• Art Nomura

Chapter 19, segment 2 of 3, 'Concentration Camp, 1943-1944'

By 1943, Henry Nomura’s love of movies and photography finally found expression within the confines of Manzanar. The opportunity arose when Toyo Miyatake, a professional photographer from Los Angeles began shooting photos of camp life with a secret camera constructed with a lens and shutter smuggled into camp.

Once his activities were discovered by camp authorities, he was surprisingly allowed to continue with his photography subject to certain restrictions. The admissions office felt that that had to capture images of camp life to show the outside world that life within barbed wire was bearable. Because of Miyatake's ability to capture what they felt were representative images, any restrictions, including having a non-inmate tripping the shutter on his camera, eased and Miyatake was given free rein of the camp.

Miyatake built a photography studio in a vacant laundry room and became the commercial photographer for many camp activities including providing images for the high school annual, documenting events of all kinds, and photographing countless family portraits.

His precedent paved the way for other photographic equipment to filter into Manzanar.

Henry, a long-time movie aficionado, took advantage of the relaxed rules and requested that his 16 mm film projector and still box camera that he had left in storage in Los Angeles be sent to him. After his projector arrived he served as a voluntary camp projectionist and spent many a Saturday morning screening his collection of cartoons and short documentaries to whomever wanted to view them. Although photographic still film was not readily available, when he did have it he was able to occasionally document his life with family snapshots.

The quality of the schooling Ayako and Jimmy received in Manzanar improved over the duration of their incarceration. The fall 1942 semester had begun haphazardly, with many classes being taught out of necessity by young Nisei college students while credentialed teachers were being sought out and recruited. In those early days, even Yoshiko, who had barely managed a high school diploma at age twenty, filled in as a sixth grade teacher for a class that included her younger brother, Jimmy.

By 1943, a number of certified and qualified teachers had arrived in Manzanar to teach at all levels. Some, like those who identified themselves as Quakers , were drawn to provide service to the incarcerated Japanese. They courageously opposed the U.S. decision to jail loyal citizens and peace-loving aliens. Other teachers, seeking a novel experience, joined the ranks to satisfy their taste for adventure.

Surprisingly, after the outside educators settled into their jobs, the education the inmates received was mostly on par or better than what they had experienced outside the camp. That most of the classes were filled with highly motivated, ambitious students made the teaching memorable and satisfying for the teachers too. Ayako said later that having all-Japanese classmates was exhilarating and challenging at the same time. “I had never been in class with so many smart kids before,” she recalled.

For those students that spoke Japanese among themselves and at home, an on-going challenge for some was inadequate English skills. When one of her teachers noticed Ayako’s strong accent and halting use of English, she was invited to attend an after-school speech therapy class. Since the teacher happened to be blind, Ayako didn’t feel as self-conscious reading aloud in front of him had he been a sighted teacher. She and five other students took turns reciting Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to improve their diction and pronunciation. Following a semester of one-hour lessons after school, Ayako’s verbal English skills improved markedly.

One of Ayako’s high school classmates was Ralph Lazo, a teenager of Mexican-Irish descent. When his many Japanese American friends at Belmont High School in central Los Angeles were forced from their community by the evacuation, Ralph voluntarily decided to join them by moving to Manzanar.

Motivated by friendship and his sense of outrage that his American friends and their families could be treated in such an unfair manner, Ralph spent two and a half years of the war voluntarily incarcerated at Manzanar. Determined to ensure that the high school experience in Manzanar would be on par with that on the outside, Ralph worked tirelessly on whatever he felt would enhance the school experience including serving as a cheerleader and as a class officer at Manzanar High School. Ayako and many others admired his outgoing personality and his willingness to live as his conscience dictated.

Ayako, aside from her studies and musical activities, remained a ‘stay at home’ kind of girl. Most of her classmates were from urban schools in downtown and East Los Angeles and knew a lot more about what was hip and fashionable than did a shy farm girl. She spent most of her spare time helping around the barracks including taking turns hand washing and ironing the endless laundry her family generated.

While many of her more sophisticated classmates participated in clubs, sports events, and school dances, Ayako was content to come home from school and participate in whatever activity benefitted the family. Fortunately, she did not lack for friends her own age. Since the population of Manzanar was a cross section of Japanese from throughout the West Coast, Ayako was able to make friends with other farmers’ daughters who shared her values and background.

On the other hand, Jimmy, a young teenager, became much more of a free agent in camp, especially during the hot summer months. By the summer of 1943, some of the incarceration rules were relaxed and Jimmy and his friends were able to spend hours roaming the land adjacent to Manzanar including fishing at the nearby snow-fed streams teeming with trout.

Although it remained a detention facility, for the young people in Jimmy’s generation, in terms of safety, Manzanar was mostly a benign, safe environment. The living conditions were crude, but the food was adequate, and friends with whom they shared much in common were readily available.

For the young adults in their late teens and early twenties, the camp experience continued to be an interminable delay in their progression toward independent adulthood. Like many of the other young men, Kaworu went on work furloughs to maintain at least the illusion of being a free American.

The shifting tides of war in favor of the allies in Europe and the Pacific Theater reduced the influence of authorities intent on keeping the Japanese and Japanese Americans incarcerated. The camp inmates, like most of America, followed news of the war closely. As the Third Reich suffered major military defeats in 1943, it seemed as if allied victory was soon to be. But the maniacal leadership of Hitler in Europe and the fatalistic resolve of General Tojo in the Pacific kept both conflicts alive.

In the spring of 1943, Japanese with American citizenship were given the option of leaving camp to work and live in the Midwest and Eastern United States. This meant leaving the camp for parts unknown to secure work. For the issei this was not an option. As for most of the kibei, and Nisei with families, the uncertainties involved did not often warrant leaving the relative security of the camp. Furthermore, the regulations stated that those applying to leave needed both a sponsor and an offer of work, conditions that favored the young and unattached.

On May 21, Kaworu, at the age of twenty, was allowed to leave Manzanar to live and work in Chicago through a sponsorship from the United Church of the Brethern. Eventually, savings from his job earnings and the atypical progressive admission policies of the University of Minnesota (only the University of Minnesota and the City College of New York accepted his applications despite his outstanding qualifications) enabled him to resume his college studies in the fall of 1944.

However, for many this relaxation of restrictions was of no benefit. In September after some camp inmates were making plans to live again as free Americans, the consequences of answering no/no to the Loyalty Questionnaire became clear. Dillon S. Meyer, the head of the War Relocation Authority announced that 10,600 selected men, women, and children would be moved from out of the nine relocation centers around the country to the Tule Lake concentration camp in Northeastern California. In just thirty days Tule Lake became the most populous concentration camp in the system, housing over 18,000 inmates.

The inmates that were chosen for transfer to Tule Lake included:

1. Those that had asked to be repatriated or expatriated,

2. Those who had refused to pledge loyalty to the United States,

3. Those who had pledged loyalty to the United States but whose behavior in relocation centers or before evacuation had indicated to the authorities that they were not ‘truly loyal’. These judgments were made without any recourse or appeal offered to the inmates involved. The transfer of inmates was the first time that any group in the country were sorted and segregated on the basis of national loyalty.

All others whose loyalty to the U.S. could be satisfactorily established became eligible to leave the relocation centers to take jobs outside the camps. After the segregation movement of ‘non-loyal Japanese’ and relocating job hunters had been completed, the population of the nine non-Tule Lake WRA centers was reduced to about 73,000 residents. However, many who were eligible to leave did not because relocation back to the west coast was not offered as an option.

Among the ‘non-loyal’ Japanese, some were sent to Immigration Naturalization Service (INS) detention facilities when and if they renounced their American citizenship. Dillon Meyer in his zeal to separate the non-loyal members of the Japanese community even considered censorship of mail to and from Japanese residents, American citizens and aliens alike, that were interned in the camps.

By September, 1943, approximately 19,000 persons had left the relocation centers, more than 12,000 of them on indefinite leave and the rest on seasonal leave permits. An unlikely mix of inmates was soon observed departing Manzanar. One bus would transport Japanese and Japanese Americans headed for more restricted incarceration, while the next would contain Nisei headed for new jobs and neighborhoods. Interspersed amongst the two extremes were young men headed for basic training in the military. Tears were shed by the remaining inmates as their friends and family in each category departed in their respective and decidedly different directions. The circumstances that forced inmates to be sent to Tule Lake were debated everywhere.

Joe Kurihara, is a World War I veteran, and has never even been to Japan, for Christ’s sake!” Henry proclaimed.

“Why in the heck are they sending him to Tule Lake?”

“I heard that he wants to be sent to Japan,” Jiro replied.

“Heck, I don’t blame him. He was born an American, fought for the United States in the first World War, yet they still threw him into camp.

I heard him say ‘to hell with America,” he continued angrily. “But just saying that is no reason to be sent to jail.”

The normally coolheaded Jiro continued. “When I was in Idaho on work furlough the last time, I saw German P.O.W. soldiers walking around unescorted in the town near the farm where we were working. And here we are American citizens being guarded by Army troops. I even heard that some of those Jerries were dating the local girls!”

“Shikataganai,” Mizuko interrupted. “Complaining won’t change anything. Americans believe that actions speak louder than words. What can you do to make things better?”

Henry stared at his mother, than shook his head in frustration.

Jiro rubbed his face with the heels of his hands and replied. “Mama, I really don’t know what’s right anymore. I gotta think about what I should be doing.”

Mizuko and the other issei inmates were less than thrilled by the prospect of ‘freedom’ outside the camp. They still were restricted from returning to the West Coast communities where they had lived before the war. The idea of starting anew in the unfamiliar settings of the Midwest or on the East Coast wasn’t appealing. Most of the issei were not fluent in English and their distinctive Asian appearance would make them immediate, obvious targets for anti-Japanese prejudice and discrimination.

Consequently, Manzanar soon became a repository of the very young and old as many of the younger Nisei generation joined Kaworu and others like him as they moved out of the camp to re-start and/or begin their lives as ‘free’ Americans.

On September 23,1943, as part of the WRA’s relaxed stance toward inmate mobility, Hatsu Nakadegawa, Mikako’s widowed issei mother received permission to join her daughter and seven month old granddaughter Hatsumi at Manzanar. Her other three children, Mikako’s siblings, Clifford, Chizuko, and Roy, were all adults and had left Poston to go east on work or school leave when the opportunities became available.

Incarcerated at the Poston, Arizona concentration camp since May 1942, Hatsu had endured average summer daytime temperatures of 120 degrees in the southwestern desert. Mrs. Nakadegawa moved directly into barracks 15-14-1 with Mikako, Henry, and her namesake, baby Hatsumi. She continued to reside with them throughout the duration of their stay in Manzanar.

end of Chapter 19, segment 2 of 3,'Concentration Camp, 1943-1944'

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