Pacific Citizen Front Page

The Hanada brothers

The diverse membership of the groups involved in the Poston restoration effort sheds light on the internment camp’s colorful past.

By Christine McFadden, Special to the Pacific Citizen
Published October 16, 2009

The roofs of the 16 buildings that still stand on the former site of the Poston internment camp need work. The wood is raw and exposed. The structures are vulnerable to the arid temperatures of southwestern Arizona. It needs sealant and metal roofing — not just to protect its physical history, but its unique personal history as well.

If left alone, there is a possibility that Poston, which has the largest remaining infrastructure of all 10 internment campsites, will deteriorate in just a few years.

Members of the Poston Restoration Project are doing everything they can to prevent this from happening. Funded by grants from organizations such as the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program and guided by the Environmental Protection Agency, members are racing against the clock to restore this pinnacle place in Japanese American internment history.

Working toward the end goal of building preservation and the construction of an onsite multicultural museum, the diverse membership of the Poston restoration effort sheds light on the internment camp’s colorful past.

Uncovering Poston

When Dr. Ruth Okimoto, 73, became curious about the history behind the internment camp that imprisoned her for three years as a child, she uncovered a unique story behind it that eventually launched a full-scale effort toward its restoration.

“I began to wonder about how in the world did that whole thing come about, and that’s when I got real curious,” she says of Poston, located on Native American reservation lands near Parker, Arizona.

Okimoto obtained a research grant and access to reservation archives on the land that once imprisoned over 18,000. She uncovered an interesting relationship.

“The War Relocation Authority (WRA) were looking for a site — a deserted site, and the reservation certainly fulfilled that requirement,” she says.

Her research revealed that the WRA contacted the former Office of Indian Affairs (OIA) and struck a deal during WWII. The OIA agreed to relinquish their land as an internment camp in exchange for Japanese American labor to build a canal, bringing in water to the reservation.

“She [Okimoto] discovered this connection that nobody had ever really written about,” says Dr. Jay Cravath, who works for the education department of the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT).

“Midlife she developed this incredible rage about this experience, for herself, for her parents, for her family, and she wanted to trace it down,” he continued. “She wanted to take care of these demons, so she came out to Parker.”

Okimoto met with Dennis Patch, CRIT Tribal Councilman and Education Director, who coincidentally lived in one of the former barracks.

According to Cravath, the two “had the same vision.”

In 1999, CRIT set aside an initial 40 acres (now 80) of reservation for the project. Four years later, 15 former Poston detainees, including Okimoto, and 15 CRIT members met at the reservation to plan for restoration.

“They got it rolling,” Cravath says.

Restoration Efforts

Poston is broken into three separate sites separated by 1-3 miles. As of Sept. 23, all asbestos and lead-based paint had been removed from Camp 1.

However, progress on some fronts has been hindered.

In 2002, a match was lit and thrown in the auditorium located in Camp 1.

“It was still standing, and it was beautiful,” Okimoto remembers. “But it burnt the wood part of it, the stage, and all of the beautiful hardwood floor. It was a real shame.”

According to Poston Community Alliance Board member and archivist Dianne Kiyomoto, RD, the group is currently working on bringing back an original donated barrack to camp, located 17 miles away in Parker.

Cravath recently wrote a successful grant to the National Park Service, earning a “challenge” grant of $25,994 to record the oral histories of former internees. This means that the National Park Service will double whatever money is contributed.

Additionally, he is hammering out the details of a memorandum of agreement between the JA community and the tribes.

“There are all sorts of issues, legal ramifications and sovereignty and CRIT— they’re the feistiest,” he says.

Carrying on the Legacy

Not all tribal members are as positive about the restoration as Cravath.

“There are still tribal members against doing anything with Poston,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The current generation heard their parents/grandparents complaining about how good the internees got it.”

According to Cravath, tribal members were told nothing by the OIA of why the JAs were relocated to their land.

“For all they knew it was like Israeli development on the West Bank,” he says.

Both parties working on the project are strong advocates for the spread of education of the historical events that took place onsite.

“One thing I’ve tried to do is get the story out as often as possible,” Cravath adds.

Kiyomoto’s parents lived in Poston Camp 3, Block 305. When attempting to collect information for a family tree for her parents’ 50th anniversary, she was disappointed to find that little existed.

“I searched the Internet on the subject of Poston and was very disappointed. There was very little information, and only a few government photos,” she wrote.

Marlene Shigekawa’s involvement in the project lies in her motivation to carry on her father’s legacy. Shigekawa, the Poston Community Alliance, Inc.’s current treasurer, was born in Poston Camp 1 and her father served as the camp’s chief of police.

“I feel like he did much to uphold the rights of Japanese Americans and I heard a lot of stories from both my parents and I feel like that history should not be forgotten,” she says.

Okimoto decided to take a step back from the project in hopes that the younger generation will get involved in the restoration.

“I was thinking younger people should probably get involved,” Okimoto said, although she continues to help by presenting oral histories of the camp.

“There is a core of people who believe the stories of those who suffered so grave an injustice need to be told, their lives honored, and the remarkable ways they survived recorded,” Cravath says.

Christine McFadden is a Portland JACL member.

Help Restore Poston
A donation of $10, $20 or more will go far.
Send checks payable to ‘Poston Community Alliance’ to:
Marlene Shigekawa
956 Hawthorne Drive
Lafayette, CA. 94549-4640




Rafu Story: Camp 1 Reunion

CROSSROADS TO SOMEWHERE: Nostalgia Is The Enemy of Truth
By W.T. Wimpy Hiroto

As any Rafu reader of CR2S can attest (ad nauseam) these many past weeks, I was faced with an impossible task: Putting together a program without benefit of emcee, keynote speaker or entertainer. You wanna know the definition of challenge?

If you’re not a Nisei, on the far side of "older" or have a distaste for nostalgia, I strongly suggest spending your precious time washing your car, hair or dishes. Without pause or apology what follows will most certainly fall into the category of unabashed sentimentality & reminiscence. [I promise to make time & effort on behalf of ACLU & Concentration Camp adherents at a later date.]

As Frank Sinatra sings "It Started All Over Again" in the background, I will try to create what occurred during & after the 2009 Poston Relocation Center Unit I Reunion held at the Cal Club in Las Vegas Sept. 28-30. (Shame on those of you who decided not to attend; condolences to those who could not come.)

Nearly 250 hardy if not hale mixer & banquet attendees gathered for a last hurrah to relive memories of Poston. This was the 8th & undoubtedly final all-camp reunion. As with recent wrap up revivals staged by Heart Mountain, Tule Lake & Manzanar, it appears Age the Conqueror is going to have the last word.

It was apparent nothing would or could douse the enthusiasm of the ex-Postonites, let alone a neophyte program coordinator who did his best to revive thoughts of 70-mile wind storms, 112 degree weather when sunblock meant a parasol, trying to make believe the mess hall clanger was a symphonic refrain. But I tried, oh how I tried.

When not near the speaking caliber of Father John or Senator Dan, material & presentation becomes all important. So when memory & notes had temporary relapses, it was a choice between a firing squad & Titanic. But it was a "Susume, Susume, Hai-tai Susume" moment & a challenged Wimpy soldiered on.

No matter the many kind comments & warm compliments at program’s end, I unfortunately did not achieve a *Riverside moment. Not bad though, considering. Considering I decided to cut down my material by almost a half, alas, leaving out some of the best stuff (personal opinion)! For example I had spent more than 40 hours downloading every issue of the 3-year camp newspaper Poston Chronicle, looking for forgotten events & names that might trigger a pleasant memory or two for ex-campers. I shoulda quoted more. (*My first official public speaking gig was at Riverside earlier this year, a shocking success.)

Now as if on cue, Andy Russell is crooning "What a Difference a Day Makes", a reminder that looking backward isn’t all bad. People choosing to look into the rear view mirror of life are chastised & criticized. But wait a minute. Isn’t there a reminder etched into the glass that warns the image can be distorted & a second look might be in order?

I will allow reunions are not high on everyone’s list. But you wanna know something? I haven’t met many who have ever regretted attending a school reunion, work place, church or neighborhood gathering. We’re all social animals.

And what could be more unique & memorable than an assemblage of special Nisei commemorating a time in their lives no one else will ever experience? A latrine. Mess hall. Outdoor movies meant stand up, not drive-in. Well-educated students emerging from chaos. A miracle of peaceful coexistence. The basis of friendships that would flower after relocating out of the centers. Poston was not Cloud Nine, for sure, but neither was it Stalag 17. (It‘s no won¬der CR2S is never interviewed about incarceration & constitutional rights.)

So maybe I fell short of what I had in mind today. Never no mind. Methinks I’ll be continuing this subject in many more columns to come.

But there is always room for another confessional: I was so relieved & comforted after the banquet I forgot departure time Wednesday a.m. Which meant a search party and embarrassment of seeing my bag sitting alone on the sidewalk beside an idling bus waiting to leave for San Gabriel (I don’t wear a watch.) At Barstow stopover I bought an ice cream cone & made up my mind another faux pas would not be committed. (There was only our bus in the lot upon arrival, the second in our convoy arriving shortly thereafter.) I got back aboard to insure I wouldn’t be the last dummy straggler, there’s always one who delays departure, right? Well, they had to come get me again. I had reboarded the wrong bus!



"Passing Poston" on PBS

"Passing Poston" has been picked-up by more than 85 PBS stations nationwide via American Public Television. It will air in February 2010. Check local listings!

The Poston Restoration Project is offering the DVD of this documentary movie with additional footage not shown in the movie with your donation of $30 or more.

For more information on how you can own a DVD of this award-winning documentary film (with additional footage that will not be aired), please contact:
email: kueyd at yahoo dot com