The Boy

The Boy

In 1942, 122,000 Japanese Americans were forced from their homes in California, western Oregon and Washington, and southern Arizona in the single largest forced relocation in U.S. history. Many would spend the next three years in one of ten relocation centers across the country run by the newly-formed War Relocation Authority. Others, like Otsuka’s father figure, would be held in facilities run by the Department of Justice and the U.S. Army. Few photographs exist of the internment camps because of prohibitions against owning cameras, but vivid descriptions—verbal and visual—exist to give us a picture of life “inside,” very much in keeping with the narration offered by Otsuka’s youngest narrator.

Items in this exhibition case:

 

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Topaz Relocation Center. Map created using Google Earth software, 2013.

The camp consisted of 19,800 acres, nearly four times the size of the more famous Manzanar War Relocation Center in California. Topaz was located approximately 15 miles west of Delta, Utah. Surrounded by desert, it was an entirely new environment for internees, most of whom came from the San Francisco area. It was built at an altitude of 4,580 feet above sea level, and was arid and subject to dust storms and wide temperatures swings during night and day. This is how the camp is seen through the eyes of Ostuka’s characters:

At Topaz the bus stopped. The girl looked out the window and saw hundreds of tar-paper barracks sitting beneath the hot sun. She saw telephone poles and barbed-wire fences. She saw soldiers. And everything she saw she saw through a cloud of fine white dust that had once been the bed of an ancient salt lake. The boy began to cough and the girl untied her scarf and shoved it into his hand and told him to hold it over his nose and mouth. He pressed the scarf to his face and took the girl’s hand and together they stepped out of the bus and into the blinding white glare of the desert. (p. 48)

 

Miné Okubo, “There was no privacy…” Citizen 13660 (New York, Columbia University Press, 1946)
Okubo’s memories of close quarters and lack of privacy echo the boy’s observations in When the Emperor was Divine:

They had been assigned to a room in a barracks in a block not far from the fence. The boy. The girl. Their mother. Inside there were three iron cots and a potbellied stove and single bare bulb that hung down from the ceiling…Sometimes, in the darkness, he heard noises drifting from other rooms. The heavy thud of footsteps. The shuffling of cards. Over and over again, the creaking of springs…

 

Miné Okubo, City of Topaz, 1943. Pictorial map published in Trek: a Quarterly Literary Magazine Produced by the Residents of the Topaz Relocation Center. Vol. 1, No. 3 (June 1943).

Okubo was the art editor of the Topaz literary magazine, Trek, which was published in three numbers. This map accompanied a description of various aspects of life at Topaz, including:

Recreation— Basketball and baseball are popular outdoor games, and recreation halls are provided for tournament bridge, shogi goh, and ping-pong. Hunting arrow heads, constructing rock gardens, making artificial flowers, and wood carving are favorite pastimes. The movies attract crowds every night. The public library has both an English and Japanese section which invites browsing. Also offers a record concert once a week.

 

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United States. Army. Western Defense Command and Fourth Army. Final Report, Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942. Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1943. Facsimile. Source: “Sites in the western U.S. associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II.” In: Burton, J., M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites.

This is the first of a series of three maps. It shows the areas from which all persons of Japanese ancestry were “evacuated by the Army in satisfaction of the impelling military necessity.” Shown are the 108 exclusion areas, each containing a population of approximately 1,000 people. From March 24 to August 11, 1942, more than 109,000 people were forced to leave their homes.

 

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United States. Army. Western Defense Command and Fourth Army. Final Report, Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942. Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1943. Facsimile. Source: “Sites in the western U.S. associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II.” In: Burton, J., M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites.

After the “evacuation” of the Japanese-Americans was complete, the Office of the Commanding General of the Western Defense Command and Fourth Army submitted a lengthy final report. It listed in detail the considerations that led to the “evacuation,” as well as the logistics of its accomplishment. The so-called “Assembly Centers” were established as temporary facilities while the permanent “Relocation Centers” were being prepared. The map shows the general location of each Assembly Center, its maximum population, and the period of occupancy.

 

Click image to enlarge.
United States. Army. Western Defense Command and Fourth Army. Final Report, Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942. Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1943. Facsimile. Source: “Sites in the western U.S. associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II.” In: Burton, J., M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites

This map shows the locations of fifteen temporary Assembly Centers and four permanent Relocation Centers. People taken to Relocation Centers remained there; the rest were kept in the Assembly Centers pending transfer to interior relocation centers. The color scheme of the map was designed to show the center destination of the “persons evacuated” from each exclusion area.

 

Click image to enlarge.
United States. Army. Western Defense Command and Fourth Army. Final Report, Japanese Evacuation from the West Coast, 1942. Washington, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1943. Facsimile. Source: “Sites in the western U.S. associated with the relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II.” In: Burton, J., M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites.

This map shows the locations of the ten permanent Relocation Centers. The color scheme was designed to show the ultimate destination of each population group from the exclusion areas. According to the Army Command, the controlling considerations in the development and execution of the plan were “character of population, community balance, preservation of community and family units.”

 

Dave Tatsuno. [Tatsuno Family at Topaz], ca. 1942. Screen shot from archival footage filmed by Tatsuno at Topaz. Source: Dave Tatsuno: Movies and Memories. KQED, 2013.
With the help of a sympathetic camp administrator, Tatsuno acquired an illegal home movie camera during his time at Topaz and was able to use it to document family life at the internment camp during World War II. His footage was later compiled into the film, Topaz, and is now preserved in the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. http://youtu.be/_F8GnVP4wVU