ASSEMBLY CENTERS UNDER THE ADMINISTRATION OF THE WARTIME CIVIL CONTROL ADMINISTRATION (continued)
The evacuees endured the frustrations and inconveniences of the assembly centers for the most part peacefully and stoically. The experiences of many evacuees, however, contributed to and reinforced their sense of bitterness, hopelessness, and despair attitudes they would take with them to the relocation centers.
Transfer to Assembly Centers
Once a civilian exclusion order was posted in an area to be evacuated, a representative of each family was directed to visit a civilian control station where the family was registered and issued a number that was to be appended to each piece of baggage and coat lapel of each family member. The representative was told when and where the family should report and what belongings could be taken. Baggage restrictions posed a problem, because most evacuees did not know their ultimate destination. They could only take what they could carry, a stipulation that created considerable anguish as one's lifetime possessions were sorted.
On departure day, the evacuees, wearing tags and carrying their baggage, gathered in groups of about 500 at an appointed spot. Although some were allowed to take their automobiles, traveling in military-escorted convoys to the assembly centers, most made the trip by bus or train. The WCCA made an effort to foresee problems during the journey. Ideally each group was to travel with at least one doctor and a nurse, as well as medical supplies and food. One of every four seats on the conveyance was to be vacant to hold hand luggage. The buses were to stop as necessary, and persons who might require medical assistance would be clustered in one bus or train car with the nurse.
Despite such planning, many evacuees experienced less than ideal conditions on their trips to the assembly centers. In some cases, there was little or no food on long trips. Sometimes train windows were blacked out, aggravating the evacuees' feelings of uncertainty and heightening their sense of isolation and abandonment. The sight of armed guards patrolling the trains and buses was not reassuring. One evacuee, for instance, later recalled her trip to an assembly center:
Many evacuees recall two images of their arrival at the assembly centers. One was walking to the camp between a cordon of armed military guards with bared bayonets, and the other was first seeing the barbed wire, watchtowers, and searchlights surrounding the camp. Leonard Abrams, a member of a Field Artillery Battalion that guarded the Santa Anita Assembly Center, later recounted:
For many evacuees, arrival at the assembly center brought the first vivid realization of their condition. They were under military guard and considered possible threats to the national security of the nation. One evacuee later recalled his entry into the Tanforan Assembly Center at San Bruno, California:
Once inside the gates of the assembly center, the evacuees were searched, fingerprinted, interrogated, given a cursory medical examination, and inoculated. After the preliminaries, Caucasian administrators compiled a lengthy social and occupational history of each arrival and explained the rules of the camp. Following these preliminaries, assembly center staff or selected Nisei directed the evacuees to their assigned quarters. Each family was presented with a broom, mop, and bucket for most of the camps were extremely dusty. Arrivals were handed long bags of mattress ticking containing straw, a method of mattressing the cots. Most new arrivals stuffed their own casings with straw, making not too uncomfortable beds at first before they began to mat down and turn to dust, requiring them to be refilled every few weeks. 
Many of the evacuees typically reacted to their initial encounters at the assembly centers with feelings of bewilderment, insecurity, and apprehension. Red Cross representatives who visited the assembly centers described some evacuees' reactions soon after arrival:
Housing and Facilities
During the hearings of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians in 1981, evacuees described typical living arrangements that were well below the WCCA's spartan standards. Among the reminiscences were the following:
Barracks at most assembly centers were constructed of rough green lumber. These thin pine boards buckled and separated, and large spaces grew between them. The tar paper glued on the outside of the barracks did not keep the searchlights from shining between the boards at night. Doors might or might not fit the openings meant for them. Floors made of the same raw lumber developed cracks between the boards, although in some camps the government eventually laid linoleum. Cold entered the cracks at night and dust in the daytime.
A typical single family unit had one window that looked out on the street. Some quarters had no windows at all, while an exceptional room, such as some at Pomona, had three windows. There were no shades or curtains except when people were able to find goods with which to make them, no shelves, closets, or lockers, and to keep their places neat evacuees often stored their belongings under the beds.
Evacuees began immediately to improve their quarters, busying themselves scrubbing down floors and putting away their belongings. Water had to be hauled a long way as the block laundry rooms and mess halls were generally a good distance off. Water from these sources was cold as often as warm. Victory gardens were planted beside the barracks, and Tanforan evacuees built a miniature aquatic park with bridge, promenade, and islands. 
Among the most severe discomforts experienced by the evacuees at the assembly centers were overcrowding and lack of privacy. Despite WCCA planning, eight-person families were sometimes placed in 20-foot by 20-foot rooms, six persons in 12-foot by 20-foot rooms, and four persons in 8-foot by 20-foot rooms. If families were small, other persons were often moved in with them. Extra children might be housed next door. Several married couples sometimes were forced to share a single room, their quarters separated by sheets hung on wires across the room. Partitions between apartments did not provide much privacy, for many did not extend up to the roof, and conversations on the other side were necessarily overheard. Latrines were not properly partitioned, and it frequently took considerable protest by the evacuees to get the authorities to have appropriate partitions and shower curtains installed.  One evacuee, for instance, wrote from the Merced Assembly Center:
The weather often made conditions oppressive in the assembly centers. On hot days, overcrowding and sewage problems made the heat seem unbearable. At Pinedale, for instance, temperatures soared to 110 degrees, and evacuees were given salt tablets to prevent dehydration.  At Puyallup, mud posed serious difficulties:
Many families arrived at the assembly centers with family members missing, thus adding to their demoralized feelings. In some cases, family members, usually the father, had earlier been taken into custody by the FBI. In other instances, family members were institutionalized in sanitoriums, hospitals, or asylums. Those whom the WCCA considered too sick to move, who resided in institutions, or who were in prison, received exemptions or deferments until they were able to travel. As a result, some families arrived with single parents or without a child, and sometimes children arrived without either parent.
Another source of family separation was the WCCA policy defining who was "Japanese." Many individuals of mixed parentage had some Japanese ancestors; others Were Caucasian but married to someone of Japanese ancestry. Many of these people went to assembly centers but had a particularly difficult time, because they were not fully accepted into the community. Those who were allowed to leave often did so.
Some families were separated after they reached the centers, A 17-year-old boy, for instance, was apprehended after sneaking away from Santa Anita to go to the movies. He was sent to a different assembly center and did not see his family again for three years.
Family separation probably occurred most frequently among those who lived in different communities. Grown children were sent to centers different from their parents if they lived in another community. In some cases, exclusion area lines drawn arbitrarily through communities separated family members who lived in different parts of the same Japanese enclave. No visiting privileges, however, were permitted save for exceptional circumstances. 
Food, Sanitation, Clothing, and Medical Care
Most of the assembly centers were organized to feed the evacuees in large mess halls. At Santa Anita, for instance, there were three large mess halls where meals were served in three shifts of 2,000 persons each. Where shift feeding was instituted, a system of regulatory badges prevented evacuees from attending the same meal at various mess halls.  Lining up and waiting to eat is a memory shared by many:
Communal feeding weakened traditional Japanese family ties. At first, families tried to stay together, and some obtained food from the mess hall and took it back to their quarters in order to eat together. In time, however, children began to eat with their friends, leaving many parents to congregate together. 
Most evacuees generally agreed that food at the assembly centers left much to be desired, One evacuee recalled that "breakfast consisted of toast, coffee, occasionally eggs or bacon, Then it was an ice cream scoop of rice, a cold sardine, a weeny, or sauerkraut."  Another evacuee remembered:
In time, the kitchens were taken over by evacuee cooks, and culinary style improved, but problems of quality would remain.
Despite the complaints of evacuees, the Red Cross reported that, given the inherent limitations of mass feeding, menus "showed no serious shortages in nutritive values."  Many evacuees complained that there was enough milk only for babies and the elderly, thus contradicting the WCCA assertion that "per capita consumption of milk by the population was higher than before evacuation and that it was also higher than that of the American population as a whole."  Food problems were aggravated at some centers by a prohibition on importing food into the center. 
The WCCA had the same food allowance as that prescribed for the Army 50 cents per day per person. The assembly centers, however, averaged less than that sum an average of 39 cents per person per day. The WCCA was very cost conscious in its purchases of foodstuffs since various anti-Japanese elements outside the centers pressed the government to cut expenses even more. 
Food became a controversial issue at some assembly centers. At Santa Anita, for instance, a camp staff member was apparently stealing food. A letterwriting campaign began, and, at one point, a confrontation with the military police was narrowly averted when evacuees attempted to halt the car of a Caucasian mess steward whom they believed was purloining food. Following an investigation, the guilty staff member was dismissed. 
Assembly center sanitation arrangements were primitive, although the WCCA attempted to minimize health risks by establishing a system of block monitors to inspect evacuee quarters and regular inspections of barracks, showers, and latrines by the assembly center housing supervisor. Food handlers were supposed to undergo physical examinations, and kitchens were to be inspected daily.  Nevertheless, shower, washroom, toilet, and laundry facilities were overcrowded, necessitating long waiting lines. The distance to the lavatories, more than 100 yards in some parts of the Puyallup camp, posed a problem for the elderly and families with small children, especially given the muddy conditions. As a result, chamber pots became a highly valued commodity.  At some centers temporary plumbing and sewage disposal were problems. On hot days children played "in the shower water that overflowed from the plumbing."  An official report of the U.S. Public Health Service concluded that sanitation was bad and the lack of serious epidemics arising from unsanitary conditions in the camps was the result of "heroic efforts of the management of the centers, the County Health Departments and the Japanese Medical staffs." 
The Army's own reports testified to the poor sanitation in the assembly centers. For instance, a report prepared by a food consultant and a Quartermaster Corps officer indicated serious sanitary deficiencies:
Securing everyday necessities was difficult for many evacuees. Most had brought their own clothing, but a few, either because of poverty or because they had not anticipated the climate, did not have appropriate clothing. In these cases, upon application, the WCCA provided a clothing allowance of between $25 and $42.19 a year depending on age and gender. The centers had canteens, though often these were poorly supplied. Thus, most evacuees were forced to purchase necessities by ordering from mail order houses. 
Inadequate medical facilities and care were among the greatest problems facing the evacuees at the assembly centers, thus adding fear, pain, and inconvenience to their experience. The evacuee doctors and nurses who were recruited by the U.S. Public Health Service found minimal equipment and supplies. At Pinedale, for instance, dental chairs Were made out of crates, and the only instruments were forceps and a few syringes. At Fresno, the hospital was a large room with cots; its only supplies were mineral oil, iodine, aspirin, Kaopectate, alcohol, and sulfa ointment. Some of the doctors who had not brought their instruments were sent home to retrieve them, and all relied, to some extent, on donated supplies. Shortages of medical personnel plagued the assembly centers. At Fresno, for instance, two doctors had to care for 2,500 people. 
With few exceptions, medical staff treated the normal range of illnesses and injuries. There were, however, some emergencies. At Fresno, an outbreak of food poisoning affected more than 200 persons, and a similar outbreak occurred at Puyallup. At Santa Anita, hospital records show that about 75 percent of the illnesses came from occupants of the horse stalls. Serious illnesses were treated at nearby hospitals outside the centers, and the Army reported that it paid for such services. Some evacuees, however, recall paying the bills themselves. 
Life in the Centers
Because the WCCA had planned only short stays in the assembly centers, they paid little attention to how evacuees would spend their time. As the move to relocation centers was postponed, however, the WCCA and the evacuees attempted to establish a semblance of normal life.
The educational program got off to a slow start but progressed rapidly at most centers, Because evacuation occurred near the end of the school year and the time at the centers was to be temporary, there was no provision in the original plan for schools or educational work. As the assembly centers continued operations into the fall, however, this aspect of life was given increasing attention. 
Responding to the needs of the population of the assembly centers, the WCCA belatedly appointed a director of education at each center. This educational supervisor was a member of the center administrative staff, while the education program was under the technical direction of the U.S. Office of Education, Rudimentary classrooms were staffed by evacuee teachers, mostly college graduates. A number of these graduates had been certified, and they were paid $16 per month. School programs varied, At Tanforan, for instance, schools opened late but were well attended of 7,800 evacuees, 3,650 were students and 100 teachers. At Santa Anita, on the other hand, there was no organized educational program. School furnishings at the assembly centers were "either constructed with evacuee labor or improvised." Progress reports were issued, and work was exhibited, Books and classroom materials, which were often in short supply, were provided primarily through donation from the state and county schools the children had attended prior to evacuation. Supplies arrived sporadically most being the gifts of interested groups and individuals. Instruction was provided for pre-school through high school levels, and adult education classes were also offered at most centers, The curriculum varied, but most traditional subjects were taught in the elementary through high school levels, and adult education offered such subjects as English, knitting and sewing, American history, music, and art. Special classes were held in first aid, safety, fire prevention, and nursing. 
Recreational programs were organized cooperatively between the WCCA and the evacuees. Scout troops, musical groups, and arts and crafts classes were formed. Sports teams and leagues for baseball and basketball were established. A calisthenics class at Stockton drew 350 evacuees, Donations helped remedy equipment shortages. Movies were shown regularly at most centers often using donated equipment. At Tanforan, for instance, the mess card served as entrance pass; different nights were reserved for different mess hall groups. Some centers opened libraries to which both evacuees and outside donors contributed. Virtually all centers had some playground area, and some had more elaborate facilities, one even having a pitch-and-putt golf course. 
Holidays were cause for celebrations. One evacuee described her preparation for the Fourth of July festivities at Tanforan:
Some recreational pursuits, however, were simply traditional pastimes that the evacuees engaged in to while away the time at the assembly centers. Goh and Shogi, Japanese games akin to chess, were popular among the Issei, who ran frequent tournaments and matches, Knitting was a popular pastime among the women. Gambling games were operated, prompting raids and arrests by assembly center police in some cases. 
The majority of the evacuees were predominantly Buddhist or Protestant. The WCCA allowed evacuees to hold religious services in designated facilities in the centers and to request assistance from outside religious leaders. Caucasian religious workers were not allowed to live in the centers and could visit only by invitation. The services were monitored for fear they might be used for enemy propaganda or incitement. The use of Japanese was generally prohibited and publications had to be cleared. The prohibition on speaking Japanese created particular problems for the Buddhists, who had few English-speaking priests. Thus, their services were restructured and service books rewritten. 
Control of publications extended to the mimeographed center newspapers. Each center had a newspaper, written in English by evacuees under the "guidance of WCCA public relations representatives." News items were generally confined to those determined of "actual interest" to the evacuees. 
At some centers, evacuees organized rudimentary forms of self-government. For example, evacuees at Tanforan elected a Center Advisory Council. In August, however, the Army, concerned that such bodies were contributing to evacuee unrest and protest, issued an order dissolving all self-government bodies. 
Although no evacuee was required to work, the WCCA planned that assembly center operations be carried out principally by evacuees. Efforts were undertaken to employ evacuees "to the fullest extent practicable on assignments they proved to be capable of performing. Thus, evacuees were employed in virtually every center department, including maintenance and repairs, construction, sanitation, gardening, recreation, education, and services, and some assisted WCCA administrators. Under supervision all kitchens and mess halls were staffed by evacuees. Some 27,000 evacuees, or more than 30 percent of the assembly centers' population, were employed in "necessary and productive" tasks. The average "man-hours per month of those employed equaled 47.7 hours per person of the aggregate evacuee population, non-workers included."
The appropriate payment for evacuee employment was a matter of dispute and a source of continuing dissatisfaction among the evacuee population. At first there was no pay. Eventually evacuees were compensated nominally for work. General DeWitt determined that net cash wages paid to evacuees "should not exceed the net cash allowance then available [$21 for their first four months of service] to any enlisted man in the United States Army." Thus, comparatively low monthly wage rates, based on a 40-hour week, were set at $8 and $12 for unskilled and skilled labor, respectively, and $16 for professionals. 
Subsistence, shelter, and medical care, including dental work and hospitalization, were furnished without cost. All evacuees were given a monthly allowance in script or coupons for the purchase of necessities. The monthly coupon allowance was $1 for evacuees under 16 years of age, $2.50 for those over age 16, a maximum of $4.50 for married couples, and a maximum of $7.50 for families, Available community services, such as shoe repair, barber, and beauty shops, were "obtainable in exchange for coupons only." Evacuees were permitted to purchase extra coupon books. 
Several assembly centers experimented with establishing enterprises to support the war effort and raise funds to cover the cost of center operations. At Santa Anita, for instance, a camouflage net project produced enough revenue to offset the cost of food for the entire camp. Limited to American citizens because of restrictions imposed by the Geneva Convention, the project attracted more than 800 evacuees. The camouflage net factory was the scene of the only strike in the assembly centers, a sit-down protest over working conditions and insufficient food. At Marysville, in May 1942, a group of evacuees was given leave to thin sugar beets, thus alleviating a labor shortage in the local agricultural sector. This development was exceptional; from most assembly centers, no leave for outside work was permitted. 
The military police guarding the perimeters of the assembly centers aroused substantial concern among the evacuees, Armed with machine guns, they appeared menacing. In some cases, they were accused of propositioning or otherwise harassing female evacuees, In general, however, they were rather remote from the life of the centers, entering only at the director's request. The military police, however, had a significant impact on the evacuees in that they signified "the loss and freedom and independence." 
According to a study of the assembly centers by the War Relocation Authority community Analysis Section, the "fences, the military police, the searchlights and watchtowers of the centers created a good deal of ill-feeling among the people." "Resentment was high, and in spite of the publicity efforts stating these were not concentration camps, the presence of these fences made this assertion unconvincing." The study stated further:
The evacuees had more encounters and thus more conflict with the internal police in the assembly centers. Internal security measures varied at the centers, but curfews and rollcalls were common. Curfew at Puyallup, for instance, was at 10 p.m., while rollcall at Tanforan was held twice a day at 6:45 A.M. and 6:45 P.M. 
Most assembly centers held inspections, designed to search out and seize contraband and prohibited items. The definition of "contraband," however, changed as time went on, causing confusion and resentment, Flashlights and shortwave radios that conceivably could be used for signalling were always contraband. Hot plates and other electrical appliances (often controlled in the interests of fire prevention) were usually contraband, although exceptions were sometimes granted. Alcoholic beverages were forbidden, as were "potentially dangerous" items such as weapons, but the latter category sometimes included knives, scissors, chisels, and saws. At Tulare, inspection sometimes occurred at night, and at Tanforan, one was conducted by the Army, which placed each "section" under armed guard while searching. Evacuees at Puyallup were told to remain in their quarters during search procedures. 
Visits to the assembly centers by outsiders were controlled tightly, heightening the evacuees' sense of isolation. Visitors were not allowed "to enter the Center proper or to meet evacuees in their living quarters except in cases of serious illness or other emergency." Visitors could obtain passes to meet evacuees in "visiting houses," through mail application, or at the center gate from an attendant representing center management.  Visitors bringing gifts watched packages being opened. Melons, cakes, and pies were cut in half to ensure that none contained weapons or contraband. At some centers, evacuees could converse with visitors only through a wire fence, while others designated special visiting areas, At Tanforan and Pomona, for example, rooms at the top of grandstands were reserved for receiving visitors during specified hours. At Santa Anita, each family was allowed only one visitor's permit a week, and visits were limited to 30 minutes. 
According to the aforementioned study by the WRA Community Analysis Section, the "factors in the assembly centers that made the most vivid impressions on the evacuees were fears about the future, the long time spent standing in line for meals, the shame of the entire situation, and the deep feeling of humiliation they experienced because of the 'prison' atmosphere when their Caucasian friends visited them." The "fences around the center made them constantly aware of their status." The study stated further:
Evacuees endured the frustrations and inconveniences of the assembly centers for the most part peacefully and stoically. They believed these centers were temporary, and most looked forward to better treatment at the next stop on their evacuation journey the relocation center.
Although a "nebulous protest movement" developed at many centers, only one major disturbance occurred in the assembly centers. On August 4, 1942, a routine search for various articles of contraband was started after breakfast at Santa Anita. Several internal security police, according to DeWitt, became "over-zealous in their search and somewhat overbearing in their manner of approach to evacuees in two of the Center's seven districts." The evacuees were already upset by an order from the center manager "to pick up, without advance notice, electric hot plates which had previously been allowed on written individual authorization of the Center Management staff to families who needed them for the preparation of infant formulas and food for the sick," Other resentments had been accumulating at the center, including curtailment on reading and possessing Japanese language literature and a ban on Japanese phonograph records.
According to DeWitt, two mobs and a crowd of women evacuees, led in part by some of the evacuee auxiliary police, formed to protest the actions of the internal police and center management. One evacuee long suspected of giving information to the police was beaten, and the internal security police were "harassed" but not injured. Unable to reach the chief of internal security, rumors of other alleged improprieties at the center spread. The military police, armed with tanks and machine guns, were called to quell the disturbance, and the crowds dispersed without further incident. Center management and internal security staff officials responsible for the lack of liaison which allowed the signs of "brewing trouble to reach the boiling point without action" were removed from the center, and the police who had initially precipitated the trouble were replaced. Although this incident was settled without further violence, it, as well as latent protests at other centers, set a pattern that would be repeated with variations in one relocation center after another throughout the war. 
Last Updated: 01-Jan-2002