It’s not exactly love at second sight when the governor of your home state is 100 percent behind your leaving his jurisdiction and a metropolitan city mayor joins in the demand to force an unwanted change of address. California Governor Earl Warren and Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron joined the chorus led by *4th Army Commanding General John L. DeWitt insisting on the ouster of the Japs from the west coast, citizenship be damned. Sycophants in Washington D.C., more interested in the European conflagration, didn’t want to be bothered by the cowboys out west. (Milton Eisenhower was the solo voice of reason throughout.)
Pardon the buffoonery in referring to Nisei as campers but did any of you internees really give a thought to what was meant by “the duration”? To refresh your faltering (if not failed) memory, check out what Project Director Wade Head proclaimed upon opening Poston Unit One in May of 1942: “Poston welcomes you. [There] will be schools, a hospital, churches and stores. [It] will be a strong, joyous, self-governing American city.”
In September of that year War Relocation Authority (WRA) chief counsel Phillip Gluck said “a stopping place was needed (by evacuees) before going east, thus we have relocation centers here today (and) despite the evils of evacuation, this is a blessing in disguise. I am very confident that, when the war is over, all Postonians will find a new home, not bunched in “Li’l Tokios and Li’l Osakas” but scattered throughout this vast country (like) other minority groups in the U.S.”
But if you paid close attention (and who would?) that same year at the Poston Elementary School dedication Director Head declared that “Thirty, forty years from now your children may be using this building . . .” I doubt if anyone was listening. Catching the attention of most was a cornerstone that read: “Built by residents of Poston.” CR2S believes that is all that is left of the premises today. (*And in case you may have forgotten, Gen. DeWitt’s exact quotation was: “A Jap is a Jap and it makes no difference whether citizen or not. I’m not worried about the Germans or Italians but we will worry about the Japs until they are wiped off the face of the earth.”)
When is the last time you were accused of being an unwelcome intruder? A stranger in your own home town (a la Mel Torme)? The target of hateful racist commentary? In the 40s (and 50s) it was a regular feature of daily living. “Go home” was a common direction. “No Japs Allowed” a commandment.
The question arose this past week when I was the target of a direct if not an off-target epithet: “… you god-damned Chinaman! Why don’t you go home where you came from!”
Without thinking I shouted in retaliation: “… Me no Chine, pendejo, Me Japones!” (Only one guess on the nationality of the offender.)
This long range confrontation occurred between a pedestrian crossing against a “no walk” sign while I made a legal right turn.
To tell you the truth neither the righteousness nor verbal exchange made me feel better. Would it have been more appropriate if I gave him the universal finger and told him to go home where he came from? Turning into the shopping center parking lot I stopped to allow a nubile young thing pushing a cart while pulling a young one. An impatient driver behind me honked her horn but quickly silenced upon seeing the child. I’m surrounded, I thought, by impulsive people having an impatient day.
That’s when I found myself thinking about “the old days” when you never knew friend or foe; those occasions when an unexpected turn of events could trigger an angry exchange or a friendlier than necessary apology.
The scariest was in front of a Provo (Utah) pool hall when a drunken Marine demanded three young teeners get off his street; the funniest was when I was mistaken for an Apache Indian in Chicago; and most memorable was when my Company Commander in Kyoto asked if I was a descendent of the Emperor.
The common place racial whateveryouwantocallems are too numerous to remember; they might be gone but not forgotten. Every single one of them hurt, you know? Some more than others. So when the pre-war pronouncements were revisited, I could forgive an ex-governor who admitted the error of his way as a Supreme Court Justice and a recalcitrant mayor did likewise. Maybe someday I’ll track down the civilian history of Gen. DeWitt.
Belatedly enrolled at Riverside Junior College (1949) after a year of fruit-tramping and thirty months overseas in Japan following three years in black-haired Poston, I asked fellow English lit student named Mary Jane for a date. She said yes. OMG or “Oh my gracious.”
She resided in the better part of town with a March Air Force Base officer father. Apparently she had only told him she had a date with a fellow student named “Wimpy.” Short story made succinct: At the front door he declared no daughter of his would be allowed to go out with a Jap!
I never asked another white girl for a date. Or the time of day.
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.