We are actively working to preserve the physical artifacts as well as the stories and memories of life in one of America's concentration camps located at Poston, Arizona. It was named "Poston" or the "Colorado River Relocation Center", located on the Colorado River Indian Reservation during World War II. The Poston Community Alliance is a 501(c)(3)non-profit group.
2011 Poston Legacy Reunion Committee continues
to work on the reunion booklet and DVD. These items were pre-ordered. We are close to being completed but we have run into a few major
problems over the last several months. In addition those working on it
have life's regular and unexpected commitments and happenings.
original date of completion was the end of April. We are hoping for no later than an end of May
mailing. Thanks for helping us "spread the word" and for your
patience and understanding.
Colleen Hayashi on behalf of the 2011
Poston Legacy Reunion Committee
Stories of Japanese American women’s struggles to raise children in the World War II desert prison give importance to preservation efforts.
By Christine McFadden
Pacific Citizen Correspondent
April 20, 2012
As a child, Marlene Shigekawa did not know the true nature of her birthplace.
“When I was younger, I would ask where I was born, and my mom would say, ‘Poston,’” said Shigekawa. “But it was like some mysterious place."
Her mother, Misako, gave birth to two children while incarcerated in Poston, the largest of the WWII Japanese American camps near Parker, Ariz. Separated by three sites each 1-3 miles apart, Poston once incarcerated over 18,000.
“Other friends could point to the hospital where they were born,” she said. “Poston was like some mystery in Arizona.”
At Poston camp 1 (left), Misako Shigekawa had two children Marlene (baby on lap) and brother Gerald
Now Shigekawa spends time trying to find connections at Poston. A Poston Community Alliance board member, Shigekawa is producing a documentary on Poston’s mothers and babies focused on the perspective of women who gave birth and raised children in camp.
“Specifically, mothers and babies from Poston are significant because they represent the very transition of a generation and it meant that the internment ‘stamp’ was indelibly being left on two generations instead of just one,” said Daryl Brown, another Poston Community Alliance board member. His mother was born in Camp 1.
Kodomo no tame ni
The subject of the Poston documentary is a unique one, born from personal experiences.
Shigekawa and Dr. Ruth Okimoto, a Poston Community Alliance board member who spent three years in Camp 3 as a child, came up with the idea together.
“We talked about how we couldn’t imagine how it was to have raised a child and also give birth [in camp],” said Shigekawa.
What kept everyone together in camp? What provided hope?
Many Japanese Americans adopted the expression Kodomo no tame ni or “For the sake of the children” while incarcerated during WWII, especially the mothers in the camps.
Now Marlene (right, center), with her daughter Quincy Godin and Misako, is producing a new documentary about mothers raising children in camp
Misako, now 103, who was five months pregnant with a baby boy when she was uprooted from her home and forced into Poston, will be featured in the documentary.
Misako gave birth in Poston Camp 1.
“She told me how when she got off the train, she was so thirsty,” said Shigekawa about her mother. “My father gave her water, but it was full of mud because they had just begun to transfer water from the Colorado River.”
Another time a milk truck, crucial to mothers raising young children, was hijacked.
Not only was it difficult to give birth and raise children in camp due to adverse climate and health conditions, but there was little to no privacy as well.
“She told me of another woman who was giving birth, and there were no curtains,” said Shigekawa.
While trying to maintain a sense of normalcy, Poston mothers faced additional stress in the face of “this oppressive environment, being in prison, and being violated in terms of not having civil rights,” she added.
Dianne Kiyomoto, also a Poston Community Alliance board member, has been providing historical information for the film. There was a stark contrast between how Parker residents perceived the quality of life in the camp and what JAs experienced, she said.
“Having the documentary made will help to dispel the rumors of the ‘pampered’ living conditions thought by some,” said Kiyomoto.
So far, three mothers have been found to include in the documentary. The filmmakers are searching for additional mothers or (now grown) babies of Poston. Production has just begun with a target completion date of June 2013.
The film is directed by Joe Fox and James Nubile, who previously directed the documentary “Passing Poston: An American Story” in 2008. Shigekawa hopes that the film’s “universal theme” will help to “shed light on the camp experience,” through film festivals and public television.
“The whole internment experience occupies far too small a piece of our educational curriculum in America, and efforts like this documentary and other initiatives at the Poston Community Alliance are working to create historical infrastructure so that the generation of my children and grandchildren will benefit from the knowledge surrounding this important piece of our country’s past,” said Brown.
Bringing Back the Barrack
Preservationists are also working to enhance Poston’s historical infrastructure by returning an original barrack to Camp 1. The site currently contains a monument and adobe classrooms built by the JAs in the camp. An original auditorium, which was previously standing, was vandalized and burnt down.
Okimoto spearheaded the Poston Restoration Project that set aside 80 acres of reservation land for restoration. A National Park Service grant was successfully acquired in 2011 for preservation efforts.
A few years ago, a local resident donated an original barrack. The two-tiered roofed barrack, which belonged to Virginia Ramsey, is considered a historic structure. While some former barracks were remodeled to look like homes, Ramsey used the structure mostly for storage and kept it close to its original state.
The Alliance is hoping to return the barrack to Camp 1 with future plans to build a visitor’s center and a museum.
The barrack is located in the town of Parker, Arizona, about 15 miles away, so moving has proven to be a difficult task. Required by the National Park Service to hire a consultant to help develop a moving plan, the barrack first needs to be physically stabilized before the move can begin.
An additional $10,000 is needed to stabilize the barrack. “It’s one step in a larger effort to begin developing a master plan for a whole site,” Shigekawa said. The site has been recommended to be a National Historic Landmark and is currently awaiting approval from the Secretary of the Interior.
The deadline for raising the funds to return the barrack to Poston is May 15 due to the grant’s constraints.
“We hope that the families are interested in our project and want to help us to ensure that future generations will be able to see the ‘remaining’ structures of Poston that were constructed by the hands and labor of their Japanese ancestors,” said Kiyomoto. “We cannot let this important evidence of the camps be neglected and destroyed by erosion and time.”
Poston Mothers and Children The Poston Community Alliance is searching for former internees who were mothers during their time of incarceration at Poston and also their children to participate in this new documentary film.
We recently were opened a letter sent from Joplin, Missouri and was surprised and moved by a very generous donation made to the Poston Community Alliance, Inc for our "Barrack Relocation Project. "
Inside the envelope was a personal story which were were told we could share on our site with others.
Here's some excerpts from that letter:
....." I make this donation in memory of my late wife Fujiko who was not an "internee" at any of the camps. Rather, she was one of the "enemy" all the internees looked like. And at age seven when the war started, what a formidable enemy she must have been.
I am a retired Naval officer and retired California school teacher, now-in my old age -living close to family in my home state of Missouri. And my interest in the camps started at the same time as that of my wife. My first duty station in the U.S. after our marriage in Japan was at El Centro, CA.
There we became acquainted with a couple named Kamiya who owned and operated a small market where my wife could purchase Japanese foods. Fujiko was quite shocked to learn from Mr. And Mrs. Kamiya, who were interned at Poston, about the imprisonment. Her glowing image of America, land of the free and home of the brave was immediately tarnished. She had already formed a strong aversion to my home state when we were at first denied permission to be married, since Missouri was one of ten states who still forbid interracial marriages. In order to marry, I had to change my state of residence.
As for me, I'm sure I had heard of the incarceration as a child but had forgotten about it. As we became more educated on the subject, a desire built within us to visit all the former camps, not knowing then that there were ten. We managed to find only Manzanar and Poston during her lifetime. But at the date of those visits in the early 60's, not much was to be seen. Sometime before her death in 20O9, she mentioned once or twice that she regretted not finishing, and now being unable to finish the other visits.
Recently I completed the visits for her by touring all ten. At Manzanar I arrived after the museum was closed for the day. At Heart Mountain the museum was nearly finished but not yet open to visitors. And I have only recently discovered that Poston does have one or two original buildings. So, it looks like another trip is in order. I look forward to it.
I have done my part in bringing the history of this American version of a holocaust to the attention of family, friends and others through photos of the sites as I visited them. This chapter in the history of our country must never be repeated or forgotten...."
Livermore resident Tom Takahashi, 91, was one of the troops in the Army's all-Japanese 442nd regiment during World War II. The son of a Japanese couple who farmed near San Jose, Takahashi is a Nisei - a second generation Japanese-American. At a ceremony at the White House in October, President Obama signed a bill that awards the Congressional Gold Medal collectively to the outfit.
In attendance at the White House ceremony was Floyd Mori, who was mayor of Pleasanton in the 1970s and a three-term Assemblyman. He was born during the war in a Utah internment camp for native Japanese and Japanese-Americans. West Coast Japanese-Americans and Japan natives were moved inland. The federal government feared that Japan could bring in agents via submarines and fishing boats to infiltrate America by blending in with the Japanese-American communities on the West Coast. Mori is national executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL). In his speech at the ceremony, Mori said that the Japanese-American fighters "made the world a better place for all Japanese-Americans in subsequent years." "We will be forever grateful for their sacrifice and dedication to life and liberty. They suffered untold ridicule, discrimination, bigotry, and hardship, but they triumphed. The veterans are most deserving of this long overdue honor," said Mori. Takahashi could not attend the White House ceremony. However, there will be an awards ceremony in San Jose in February, so that Bay Area veterans can pick up the medals. Takahashi, who worked his way up to staff sergeant, was wounded while leading his squad in an attack to save a battalion of 220 American soldiers surrounded near Epinal, France, about 25 kilometers west of the Franco-German border. Takahashi led his squad in the reconnaissance that located the lost battalion, and assessed the strength of the German forces. Takahashi reported back to his commanding officer, a colonel, who was talking to a visiting general. The general was pleased to hear the battalion was found, but used a racial slur about the troops, Takahashi related. In response, the colonel became visibly angry, "jabbed his finger into the general's chest, and said, ‘These are Japanese-Americans. I want you to never forget that.' I was never more proud of my colonel than at that moment," recalled Takahashi. Approximately 40 of the rescuers died, and 800 were wounded, including Takahashi. In the lost battalion, 20 men died. The remaining 200 got out alive.
MAKING BIG MONEY BEFORE PEARL HARBOR
The bombing of Pearl Harbor changed Takahashi's life, as it did for 117,000 of his fellow West Coast Japanese-Americans who were placed in relocation camps farther inland. Takahashi was making $15,000 a year as one of 13 tuna fishers on a commercial boat based in San Diego. That was very big pay in 1941, when $3000 was considered a good annual wage, he said. The money enabled Takahashi to buy the best 35mm camera available to help his hobby of photography. His earnings paid for a brand new 1941 Plymouth convertible, which cost him $1200. Takahashi was on the fishing boat in Mexican waters on Dec. 7, 1941, and knew nothing about the Pearl Harbor bombing. He learned about it a few days later, when a U.S. Navy ship's crew boarded the fishing boat, and took all 13 Japanese-American crew members to a Navy brig in San Diego. Only the Portuguese captain was able to stay with the boat. After three days, the Navy let all the men go. Takahashi could not rejoin the fishing boat crew. He found work driving a truck at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles. At that time, all of the West Coast Japanese-Americans were subject to curfew, and couldn't go anywhere from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Takahashi found a way around it. He had Chinese-American friends who had special arm bands that said, "I am a Chinese-American," next to a picture of the American flag. But eventually Takahashi was rounded up with thousands of others in Southern California, and sent to an internment camp in Poston, a place in southwest Arizona that was built on an Indian reservation, without the tribes' cooperation. The Colorado River Indian tribes did not want to see the same thing happen to the Japanese that happened to Indians, who were also rounded up, and forced to live in one place, said Takahashi. Poston was the biggest of the 10 West Coast camps. It consisted of three separate communities, three miles apart. The entire camp was built by businessman Del Webb, who went on to construct Sun City retirement communities in five states. "I call it a concentration camp. It was surrounded by barbed wire. The guards carried machine guns. You had these punk PFCs shouting, ‘Get back there,' if you walked anywhere near the fence," said Takahashi.
MOVING ON FROM CAMP
Takahashi didn't like being idle, so he volunteered his services to interpret for new Japanese coming to the camp, and making them comfortable. Arizona was so hot in the summer that the men in each of three camp dormitories dug 8x8-foot "rooms" under the buildings, so they could sleep at night. The only problem with a make-shift room under a building was that scorpions and black widow spiders spent the night there, too."We were always swatting them. A lot of people became ill," said Takahashi. Takahashi was able to leave the camp with his brother George by volunteering to harvest a farmer's crops near Scotts Bluff, Neb., along with six other men. "Mr. Dillman was a rotund fellow, six feet tall and jovial. He needed people to harvest 280 acres of beets. That took about three weeks. When we are ready to leave, Dillman called the FBI agent (who had brought them to Dillman's farm). He wanted us to harvest more crops," said Takahashi. It went on like that, with a couple of weeks on one crop, another call to the FBI man, another extension of crop work. Then Takahashi asked Dillman, why didn't he just tell everyone upfront that he needed many weeks of picking. Dillman replied, "Well, you know the FBI." The farmer developed his own effective way of dealing with government red tape. Takahashi stopped off in Denver on his way back to Arizona. That stop changed his life. He met his future wife there, and was able to remain in Denver, and work in photography. All this time, Takahashi had been classified 4-C, which was "enemy alien," and not eligible for the draft. Two weeks after he was married, he was reclassified to 1-A. He received a draft notice, and reported for duty. Takahashi said that if he had known the government was about to change his draft status, he would have postponed his marriage. To this day, he does not know why his status changed. After the war, he obtained a job with Sandia in New Mexico in a photography group. Among his duties was designing electronic equipment for field testing. Takahashi came to Livermore in 1961 with Sandia. His duties included explosives containment work at Area 8. He retired in 1982. Takahashi's two daughters, June Ferreri and Sharon Takahashi, live in Livermore. His son, Thane Takahashi, moved to Sacramento.