Redress hearings (1981)
Seattle, Washington
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
Chapter 5 – Recovery

The mass incarceration of people of Japanese heritage during World War II permanently altered the shape of American Nikkei communities. After tight-knit immigrant neighborhoods and farming districts were broken up, and a lifetime of work by the Issei was destroyed, leadership passed to the Nisei generation. Many former detainees returned to the West Coast in 1945 after the war with Japan ended and the camps closed. Countless families returned to find their property damaged or gone.

Thousands of other Nikkei moved away from the hostile region to start over in the Midwest and eastern states. Anti-Japanese propaganda haunted former detainees as they sought housing and work at a time of shortages in both. Even returning Nisei veterans encountered racism and rejection, despite President Harry Truman’s commendation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team on the White House lawn, saying, “You fought not only the enemy, but you fought prejudice—and you have won.”

Painful memories of the incarceration camps were set aside as the Issei entered old age and the Nisei started building careers and families. After World War II, there was a strong emphasis on Americanism, Redress hearingsand the Nisei accordingly repressed their Japanese identities. They said little about the camps to their Sansei children.  In the late 1960s Sansei activists and Nisei leaders began agitating for redress from the federal government through the courts and legislation. The hard fought redress movement eventually succeeded in 1988 with President Ronald Reagan signing legislation that granted a $20,000 payment and a presidential apology to each living person who suffered the injustice of the wartime incarceration.

With today’s strong U.S.-Japan relations, new immigrants from Japan are adding a chapter to Japanese American history, and contemporary Americans of Japanese ancestry are proudly embracing their heritage. While it is inconceivable that the U.S. government would again imprison an entire population because of their race, it is also valuable to reflect on the tragedy of the World War II incarceration in an era of new international security threats.

 

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Incarceree departure from camp(1946)
Tule Lake incarceration camp, California
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration"

Excerpt from Densho Archive


Mr. Hayashi had a boarding house so he fixed that up, and then he helped set up the hostel at the temple. That means cots, blankets, and such. But the temple didn't have shower facilities. They had a toilet facility but not a shower facility. Anyway, they took furos at our place. It's almost like an army barrack. Families living together, sleeping together in the same one big room, and you go, "This is camp all over again." They went out looking for jobs and a place to stay and such. The Watsonville Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, they voted fifteen to three not to welcome us back, not to hire us, not to sell to us, not to rent to us. And we're saying, "Wow, who's the three?" We didn't care about the fifteen, to heck with them. We wanted to know who's the three that had the courage to stand up for us and welcome us back? I could read these signs on Main Street that said "No Japs Allowed," "No Japs Wanted," and such. The draft was still on -- the war's over, but they're still being drafted and these young Hawaiian Nisei are training at Fort Ord, and they'd come to the Bukyokai to have some sushi. They'd see those signs on Main Street, and they'd go into the stores and take them down and tear them up. The returning vets from Watsonville were not like that. They were quiet, gaman."Don't make waves." But the Hawaiian Nisei, they wouldn't tolerate that. We were really grateful to them.

Mas Hashimoto

Nisei released from Poston, Arizona, incarceration camp at age 10, returning to Watsonville, California