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


What kind of society can the evacuees create in these conditions? A beginning has already been made towards the establishment of self-government. Under provisions of the WRA, the project directors were authorized to set up a Community Council, elected by everyone above the age of eighteen. Only United States citizens over twentyone years of age could hold office. At the same time, all residents, citizen or noncitizen, were eligible for appointive offices its the administration. The powers of the Community Council are limited mainly to the maintenance of internal peace and order. The Council has no authority to regulate the management, operation, or conduct of business enterprises within the center.

The form of government gives the administration considerable latitude in the handling of one of the ticklish problems of relocation life: the relation between the younger and the older generation. The American citizens in Poston, who number 60 per cent of the total population, are for the most part under thirty years of age; the other 40 per cent, mainly aliens, are well over forty. There is a very noticeable falling off in the age group between thirty and fifty years. The younger generation has not had time to achieve economic independence from the older, noncitizen generation or to produce a large number of experienced leaders.

Under these conditions full authority could not be given to the JapaneseAmericans; it could only be placed gradually in their hands. By a double system of administration, the elective and the appointive, the younger generation is being trained for full responsibility, and the older generation takes part in practical administration. The experience and prestige of the one group balance the youth and ambitions of the other. In this way it is hoped that something of a brake can be put on the tendency towards the disintegration of that powerful Japanese institution, the family.

The forces which are undermining family loyalties arise from the nature of the relocation camps. Where food, shelter, and clothes are provided by the government, the father of the family ceases to have any economic hold upon his children; where the mother ceases to be the cook, she loses one of her main functions in the eyes of the children. All meals are taken in the common dining room, all cooking is done by professional cooks. Where housing conditions are so crowded, the discipline of children ceases to he a family matter and becomes the affair of the group. Under these conditions it would be disastrous to increase by constitutional arrangement the gap between the two generations. It was the strength of the family which accounted in large measure for the magnificent discipline which the evacuees have shown during months of intense heat and discomfort.

There are few groups in the United States which could have come through this experience so well as the JapaneseAmericans. There are many scars — those who formerly wanted to volunteer for the Army are not now so keen, those whose faith in American democracy was high are now discouraged — but on the whole there is a willingness among the issei to accept their position fatalistically, and among the nisei to insist, by actions, that they are American citizens.

The inner spirit of a community is hard to judge. But whatever freedom the evacuees may be given politically to develop in their own way, much of the framework is already decided for them by the economic policies of the WRA. From an economic point of view Poston is an American version of a collective farm. Irrigation and farming are a community

affair directed by an evacuee and Caucasian bureaucracy. Most of the Caucasians are in the irrigation work, bringing water from the Parker Dam to irrigate an area which, when completed, will cover 80,000 acres but is now limited to one quarter of this amount. There is a great deal to be done yet in the way of clearing land of the fastgrowing mesquite, making roads, and general construction. Irrigation ditches, drainage canals, and levees are the condition of agriculture, and work on these still monopolizes most of the heavy equipment.

Everyone works for the project — there is no other employer. Labor is paid a basic wage of $16 a month, but managerial and professional labor receives $10 a month. The only way to acquire money is to work for one of the project departments. There is an allowance of $4 for clothing. A family with four children would therefore receive $16 for the worker and $24 for clothes; with the estimated equivalent of $120 for maintenance, the total income would be $160 a month. It costs the government fortyfive cents per head to feed the evacuees, compared with the current cost of sixtytwo cents for the Army. The 18,000 inhabitants of Poston receive 6000 quarts of milk a day. The food is tolerable. For one third of the evacuees these conditions, apart from housing, represent an improvement, for another third they spell a sharp lowering of the standard of living.

The immediate economic objectives of the project have been laid down by WRA. The evacuees are to raise only enough food to he selfsufficient and to help other camps. At the same time many other things are going on — experiments with rubberproducing plants, the introduction of beef and dairy herds. The growing season is 270 days a year, the rainfall three to five inches, the soils rich and varied. With sufficient water a rich agricultural community can develop.

Health, like other things, is a government service. A wellrun hospital takes care of pubic health, professional services (doctors and dentists receive $19 a month), nursing and sanitation. Recreation is a community service — some 60,000 people attend baseball games every month for nothing. The stores, which do a roaring trade and are the real centers of social life, are community enterprises.

The WRA permits the establishment of cooperatives, and the Rochdale Institute, by invitation, sent representatives to teach for a month at Poston. The possibilities for the growth of a cooperative society are intoxicating — cooperatives could take care of everything from the repair of shoes to the manufacture of agricultural implements. As no other form of evacuee enterprise is permitted, the evacuees will have to choose between organizing cooperatives for the production of their consumer goods and services or purchasing them with their $16 a month wages.

But it is not easy to develop cooperation among the evacuees. Those who want to develop it see their problem as one of education, particularly among the younger nisei. They find that there is little incentive to work, because of the continuing sense of injustice, and many of the formerly welltodo laugh at $16 a month, The development of cooperatives also raises the problem of wages. Must the government rates be adhered to? Can profits be used to raise the real wages of the employees? How do cooperatives fit into the economic future of the project? Will they fit into the same picture with government factories — for example, the one just finished for making camouflage nets? Having permitted the development of cooperatives, Poston has opened the way, if the evacuees wish to follow it, to the handing over of a great deal of economic control from the government to the evacuees.


It is one thing for men to leave a concentration camp with a burning sense of injustice; it is another thing, and a matter of some importance to America, if they leave a community in which they have pride, feel free to grow, and through which they have faith in American institutions.

Of the evacuees who have already left Poston, some have gone on a temporary and others on a permanent basis. The temporary labor has already performed signal service to the war effort. It is estimated that the 1600 who went out last year to harvest the sugarbeet crop saved the government $5,000,000, not counting the cost of the materials. Only 400 had returned in September; half the others had made arrangements for semipermanent employment, and the rest, if they could not make similar arrangements, intended to return. Under the present WRA rulings an evacuee is allowed to stay outside, except for the Western Defense zone, if he has obtained employment. Freedom is conditional upon employment. Most of the demand, which is persistent and growing in proportion, is for agricultural work, but the Federal Employment Service is also handling requests for jujitsu experts, nurses, and domestic servants.

Many evacuee families go out on a permanent basis from the beginning. The sugarbeet companies, acting for individual farmers and underwriting the deal, have asked for as many as 1700 workers at a time, with their families, to settle in Nebraska and Colorado. Many of the farmers are shorthanded because their sons have gone into the Army, or for other reasons, and they are willing to provide permanent homes for families, not single men, on a sharecropping basis. In this way a beginning is being made in the process of spreading the evacuee population over the face of the country — a process which many think is the first condition of assimilation.

The conditions under which evacuees leave the camps are carefully controlled. The workers must be paid the prevailing wage in the district according to the surveys made by the Federal Employment Service. There must be satisfactory housing, the employer must transport the employee to a metropolitan center at least once a week and provide for a doctor. WRA has field workers in each district to watch developments. Areas are chosen in which the local sheriff promises protection and the local schools take in the children. Each evacuee carries with him two postcards addressed to the field representative, to whom he can send complaints. The evacuees are permitted to get other positions if they wish to do so. As the labor shortage becomes more and more acute the pressure to secure labor from the relocation camps will increase and the question of the conditions under which this is permitted will assume even more importance. If freedom is still linked to employment, the evacuees feel, the danger of pressure groups wanting to use the relocation centers as governmentrun "oakie reservations" is very real. This future of destitution is the nightmare of Poston.

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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