Sunday, July 29, 2012

Remembering Internment in the Bay Area

Last May marked the 70th anniversary of one of the more troubling periods of our local history.

The U.S. Army Civilian Exclusion Order No. 96, on May 24th and May 25th, 1942, required all Santa Clara County citizens in (West Coast) Military Area #1 of Japanese ancestry to report to the Civil Control Station Assembly Area, also known as the Men's Gymnasium, San Jose State College, located at 4th and San Carlos Streets in San Jose, California

Tagged for Evacuation, Salinas California
Wikipedia/LOC Russell Lee
The exclusion order appeared on May 23, 1942, from the Presidio of San Francisco, following similar public proclamations made on March 2, 1942.

U.S. General John L. DeWitt created two military zones on the West Coast and required Japanese living in those zones to report all changes in residence within five days.

On March 18, 1942 Roosevelt created the War Relocation Authority.

There were some U.S. government films made to justify these actions in 1943, all written and produced by the Office of War Information, Bureau of Motion Pictures.

All of the proclamations resulted from Roosevelt's Executive Order #9066, published on February 19, 1942, ordering the evacuation to inland resettlement areas of all West Coast residents perceived as a threat to national security. 

Documents and photographs online:

All of these documents can be read online at the National Archives Records of the War Relocation Authority (WRA). The FBI Vault also has historic Custodial Detention documents online, which show records, memos, and other documents on the arrest of persons by nationality and geographic location, starting as early as 1939. Italian Americans, German Americans, and other Americans of certain European nationalities were tracked as well.

The Online Archive of California has a profound group of photographs illustrating the bleak conditions of the Japanese in federal relocation camps during this era, some of which are available online.

Other counties in California posted similar exclusion orders as the army prepared to move and house thousands of Japanese residents and nationals, believing some were spies or in league with submariners off the California, Oregon, and Washington coasts. A sentiment of national suspicion by some towards the Japanese had been heightened after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, which lead the U.S. Congress to declare war on Japan the following day.

Japanese-owned Grocery, March 1942
To comply with relocation orders, Japanese residents lost their jobs, their homes, and their businesses, reclaiming only pennies on the dollar, if anything, for houses, cars, and possessions, in order to evacuate to Federal assembly centers by the mandated deadlines. 

Japanese families were held in these assembly areas (like the Men's Gym at San Jose State College) under extraordinarily poor and crowded conditions, before being placed on crowded buses and trains to one of two WRA Relocation Centers on the West Coast, Manzanar or Tule Lake, with a third Isolation Center for those who were perceived to be at more high risk to national security, located near Manzanar.

Along the Peninsula, Japanese families assembled and were housed in horse stalls at Tanforan Race Track, although some of the stalls had not been fully cleaned out. In some cases there were no doors on the latrines or restrooms, and women who were considered high risk had to change clothing in front of male guards, to make sure nothing was being hidden. On the train and bus journeys from the local assembly centers to the final California resettlement camps, women and men sometimes had to use open fields with family members holding up blankets and coats for privacy, as there were no restrooms at stops. Evacuees and conditions at Tanforan were photographed by Dorothea Lange for the WRA in 1942.

Survivors tell their stories Online:
There are some local accounts of Internment experiences online, including some accounts by well-known celebrities living South of the Bay Area at the time of evacuation.

  • The actor Pat Morita talks about being held in a Japanese Internment Camp, during a video posted on YouTube.

  • A former internee visits the San Jose Japanese Internment Memorial with a group of San Jose State University Journalism students, in a video posted on YouTube.

  • Mas Hashimoto, who lectured regularly to local school groups and organizations about his Internment experience as a resident of Watsonville, is featured in a Gavilan College TV program.

  • George Takei eloquently describes his childhood experiences during the Internment, as well as conditions during the war and at the camps, in a series of videos posted on YouTube.

  • Local Resources:

  • The Japanese American Interment Memorial is located at 300  S. 1st. Street (The Federal Building) in San Jose

  • The Japanese American Museum of San Jose has a remarkable exhibit on the Internment at 535 North 5th Street in San Jose, with some material online.

  • Books and Media:
    Materials on the Japanese American Relocation and Internment can be found online at WorldCat:

  • Japanese Internment Nonfiction and Historical Books for Adults  

  • Japanese Internment Fiction for Adults.

  • Japanese Internment Books for Children, both Nonfiction and Fiction.

  • Reflections:
    Legislated discrimination against one group of people, for whatever reason, diminishes every other ethnic, gender-based and socioeconomic group, as the legislation itself places a government stamp of approval on laws and policies which codify prejudice as an appropriate act, in forming public policy for diverse groups of residents.

    If it is acceptable for some not to have full constitutional rights, for whatever reason, then none really have a guarantee of full rights, either now or in the future, no matter what their race, gender, education, status, or ethnicity may be. By codifying separate constitutional rights among groups found within a nation, all residents become vulnerable as potential targets of the next legislative group to come along, who may very well believe that those who are safe today, are tomorrow's new enemies.

    History truly offers many lessons.

    (All photo images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.)

    ---Catherine Denise Alexander, Silicon Valley Librarian