LETTERS TO THE EDITOR: Concentration Camp is the Right Term

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(In response to Eunice Sato’s piece run in Horse’s Mouth on Tuesday, Aug 31, 2010).

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Dear Editor,

Eunice Sato, former mayor of Long Beach, wrote a letter about AB 1775, which was printed in the Rafu, Horse’s Mouth column of Aug. 31, 2010. She is entitled to her opinions, but when she makes statements that are not true, I must reply to them. In arguing against using the words, “Concentration Camps,” she states that “Those who were imprisoned in ‘concentration camps’ would not be able to leave at will,” meaning that they could.

Yes, it was a concentration camp, and no one was able to leave at will, not from Manzanar, beginning in April 1942. We were citizens, placed into secured camps surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers, manned by sentries with rifles, all without due process. We were denied our civil liberties.  I was a young child in camp, but we lived in one room, so I heard everything. My parents wanted to leave camp so they had to apply for permission to leave in January, 1944. My father was granted permission and left in February 1944, but my mother, a citizen, was denied permission. The reason was her father was arrested on the night of Dec. 7, 1941 at his doorstep and taken to jail and eventually to the Department of Justice prison camp in Missoula, Mont. She had to go through intensive interrogation to make sure of her loyalty, before she was allowed to leave. We left Manzanar in July 1944 by car and then train with tickets to Chicago and $25 each from the government.

As for the next statements, “The young people left camps. Some . . . classmates . . .  left camp . . . Amache, (to go to college); (this is an awkwardly written sentence.) She is not aware of the American Friends Service Committee which organized the Student Relocation Council at the request of WRA Director, Milton Eisenhower, in May 1942, and was instrumental in relocating college students who were in Assembly centers and in permanent camps to colleges in the mid-west and east.

“The governmental procedures for clearing colleges and students were extremely complicated. It was not until the end of 1942 that the process became sufficiently organized to permit any great volume of students leaving for colleges eastward. Wartime bureaucracy required an average of 25 letters be written on behalf of each student. Aside from helping students choose their schools, council workers also secured transcripts, letters of reference, submitted formal school applications, arranged for government clearance of both school and student, matched requests for financial aid with sources of scholarship funds, and found employment. By August 31, 1944, the War Department removed all restrictions on the attendance of incarcerated students. In a little over two and a half years, the Council was able to obtain acceptances for 3,600 students at 550 institutions away from the West Coast.” (Citation from Friends Journal, November 1992).

Finally, on December 17, 1944, the War Department announced that all persons of Japanese ancestry, unless individually excluded, would be free to return to the West Coast as of January 2, 1945.

Joyce Okazaki
Seal Beach

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