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.

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