Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Life Before Internment Camps

Japanese Americans were among one of the first group of Asian Americans to establish a new home in America in 1885. Many migrated due to the Policy of Isolation back home and they no longer wanted to be restricted in their own land. Once in America, the Issei, First Generation; and the Nisei, Second Generation, quickly adopted the Western way of life. Although the Japanese Americans were the first to assimilate, they still faced many forms of discrimination along with barriers changeling their way towards success. Japanese American came face-to-face with the harsh life of discrimination. They were not allowed to enter shops and were limited on the jobs available to them. Signs like, “NO JAPS ALLOWED”, were displayed in front of stores prohibiting their entry.
The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 was an informal agreement between Japan and the U.S. which halted the issuance of passport granting laborers to enter the U.S., unless they invested in the U.S. businesses or homes. In 1913, California passed the Alien Land Law, prohibiting all aliens who were ineligible for citizenship the right to own property and then later extended to leasing land. Even though they thought this would decrease the number of Japanese immigrants in the U.S., the agreement overlooked women, resulting in doubling the population. Then the 1924 Immigration Act, which limited the number of immigrants from other countries from entering the U.S. Due to this Immigration Act, there weren’t a second wave of Japanese immigrants.

From then on, lives for Japanese Americans were much like any typical American in the U.S. They carried on normal life like going to work, school, hanging out with friends; many build friendships with Americans at work or around their neighborhoods. Although the Issei, were the most loyal to Japan they were now in the U.S. to build a new home for their family and raise their family in America. The Nisei, however, felt more at home in America then the Issei. They received their education and felt the necessity to be American, and yet found themselves foreign to their original heritage.
Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, that changed the lives of all Japanese Americans.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Life During Japanese Internment Camps

Many people became prejudice of the Japanese after the attacks of Pearl Harbor. These people were called “Japs” and this was, and still is a huge negative connotation. It was very common for people to want to start fights with Japanese people. Most Americans thought that the Japanese were working with Japanese government. None of the Japanese in the United States were every charged of being a spy. Some people today still have these suspicions of the Japanese.

I interviewed my boyfriend whose grandfather John Kamada spent about three years in the Fresno internment camp. His family was farmers from Fresno during this time. His family along with many others, lost everything including all their property and most of their belongings. Only a couple of months after the attacks of Pearl Harbor his family was taken away from their homes to these camps along with thousands of innocent people. The only things they could take with them were clothes, small musicals instruments, and cameras. He came to the camps on a bus as a teenager with his parents and brother.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the person who actually sent these thousands of Japanese American citizens to these camps. He also wanted to intern the German and the Italian, though the problem is these people are too hard to pick out from a crowd. Japanese people are easier targets because they looked different compared to most Americans. Internment camps were made throughout California and throughout parts of other states to target Japanese citizens. As a result most Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II have a very unfavorable view of this well known president often praised by most Americans. John Kamada is now eighty-three years old and was sent to an Internment camp in Fresno California. He today is still bitter about president Roosevelt and the pain he was put through with his family.

At the camp he lived with his family in a horse stable. In this stable the only floor was made up of horse manure covered up with some mats. The family had cots to sleep on and shared this stable with other families. A lot of the people inside these internment camps tried to make makeshift communities, so they could have somewhat of a life. They built a church and would have dances. His family could not leave just like all the others. The camps were heavily guarded with armed guards. If anyone tried to leave without permission they would be shot. Sometimes people could leave to work. They had to do odd jobs outside of the camps, though they did not make much money at all.

Most people due to the financial situation of the times, many people joined the military including John Kamada. Even when World War II was over, quite a few people were not released. This is when John decided to join the Army. This was his only way out. This was true for a lot of Japanese Americans to prove to the American government that they are true to the United States and not the Japanese spies.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Life for Adults

"I'm for catching every Japanese in America, Alaska, and Hawaii now and putting them in concentration camps.. . .Damn them! Let's get rid of them now!"
Congressman John Rankin, Congressional Record, Feb.19,1942.

This is about life for adults before, during, and after the Japanese Internment Camp. What were their lives like before the Internment Camp? Like any other Asian immigrants, Japanese immigrants go to school, work to take care of their families. Their lives weren’t easy due to a lot of laws that were passed such as Alien Land Law which prohibited them to own land or property. Many Japanese were friends with Americans who were their neighbors or co-workers. Some Japanese come to the States for a sole purpose which to make money then go back to Japan but many others wanted to settle and raise their families here.

On December 7th 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. That event has changed everything about the Japanese immigrants that live in the States. Americans were feared another attack especially from those Japanese that the government thought were loyal to Japan. President Roosevelt was pressured by the state representatives to take action against the Japanese living in US at the time. On February 19th 1942 Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 to put some 120,000 people of Japanese descents in internment camps where they were detained up to 4 years without due process of law or any factual basis. (1942–1945). Those 120,000 people were forced to leave their homes along with their farms, schools, jobs, and businesses.

These internment camps were surrounded by barbed-wire fences and guard towers. There were armed guards. The barracks were hastily-constructed tar-paper covered structures with multiple families assigned to live together with no privacy. Meals were eaten in mess halls. Toilet facilities were in a separate building, with no partitions between them. Imagine you and your families were in such a place. How would you feel? You’ve lost the ability to provide your families things that you were capable of like a night out to the movies. You’ve just lost the most precious thing that anyone can have, your freedom. Adults and children in camp both have to queue for everything including foods. The survivors described waiting in line for food and living in wooden barracks covered with tar paper. Sally Sudo of Minneapolis described how her parents and eight siblings were given rooms C and D in Barrack 2 of Block 14, 10 people in two rooms. Families were assigned numbers to identify them. Ms. Sudo's father came to the United States in 1899. He was forcibly relocated after Pearl Harbor. His daughter said that he lost everything while interned. The last 20 years of his life "he didn't really live, he just existed," she said during an interview.

After being released from camps what do they have to look forward to? Many lost their homes and businesses. Higher education or career paths were interrupted or abandoned due to circumstances. They were looked upon as traitors in their own country, where not even a single incident of treason was found to be committed by Japanese Americans. In 1988, many years after WWII, a Federal Commission's findings convinced Congress that the internment camps were wrong, and the United States Government should accept responsibility. The government apologized, and passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 that acknowledged that a "grave injustice was done." The government also promised to repay Japanese Americans for the losses they suffered. $20,000 was their compensation. For 4 years behind barbed-wire fence treated as prisoners, for lives those were lost, for futures that were limited. $20,000 suddenly seems so little.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Children of the Camps

Hours after the attack of Pearl Harbor, government agents knocked on the doors of Japanese American homes. The agents searched houses for signs of loyalty to Japan. Some children watched agents take their fathers away to prison, even though their fathers had not committed a crime.
In February, 1942, the government issued Executive Order 9066. It stated that Japanese Americans in western states could be evacuated, or forced to leave their homes. Out of the 120,000 people of Japanese descent living in the United States that were placed in internment camps, half of them were children. In some cases, family members were separated and put in different camps. They were housed in barracks and had to use communal areas for washing, laundry and eating. It was an emotional time for all. "I remember the soldiers marching us to the Army tank and I looked at their rifles and I was just terrified because I could see this long knife at the end . . . I thought I was imagining it as an adult much later . . . I thought it couldn't have been bayonets because we were just little kids." from "Children of the Camps"
For many people, horse stalls were their new homes. The stalls were small, dusty, and smelly. Spider webs stuck to the white-washed walls. Children moved their few things into empty rooms. One light bulb hung from the ceiling. There was no running water. The bathrooms were worse. There was no privacy. For meals, children stood in line with tin plates and cups. The white cooks did not understand Japanese ways. Japanese people did not eat rice with sweet food. But some cooks served them canned apricots poured over rice.
Most Japanese Americans tried to make the best of camp life. Schools were started in empty buildings. At first, classrooms had no chairs, blackboards, or heat stoves. Sometimes several students had to share one book. In school, children said the Pledge of Allegiance. They sang songs like “God Bless America.” For Thanksgiving, they made craft projects of cardboard cabins and Pilgrims.
People planted victory gardens and grew their own food. Children spent their spare time working in the family garden. They helped carry buckets of water to the gardens. Some families were able to raise livestock and the children helped fed pigs, chickens, and ducks.
Even though many people tried to bring beauty into the camps by collecting cactuses and other plants and they built Japanese-style stone gardens, the camp still felt like a prison. Children were warned not to play close to the barbed wire. Ben Takeshita said, “Topaz felt like a prison…One older man… went too close to the fence, and a guard shot him.”
People found many ways to pass the time. Every camp offered classes in ikebana, the Japanese are of flowers arranging. Children made flowers and leaves from newspaper, cloth, and other scraps. Children joined the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and singing clubs. They watched Abbott and Costello movies and make kites to fly. On holidays, they staged plays for their parents. Children also found fun playing basketball, football, and baseball. Baseball was the favorite sport at the camps. At the Manzanar Relocation Center, eighty baseball teams were formed.
Some opportunities for leaving the relocation centers were available. California educators made an effort to allow college-age Nisei (children of Japanese immigrants) to attend school outside of the prohibited area. Many colleges refused to accept them, but around 4,300 students were eventually released from the relocation centers to attend school.
On December 18, 1944, the U.S. Supreme Court said that keeping loyal citizens in relocation camps was unlawful and by 1945, WWII was coming to an end. During that year the government began to close the camps and allow Japanese Americans to leave. The children of the camps were excited and they were also scared. They did not know were they would live or how their classmates would treat them. Most of the families lost their farms or businesses. Many families found their things destroyed or stolen. Families started over. Many children went to new schools and had to make new friends. Many of the Japanese Americans wanted to forget the relocation camps; it was something that was not talked a lot about. Many of the children of the camps talked about it now that they are older. They do not want people to forget what had happened to them and they do not want what happened to them to happen to any other group of people.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Property Loss

Between 1860 and 1940, about 275,000 Japanese immigrated to Hawaii and the mainland of America. They were barred from United States citizenship and were therefore, barred from land ownership. Although many times unwelcome, Japanese immigrants persisted and succeeded. The Japanese American people contributed greatly to the West Coast economy. They owned businesses, farms, and homes. All were held in the names of their children who were automatically US citizens and because of that able to own property.
The Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps on very short notice. Because all of the Japanese Americans were forced to go, most of ones friends were also being interned. This means that the Japanese were left with no one to care for his or her belongings. They had no time to make arrangements for themselves. Because of this, mortgages went unpaid and they were foreclosed upon. People who owned businesses companies went under. Farmers had crops that were left in the field and they lost money. People who knew people staying in California left sometimes-left property entrusted. Some of these people ended up being untrustworthy, dishonest and unreliable.
When the Japanese Americans were forced out of their homes they were also forced to sell businesses and homes at an extremely fast rate. Because they were forced to move so quickly they incurred an enormous loss. The total dollar value of property loss has been estimated at around $1.3 billion. The net income losses are estimated at around $2.7 billion. That is a great amount of money that became a financial burden on many of the interned.

In the Congress and Civil Liberties Act the Congress attempted to appropriately compensate those who were affected. Amongst other things the government tried to make restitution to those individuals who were interned. Although money was paid, the damages were already done.
The property loss was very extreme in the internment of the Japanese. It was hard for people to recover and some never did. If you imagine being sent to a camp with only days to attempt to figure out what would become of your belongings, homes, businesses and farms you can begin to understand what a horribly injustice this was.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Life After Japanese Internment Camps

"Finally getting out of the camps was a great day. It felt so good to get out of the gates, and just know that you were going home…finally. Home wasn't where I left it though. Getting back, I was just shocked to see what had happened, our home being bought by a different family, different decorations in the windows; it was our house, but it wasn't anymore. It hurt not being able to return home, but moving into a new home helped me I believe. I think it helped me to bury the past a little, to, you know, move on from what had happened." -Aya Nakamura [November 18, 2000.]
On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, allowing the military to impose a curfew and forcibly detain people of Japanese ancestry, even American citizens, and so began Japanese-American internment camps.
In 1946, Japanese-American citizens were finally released from their horrible internment camps. Many Japanese-Americans found that their homes and land were sold to other Americans. It took years for some to find new homes and farms, and obviously had trouble finding new jobs and getting loans. Unfortunately, not all Japanese-American citizens were able to rebuild their lives. Still, a number were killed due to continuous racial prejudice, even after being let out of the inhumane internment camps. Because of such deep emotional wounds, it took about two decades for Japanese-Americans to take any kind of legal action. It was not until over forty years later that the United States government finally made a formal apology to the Japanese-American community and passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. The Civil Liberties Act reads:

“The Congress recognizes that, as described in the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, a grave injustice was done to both citizens and permanent residents of Japanese ancestry by the evacuation, relocation, and internment of civilians during World War II. As the Commission documents, these actions were carried out without adequate security reasons and without any acts of espionage or sabotage documented by the Commission, and were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership. The excluded individuals of Japanese ancestry suffered enormous damages, both material and intangible, and there were incalculable losses in education and job training, all of which resulted in significant human suffering for which appropriate compensation has not been made. For these fundamental violations of the basic civil liberties and constitutional rights of these individuals of Japanese ancestry, the Congress apologizes on behalf of the Nation.”

Belated, but still appreciated, President Gerald R. Ford also formally apologized in 1976. Soon enough, the Office of Redress Administration finally delivered redress payments to 82,220 claimants. However, some went unpaid due to those who made no claim.
Today, many Japanese-Americans have fully rebuilt their lives and have prominent careers. A few cases about treatment of the Japanese-American citizens during wartime made it to the United States Supreme Court. Because of these determined citizens taking legal action, a better change was made for future American citizens of Japanese ancestry.