Former Reedley resident Shigeo Naito (Poston block 307-6-C) spent three years in a Japanese internment camp, where he carved several figures that are now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History
By Joe Proudman
The Reedley Exponent
July 22, 2010
Shigeo Naito (307-6-C) was a 53-year-old farmer in Orosi prior to World War II. Soon after America entered the war, Naito found himself along with his wife and eight children relocating to Poston, Ariz. with other people of Japanese decent.
He would spend the next three and a half years there, imprisoned in one of 10 internment camps across the county simply because he was of Japanese decent.
It was a scary time for America; the country was pulled into war after being struck hard by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. The country reacted by ordering all Japanese on the West Coast to be held in the internment camps.
“The people were given a weeks notice basically. They could only take what they could carry,” said Daphnie Hirasuna, curator of “The Art of Gaman” exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. “Even though World War II has been over for 60-plus years, it's so amazing how few people know about camps.”
Once at the camp, detainees didn't have much. They were lacking simple items, such as chairs and shelves and out of necessity some began to carve and build. Eventually, like Naito, detainees began to carve and create sculptures, pins and other decorative objects.
“When you've lost everything how do you retain a sense of yourself,” Hirasuna said. “In some way I think people did reclaim it through making art.”
Examples of all these items are in Hirasuna's show, including sculptures by Naito, who moved to Reedley once released from Poston (camp III).
Whittling Away Time
Naito has all of his six pieces in the show at the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian. They are carvings of Japanese folklore that he whittled out of ironwood and mesquite, which are indigenous to the area. To get a smooth finish, he used broken glass glued to paper to sand the sculptures.
“Considering he was not a trained artist, what he produced was pretty amazing, it was pretty wonderful,” Hirasuna said. “I'm impressed people made these things with humble tools and no formal training.”
Naito passed along his sculptures to some of his eight children after leaving the camp. Three of them still live in the area including some grand children, though 36 members convened in Washington D.C. to see the exhibit at the Smithsonian in late June. They traveled from California, Hawaii, Georgia, Minnesota and North Carolina.
“It was really nice to have the family go and see it,” said Judy (Naito) Kobayashi, Naito's granddaughter. “My sister said she felt a sense of pride to see it.
“This is probably the only time the pieces will be together because each family has them at their home,” she added.
When he was released in 1946, Naito returned to the area, farming land in Reedley but didn't whittle anymore sculptures. He passed away in 1972.
“It was just something for him to be doing while passing time at the camp,” Kobayashi said. “He never ever carved after that.”
Book: Nihon Bunka/Japanese Culture: One Hundred Years in the Pajaro Valley
by Jane W. Borg and Kathy McKenzie Nichols
From: Chapter 3: Uneasy Settlement: The War Years
by Jane W. Borg and Kathy McKenzie Nichols
From: Chapter 3: Uneasy Settlement: The War Years
For Issei and Nisei, the news of the December 7, 1941, attack was more than a declaration of war. It was the beginning of an inner battle that hurt them more than they could say.
....arrests continued to be made of such "troublemakers" as Buddhist priests, teachers, ministers, Japanese Association officers and newspaper correspondents.
Charges were never proven against any of them, according to The Japanese and Japanese Americans in the Pajaro Valley by Eleanor Johnson and Opal Marshall. Other individuals were questioned by the FBI and kept under surveillance.
On Feb. 19, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the mass expulsion and incarceration of Japanese Americans.
By March 1942, many Japanese had left the Watsonville area voluntarily, creating a farm labor shortage. Young Nisei men were also given the choice of being evacuated or joining the military, and many did sign up. Young women also volunteered for the Women's Army Corps and the U.S. Cadet Nursing Corps.
After March 25, restrictions were placed on the movements of Japanese in Watsonville, Gilroy, the Monterey Peninsula, Salinas and San Benito County. Between April and June, they were taken to the Salinas Assembly Center, located at the Salinas Rodeo grounds.
More than 3,600 Japanese Americans were held at the Salinas Assembly Center until July 4. Twenty barrack buildings were constructed, measuring 20 x 100 feet. The camp was divided into blocks made up of 14 barracks each..
Despite the poor living conditions and general confusion of the time, the center residents quickly formed a wide variety of social activities. Several enterprising souls put together a camp newsletter, The Village Crier, to report on the happenings. Activities during this time included concerts by a glee club and an impromptu band, games of Go and Shogi, Buddhist meetings, softball games, bridge, art classes and talent shows...
Such was the community spirit of the temporary camp that when relocation plans were announced, the residents held "Hello, Arizona!" parties, decorated with paintings of desert scenery. 90% of the Salinas Assembly Center evacuees were sent to Poston Relocation Camp in Arizona; 1,222 of them were from Santa Cruz County. The Watsonville-area Japanese were split between Poston Camps I and II.
Evacuees found these "resettlement communities" surrounded with barbed wire and guarded by military police. Accommodations were primitive, to say the least, and arrangements were especially hard on the very young, the very old and the ill. Most parents and caregivers had to carry several buckets of water to their living quarters each day. Sleeping, eating, bathing and using the toilet was a group experience in the camps. The lack of privacy was particularly difficult for Japanese women. People waited in lines to eat, get shots and to get jobs.
Accommodations were similar to the temporary camps, modeled on Army barracks. Although the rooms were bare and bleak, the residents did what they could to become comfortable. Women ordered material from the Sears-Roebuck catalogue to make curtains, and the men scrounged lumber from wherever they could to make furniture.
As time passed, evacuees made a wide variety of items and even created gardens in the desert landscape. Ichiro Yamaguchi (Poston camp II) remembers, "In Camp II they had a crafts fair which was very interesting. I saw all the nice things and was amazed. People had the time to do these things. They had no place to go."
The long-time farmers even managed to raise crops and raise animals, which helped supplement camp meals. The government only allotted about 40 cents per meal. At the beginning, the food was generally abysmal, cooked by inexpert hands and made from whatever was cheapest to buy. But by the end of 1943, the camps produced 85% of the vegetables the evacuees consumed.
There were also a variety of leisure activities at the camps, especially for the children. Scout troops were organized, as well as dances, concerts and all sorts of athletics. There were also schools for the youngsters, although the quality of education was uneven, due to the lack of proper materials and teachers.Not surprisingly, tensions often ran high. Rumors were always flying.
Evacuees could also work, both inside and outside the camp. Inside, they did a variety of jobs, although the most they could be paid was $19 a day. They could also hire themselves outside the camp for farm labor. College-age students were also allowed to leave to pursue their educations. Some did leave the camps and resettle in the interior of the U.S.
However, many chose not to leave. This was partially due to the questionnaire that had to be signed prior to leaving the camp, which became known as the "Yes-Yes-No-No" form, which asked about the person's loyalty to the U.S. Those who answered the loyalty questions with "No" were sent to Tule Lake, the maximum security center, which also served as a prison for those Japanese who had failed to register for the draft.
In the spring of 1944, Executive Order 9066 was rescinded, and the loyal Japanese were finally allowed to go home. By the end of 1945, the camps had closed.
Some Japanese did repatriate and move back to Japan. Even so, most chose to stay in the U. S. and to remake their lives there. By 1949, more than 57,000 had returned to the West Coast.
This chapter is from a booklet titled, "Nihon Bunka Japanese Culture; 100 years in the Pajaro Valley." It was published by the Pajaro Valley Arts Council in conjunction with the Council's 1992 exhibition of the same name.
Linkin Park - Mike Shinoda Creates T-Shirt For Japanese Disaster Relief Fund
16 March 2011
Linkin Park rocker Mike Shinoda has designed a special T-shirt to raise funds for the victims of Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami.
The star, who's father is Japanese American (Poston block 305-2-AB) , has teamed up with bosses at charity organisation Music For Relief to release the black top, which features an origami butterfly to signify the "idea of rebirth".
A second design, bearing the words 'Not Alone', is also available for purchase on the band's official website. All proceeds from the $25 (£16.70) shirts will be donated to the Japanese relief effort following Friday's (11Mar11) double disaster.
Shinoda is also working on plans for a charity single after receiving positive feedback from fans on his Twitter.com blog after asking, "Does anyone want a new Linkin Park instrumental song, to benefit Mfr (Music For Relief) Japan relief?"
Insights from family on Japanese American internment
By Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park
My dad (Poston 305-2-AB) told me about internment a long time ago. I think he told me really early. I know that when he told me, I didn’t quite grasp it. I was too young or at that point too interested in other things to be able to really understand the concept fully. And you’ll see as you get a little bit older. You’ll start to see it in history books, in school and whatnot. And you know, they devote…what do they devote? Like a half a page. You know, there’s a big picture of Pearl Harbor and this whole thing about how awful that was and then there’s a little thing about internment like in there somewhere.
And at that point, I think it struck me like, “That’s weird. Why don’t they…like my dad told me all about that and it’s weird that they didn’t really talk about it.”
And I know over time…you know, I didn’t go on any big crusade to figure it out or anything. I think just over time, the collection of information happened and I started asking…I’d ask my relatives every once in a while. I’d ask people and the funny thing is they wouldn’t tell me. They’d give me such a watered down answer as to what their internment experience was.
I think that that bothered me because of the “it-can’t-be-helped” attitude, the shikata ga nai attitude is so…it was so useful back then but these days, in my opinion right now, I just don’t…I think that that for my generation has been a little bit of…it’s been a little bit of a detriment, a little bit of a…like something that we personally wish that our older relatives and our elders would put aside to a certain degree so that we can learn about the story.
And so when I was making this Fort Minor record, my new record, it is like more of a solo kind of a project. It is more of a focus on my experiences mixed with my creative ideas. I’m making all the music, producing every song, mixing every song, and then lyrically, I wanted to get in some things that were my own. So I got into that subject a little bit, did an interview with my dad (Poston 305-2-AB), who’s the second to youngest of 13. I mean they’re not all alive any more but 13 kids. And my aunt, who’s the oldest. So it’s the 2 perspectives. He was like 3 years old. She was in her 20s when…during the 40s when they were interned and I got…I think I got some really great insight into what happened.
Credits: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum
Fort Minor - Kenji Compositor: Mike Kenji Shinoda
Note: Mike Shinoda's father was interned at Poston 305-2-AB
My father came from Japan in 1905
He was fifteen when he immigrated from Japan
He, he... he worked until he was able to buy this patch
And build a store
Let me tell you the story in the form of a dream,
I don't know why I have to tell it but I know what it means,
Close your eyes, just picture the scene,
As I paint it for you, it was World War II,
When this man named Kenji woke up,
Ken was not a soldier,
He was just a man with a family, who owned a store in LA,
That day, he crawled out of bed like he always did,
Bacon and eggs to wife and kids,
He lived on the second floor of a little store he ran,
He moved to LA from Japan,
They called him 'Immigrant,'
In Japanese, he'd say he was called "Issei"
That meant 'First Generation in the United States',
When everyone was afraid of the Germans, afraid of the "Japs",
But most of all afraid of a homeland attack,
And that morning when Ken went out on the doormat,
His world went black 'cause,
Right there; front page news,
Three weeks before 1942,
"Pearl Harbor's Been Bombed and the Japs Are Comin',"
Pictures of soldiers dyin' and runnin',
Ken knew what it would lead to,
Just like he guessed, the President said,
the evil Japanese in our home country would be locked away
They gave Ken, a couple of days,
To get his whole life packed in two bags,
Just two bags, couldn't even pack his clothes,
Some folks didn't even have a suitcase, to pack anything in,
So two trash bags was all they gave them,
When the kids asked mum "Where we goin'?"
Nobody even knew what to say to them,
Ken didn't wanna lie; he said "The US is lookin' for spies",
So we have to live in a place called Manzanar,
Where a lot of Japanese people are,"
Stop it don't look at the gunmen,
You don't wanna get the soldiers wonderin',
If you gonna run or not,
'Cause if you run then you might get shot,
Other than that try not to think about it,
Try not to worry 'bout it bein' so crowded,
Someday we'll get out, someday, someday.
As soon as the war broke out
The F.B.I. came and they just come to the house and
"You have to come"
"All the Japanese have to go"
They took Mr. Nii
The people couldn't understand
Why they had to take him because he's just innocent laborer
So now they're in a town with soldiers surroundin' them,
Every day, every night looked down at them,
From watchtowers up on the wall,
Ken couldn't really hate them at all;
They were just doing their job and,
He wasn't gonna make any problems,
He had a little garden with vegetables and fruits that
He gave to the troops in a basket his wife made,
But in the back of his mind, he wanted his families life saved,
Prisoners of war in their own damn country,
Time passed in the prison town,
He wondered if it live it down when they were free,
The only way out was joinin' the army,
And supposedly, some men went out for the army, signed on,
And ended up flyin' to Japan with a bomb,
That 15 kiloton blast put an end to the war pretty fast,
Two cities were blown to bits; the end of the war came quick,
Ken got out, big hopes of a normal life, with his kids
and his wife but when they got back to their home,
What they saw made them feel so alone,
These people had trashed every room,
Smashed in the windows and bashed in the doors,
Written on the walls and the floor,
"Japs not welcome anymore."
And Kenji dropped both of his bagson the sides and
just stood outside,
He, looked at his wife without words to say,
She looked back at him wiped the tears away,
And, said "Someday we'll be okay, someday,"
Now the names have been changed, but the story's true,
My family was locked up back in '42,
My family was there it was dark and damp,
And they called it an internment camp
When we first got back from camp... uhh
It was... pretty... pretty bad
I, I remember my husband said
"Oh we're gonna stay til least"
Then my husband died before they close the camp.
|The Knot in Bryeres, France|
By Alice Murata
October 13, 2008
Shinkichi Tajiri (Poston block 322-9-B), a world renowned sculptor, celebrated his 80th birthday with a Netherlands exhibit showcasing many of his wonderful creations including the sculptures of 47 ronin. One of Shinkichi's earlier pieces, "Father and Son" in limestone was completed while living in Chicago in 1946. His friendship knots are well known and can be found all over the world. One is displayed outside the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. "Granny Knot" is at the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City and another in Bryeres in France, commemorating 50 years of liberation by the 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT). In the fall of 2004, to mark the 60th anniversary, some 442nd RCT veterans, including Shinkichi,returned to Bryeres in remembrance.
Tajiri is a well known name to many Japanese Americans in Chicago. Shinkichi is the 5th of 7 children born to Ryukichi and Fuyo Tajiri (Poston block 322-9-B). His oldest brother, Larry (Poston block 322-9-B), was editor of the Pacific Citizen, the bi-monthly newspaper of the Japanese American Citizens League, during World War II. The second son died at age 3 in an influenza epidemic. The third son, Vincent (Poston block 322-9-B), was part of the 442nd RCT and is best known as picture editor and director of photography of Playboy Magazine from 1954 -1971. He edited "Through Innocent Eyes," a collection of works by Nisei. His sister, Yoshiko (Poston 322-9-B), edited the Tokyo area edition of the Stars and Stripes as well as other magazines. James M. (Poston 322-9-B) was a career military officer with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He commanded Airborne Intelligence units in Vietnam and Okinawa.
Grew up in San Diego, Shinkichi always liked art. He showed his works to Ruth Hall, who introduced him to Donal Hord. Because Shinkichi couldn’t afford sculpturing lessons, he was grateful to Hord for permitting him to care for his garden in exchange for lessons. This was the beginning of sculpturing for him. The lessons ended in 1942 when his family was evacuated to Poston (III) Concentration Camp in Arizona.
In Camp 3 (Poston block 322-9-B), Shinkichi did a series of Conte crayon drawings of camp life with art materials sent by Hord. From there, he volunteered for the 442nd RCT and joined his brother Vincent at Camp Shelby in Mississippi where they trained together.
Shinkichi was a machine gunner in Company M, 3rd Battalion of the 442nd RCT, which was the heavy weapons unit. He was hit on his left thigh on July 9, 1944 during an attack on Castellina, Italy. Flown to Rome, more than 50 pieces of stone were removed and he was in a cast for 6 months. He was transferred to Marseilles, France, and given limited duty. In 1945, he requested and was granted Special Services as an artist to sketch displaced persons from the German concentration camps. This reminded him of his days at Poston. Many of Shinkichi’s art reflect the horrors of war such as "Wounded Knee" (1953), "Scorched Earth" (1955), and "Nagasaki" (1957).
At the end of military service, Shinkichi came to Chicago to be with his mother and family. He worked at Matsumoto’s Art Shop and on the GI Bill attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, which he considers to be the best of the 4 art schools he attended. He studied art history, painting, and design. From there, he went to Paris to escape racism suffered in the U.S. and to study art with cubist sculptor, Ossip Zadkins.
In 1951, Shinkichi married Denise Martin and in 1956 they were divorced. Shinkichi went through lean years but earned international recognition for his art. He received a prize for the best German wallpaper design in 1953 and came to the attention of COBRA, an art group of revolutionary experimental and protestors from Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam. The Dutch group liked his works and labeled him an abstract surrealist. Shinkichi liked to experiment with art and extend himself. He considers his work the result of his life circumstances and reflects what he is attempting to solve at the moment.
In 1955, Shinkichi worked in film and his "The Viper" won the Golden Lion for the best Use of Language of Film at Cannes Festival in 1955. His "Bodil, A Summer Day" won the Grand Prix at the first Wet Dream Film Festival in Amsterdam in 1970.
A 2nd marriage to Ferdi Jansen and their children, Glotta Fuyo born in 1957 and Ryu Vinci born in 1959 changed Shinkichi. Fatherhood shifted his philosophy of life from a death orientation towards life and regeneration.
In 1964, Shinkichi and his family went to the Art Institute of Minneapolis where he had a one year visiting professorship with Arnold Herstand. There he completed 25 bronze sculptures for an exhibit and created a monumental sculpture for the city of St. Paul.
After his 2nd wife died in an auto accident, Shinkichi changed his lifestyle to accommodate his 2 daughters. He invited Suzanne van der Capellen to join his family and married her in 1975. Now he is a proud grandparent.
50 years ago: Tucson couple broke down barriers to interracial marriage
By Luige del Puerto
November 1, 2009
November 1, 2009
Henry Oyama (Poston I), now 83, was a plaintiff in a 1959 court case that led to legalization of mixed-race marriages in Arizona.
Henry Oyama was beaming as he led his new bride from the altar of St. Augustine Cathedral in Tucson 50 years ago. She was wearing a traditional white wedding dress, and her left hand was grasping the right arm of her man.
The photos taken that day might leave the impression nothing was out of place, as if it was any other marriage ceremony. But in 1959 the country was on the brink of a major cultural shift to eliminate racism, and the Oyamas had just fought a landmark court battle to overturn an Arizona law that prohibited interracial marriage.
Because Henry Oyama is of Japanese descent and Mary Ann Jordan was white, together they broke down the race-based law that was intended to keep them apart. The law itself made it illegal for a Caucasian to marry a non- Caucasian, so Oyama felt the onus was on the white person who wanted to marry someone of another race.
“Naturally, the criticism would come more to her,” Oyama said, adding that Mary Ann’s parents believed at the time that their daughter was making herself a target.
The 83-year-old Oyama knows better than most what it’s like to be a target. He spent 2 years in an internment camp (Poston I) at the beginning of World War II, and he later served the United States as a spy in Panama.
From the barrio to internment
Henry “Hank” Oyama was born in Tucson on June 1, 1926. His father died 5 months before he was born. His mother, Mary, was born in Hawaii but grew up in Mexico. Her first language was Spanish.
Oyama said his mother was a hard worker who had an indomitable spirit and always saw the bright side of things. She used to tell him, “Don’t worry my son. There is nothing bad that happens but for some good reason.” That lesson would play out many times in Oyama’s life.
Oyama grew up as a Mexican-American in a barrio in Tucson, and his knowledge of the Spanish language would play a major role in his life.
“Quite frankly, because I was the only Japanese-American boy growing up here in the barrios, and I spoke Spanish, I was seen more as a Mexican-American by the other children,” he told the Arizona Capitol Times on a breezy afternoon at his home in Oro Valley.
Occasionally, someone who was not from the neighborhood would refer to him as a “Chino” - meaning Chinese.
The racial divide first came into focus for Oyama when he was in junior high. He had been invited to a home in Fort Lowell, and the home had a swimming pool. He had never been in such a palatial home, and he noticed a difference in the living conditions among communities, “depending upon whether you were Caucasian or others.”
But the division between races was put in starker contrast when he turned 15 years old and was hauled off with his family to a World War II internment camp near Poston (camp I), about a dozen miles southwest of Parker in La Paz County.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which set into motion the relocation of about 120,000 people of Japanese descent, most of whom were U.S. citizens, to internment camps across the country. Poston was one of the largest of these camps. It was May 1942, and the war was well underway. Oyama recalled that he, his sister and his mother were taken by a bus from Tucson to Phoenix, then to Mayer, an “Assembly Center,” and finally to Poston (camp I).
During his 15 months of internment, Oyama attended school and learned the cooking trade. “The school was set up in one of the barracks, so you could have some classes there but your next class might be in another block, so you had to walk through the sand to get to the (next class),” he said. “As you know, summers get a little hot here, and it did in Poston.” The food was “terrible,” he said. They arrived at the camp at night and were served a bowl of chili beans. It was windy, dusty, and there was sand everywhere, even on the beans. They were given a mattress ticking and were told fill it with straw. The makeshift mattresses were set on Army cots. They also were given Army blankets. But his mother never let her spirit get down while in the camp, Oyama said. “I think because she didn’t want us to become depressed,” he said.
Oyama said he signed up for cooking school out of fear that food would run short, and, as he put it, “I could sneak some off for my mother and my sister.”
After internment, he and his mother moved to the Kansas City area. His sister stayed a little longer in the camp because she was engaged to one of the young men there.
Back to the barracks
In 1945, about 2 years after he had left the internment camp, Oyama joined the U.S. Army, where his superiors assumed he spoke Japanese and wanted to send him to the South Pacific as an interpreter. When he explained that he did not speak Japanese, they thought he was trying to buck the assignment.
They sent him to the Military Intelligence Service-Language School. After 4 months, he earned a diploma. By then his superiors were convinced that he did not speak Japanese and instead was fluent in Spanish. As a result, he was assigned to the Counter-Intelligence Service. After his training, he was sent to the Panama Canal, where he worked as an undercover agent. As a spy, Oyama said he had his own apartment and his own car. He wore civilian clothes to blend in and carried a “snub-nosed .38.” His job was to make sure security was adequate in the Canal Zone. It also included surveillance, as well as protecting high-ranking officers who were passing through the Panama Canal. His undercover unit also conducted “loyalty checks” on personnel, an ironic situation for a Japanese-American forced into an internment camp due to his ethnic ancestry.
Oyama later retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserve.
After his military service, Oyama went back to Tucson, earned a bachelor’s degree in education and studied Spanish. He then began teaching American history and Spanish at local schools.
Initially, he worked at Pueblo High School, where he and a group of educators pioneered the creation of a Spanish-language program to meet the education needs of Spanish-speaking students. He also helped conduct a survey in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico on the successes of bilingual-education programs. They produced a report called “The Invisible Minority,” which directly contributed to the creation of the federal Bilingual Education Act of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1968. Oyama left Pueblo High School in 1970, served as Pima Community College’s director of bilingual and international studies, and later became associate dean of that program in 1978.
In 1989, he was appointed a vice-president at the college. He retired in 1991 and was named vice-president emeritus. In one of the greatest honors that could be bestowed on a teacher, a school was dedicated in his name - Oyama Elementary School - in 2003.
Oyama’s most memorable fight
Decades before the accolades, Oyama faced the most significant battle of his life - one that pitted him against racial inequality and Arizona law.
It was late in 1959. Christmas was just around the corner. Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House, and the country was in the middle of a cultural transformation that would challenge the status quo forever. That decade, Arizona, like elsewhere in the country, was in the process of rethinking its views on racial equality. In 1954 the Supreme Court had declared segregation unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education. The following year, Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Ala., and was arrested. In 1957, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort black students to a school in Little Rock, Ark. Also in 1959, a small group of libertarians had founded the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona. The timing couldn’t have been better.
Oyama had met Mary Ann Jordan through a mutual friend during an event at the University of Arizona. Mary Ann was originally from New York. She had moved to Tucson because she was arthritic, and her parents thought the weather here would help her. They dated, fell in love, and decided to get married. And that’s when things got complicated. One day Mary Ann brought a pamphlet from a local Catholic church that said interracial marriage was illegal in many states. She wanted to know if Arizona was one of them. Oyama said he had never heard of it. Friends didn’t know. Some said they shouldn’t worry too much about it and suggested that they get married out of state, maybe even in Mexico.
“And then someone told us, ‘Why don’t you go down to the marriage license bureau and see what happens? So we went down there. Sure enough, they said, ‘Sorry, we cannot issue you a marriage license,’” Oyama said.
About that same time, a couple of his friends, teachers at the Pueblo High School, asked if he would be willing to have the ACLU take on the case. The attorneys tapped by ACLU said they could get married out of state, but even that was risky. Someone could turn them in for illegal cohabitation, they would not be able to file joint income tax returns, and their inheritance to their children could be challenged.
Filing a lawsuit with help from the ACLU sounded like a pretty good option.
The perfect test case
Paul Rees, one of the ACLU lawyers who argued the case, said the climate was “ripe for this type of an action.” He saw a perfect test case in Henry Oyama and Mary Ann Jordan.
Besides Rees, who went on to run a successful private practice in Arizona, the other attorneys who litigated the case were Charles Ares, who later became dean of the college of law at the University of Arizona, and Frank Barry, who went on to become a U.S. solicitor general.
Ares said he took on the case because the statute was simply outrageous, bizarre, and ridiculously drafted. Among the races it prohibited from intermarrying with a Caucasian was a Hindu, which isn’t a race but someone who practices Hinduism, a religion.
The actual statute said, “The marriage of a person of Caucasian blood with a Negro, Mongolian, Malay or Hindu is null and void.” The statute also said residents of Arizona “may not evade the laws of this state relating to marriage by going to another state or country for solemnization of the marriage.”
But the Arizona chapter of the ACLU finally found a case to challenge the state law. Henry and Mary Ann challenged the statute on Dec. 11, 1959.
The ACLU argued that the Arizona statute violated the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as well as two provisions of the state Constitution.
Both Rees and Ares recounted that the county attorney who defended the statute, Harry Ackerman, was sympathetic to their case.
On Dec. 23, 1959, Pima County Superior Court Judge Hebert Krucker struck down the state’s anti-miscegenation law as unconstitutional. In his ruling, Judge Krucker mentioned that both Henry and Mary Ann were Catholic and they “are in all respects qualified to intermarry under the tenets and dogmas of their religion.”
He ordered the county’s clerk of court to issue a marriage license to Henry and Mary Ann. They were married five days later. In January the next year, the trial court’s ruling was appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court. But it never reached that point.
The ACLU staff counsel based in New York had hoped that the case would be appealed, so that it would have more persuasive weight in other jurisdictions.
“The only court of record that is published is the Supreme Court at that time,” Rees said. “If the Supreme Court had taken the case, then there would have been a published opinion that would have been precedent in any one of the other states.”
Ares said they were prepared to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. The belief then was that the Oyama case provided a better chance of striking down the state’s anti-miscegenation statute than a case involving a white and a black couple. The odds appeared to be in Henry’s and Mary Ann’s favor. They were both college educated, they belonged to the same religion, and he was a captain of the U.S. Air Force reserves and a teacher.
But before the Supreme Court could rule on the case, the Arizona Legislature repealed the anti-miscegenation law, and the case was dismissed. The lawyers who litigated the Oyama case said the court decision prompted the law’s repeal by the Legislature.
In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court finally struck down the anti- miscegenation law of Virginia in the landmark case Loving vs Virginia, ending all race-based restrictions on marriage in the United States.
Today, Oyama remains very sharp. He speaks slowly, enunciating each word as he recalls the remarkable events of his life. He has an easy smile, a sunny disposition he must have inherited from his mother.
While drinking a glass of iced tea at his dining room table, Oyama said Judge Krucker and the ACLU lawyers deserve a lot of credit for having declared the law unconstitutional.
If the ACLU hadn’t been founded at that time, there wouldn’t have been a group that would take on the case, Oyama said.
It also helped that Oyama was well-established in the community. He is a native son of Tucson, a teacher, and a veteran of World War II and a captain in the U.S. Air Force reserve at the time. It was “harder for people to criticize that guy,” Oyama said of himself.
Oyama also said Mary Ann’s parents weren’t necessarily thrilled about the whole ordeal. “They saw their daughter kind of a making a target of herself,” Oyama said. But they would later come to regard him as one of their favorite sons-in-law, Oyama said.
The case and Oyama’s work on bilingual education elevated his profile in the community. He was recognized and awarded for his body of work. But people often left out Mary Ann, Oyama said. “She was never invited to speak. She never received an award,” Oyama said.
The Oyamas had a child who died of leukemia at age 2. They also adopted four kids - three sons and a daughter. Their 28-year marriage ended in 1987 when Mary Ann Oyama passed away after suffering a heart attack.
Four years later, Oyama remarried. His second wife, Ann, also is white. This time, however, no one was concerned that a Japanese- American man was marrying a white woman. Ann (her maiden name was Gwinnup) had been a student at the high school where he taught. She had married a teacher, her first husband, and was socially acquainted with the Oyamas. She later divorced her first husband.
After they both became single, Oyama invited Ann to lunch as a “graduation gift.” She had just graduated from the University of Phoenix. They started dancing together, which they discovered was a mutual passion that they shared for many years afterward.
Meanwhile, the ACLU of Arizona would go on to litigate and win cases that sent reverberations across the country. Among its biggest victories would be Miranda v. Arizona, where the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers must tell a person in custody that he or she has rights to counsel and to remain silent.
“I don’t think our job will ever be done as long as human beings exist and have government,” said Alice Bendheim, one of its founders.
Harold Lehner's First Teaching Job Was At A Japanese-American Internment Camp.
August 20, 1997
By Sara ShecKler, Orlando Sentinel correspondent
By Sara ShecKler, Orlando Sentinel correspondent
HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS — Harold Lehner was in his senior year at Newark State Teachers College in New Jersey when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. A medical deferment let him graduate and start teaching at a junior high school in New Jersey. But his destiny, like those of many young men of the time, was to be determined by the war.
In 1943, Lehner, who now lives in Howey-in-the-Hills, decided to apply for teaching positions at several Japanese-American internment camps. Most of the camps were on the West Coast. Lehner accepted a yearlong position teaching at the Colorado River War Relocation Camp in Poston, Ariz.
Lehner, now 75, was 21 years old when he accepted a job with the camp, on an Indian reservation. "I rode a train for four days from New Jersey to Phoenix. While waiting there for a connecting train to camp, I rented a hotel room for several hours. It was the first chance I'd had to sleep in a prone position for four days," he said.
Lehner and his colleagues were hired by the U.S. Dept of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs. He taught several classes of 9th-graders and was the adviser on the school's yearbook, Post Ano (Poston camp I).
Lehner said most of his students were born in America, and two-thirds of the residents of the relocation camp were American citizens. Many of the teachers were Japanese-Americans. Lehner said social activities at the camp included hiking in the desert and swimming in the Colorado River. Guests visiting the camp included Kabuki theater performers and clergy members from Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant and Quaker denominations.
After his job ended at the camp, Lehner moved back to New Jersey. He took a position in September 1944 teaching social studies to juniors and seniors at Belleville High School in Belleville, N.J. He was completing graduate work at Columbia University in Manhattan at the same time, and he graduated in 1947 with a master's degree in secondary school administration.
A few years later Lehner switched fields, taking a job selling life insurance. He spent the rest of his career in the area, retiring in 1982 from the Whitestone Corporation in Philadelphia as a senior vice president. He and his wife, Charlotte, moved to Orlando that year. A golf game played at the Mission Inn Golf & Tennis Resort in Howey-in-the-Hills convinced the Lehners to move to Howey in 1984.
Lehner said he keeps in touch with Bob Montgomery, another of the teachers at the Colorado River camp.
He said he also saw a notice in The New York Times a few years after he left the camp that mentioned a Japanese-American teacher he had known there.
"I noticed a large ad in the newspaper seeking engineers for a Fortune 500 company. The contact person was Dr. Tafee Tanimoto," Lehner said. He said he contacted Tanimoto to let him know he'd seen his name in the newspaper.
Lehner said teaching at the camp taught him something too. "I saw the burden this minority group carried. By virtue of their natural origin and physical appearance, the residents were sent to these camps," he said.
Imperial Valley College awards Japanese-Americans of WWII with honorary degrees
By ROMAN FLORES, Staff Writer
Imperial Valley Press
June 13, 2010
Imperial Valley Press
June 13, 2010
IMPERIAL — Of the few special awards given at the Imperial Valley College commencement here Saturday, none was as steeped in history as those given to Steven Koike and Mike Kaku.
Kaku and Koike accepted honorary degrees on behalf of their family members, Terry Koike (Poston 53-5-C), the late Hiroshi Kaku (Poston 12-6-B), Emiko Kaku (Poston 12-6-B), and Sachiko Kaku (Poston 12-6-B), whose college education was disrupted when they were interned during World War II. These former local students — along with the late Arthur Kato (Poston 53-12-C) — were just 5 of the 2,567 Japanese-Americans enrolled in California’s public higher education institutions who were forcibly evacuated from their homes in 1942, according to a press release. As a result of their internment in government camps they were unable to complete their education within the United States, according to the release.
Now, almost 70 years later, the California state government passed legislation that “authorized higher educational institutions to award various types of degrees,” according to around the capitol.com.
The three living honorees, all of whom are now in their 80s, were not able to attend the commencement because of failing health and prior family engagements, but their relatives were happy to accept the honors on their behalf.
“Hiroshi attended Brawley Junior College during the day,” Mike Kaku said of his late uncle. “My aunt (Sachiko) and mother (Emiko) did not have the opportunity to attend college because the war had already started.”
The Kakus, then living in Brawley, were forced into the Poston Relocation Camp (I) near Parker, Ariz., Mike Kaku said. Later they were moved to the Tule Lake camp in Northern California until late 1944.
The Koikes were also interned at Poston, Terry Koike said.
“The story goes that my grandfather (Hashimoto) was separated from the rest of the family,” Koike said. “He went to Crystal City, Texas, while the rest of the family was in Arizona. Later they were reunited in Crystal City.”
After the Koike family was released in 1944, they followed Hashimoto back to Japan and lived there until he died. Upon their return to the states, Steven’s father, Terry, never returned to Central Junior College in El Centro or to Holtville, where he resided before the war.
“My dad came back to the states and put his life back together,” Koike said. “Eventually he started an orchid business and had some success.”
Though the honorees themselves were unavailable for comment, their family members reflected their sentiments before accepting the awards at IVC’s commencement.
“We’re very pleased that the college is making this genuine gesture,” Koike said. “I know my dad is very proud and pleased to receive this honorary degree.”
A stable force in Matsuzaka deal
By Gordon Edes, Boston Globe Staff
February 15, 2007
February 15, 2007
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There are many fathers to the saga of how Daisuke Matsuzaka wound up with the Red Sox. Dan Okimoto (Poston block 327-4-C) is the only one born in a racetrack stable.
Okimoto's parents were Christian missionaries from Japan, living in California on temporary visas, when Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States declared war on Japan. Returning to Japan was out of the question. In the hysteria that followed, Okimoto's father and pregnant mother were among the 120,000 people of Japanese descent herded into internment camps in World War II. While waiting to be shipped to the Poston Relocation Camp (III) in Arizona, they were held on the grounds of the Santa Anita racetrack in Southern California.
"They made one of the stables a makeshift maternity ward," Okimoto said. "I was literally born in a stable. My parents named me Daniel, because of the metaphor of Daniel in the lion's den."
He chuckled. "You could say I got off to a fast start," he said. "The year I was born, 1942, was the Year of the Horse. Maybe I should have been named after a horse."
Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino has been friends with Okimoto since they were classmates at Princeton. Okimoto roomed with Bill Bradley -- All-America basketball star, Rhodes Scholar, NBA player, and senator -- and later was a top policy adviser in Bradley's presidential campaign.
"Any time we think of doing something with a Japanese component," Lucchino said, "my first call is to Dan."
That was true in San Diego, when Lucchino was with the Padres and Okimoto spearheaded the team's doomed pursuit of Hideki Irabu, who insisted on pitching only for the Yankees even after the Padres acquired his rights. And it remained the case after the Sox entered a bid on Matsuzaka and Lucchino placed a call to Okimoto, who had overcome his humble origins -- the US government formally apologized for the internment in 1988 -- to become a professor of international studies at Stanford.
Okimoto had gotten himself mixed up in baseball by chance. He'd been visiting San Diego, where he was raised after his family was released from the camp (Poston III), and saw a picture of Lucchino in the paper.
It was over lunch that Okimoto agreed to help Lucchino and the Padres find a Japanese player who might be as successful as Hideo Nomo was at the time with the Padres' biggest rival, the Dodgers. Okimoto protested that he didn't follow the Japanese leagues, but Lucchino persisted and Okimoto agreed to launch a search.....