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Reading 1
Reading 2



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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: A Life in the Relocation Centers

By June 2, 1942, the U. S. Army had moved the nearly 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans living in the western parts of Washington, Oregon, and California into hastily created assembly centers. By November, they had all been transferred to the 10 long-term relocation centers built and run by the civilian War Relocation Authority (WRA). One third were foreign-born Issei, prohibited from becoming citizens and many over 50 years old. The remaining two-thirds were Nisei, American citizens born in the United States, most under age 21. For the next two to three years, many evacuees would not go beyond the confines of the centers.

Ranging in population from 7,000 to almost 14,000 people, the relocation centers were often the largest "towns" in the sparsely settled areas where they were located. They were designed to be self-contained communities, complete with hospitals, post offices, schools, warehouses, offices, hospitals, and residential areas, all surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers. Since the centers were supposed to be as self-sufficient as possible, residential cores were surrounded by large, open buffer zones. The evacuees farmed this land, producing much of the centers' food.

Evacuees lived in tar paper-covered barracks and used communal mess halls and bathrooms. They constructed their own community buildings, such as schools and churches. Often entire blocks of barracks were used as schools. At first there were no school supplies or equipment. Later, some of the evacuees and people from relief agencies or churches built or donated desks, bookshelves, maps, and books of all kinds. Administration buildings and staff housing were covered with wood, painted white. Civilian employees lived in individual one, two, and three bedroom apartments, each with its own kitchen and bathroom. The Military Police lived in separate areas adjacent to the centers to minimize personal contact with the evacuees.

When evacuees arrived at the camps, they found row on row of identical barracks in bleak settings of desert or swamp. Although they could do little about the extremes of heat and cold they encountered, they quickly found ways to improve and personalize their new lodgings, first to make them habitable, and later to make them into homes. They planted trees, hedges, flower borders, vegetables, gourds, vines, and cactus. Artist Kango Takamura was one of the first evacuees to arrive at Manzanar. He described what he found, and what happened: "Oh, it's really so hot, you see, and the wind blows. There's no shade at all. It's miserable, really. But one year after, it's quite a change. A year after they built the camp and put water there, the green grows up. And mentally everyone is better."¹ Making physical changes in the environment was an important way to take some measure of control over their own lives and to create a sense of normality in their abnormal situation.

Anger and frustration and the physical and psychological disorientation brought on by the relocation took a toll on the evacuees. Most had supported the United States and were loyal and patriotic until their government decided that they were untrustworthy and guilty until proven innocent. In extreme cases, formerly loyal citizens renounced their citizenship. Others merely sympathized with the Japanese government. Ethnic churches, Japanese language schools, and unofficial unions flourished. Open resistance came in the form of strikes and protest demonstrations. The most serious disturbance erupted at Manzanar in December 1942, following months of tension between supporters and opponents of the WRA administration. The confrontation ended when the director called in the military police who used tear gas to break up the crowd. When a truck was pushed toward the jail, the military police fired into the crowd, killing one and wounding at least ten others (of whom one later died).

Evacuees also found ways to express their resentment secretly. At Manzanar, they scratched inscriptions into the wet concrete of a settling basin they were building. Written in Japanese and under water when the settling basin was in use, they read "Beat Great Britain and the USA," and "Banzai, the Great Japanese Empire, Manzanar Black Dragon Group headquarters."

Other evacuees remained loyal to the United States, in shock and disbelief at how they had been deprived of their homes and their freedom. Their major goal was to find ways to prove their loyalty. Many young men volunteered when the army announced in 1943 that it would accept volunteers for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Nisei combat unit. Women volunteered for the Women's Army Corps and the Red Cross.

Questions for Reading 3

1. How long did it take to move people of Japanese ancestry to the permanent relocation centers?

2. What components made up a typical relocation center? Why do you think the centers were designed to be self-contained and self-sufficient?

3. Why was it important for evacuees to make changes in their environment?

4. Why did some members of the community cease to be loyal to the United States? How did they show their anger at the way the government had treated them? How did others seek to demonstrate their continued loyalty? If you were a relocated Japanese American, how do you think you would have reacted?

Reading 3 was compiled from Kenneth Story and William D. Baker, "Rohwer Relocation Center Memorial Cemetery" (Desha County, Arkansas) National Historic Landmark documentation, Washington, D.C., U.S. Department of the Interior, 1991; and from Jeffery F. Burton, Mary M. Farrell, Florence B. Lord, and Richard W. Lord, Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites, Publications in Anthropology 74 (Tucson, AZ: Western Archeological and Conservation Center, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1999).

1Cited in Gary Y. Okihiro and Joan Myers, Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1996), 197.


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