The Japanese in Our Midst

Our treatment of the Japanese is surely a test case of whether we can help to direct alien communities when this war is over


When the Army finished moving them the evacuees were turned over to the War Relocation Authority.

The WRA established permanent relocation centers, two of which are on Indian land. In one of these, Poston, Arizona, administration has been delegated by the WRA to the Indian Service. Much of the small ''Caucasian" staff at this camp comes from the Indian Service, one of the few branches of the government to which we could turn for a group of men who had had long experience in dealing with a minority group. Under the progressively enlightened policies which John Collier has done so much to encourage during the last decade, the treatment of our Indian population is one of which we have good reason to be proud. To this Indian Service nucleus has been added a group of extremely able persons, many of whom have had successful experience with the Japanese.

Poston is essentially an experiment in planned relocation. The longterm program can be roughly summarized as aiming at two things: the building up of a temporary community, and preparation for ultimate assimilation. A community must be built up along selfgoverning lines and in conformity with the wishes of the inhabitants, not only in order to help reestablish morale but also because there are some, perhaps, who will not wish to leave the camps even if allowed to do so. If the Colorado Indian Tribe to whom the land and all its improvements will always belong should extend the lease, many evacuees would be glad to remain and farm this rich soil. It is possible to imagine Japanese communities growing in these relocation centers in which the centripetal forces would be stronger than the centrifugal — communities which would be a free but distinct part of the American scene. To be a free part of the American scene, however, there must be, for many of the evacuees, a new birth of confidence, knowledge, and capacity for the American way of doing things.

Poston today has the framework within which a new society can grow. Formerly disgruntled evacuees say that it "will work"; there is machinery through which hundreds are leaving for temporary or permanent positions in areas outside the Western Defense Zone; there is a bridge between the evacuees and the outside world.

Looked at with this framework in mind, it is possible to put the many apparent clashes of personalities and policies at Poston into their proper relation. Among the Caucasian administrators, those whose daily job it is to build up a community, the camp officials, the adult education leaders, the engineers, and the teachers can hardly avoid giving the impression that they look on this as a permanent project. Those whose function it is to move men out of the camps to satisfy the demand for agricultural labor in the Midwest, or those who are trying to relocate students in Eastern universities, naturally have less sympathy with the more permanent aspects of camp life. These differences illustrate the difficulty of reconciling the two things which the plan demands: freedom to leave Poston and freedom to build a community at Poston.


The first crisis is definitely over. Administration and evacuees have lived through months during which evacuees were bitter, bewildered, upset by broken ties, torn by conflicting rumors, doubtful of the good faith of the government. The issei taunted the nisei — "I told you so, you are impounded with the rest of us." Farmers feared for the future, for even the land belonged to the Indians this was to be another ArabJew situation. The first announcement of good intentions — selfgovernment, for example — created, in this tense atmosphere, a wave of optimism which turned to despair when selfgovernment did not come overnight.

This period of uncertainty is over and a mood of acceptance and cooperation is taking its place. There are no outward signs among the evacuees of any lowering of morale. Everyone dresses well and the women somehow manage to look clean, cool, and beautiful in heat and dust. The nisei are taking this experience as well as any other Americans but they are sill living on their moral credit, like the girl who said, "We have unpacked our luggage but not our minds." They are not divorced from their old environment. When this spirit runs low what inner resources can they draw upon?

The order in this community is the more amazing when one considers the physical conditions under which the 18,000 people are forced to live. Dust, fine and allpervasive, is a constant factor; there is no escape from it. The evacuees at Poston's three camps are housed in barracks constructed by the Army on land which the Colorado River used to overflow before the construction of the Parker Dam. The seat is ten degrees hotter than in the Libyan Desert. The evacuees call the camps Roastem, Toastem,, and Postem.

The third largest community in Arizona, Poston takes its name from the first delegate to Congress from the Territory of Arizona, the man who secured $50,000 of the public funds for the construction of irrigation ditches in what is still Indian territory. The water for the project is diverted from the Colorado River by the recently constructed Headway Dam of the Parker Irrigation Project, but reaches the first of the camps through Poston's old ditches. Irrigation water will soon reach the second and third camps.

Last summer, in a temperature which goes above 120° every day, the evacuees had to get along with very little water and under very crowded conditions. Army barracks divided into rooms twenty feet by twentyfive feet afford little protection from the heat. Sometimes as many as three families shared one room. In September a survey of the housing situation showed that in one area fourteen families occupied seven rooms. Under these conditions privacy could not exist, for there are no partitions.

The Japanese consider the housing problem the most urgent and acute of all the questions facing the administration at Poston. They point out how hard it is to create a home out of a floor space eight feet square per person, which is the allotment where a family of seven occupies one apartment. They feel that conditions may defeat them in the fight to maintain individual and family integrity. A highly respected Japanese Christian said that if this condition continues much longer, there will be a collapse of morale. "Unrelieved tension continued over a period of months will have serious consequences." Friendships of long standing come to an end, the moral condition of the young people deteriorates, children are driven outside their home for their social life. Nobody stays at home in Poston, and that is an unhealthy and dangerous sign. Many of the older people, to feeble to take care of themselves, are separated from their families.

The following was written by a young Japanese last September: --

Tonight as I sit here and type at my portable placed on a card table that is used for almost everything under the sun, the thought comes to me that I ought to portray an actual evening at home in a overcrowded apartment. I consider mine an overcrowded apartment, for in it there are seven of us. At the present moment my wife is trying in vain to put our fourmonthsold baby girl to sleep. She is pacing the length of the 20' x 25' room with the baby in her arms, but the baby continues to cry. My elderly male cousin is lying prone on his bed in one corner of the apartment and trying hard to concentrate on the front page of a threedaysold newspaper, but I am certain that it is only with difficulty that he is reading the paper, for he is constantly casting glances toward my wife and the wailing baby. My middleaged female cousin is also lying prone on her bed, which is located in the center of the room alongside the bed of her tenyearold daughter who is still very much full of pep and energy despite a strenuous day of play outdoors. The young daughter is keeping herself busy between making a necklace of melon seeds and calling everyone's attention to the little minnows that some of her little boy friends caught for her during the day in the nearby creek. My motheritslaw was puttering around for a while with her sewing, but she must have tired of it, for I now note that she has gone outside and is carrying on a conversation with one of the neighbors on our front “porch."

The thing that strikes me just at this particular moment is this: How long can we keep up this straits that is brought about by the lack of privacy?

No wonder an evacuee lawyer who formerly had an excellent practice said that he thought of almost nothing but his physical condition.

Presented by

George E. Taylor

George E. Taylor, head of the Far Eastern Department of the University of Washington, was an authority on the Far East. During the decade 1930 – 1940 he spent eight years in China and Japan. He wrote regularly for the Manchester Guardian and the New Statesman, he taught at Yenching University, he collected medical supplies for the Chinese guerrillas and for a time traveled with them. He read and spoke Chinese. His books, Struggle for North China and America in the New Pacific, marked him as one of the most intelligent of our liaison officers with the Far East during his era.

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