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The Displaced Persons : 'They Hung Up Notices to Get Ready for Evacuation. It Said on Such and Such a Day : You Go. So What Can You Do?'

December 06, 1987|DEBORAH GESENSWAY and MINDY ROSEMAN

On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, killing 2,334 American servicemen and wounding 1,347. By March, 1942, all persons of Japanese descent living in Western states were ordered by reason of "military necessity" to 10 "relocation centers," each housing between 10,000 and 20,000 evacuees. Of the roughly 127,000 people of Japanese ancestry in the United States in 1940, about 113,000 of whom lived in the West, nearly 80,000 were American citizens. Following are first-person accounts.

Hiro Mizushima: Dec. 7, 1941, was Sunday. I was going to the California College of Arts & Crafts, and we had an assignment to do some drawings of Lake Merritt in Oakland. I went there early in the morning, and about 12 o'clock I was ready to return home. A couple of sailors came up to me and said, "Are you Chinese or Jap?"

I said, "I'm an American. Why?" They just glared at me and walked away. I got onto the streetcar to return home, and I heard all these sirens. I heard this announcement for all military personnel to report to their bases. I thought all this was awfully funny. When I finally returned home, I still didn't know what was going on. I turned on the radio, and I heard about Pearl Harbor. I didn't know where Pearl Harbor was or anything.

My father's hair turned white the day of Pearl Harbor--I think because he didn't know what the future would hold, and he had one brother in the old country. First thing my dad was saying was, "Well, if something happens, I'll be the first one to go into camp or something." But at that time, we didn't even know about the camps.

Lili Sasaki: I was walking home from helping my brother-in-law in his snack shop, and I saw the newspaper on the stand: "Japan Bombed Pearl Harbor." My God, don't tell me such an awful thing like that! And when I got home, two FBI men came and were waiting for my father-in-law. They said they wouldn't leave until he came. My father-in-law didn't come home until about dinner time, around 7. And the minute he came, they told him to "Pack up a few things, and come with us." It's because he belonged to some of those Japanese associations. He was quite well-known in Japantown. And he was a writer. He had printed three books in Japan. We never heard from him for, I don't know, six months. We didn't know what happened.

Yeah, that was very bad. After Pearl Harbor, I just hated to go outside on the street. Then the government told you not to travel so many miles from your home. But I had to get to work. I had to make some money. And as I was going through the turnstile, a policeman stopped me and said, "What are you? Are you Japanese?"

And I didn't stop. I said, "No, I'm not Japanese." But I think the young policeman was too embarrassed to chase me. He let me go. But I thought I was American. I was born here, so I just said, "No."

So I went to work.

Jack Matsuoka: When I heard the news of Pearl Harbor, I didn't believe it. My folks didn't believe it either. It never hit us until the Army put out a curfew right in the center of Watsonville. Main Street--if you're a citizen, you can cross Main Street, if not, you can't. So I had to do the shopping for my folks.

Then the FBI picked my father up. He was just nobody, but they picked him up anyhow. They came in the morning and asked where he was. I told them I didn't know. This big bruiser of an agent, a cross between a football fullback and a Nazi storm trooper, said, "Don't get sassy with me!" He didn't call me any names, but his tone. They surrounded the house; one agent came in from the rear, two came in the front. The leader said, "Don't worry, we're going to take care of your father--you'll hear from us." Just like the movies. They took him away. It was nearly a year before we were together again.

Charles Mikami: The FBI took me over to the immigration office and the jail. I'm never against America. I'm loyal to America because my wife is born in this country--America--and my children are born in America. I don't do anything against America.

The hearing board says, "Well, after you came from Japan six years later, you organized a Japanese young men's association. And you were president for five years, and when the New Year comes, Japanese put the picture of the emperor up like this."

"No, no, I don't," I say. "Young men's association doesn't pay any attention to the emperor. (They are) American-born mostly. You must mean Japanese association, first-generation association. So you made mistake." The secretaries were typing away like that.

"Let me get out of here because I have to see my wife. She got a nervous breakdown!" I say. My wife can't do anything. She worry too much. Little kids. And our grocery and car, she got to sell now cheap--everything. So I worry about her every night, and I couldn't sleep good. So I had to get out from here.

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