A Kibei's Story

by Michelle Black

May 1998

This paper will briefly deal with the World War II experiences of a Japanese American who was interned in several "relocation camps" without being charged with any crime.

The harsh realities of his life have not left him bitter. All the information gathered is from an interview with my maternal grandfather conducted on May 3, 1998, unless otherwise noted.

The following terms will be used frequently: Issei - first generation, Japanese who immigrated to the United States before the Exclusion Act of 1924 (Hosokawa, p. 146); Nisei - second generation, American born offspring of Japanese immigrants; and Kibei - Nisei who were sent back to Japan to go to school for any substantial length of time and then returned to the United States.

Yoshiro Roy Aramaki was born in Del Rey, California on January 15, 1917 to Kumaki and Fujie Aramaki. He was delivered at home by a midwife, as was customary for the time. A year later a second son was born, Tadashi. When Yoshiro was three or four years old, he accompanied his mother and younger brother back to Japan so that he could go to school. At the time, his mother was pregnant and a third son, lichiro, was born in Japan.

With the original intention of returning to Japan with the entire family, Fujie Aramaki left Yoshiro and lichiro with relatives and returned to continue working. During her stay in Japan, Tadashi had died. His father and mother sent money back to Japan for their sons' care. In 1926, Fujie gave birth to another son, Shigeo.

Yoshiro was educated in Japan until he was 14 years old, then he returned to San Luis Obispo, California in 1931 to rejoin his family. Iichiro was left in Japan in the care of relatives while his parents earned money which they sent to Japan for his education and support. It was understanding that lichiro would join the family in the United States after he had completed his education.

While Yoshiro lived in San Luis Obispo, he went to school and worked in the fields as a laborer. He picked berries, lettuce and other produce,

The family moved to Watsonville, California in 1933 and Yoshiro enrolled in Watsonville High School as a freshman. Being educated for all those years in Japan caused Yoshiro to feel uncomfortable in his American surroundings. Traditionally, Kibei children were required to enroll in U. S. citizenship classes. Although he felt awkward about his accent, Yoshiro took the citizenship course and a few other required classes. That was where he caught the eye of a fellow student, Hisae Grace Akiyoshi. She remembers him being quiet and shy (Ins. Hisae Grace Aramaki).

Although he attempted to assimilate with other students, Yoshiro felt like an outsider. His education in Japan included only what was taught from the Japanese school's curriculum; therefore, he was behind in American high school courses.

At that time, he was clean cut and wore corduroy pants because it was fashionable. He listened to the Glenn Miller band and observed the dance craze of the jitterbug. Being shy, Yoshiro watched with amazement as people jitterbugged around him at social gatherings.

Yoshiro tried to stay interested in his classes. He also farmed with relatives. Eventually, he dropped out of high school and went to work full time for his uncle who owned a small grocery store that catered specifically to farmers.

Yoshiro worked in the store but he mainly rode his bike out to rural farm areas selling tofu (cheese like food made from soybeans) from a metal container. He worked hard and was training to one day take over ownership of the little market called Aramaki Tofu.

On December 7, 1941 Yoshiro and some of his cousins were quail hunting on a tomato farm owned by another uncle in Watsonville when they heard the news about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He was numb. Most people were shocked and in a state of disbelief over the bombing. He did not hear FDR's declaration of war speech on the radio. He read about it in the newspaper.

Yoshiro's younger brother, lichiro, was in Kumamoto, Japan living with the Nakamura family, an uncle on his father's side at the time of the bombing.

Soon after the bombing, a curfew was implemented in the western United States. No one of Japanese ancestry was allowed out after a certain hour and no more than ten people could be together in one place. The paranoia from the bombing intensified the racial discrimination towards Japanese Americans. It did not matter that some were born in the United States. The fear of all Japanese Americans became evident.

Despite the curfew being enforced, my grandparents, Yoshiro Roy and Hisae Grace, were married on January 11, 1942. It was just a small ceremony held at a relative's house in Watsonville. It was kept very quiet so as not to bring attention to the fact that more than ten people of Japanese descent were meeting in one place.

Shortly, after their wedding, a document known as Executive Order 9066 was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 (Hosokawa, p. 283). The Order gave Secretary of War Stimson the authority to designate certain "military areas" and to exclude "any or all" persons from them. This was the authority that the Secretary had sought to remove Japanese aliens as well as citizens of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast (Hosokawa, p.287).

In April, 1942 Yoshiro and Hisae Aramaki were given 48-hour notice that they had to report to the Salinas, California Assembly Center. They were told to gather one suitcase per person, one metal plate each, one tin cup each and one set of utensils each. With only 48 hours notice, my grandparents were forced to sell most of their belongings including wedding gifts. They did have a neighbor with a small tin shed who offered to store some of their possessions, such as dishes, clothes and a Singer sewing machine they had received as a wedding present. Yoshiro had just purchased a 1941 Chevrolet for $900 and was forced to sell it for $700.

Yoshiro was angry, not only at the way they were given a 48-hour notice, but also that he was a United States citizen being treated like a foreigner in a foreign country. Community leaders were picked up and whisked away. Rumors were running amuck about where they were being sent after the sweep by the FBI.

At the time that the Executive Order was announced, Hisae's sister, Momoe Mori, moved from San Francisco to Watsonville with her family so that the families could stay together in whichever camp they were being sent to.

After reporting to the Salinas assembly center, the family was moved to Poston, Arizona on July 4, 1942. The camp in Poston was on an Indian reservation. My grandmother was five months pregnant with my mother. They were in the desert in the middle of summer. The highest temperatures they had ever encountered in California were between 70 and 80 degrees. Now they were forced to deal with temperatures as high 108 degrees. They perspired so much that they were given salt pills. My grandfather kept wet towels on his head to stay cool, even when he was indoors.

Their living quarters were small cabins with no mattresses. Instead they were given canvas shells and somewhere in camp a big pile of straw was left for the internees to stuff their canvas shells to make their bedding. Only the sick and the pregnant got metal beds. Although they were given metal beds, they still had to stuff a canvas shell for a mattress. Everyone else used cots. My grandfather said "Life was miserable."

While in camp, the head of the family had to work. Yoshiro, my grandfather, made $15 a month. Professionals like doctors and dentists made $19 a month. The camp was far from modern. To have water run into the cabin, Yoshiro had to buy his own pipe and have a friend who was a plumber install it.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the Selective Service system changed the classification of all Nisei to 4-C status meaning aliens not subject to military service. The Nisei deeply resented the discriminatory treatment.

The idea of a volunteer all-Nisei outfit was endorsed by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and the Japanese-American Citizens League (JACL). Japanese-Americans pushed for their right to join the military to show their loyalty to the United States. Eventually, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team was formed (Hosokawa, p.360). Now it was just a matter of figuring out who could serve.

Being a United States citizen of draft age, Yoshiro was forced to fill out a questionnaire which would then be evaluated to determine his eligibility for work in defense plants as well as military service. But the Army seized the opportunity to propose that the questionnaires be presented to everyone, men and women, citizens and aliens, over 17 years of age (Hosokawa, p. 364).

In their haste to adopt the proposal, the WRA made two major errors. First, the questionnaires were labeled "Application For Leave Clearance." The internees were afraid to leave the camps because of the hostility toward them. Second, questions which had been meant for Nisei men were submitted unchanged to women and Issei.

The following questions were asked of all internees:

In filling out the questionnaire, Yoshiro answered no to both questions. His status was changed to enemy alien. By answering "double no," he was now viewed as not only an enemy alien but as disloyal. He was very upset because he felt if those questions could be asked of him, then why was he in a concentration camp?

In the midst of all the confusion concerning loyalty and allegiance, his first daughter was born on November 8, 1942. She was named Betty Mae Nobuko Aramaki.

Shortly after signing "double no," Yoshiro, Hisae, and their newborn daughter were transferred to Tule Lake, California. Tule Lake was a camp for "disloyals" with the main intention being a place to house the "disloyals" before shipping them back to Japan. Of the approximately 16,000 internees, only about 4,000 people went back to Japan.

Tule Lake was the most infamous and notorious of the concentration camps because it had riots, martial law, pro-Japan demonstrations, violence, and murder (Suguru,p.1).

Being Kibei usually meant having dual citizenship status. Most Kibei found it hard to adjust to American ways since they'd been taught Japanese ways while they were being educated. Kibei were probably feared more than most Japanese-Americans. They posed a bigger threat to national security simply because they'd been educated in Japan.

While in Tule Lake, Yoshiro denounced his US citizenship. Most people didn't agree with him. For him and a few others doing the same, the decision was based on principle. The United States government had betrayed these people by overlooking the fact that they were United States citizens and seeing them as the enemy because they also happened to be Japanese.

Shortly before leaving Tule Lake, another daughter presented herself. She was born on December 21, 1943 and was named Linda Kim Aramaki. Just after her birth, Yoshiro was sent to Bismarck, N. Dakota in 1944. About 300 people were sent to Bismarck. Hisae and her two small daughters stayed behind in Tule Lake.

In the fall of 1945, Hisae and her two small daughters were sent to Crystal City, Texas There they were given food rations for sugar, flour, bread, and other staples.

In the meantime Yoshiro spent 18 months in Bismarck until it closed. He was then shipped to Santa Fe New Mexico for another 3 months before it also closed. He finally caught up with his family in Crystal City in mid 1946.

Between 1944 and 1946, Hisae canceled her repatriation questionnaire but the papers were lost so she couldn't get released from Crystal City. The family was in Crystal City on March 17, 1947 when a son was born. Theodore Teruo Aramaki was also born in a camp.

Finally, in October 1947, more than 2 years after the war had ended, they were released to go wherever they pleased. The family returned to Watsonville where Yoshiro began working for a farmer in La Salve, California who also employed his parents. The farmer supplied housing to his employees so Yoshiro wasn't as bad off as others returning from camp

Yoshiro eventually went to work for Akiyoshi Farming, where he worked until his retirement. Hisae went to work for Watsonville Community Hospital, where she worked until her retirement. They bought a nice house for $12,000 and had 3 more kids, Sherry, Susan, and Janice.

They did manage to save that Singer sewing machine because Hisae had it shipped to her at Tule Lake. They kept an old radio which was stored because when they reported to camp all weapons, radios, and camera equipment was confiscated. They also managed to save their wedding gift of silverware but unfortunately, they lost a lot of their belongings because the tin shed where their things were stored was vandalized while they were in camp.

Yoshiro's citizenship was restored in the mid 1960's. At the time he was in camp, he was angry because of the mistreatment he received courtesy of the United States government. He was also hurt by fellow Japanese-Americans who thought he and others were wrong for signing "double no." However, the people who vilified them for taking a stand came to understand and respect them for showing their integrity.

In the end, taking a stand against the United States government, in what was clearly a no-win situation, was based on principle. It may not have been traditionally Japanese (passive) but it was the right thing to do.

 

 

Bibliography

Aramaki, Yoshiro (Watsonville, California; May 3, 1998).

Aramaki, Hisae (Watsonville, California; May 3, 1998).

Hosokawa, Bill, Nisei-The Quiet Americans c (New York: W. Morrow, 1969)

Suguru, Ed, "Tule Lake: A Troubled Lake," Rafu Shimpo, Thursday, August 10, 1995 p.1