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.
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
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.