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The literature in this volume presents the collective voice of a people defined by a specific moment in time: four years of World War II during which the United States government expelled resident aliens and its own citizens from their homes, farms, and businesses, and incarcerated more than 125,000 of them in American concentration camps, based solely upon the race they shared with a wartime enemy.

Bowing to popular fear after planes from the Imperial Japanese Navy bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawai'i on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Congress denied Americans of Japanese ancestry any individual hearings or other due process before authorizing their mass removal and imprisonment. Government officials registered and numbered them by family, then subjected the captive people to a series of administrative orders, including a second registration with a loyalty questionnaire, a segregation based upon the results of that questionnaire, the military conscription of young men from the camps, and the offer of voluntary renunciation of American citizenship. By its own latter-day admission, the government had no military need for the mass exclusion—acknowledging that it was driven by a mixture of race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership— rendering the three-year incarceration that followed just as unnecessary as it was wrong.

This anthology reclaims and reframes the writing produced by the people targeted by these actions. You will hear many voices telling a shared story. It's the story of the struggle to retain personal integrity in the face of increasing dehumanization. The selections favor writing that is pointed rather than poignant. Not all are polished, but each conveys a central truth. We present these writings chronologically so that readers can trace the continuum of events as the incarcerees experienced it.

This collection contains a mix of prose and poetry, of fiction and of nonfiction drawn from essays, memoirs, and letters, all anchored by the key government edicts that incite the action. The first two sections feature pieces written at the time or later in retrospect. The postwar section includes the work of the children of the camps, the third- and fourth-generation descendants who look back across the divide of time and memory to grasp the meaning of mass incarceration and its long-term consequences to themselves and the nation.

In place of familiar selections readily found elsewhere, this volume recovers pieces that have been long overlooked on the shelf, buried in the archives, or languished unread in the Japanese language. The number of new translations from the Japanese we present testifies to one of the long-term effects of camp: the loss of language and culture due to regulation, suppression, and the ongoing stigma of acknowledging any affinity to Japan. These selections focus on the incarceration of Japanese Americans by the U.S. government and as such do not address the incarceration of Japanese Canadians or the kidnapping of Japanese Latin Americans for a hostage-exchange program.

Our commentary for this volume avoids euphemisms historically used to describe the mass exclusion and incarceration, but these terms are left intact where they appear in the texts. "Evacuation" is a word best applied to humanitarian removal for safety from natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. "Internment" legally applies only to the detention of those designated as enemy aliens, while the confinement of citizens and of resident aliens who were denied the opportunity of naturalized U.S. citizenship is properly called an "incarceration." Euphemisms for the camps include "colony," "project," and "relocation center." By definition, these were concentration camps—places where large numbers of a persecuted minority are confined under armed guard—and were regularly referred to as such at the time; they are distinct from the extermination centers or death camps of the Third Reich.

The original language of the texts is also preserved where it includes racial slurs and dismissive stereotyping, which reflects the ethnic prejudices and class hierarchies of the time but which some readers will find upsetting. Where the occasional profanity occurs, it is retained to convey the impact intended by the writer. Ellipses indicate excisions to enhance readability. Where chapters or excerpts do not come with a heading, we have taken the liberty of adding a title drawn from the text itself.

Many of the voices in this volume are those of protest against incarceration. Some are those of accommodation. All are authentic. Together they form an epic narrative with a singular vision of America's past, one with disturbing resonances with the American present.



The first emigrants from Japan to Hawai'i and the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries call themselves the Issei, or first generation in America. Unlike immigrants from Europe, however, the Naturalization Act of 1790 bars those from Asia from applying for American citizenship, reserving that privilege to "free white persons." Alien land laws prevent the Issei from owning land in many western states, and the federal Immigration Act of 1924 closes the Pacific border to further arrivals. This lack of status empowers their children, the Nisei, or second generation, who are born on U.S. soil with birthright American citizenship under the Fourteenth Amendment ratified in 1868. To assert their standing and promote their assimilation, young Nisei professionals organize their own Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), to which the Issei cannot belong.


The Four Immigrants Manga educated young men feel triumphant upon their "Arrival in San Francisco," only to find they must take manual jobs. When confronted by white workers threatened by their competitive labor in "The Turlock Incident," Henry Kiyama satirizes the desire of the immigrants to stand on rights they do not have. Issei like them help build the American West working alongside migrants from China and elsewhere to cut timber, harvest crops, and carve through rock to lay railroad tracks. By 1940, the Nisei make up nearly two thirds of the Japanese American population, and in "Whither Immigrants," journalist Ayako Ishigaki can already see the children breaking from the language and culture of Japan and their parents. She shows how the Issei avoid racial conflict by congregating in thriving Japantowns and Little Tokyos, leaving them unknown to the American mainstream, the "other." However, everyone has a name and a place in Toshio Mori's "Lil' Yokohama," which celebrates individual identities in both generations within the wholeness of a Japanese American community that will soon all be lost.


Japanese Americans are as shocked as anyone by the attack on Pearl Harbor. "Those Airplanes Outside Aren't Ours," exclaims the Issei protagonist of Shelley Ota's novel Upon Their Shoulders, squarely identifying where his loyalty lies. On the mainland, artist Kamekichi Tokita experiences the attack that Sunday as news on his radio, and like many Issei he blames the conflict on the U.S. embargo of oil to Japan and fears the consequences of war between the militarists in the land of his birth and the people of the nation where he's lived for just as long and where he's raised five children. He begins a diary that notes the Japanese calendar year as "1941 (Showa 16)," or the sixteenth year of the reign of the then- current emperor.

On the Monday after Pearl Harbor, college freshman John Okada sees that his own professor and classmates cannot look him in the eye. His anxiety and confusion as a Nisei hardens into resolve with "I Must Be Strong," published anonymously on December 11 in the University of Washington Daily.

The Rev. Bunyu Fujimura of Salinas is among the first to face "Arrest" as the army and the FBI take into custody and interrogate 5,500 Issei on the West Coast and in Hawai'i, separating families and leaving wives and children to deal with frozen bank accounts, vandalism, and death threats. Fujimura believes he faces execution and boldly defies an agent who interrogates him about spying for Japan. In Fujiwo Tanisaki's short story newly translated for this volume, a Nisei son describes how "They Took Our Father Too"; from the internal evidence, the father is most likely taken to the Tuna Canyon Detention Station, a former Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp near Los Angeles.

The men arrested are shifted to a succession of army and Justice Department internment camps where they are further grilled by alien enemy hearing boards. Schoolteacher Otokichi Ozaki and newspaper publisher Yasutaro Soga from Hawai'i are among those who compose tanka—short songs of thirty-one syllables each—to grapple with the humiliation of their arrest, their movement to the mainland, and the fear that leads at least one fellow inmate to take his own life. At Fort Missoula, Montana, where he shares a barracks with German and Italian prisoners of war, business manager Iwao Matsushita writes to his wife in Minidoka, Idaho, "I Can't Bear to Be Stigmatized as 'Potentially Dangerous,'" and offers strategies for clearing his name and securing his release.


Despite the lack of any verifiable acts of sabotage or espionage by Japanese Americans, the White House capitulates to the threats perceived by the army, racial demagoguery from West Coast congressmen, and pressure from agricultural business owners who covet the lands richly cultivated by the Issei. With an executive order numbered 9066, President Roosevelt authorizes his secretary of war to prescribe military areas from which any or all persons can be excluded. Nowhere does the order mention Japanese Americans by name, but its meaning is clear. Four days later in San Francisco, publisher James Omura testifies to the lack of due process at a hearing of the House Select Committee Investigating National Defense Migration, commonly known as the Tolan Committee, and puts the question directly to the lawmakers: "Has the Gestapo Come to America?"

The JACL steps into the leadership vacuum left by the arrest of the Issei. JACL's first paid executive secretary, Mike Masaoka, describes his "Decision to Cooperate" with the government as one made to prevent bloodshed in the streets and demonstrate the loyalty of the Nisei. Having taken this position, Masaoka also issues statements waiving the right to protest removal and opposing any constitutional test cases in court.

The head of the army's Western Defense Command, Lt. Gen. John DeWitt, claims military necessity to order the removal of all Japanese Americans and resident aliens from the western half of Washington, Oregon, and California, and the southern part of Arizona. Soldiers nail 108 localized Civilian Exclusion Orders to buildings and utility poles under the stark headline, "Instructions to All Persons of Japanese Ancestry"; excerpted here is Order No. 33, addressed to the Little Tokyo community of Los Angeles. Until this moment, most Nisei accept that their Issei parents may be detained but believe that their status as citizens will protect the American born. They are sickened and angry to see that racial ancestry is the only criterion for removal, with the order applying to both resident aliens and to what the poster now euphemistically calls "non-aliens." The orders direct each family to register their names and receive a five-digit family number, with one week to report to a designated pickup spot. Aside from the alien hearing boards, the government grants no hearings, trials, or questionnaires to the exiles to determine individual loyalty, despite the Fourteenth Amendment guarantee of equal protection and due process before any deprivation of life, liberty, or property.

Only now do families scramble to dispose of homes, farms, and businesses to comply with army orders. University of Washington student Gordon K. Hirabayashi, however, cannot in good conscience obey first a military curfew and then the exclusion order, as both are enforced solely on the basis of race, as he explains in "Why I Refuse to Register for Evacuation." And on the day that he is "Kicked Out of Berkeley," Charles Kikuchi wonders in his diary how families on the street in distress can still appear to smile for photographers as they board buses for the assembly center at the Tanforan Racetrack.



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