Excerpts from
Teaching with Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives
National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies
Washington, D.C.

An English Theme Written About the Relocation of Americans of Japanese Ancestry

Historical Background

The reasons why the United States government decided to evacuate people of Japanese origin from the West Coast and Hawaii following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 are complex. However, in February 1942, a frightened U.S. Defense Command and a hostile West Coast citizenry, convinced that Japanese-Americans supported Japanese naval raids on the West Coast, combined to lead President Roosevelt to sign Executive Order 9066, authorizing the Secretary of War to establish military areas vital to the defense of the United States and to exclude therefrom "any or all persons." One month later, through Executive Order 9102, the President created the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to remove, relocate, maintain, and supervise the excluded persons. Although neither order specifically said so, both were implicitly directed at Japanese-Americans, citizens and aliens alike.

World War II brought a change in everyone's life, but for Japanese-Americans, the change was fundamental. On March 2, 1942, the western coast of the United States, including Washington, Oregon, California, and a strip of Arizona along the Mexican border, was declared military zone #1, from which Japanese-Americans were to be excluded. Later that month, the government ordered all Nisei (persons born in the United States of immigrant Japanese parents and therefore United States citizens), Issei (Japanese immigrants), and Kibei (native United States citizens of Japanese immigrant parents but educated largely in Japan) from their homes and jobs and transported them to assembly centers and then to isolated relocation centers behind barbed wire.

Eating in mess halls, using communal washroom facilities, living in hastily constructed barracks with tar-paper exteriors and knotholes in the flooring were enormous hardships for family-oriented Japanese-Americans. The WRA did what it could to make life bearable: each camp became a colony with hospitals, theaters, parades, newspapers, and even flower arrangement competitions. There were schools, usually fully staffed, for children of all ages and adults. Despite these signs of ordinary activity, these transplanted Americans lived with the undeniable fact that their freedom was gone. Except for an ironic exercise in absentee voting, the United States government deprived these citizens, who included World War I veterans, of both the privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.

The government established ten relocation centers for Japanese-American citizens and aliens. The Tule Lake Relocation Center was one of them. The document reproduced here (minus certain information deleted to maintain privacy) is an exact copy of an English theme written by a ninth-grade student at the Tule Lake Center's Tri-State High School. This theme, with other compositions and samples of student art work, added uniqueness and luster to an otherwise drab statistical report of the superintendent of schools at Tule Lake to the WRA project director for the center. From the document, one can sense the feelings and frustrations created by Executive Order 9066.

Tule Lake Relocation Center, opened in May 1942, was situated in northern California near the Oregon border. From the spring of 1942 to March 1946, internees residing at the Tule Lake Relocation Center totaled 29,498, a figure that took into account 1,490 births and 331 deaths. Tule Lake was little different from the nine other centers until June 1943, when it was designated a segregation center. After that date, it housed Japanese-Americans who either proclaimed their loyalty to Japan or had been designated by the Department of Justice as disloyal to the United States.

Because of its status as a segregation center, Tule Lake was often the scene of turbulence. Schools closed for a time, the Army interceded briefly, and the colony suffered strikes, demonstrations, and near riots. Through all of this turmoil the WRA offered, as nearly as possible, uninterrupted social services for the Tule Lake inhabitants. Tule Lake Project Director Raymond Best, in his final 1946 report, expressed the regrets of many government officials when he wrote, "It was finis of a section of a chapter of history which, pray God, America neither may be called upon nor see fit to repeat."

The theme presented is from Field Basic Documentation Records, File Box 90, Folder: Education Reports, Records of the War Relocation Authority, Record Group 210.

Chieko Hirata
Period II, English I

My Last Day At Home

The month of May when I was attending school, all the residents of Hood River county, as well as the people of the whole western coast was surprised to receive such an unexpected order of evacuation.

Promptly after hearing about the order I with my folks went to register and then for a brief physical examination. Then I helped my folks pack and prepared to leave my dear home on May 13, 1942.

On May 8, 1942 I withdrew from Parkdale Grade School, where all my friends and teachers bid me farewell with sorrowful face and tears. Our packing never seem to cease, we kept on packing then finally we were finished. Then came May 13th, my most dreaded day which I shall never forget the rest of my life. On the afternoon of the 13th, I board the train headed for Pinedale, California.

On the night of the 15th we arrived. The weather was pretty hot. In Pinedale I lived in the D-section which had forty barracks, which had vie apartments to a barrack.

I stayed at the Pinedale Assembly Center about two months. Then around July 15, 1942 we received our order to evacuate for Tule Lake. Then on July 18th we evacuated for Tule Lake and spent a night on the train. I arrived in Tule Lake. At present I am living in Block 58. The residents of this block is most Tacoma folks which I am not very much acquainted with as yet. Being that my cousin lives in Block 57 I am always visiting them.

I am always hoping that this war will end, so that I will be able to go back to Parkdale, my home town and see all my old friends, and live to my dying days in my old home in Parkdale, Oregon.

Herbert Yoshikawa

Suggestions for Teaching

Before Reading the Document:

Imagine that you and your family were ordered to leave your home within a week's time. You could take only what you could carry and had to dispose of all the rest of your property, including real property (land and buildings). Think through and then write down the problems your family would face. Or you may write a letter to a special friend telling of your feelings about the eviction experience. When your work is completed, compare it with the first part of Chieko's paper.

After Reading the Document:

Learning Centers

The following five exercises are designed as individual activities that students complete independently as parts of a learning center, or station, in the classroom or library.

A list of suggested reference readings is included with each exercise. They are not essential to complete the activity, but provide information to enrich the document and the information given here on this subject. Each reference provides the author's last name and the specific chapter or page number of the reading. A complete citation of the publication is located at the end of the suggested activities.

If teachers do not choose to organize their class time to accommodate individual work, they may adapt any one exercise for use by the entire class.

1. According to the document, Chieko's family was not forced to leave its home until May 13, 1942. Write five diary entries for one member of Chicko's family, describing. what might have gone through his or her mind between the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and actual evacuation the following May.

Suggested references: Bosworth, chapter 4; Hosokawa, chapter 16; Houston, chapters 1 and 2.

2. What do you suppose Chieko's family did with property that could not be taken with them? How could this be accomplished in a week's time? Assume the role of a Japanese-American family member, and write a paragraph describing this ordeal to your non-Japanese friends.

Suggested references: Hosokawa, chapter 19; Houston, chapter 2; Miyakawa, chapters 6-9.

3. Pretend you are a radio news reporter and you are reporting on the military contributions of Nisei servicemen during World War II. You may editorialize. Write your script and record it on tape.

Suggested references: Bosworth, chapter 1; Myer, chapter 11; Shirley, total book.

4. Take the position of either a United States government official or a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union. Write a list of either the pros or the cons of confinement of Japanese-American citizens living in the United States following Pearl Harbor.

Suggested references: Hosokawa, chapters 17 and 18; Myer, chapter 20; TenBroek, chapters V-VII.

5. Look at the detailed map of the United States provided by your teacher, and by using information from your readings, at a list of the relocation and assembly centers where Japanese-Americans were located during World War II. Identify geographical features common to the sites of these centers.

Suggested references: Myer, chapter 1; Hosokawa, chapter 19; Thomas, chapter II.

Extended Learning Activities

1. For a feature magazine article, describe what life was like living in D-section and in block 58.

Suggested references: Houston, chapters 2-4, 9,12; Miyakawa, chapters 10-13; Sone, chapters IX and X; Conrat, total book.

2. Life for most persons in a relocation center was often boring. Even for those who worked, there had to be recreation and aesthetic relief. You are the recreation director at Tule Lake Center. What artistic and recreational projects or events would you organize? Consider the cultural traditions of Japan in planning these projects. Suggested references: Eaton, total book; Okubo, total book, especially page 134; Spicer, pages 218-229.

3. Write a research paper on the history of anti-Asian legislation, both at the federal and state levels. Include the adjustments and contributions made by Asian immigrants despite their less than warm welcome.

Suggested references: Hosokawa, chapters 1-13; Myer, chapter 2; TenBroek, chapter I.

4. Write and produce a one-act play showing the life of a family forced to leave home, jobs, and friends for an unknown future in a confinement camp.

Suggested references: Houston, chapters 1-2; Miyakawa, chapters 1-8; Thomas, chapter I.

5. Invite speakers from a local civil rights commission in your community to speak to your class about current civil rights violations and the commission's programs for correcting these abuses.


Bosworth, Allan R. America's Concentration Camps. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1967.

Conrat, Maisie and Richard. Executive Order 9066. California Historical Society, 1972.

Eaton, Allen H. Beauty Behind Barbed Wire. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1952.

Hosokawa, Bill. Nisei. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1969.

Houston, Jeanne Wakatsuki. Farewell to Manzanar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1973.

Miyakawa, Edward. Tule Lake. Walport, Ore.: House by the Sea Publishing Company, 1979.

Myer, Dillon S. Uprooted Americans. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1971.

Okubo, Mine. Citizen 13660. New York: Columbia University Press, 1946.

Shirley, Orville C. Americans — The Story of the 442nd Combat Team. Washington, D.C.: Infantry Journal, Inc., 1946.

Sone, Monica. Nisei Daughter. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1953.

Spicer, Edward H. Impounded People. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1969.

TenBroek, Jacobus. Prejudice, War, and the Constitution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1954.

Thomas, Dorothy Swaine. The Spoilage. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1946.

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