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THROUGH THE FIRE: Japanese American Museum of San Jose — ‘Resistance to Internment’

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By MARY UYEMATSU KAO

(Published Oct. 23, 2019)

My husband and I just returned from a two-week trek to the Bay Area to visit family and friends. One of the memorable places we visited was the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (JAMsj). While it might seem modest in comparison to L.A.’s Japanese American National Museum, it presents a part of our history that is still shrouded in controversy.

One large panel is dedicated to “Resistance to Internment.” Prominently displayed are the cases of draft resisters from Heart Mountain, Tule Lake, and Minidoka. While many of us are now familiar with the Heart Mountain draft resisters, it was surprising to find out that there was draft resistance in all camps except Manzanar.

“Resistance to Internment” panel at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. (Photo by John Kao)

Poston had the largest number of draft resisters. For a great read on Poston’s draft resistance movement, see Eric L. Muller’s article “A Penny for Their Thoughts: Draft Resistance at the Poston Relocation Center.” Here is a snippet from Muller:

“Indeed, within just a few weeks, Poston was in a headlong rush into large-scale draft resistance that caught the camp’s administrators by surprise. On June 18, 1944, 15 out of 65 Nisei refused induction. On June 28, 21 out of 78 refused. In mid-July, it was three out of 29. In mid-August, 14 out of 57 refused induction.

“In late September, in a carefully staged act of defiance, seven out of 35 Nisei simultaneously said ‘no!’ when the soldier in charge told the group to raise their right hands to be sworn in. On Oct. 30, 11 out of 36 refused. When all was said and done, over 100 young men at Poston resisted the draft.” (https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1354&context=lcp)

Below the section on the draft resisters was another sector of resistance that was very different from the draft resisters. Many of them identified as Hoshi Dan, or Japanese patriots. These were the true “no-no” boys of the loyalty questionnaire. The photo of the Hoshi Dan being expelled from Tule Lake to be sent to a Department of Justice (DOJ) camp at Santa Fe got me checking them out on Google. That’s how I ran into this website — “Confinement in the Land of Enchantment (CLOE): Japanese Americans in New Mexico during World War II.” (https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=7b919435f0f84b4b8581a7062fcc18a2)

CLOE gives a rich comprehensive history of the high-security camps in New Mexico: Camp Lordsburg (1,500 Issei “enemy aliens”), Santa Fe (1,900 Issei), Fort Stanton, and Baca Camp. Lordsburg is said to have housed the economic, creative, and intellectual elite of the Japanese community. Tule Lake, as a “segregant” camp for those who answered “no-no,” was a breeding ground for “resegregation” groups who professed to be the true Japanese.

The Hoshi Dan being further segregated from Tule Lake to Santa Fe. From the “Resistance to Confinement” panel at JAMsj.

The most prominent resegregation group was the Sokuji Kikoku Hoshi Dan (Organization to Return Immediately to the Homeland to Serve), later called the Hokoku Hoshi Dan. Hoshi Dan members were sent to Santa Fe while their leaders were later isolated and sent to Fort Stanton, which also housed German and Italian POWs. CLOE describes the impact Hoshi Dan had when arriving at Santa Fe Camp:

Camp Lordsburg, U.S. Army Camp, Lordsburg, New Mexico, 1943. (Courtesy of Lordsburg-Hidalgo County Museum, from the CLOE website)

“The arrival of the Tule Lake group caused major problems at Santa Fe. . . . The new arrivals. . .particularly the Kibei, shaved their heads like Japanese soldiers, engaged in quasi-military drills, waved homemade Japanese flags, and proudly wore sweatshirts painted with the Japanese rising sun emblem, which camp administration banned.

“The turbulence brought on by the Tule Lake group eventually resulted in the removal of three resegregationists to Fort Stanton, which prompted a riot to break out on March 12, 1945. That upheaval resulted in the transfer of 13 more of the Tule Lake agitators from the Santa Fe camp to Fort Stanton. Wary of more incidents, officials targeted for removal anyone capable of inciting disobedience.”

I had a particular interest in Camp Lordsburg since my Uncle Shig was sent there — and yes, a family separation. My aunt knew little of why he was there, and she had to prepare for her own forced removal from Thermal with three kids in tow. I rarely hear anything about Camp Lordsburg, so I will quote briefly from CLOE’s description of life there:

“While Camp Lordsburg was built specifically for Japanese civilian internees, its layout and organization resembled a typical military POW camp. . . .High security at the camp served as a constant reminder. . .that Camp Lordsburg was established to detain men considered to be especially dangerous.”

The only clue left today of Camp Lordsburg is POW Road — imprisoning almost all Issei men, none were convicted of any crime. The first administrators were particularly abusive and disregarded the Geneva Convention on treatment of prisoners of war, which Lordsburg inmates were qualified to be.

“Draft Resistance” from the “Resistance to Confinement” panel at JAMsj.

Camp Lordsburg stopped housing Issei men by the summer of 1943. They were being displaced by Italian and German POWs. The Issei were transferred to civilian internment camps run by the DOJ and INS.

My Aunt Sonoko’s letters to Uncle Shig can be found online by simply googling “Sonoko Iwata papers archive” and you can read the letters (Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers, Balch Institute Archives). Excerpts of her letters are also included in the book “Since You Went Away: World War II Letters from American Women on the Home Front” (edited by Judy Barrett Litoff and David D. Smith, 1991).

When I was working at UCLA Asian American Studies Center, I remember Yuji Ichioka had patiently waited for the disbursement of $20,000 reparations to all surviving camp internees, before publishing a special issue of Amerasia Journal. As guest editor of Amerasia’s “Beyond National Boundaries: The Complexity of Japanese American History” (Vol. 23, No. 3 1997-98), Ichioka gathered stories from Nisei who were mostly located in Japan during World War II.

Ichioka’s own essay was about Kazumaro Buddy Uno, a Nisei who was pro-Japan and worked as a journalist for the Japanese Imperial Army in China and Manchuria. He also happened to be the eldest brother of Edison Uno — the man who first called on JACL to take up the fight for JA reparations.

Ichioka waited for all the disbursements to be made so that his research could not be used against the case for reparations. He wrote about Uno to bring this whole sector of resegregationists, renunciants, and pro-Japan patriots back into our Japanese American story, while the JACL would prefer to forget they existed. The JA community’s seeming reaction of disdain and disapproval of all those who resisted confinement has gone hand-in-hand with exclusive praise of the 100th/442nd RCT and MIS members for our readmission — or paying our dues — into U.S. society.

I applaud the Japanese American Museum of San Jose for giving us back this history. As Ichioka concludes in his article on Buddy Uno:

“Since he was on the Japanese side during the Pacific War, Uno has been banished into historical oblivion as a persona non grata. His case raises a fundamental historical question. What is the meaning of loyalty in a racist society? . . . How can the category of a disloyal Nisei have any meaning in a society which overwhelmingly rejected the Nisei on racial grounds?”

And in my own mind, it was the U.S. government’s racist policies that instigated these divisions in our community — rewarding the so-called “pro-American” JAs against the pro-Japan JAs. Can we really wonder why Sansei like me exist? I was never given a Japanese name, nor do I understand even small phrases in Nihongo, and was never taught to say itadakimasu before eating.

And while I’m critical of Japan’s role in World War II, and since, as the U.S.’s junior partner in Asia, this does not mean I can’t be proud of being Japanese. As a Nikkei from Brazil put it: Japanese in the U.S. have given up so much of their Japanese being just to prove they are “loyal” Americans.

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Mary Uyematsu Kao is a retired Sansei still searching for her roots. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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