Japan Society of Fairfield County

Memories or Nightmares
by Eugene Takahashi

     Pearl Harbor and the subsequent war with Japan were a traumatic time, especially for those of Japanese heritage in the U.S.A. (Nikkei). As a group, the first generation of Japanese Americans (Issei) was deprived of the right of citizenship or even the right to own land. Further indignities were inflicted on the Issei and their citizen offspring (Nisei) with the forced evacuation from their homes and farms on the West Coast. With short notice, in the case of the Terminal Islanders off San Pedro, CA, in just a few hours 118,000 Japanese, the majority of whom were American citizens, were sent to some 10 relocation centers (now referred to as "concentration camps").
     The housing at the camps consisted of tarpaper barracks grouped into blocks with central un-partitioned latrines and showers and common laundry rooms and mess halls. The camps were surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by sentries. Room furnishings consisted of cots with straw mattresses. Internees fashioned desks, dressers, chairs, and other furniture out of scrap lumber, which was provided.
     My family and I were sent to Poston, Arizona, which was located on an Indian reservation in the desert on the Arizona-California border. It was especially hot there as at most other camps and there was no water and ventilation in the barracks. Space was cramped and my family of five lived for almost three years in a room measuring 20'x25'. Sandstorms were prevalent and sand blew into the poorly constructed barracks, covering the floors, beds and furniture.
     Initially, schools and churches were centrally located in each block and were run by the internees. Later, retired teachers were recruited from the nearby area or came as volunteers from elsewhere. Books and supplies were almost nonexistent. In 1945, some three years after the evacuation, internees were permitted to leave camp for the interior, in my family's case, Cleveland, Ohio.
     After some 60 years, the older Nikkei community has come to realize that the public and even their children and grandchildren were not really aware of this shameful episode in American history although there have been some books written, movies produced, etc, about the camps and citizens being deprived of their constitutional rights.
     Recently, my wife, Vi, and I joined a group of former Poston internees, Native Americans, university professors, Arizona State and reservation administrators at a conference to discuss the possible restoration of the site of the camp. Since Poston was built on an Indian reservation administered by four tribes known as the Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT), the decision was made to incorporate the two cultural groups into any plans that might be made.
     While this combined group faces many obstacles and problems, we are all hopeful that the "Poston Restoration Project" will eventually be a successful one. My hope is that my grandchildren and their children may some day visit this site and gain some insight into this disgraceful period in our history.
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