Chapter 17, segment 2 of 3, 'Before the Storm, 1937-1942'
Updated: Jan 13, 2019
Mercifully, a few days later, a notice came to the Nomura household stating that high school students from certain Laurel Canyon addresses should attend North Hollywood High School rather than Van Nuys High. The area served by the respective schools had been changed. As a result, the high school-aged students living on the side of Laurel Canyon Boulevard where the Nomuras lived were being reassigned.
A relieved Ayako gratefully switched high schools the next day. The differences in the school environment was like night and day. Whereas at Van Nuys High Ayako had been the lone Japanese American student in her class, North Hollywood High had many sons and daughters of Japanese farmers enrolled. bBolstered by the strength and recognition accorded this critical mass of Japanese American students, Ayako was able to continue her schoolwork with minimal disruption.
In the meantime, Kaworu, Mizuko’s nineteen year-old third son, was pursuing a math major at Los Angeles City College (LACC). Upon graduating from high school with honors he had earned the opportunity to enroll at prestigious four-year schools such as Cal Tech (California Institute of Technology) in Pasadena or UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) in West Los Angeles. However, because LACC was so much cheaper than the others, and used the same math extbooks as Cal Tech, Kaworu chose to attend the community college.
To do so, he worked nights for his eldest brother Henry (Takuma) from 5 pm to midnight, six days a week, loading, hauling, and delivering produce. In exchange for his work Henry gave him the use of his car for going to and from school and paid him five dollars a month.
The evening work allowed Kaworu to attend college classes during the day. Immersed in his studies and work, Kaworu was only nominally exposed to racial discrimination.
On February 1, 1942, a nationwide broadcast on CBS Radio further unsettled the Japanese community. The Attorney General of the United States, Francis Biddle, in an announcement entitled Identification of Alien Enemies, said that alien U.S. residents from Germany, Italy, and Japan would be required to have within their possession at all times a card identifying them as “Alien Enemies”. Following the instructions in the announcement to the letter, Mizuko took time off from farm work to have her photo taken at a local camera store.
She completed the form for registration at the North Hollywood post office where it was approved on February 4, 1942. As she left the post office, Mizuko could not stop thinking that her life and that of all other issei in America was in serious jeopardy.
Less than three weeks later, on February 19, 1942, Mizuko’s fear of more serious repercussions was realized. On that day U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This document authorized the United States Secretary of War to prescribe military areas and to ban the presence of anyone they chose from those areas in the interest of national security. Although people of Japanese ancestry were not singled out in this document, the intent was clear. Negative sentiment against the Japanese, and Japanese Americans in particular, had grown unfettered since the December 7th attack, and this order provided the legal basis to allow authorities to rid the West Coast of any Japanese presence, whether they were U.S. citizens or not. From that moment on, Japan’s war against America had a direct effect on the lives of every Japanese and Japanese American living in the western United States.
In very short order the United States military was given broad powers to remove Japanese and Japanese Americans from a fifty to sixty mile-wide coastal area stretching south from Washington to California and extending inland into southern Arizona. The order also authorized transport of these Japanese to assembly centers hastily set up and governed by the military in California, Arizona, Washington State, and Oregon.
Permanent relocation camps were eventually established in California, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Arkansas to incarcerate all issei and Japanese Americans residing in the delineated military areas.
Part of the initial military mandates, prohibited Japanese and Japanese Americans from traveling more than five miles from their place of residence. Since Kaworu’s college, LACC, was located more than five miles from his home on Laurel Canyon, he had no choice but to discontinue his studies. Humiliated and enraged by the injustice of the order, Kaworu could not bring himself to tell his professors he was leaving, but instead just stopped attending classes.
Entire Japanese communities were notified of impending evacuation and relocation. Evacuees, including the Nomuras, were told that they could only take what they could carry to their relocation destinations. As a result, they were faced with the immediate tasks of storing or selling their personal belongings and business inventories.
Mizuko gathered together the few important documents and precious artifacts of her life and packed what she could into the luggage she would be carrying. All else she entrusted to non-Japanese neighbors, who assured her that the treasured items would be returned when the interment ended.
The Japanese found that selling what they owned for a fair price in the face of imminent evacuation was impossible. Offers were made for personal belongings and business inventories that amounted to pennies on the dollar of their actual value. Unscrupulous individuals, unwilling to pay anything, waited to swoop in and just take whatever was left after their Japanese owners had departed. Mizuko sold her beloved Maytag washing machine for four dollars, while Henry’s prized late-model Chevrolet went for a hundred.
For Henry and Jiro, the process of disengaging from their business was particularly painful. The produce brokerage that they had worked so hard to establish would quickly vanish after they left. Their coveted stalls in the produce market would be appropriated by White and Chinese entrepreneurs without compensation. The trucks and autos whose purchase they had financed with loans would be lost due to non-payment. For a few items that they owned outright, like Henry’s cherished cameras and film projector, they were able to set up storage arrangements with non-Japanese friends.
The two older Nomura brothers thought that the evacuation itself would be short-lived, imagining that the drastic measures being enforced would be revoked once the hysteria over the presence of the American Japanese subsided. Unfortunately, their hopeful assessment was too optimistic.
In March of 1942 a call went out to the Japanese community for volunteers to construct the “relocation centers” that would house the displaced Japanese and their families. Twenty-five year-old Jiro volunteered to help build the center in Manzanar, California where many Southern California Japanese were scheduled to live. Rumors sprang up that Manzanar was located in the high desert somewhere near Mt. Whitney. If true, their prospective destination was as alien as the moon to most Japanese in Southern California who either lived in fertile farming areas, near seaside fish canneries, or in urban centers.
Jiro’s willingness to volunteer created a schism between he and his older brother. Unlike Henry, Jiro felt it was important to make the best of a bad situation. He was one of the first Japanese American to register at the local Armed Forces recruitment center believing that attitudes toward Japanese Americans and long-term resident aliens like his mother wouldn’t change unless Americans realized that the Japanese community would be willing to serve in the war effort.
Henry, on the other hand, was outraged that America could imprison his family without just cause or due process of law. The Nomuras had all been law-abiding, loyal, and hard-working contributors to the American Way. Fortunately for him, when he reluctantly went to the recruitment center, his anger was tempered by the fact he was given a 4-F designation. Since he was “Head of Household”, meaning he was the main source of income for his mother and a large extended family, Henry received an exemption from military service.
Nonetheless, his ire over the impending evacuation continued. Of his many complaints the foremost was the question of why Japanese were being singled out for evacuation, while residents of Italian and German ancestry, with ancestral ties to the other Axis powers, were not being targeted for removal. The question was largely rhetorical because Henry had been the subject of continuous discrimination by the white majority ever since he had returned to America from Japan.
When Jiro left for camp construction duty, Henry continued working, hauling and marketing produce with his sole remaining truck. As was his habit, upon returning home from work late at night or in the early morning hours, he would sit in the cab of his truck writing out invoices and other paperwork for the deliveries and sales he had done that day.
One night, Henry was startled by a loud rapping on the truck door.
“You! Turn off that light and get out here,” an angry voice growled.
Henry flicked off the cab light and stepped out of the truck into the dark night. A burly man with a large flashlight and clipboard stood belligerently by the truck. Henry recognized him as a neighbor from down the road, a person with whom he had been slightly acquainted for years.
“Oi, it’s me, Henry, what’s the matter?” Henry asked.
Henry flinched as the full beam of the flashlight flooded his face.
“I don’t care what your name is, buddy. I’ve been keeping an eye on you and your jap friends. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing out here late every night!”
The obvious bewilderment on Henry’s face prompted the man to swing his flashlight beam over to the spotlight mounted on the side of the truck.
“You’ve been signaling the Jap military with that spotlight and the cab light you leave on every night.”
“The next time I see it, I’m calling the MPs,” said the man as he furiously wrote on his clipboard.
“This here’s a warning citation. Any more violations, and you’re in the stockade.”
The man tore the ticket off and thrust it at Henry. Henry took it and put it into his shirt pocket while the man reached over to the spotlight and gave it a vicious smack.
“Watch your step. I’m not done with you,” threatened the man, as he turned and swaggered off into the night.
He deliberately raked the beam of his flashlight across the side of the Nomura house like a dog urinating on a hydrant.
Since he lived the majority of the time with his wife Mikako in his Los Angeles home, Henry was only occasionally in North Hollywood. Nevertheless, the same Office of Civilian Defense (OCD) volunteer returned to Mizuko’s Laurel Canyon house for an “inspection” every night after he harassed Henry.
Between 8:00 p.m. and midnight, whether Henry was around or not, the man would knock once and enter the Nomura house without invitation and snoop around for weapons, signaling devices, or anything that in his opinion was in the least way suspicious.
With Kaworu working evenings in Los Angeles and Jiro already gone to Manzanar, Mizuko, Ayako, and young Jimmy were usually the only Nomuras present to host these nightly intrusions. Seeing the OCD patch on the man’s sleeve was enough to leave the issei woman and her two children fearful and anxious for hours after he left.
end of Chapter 17, segment 2 of 3, 'Before the Storm, 1937-1942'