Chapter 3 – Exile

In February 1942, under pressure from the U.S. War Department and West Coast politicians, President Franklin Roosevelt authorized the army to remove “any and all persons” from zones designated as vital to the military effort. Army leaders claimed it was a military necessity to force all Nikkei away from the zones because their loyalty could not be determined. Exclusion orders were posted in western states to inform people of Japanese ancestry, “both alien and non-alien,” (meaning both Issei with Japanese citizenship and Nisei with American citizenship) that they had roughly a week to settle their affairs and report to dispatch points. (Authorities were uncomfortable about expelling citizens and so used the euphemism “non-alien” for the Nisei.) They were allowed to bring only the possessions they could carry. On such short notice, families lost or sold for a fraction of their value farms, homes, businesses, and all types of property. Some were lucky enough to find renters or have neighbors safeguard their property in their absence. The “evacuated” people were not told where they would be taken or for how long when they were forcibly removed.

A Nisei organization, the Japanese American Citizens League, urged cooperation as a sign of loyalty toward the United States and helped implement the “evacuation.” Up and down the coast, families registered for their own removal, were tagged with identity numbers, and boarded buses and trains under armed guard for long journeys to “assembly centers.” These were temporary facilities erected on fairgrounds and racetracks, surrounded by barbed wire fences and guard towers. More than 120,000 Nikkei men, women, and children lived in primitive conditions with extreme temperatures, crude barracks, poor food, and unpartitioned showers and latrines. They lost both freedom and dignity.

Months later, detainees were moved further east to permanent incarceration camps in remote locations. They took jobs at extremely low wages to run the camps. To make life bearable, the detainees improved their living quarters and organized sportsWomen playing softball and entertainment. While their physical needs were met, they suffered psychological damage from being confined through no fault of their own. Because federal authorities realized they would eventually have to release the incarcerated Nikkei, they issued a loyalty questionnaire in 1943. The intent was to determine who could be safely resettled outside, but the loyalty screening caused anger and confusion, and split families who argued about their uncertain future.

 

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Posted exclusion orders(1909年)
San Francisco, California
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration"

Excerpt from Densho Archive


When it came time to leave, it just seemed like we were carting things to this hakujin family and that hakujin family, and then just leaving. Looking back, it was all very precipitous. I know that my mother was so proud with her new washing machine, and then having to sell it, and her new stove, and then changing her mind. And, of course, it was too late. Then I remember very distinctly throwing things into the fire that heated the furo water. Throwing Japanese records as well as photographs of relatives in Japan, especially those. We had several uncles who were by this time in the Japanese army. We're being watched, that's what the rumor was. So anything that had anything to do with Japan was destroyed. Which is really too bad, isn't it? It's so sad, but I do remember it wasn't just my family. Others did the same. Everything was left, and when we came back, we had to start from scratch. Some of our things eventually ended up in a storage place. All I remember is the rose-colored rug that was in my room upstairs was the only thing that was left.

Chizuko Norton

Nisei taken from town east of Seattle to Pinedale, California, Assembly Center

Women playing softball(1942)
Manzanar incarceration camp, California
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration