didn’t enter my mind. We had to do what we had to do. It wasn’t fatalistic. It’s just the way it was then and what else could you do?”
Yoshimine, his brother and parents ended up in a camp in the desert called Poston III, one of a trio of camps at the Poston Relocation Center near Parker, Arizona. There, his father, who had driven a produce route in San Diego, was director of food and eventually became camp director of Poston III. Yoshimine and his brother, both with some college education, became teachers of the camp’s younger students.
After about a year in the camp and before the war was over, Yoshimine relocated to Wilmore, Kentucky where his San Diego State credits transferred to Asbury College. It was what many of his friends in the camps were doing as they could not return to the coast.
On the train trip from Cincinnati down through Kentucky, The young man from California had his first experience with the American South.
“The train was full and I was naïve, so I went to another car,” Yoshimine recounts. “They told me I had to move out of that car because it was a segregated car and I had gone into the wrong section. It was a Jim Crow car and so I learned about that in an uncomfortable way.”
Despite the discriminatory challenges they encountered, the Yoshimines went on with their lives. Brother Masao volunteered for the counterintelligence corps and served with the U.S. Army in Japan. Yoshimine graduated with a degree in history. Wanting to share his Christian faith, he then went on to Asbury Theological Seminary for his master’s degree in religious education. He later attended divinity school in Berkeley and got another degree.
Yoshimine married, had three sons, and became a pastor in the Pacific Coast Free Methodist Conference. For 43 years he preached on Sundays to congregations throughout his native California before retiring in 1994. He and his wife, Miko, now live in Anaheim.
A few weeks ago, Carl Yoshimine received a letter from San Diego State University. His was one of 43 names of former San Diego State students who may qualify for honorary degrees under the California Nisei College Diploma Project. The project, approved by state lawmakers, seeks to bestow honorary degrees to American college students of Japanese descent who, like Yoshimine, were sent to internment camps during World War II.
After an extensive search to locate them, Yoshimine is one of three diploma-eligible students to contact SDSU along with the family members of some of the others. Their input is sought to plan a May ceremony on campus for awarding the degrees.
“I thought it was just a wonderful gesture and I really appreciated that move,” Yoshimine says of the honorary degree. He’s looking forward to returning to the campus he hasn’t seen since the day he left in 1942.
“I’m sorry I haven’t (visited),” he says. “I follow the basketball and the football teams in the newspaper and I still know the fight song.”
He begins to sing the words familiar to Aztecs everywhere:
‘Fight on, and on, ye Aztec men. Sons of Montezuma we will win again.’ See? I know the song!” he proudly proves.
When he finally returns to campus in May, Yoshimine says he will gladly accept his honorary degree from SDSU.
“I feel it’s an important event because it’s not only honoring a particular group of people, but it’s honoring what education in the United States stands for and the integrity of what an education should be and the fulfillment of a person as an individual seeking to fulfill their dreams,” he says. Later this month, Yoshimine will celebrate his 86th birthday. Looking back, does he feel cheated by having his education interrupted and his life and his family’s lives turned upside down? On the contrary.
“To me, every circumstance molds a person’s character,” he explains. “Going to the relocation center, for me, helped me find a stronger faith, which has put me in a more positive outlook rather than a discouraging or negative approach.
“I think carrying excess baggage or bitterness narrows your perspective of life. It doesn’t expand you as a person. To carry something with bitterness and hurt scars you as an individual for not being able to overcome it. And to live in that state is something that is unhealthy as far as I’m concerned.”
Spoken like the Aztec Carl Yoshimine once was and soon again will be.
SDSU is just one of many California State University institutions participating in the Nisei College Diploma Project. If you know someone who may qualify for an honorary degree, please contact SDSU’s Kristina Moller at (619) 594-8274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Justine Lee
Directed by Joe Fox and James Nubile
Passing Poston focuses on the Poston Relocation Center in the Arizona desert, one of 10 internment camps used during World War II. Japanese and Japanese American internees were sent to Poston, unbeknownst to them, to cultivate the land for thousands of Colorado River Tribe Indians. The documentary unravels history through four former internees: Ruth Okimoto, Kiyo Sato, Leon Uyeda and Mary Higashi. All four express their initial shock and humiliation which, after Poston, evolved into anger and a desire to reconcile their identities as Americans. Okimoto's unease leads her to discover that she and thousands of Poston internees provided the groundwork for the Colorado River Indian community, which still exists. After a visit to Poston, Okimoto leaves peaceful knowing that the Japanese suffering gave another minority group the opportunity to prosper. Okimoto's calm contrasts Uyeda's moving admission that only death can settle his feelings of isolation. The stories reveal human vulnerability and strength while reminding us that there are countless other stories to be told. - Justine Lee