I love the feel of the air as it changes into fall. There is a dry whisp of a scent. Two different temperatures; a warmth to the front of the breeze but something colder just behind. I find myself thinking of the interment camps of WWII, and what it was to be taken from your home, to watch a sunset in a place unfamiliar to you. To watch the sun set behind Mt. Whitney from Manzanar as the weather turned cold.
The Japanese internment camps of WWII have been present in my thoughts the last few months. It started with reading, “Snow Falling on Cedars” in April. I knew about the camps, but that book, so beautifully written, re-awoke me to the time in our country when land was taken, Japanese immigrants and citizens imprisoned (anyone with Japanese ancestry classified as “enemy aliens”), families torn apart. This weekend I finished reading, “Daughter of Moloka’i” which also explores the Japanese-American isolation of WWII. I didn’t understand how the land was worked and developed in Florin (Sacramento), California by Japanese families. I didn’t realize the early relocation camps involved housing people in dirty horse stalls at race tracks. I didn’t understand how businesses were sold for nothing, that there were no options allowing those of Japanese ancestry to hold on to what they had built.
I didn’t know that residents in internment camps were asked to fill out forms which, depending on their answers, could label them “loyal” or “disloyal”. Question 27 asked if you would be willing to serve as a soldier or a nurse in the war. Imagine the fear in making this decision; to say no could mark you as disloyal, to say yes could mean leaving your young children or your elderly parents in the dire landscape of internment. Question 28 asked “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States… and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?” For those who were immigrants, forbidden US citizenship, would it leave them without a country? If Japan won this war, would they be killed or tortured for signing this form? If they didn’t sign the form, would they ever leave the camps?
My daughter will be reading “Farewell to Manzanar” this year, an unexpected assignment again connecting us to this time and place. She broke down last nigh, feeling like she has been betrayed by history in that this is something she is only learning now. I explained that I’m learning too.
And so I watch the sun set, and think about how it must have been almost 80 years ago, with the wind shifting towards winter.
Japanese Internment from The History Channel
Japanese Americans and The US Constitution – The Questionnaire
Snow Falling on Cedar by David Guterson
Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
Farewell to Manzanar by James D. Houston and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston