Continuing my brief series on the history of the Japanese American incarceration, I’d like to talk this week about the camps. When I learned about the conditions in these places, I was shocked. My family went through THAT? Lived through THAT?
Yes. They did. #WeAreNotFree
If you haven’t read the first part of this series, you can check it out here:
I) the mass eviction
After being forced from their homes in the spring of 1942, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were incarcerated in seventeen temporary detention centers throughout the western United States. Surrounded by barbed wire, watch towers, and armed soldiers, these American citizens and their immigrant parents were subjected to substandard living conditions on top of the stress and trauma of losing their homes. Many of the detention centers were former race tracks, where incarcerees were forced to live in horse stables, hastily white-washed and still stinking of manure--one family to a stall meant for a single animal. Suffering from both lack of privacy and of freedom, they ate in overcrowded mess halls, brushed their teeth in troughs, and used communal latrines and showers without partitions.
Despite appalling conditions, however, on the whole incarcerees did what they could to make life more bearable. They built furniture out of scrap lumber, established schools and libraries, formed representative organizations to oversee camp affairs, held dances and concerts, and showed films.
Later in 1942, incarcerees were shipped to more permanent camps farther inland. Located in desolate, isolated locations in eastern California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas, the camps were composed of “blocks” of tar-paper barracks, dirt roads, and communal mess, bathing, and laundry facilities--all encircled by barbed wire fences. While conditions in the incarceration camps were generally better than those in the temporary detention centers, many incarcerees disembarked from cramped, stuffy train cars to find that the camp facilities were still incomplete, and their barracks lacked insulation, proper ceilings, and coal stoves for heat, or that their barracks had not yet been constructed at all.
The Japanese Americans again attempted to make the best of their situation, planting gardens, forming cooperative stores, and finding other ways to occupy themselves with work and recreation. But the crowded confines, the knowledge that their civil rights had been violated, and the lack of assurances about their future in the United States caused unrest and conflict, both between incarcerees and with the white administrations overseeing the camps.
For three years, until the exclusion orders were lifted in 1945, incarcerees were prevented from returning to the west coast, which meant that many Japanese Americans were forced to live, die, graduate, give birth, bury their parents, get married, forgo college education, learn to drive, and celebrate and mourn thousands of other milestones while unjustly imprisoned.
Preorder your copy here or add it on Goodreads!
Illustration by Yoshi Yoshitani.
2 MONTHS until We Are Not Free! ☀️ Over the years this mug has been stained and chipped and glued back together again, but it’s special to me because it features my Japanese family mon, or crest—it looks like a flower but it’s actually the inside of a melon! 🍈 To me, it represents family, belonging to a history, being a part of something that stretches back through time and blood, joy and love. 💚
Pre-order your copy here and don't forget to save your receipt to get your soon-to-be-announced pre-order gift!
I’m excited to share the education session I cooked up for Tadaima! A Virtual Community Pilgrimage: WE ARE NOT FREE: Teenagers in Topaz. In this session, I provide a glimpse into the lives of teenagers at the Central Utah Relocation Center, more commonly known as Topaz, where my grandparents and their families were incarcerated in World War II. Tune in for a mix of history, photographs, excerpts from the camp newspaper, family artifacts, and some illuminating anecdotes about young people’s lives in a Japanese American incarceration camp. Plus, my best impressions of my grandma and grandpa! ? Check it out here or view below!
We Are Not Free (pre-order here!) is in today's issue of Shelf Awareness' YA Maximum Shelf! In this incredible write-up, Terry Hong of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center's Book Dragon blog calls We Are Not Free:
Plus, you can find an interview with me, in which Terry and I talk about the magic of actual lived experiences, how much of my family history is in these pages, and questions about audience and translation. Thank you to Shelf Awareness, YA Maximum Shelf, and Terry Hong for the spotlight!
In 1942, amid a sharp spike in anti-Japanese racism, the US gov enacted a series of prejudicial policies forcing over 100,000 Japanese Americans from their homes. As we near the launch of #WeAreNotFree, I'd like to share some of what happened to my family & thousands of others.
Anti-Japanese sentiment was thriving in the United States long before World War II. For years, the law had prevented Japanese immigrants from being full participants in their adopted country, including becoming naturalized citizens and owning property, and they and their American-born children had long been the subjects of prejudice, harassment, and violence.
After Japanese forces bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the discrimination only worsened. Newspapers and magazines were rife with racist propaganda. Farm organizations, which had felt threatened by Japanese successes in agriculture prior to the 1940s, lobbied politicians to pass legislation limiting the freedoms of Japanese Americans. Under the guise of national security, more and more restrictions were forced upon people of Japanese ancestry, including curfews, travel bans, and confiscations of property. Despite the fact that the Japanese American community had displayed no evidence of disloyalty to the US, they became almost universally suspected of espionage and sabotage against the country they called home.
Then, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed Executive Order 9066, which, citing military necessity, paved the way for the mass removal of people of Japanese descent from the west coast. In spring of that year, exclusion orders mandating the immediate eviction of Japanese Americans were posted in neighborhoods throughout California, and parts of Arizona, Oregon, and Washington. Some people were given less than a week to store, sell, or give away their belongings, from heirlooms to appliances to family pets. Allowed to bring only what they could carry, most people packed their lives into two suitcases before being shipped by bus and train to temporary detention centers, from which they would later be moved farther inland to more permanent incarceration camps in the American interior.
By May 1942, five months after Pearl Harbor, more than 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most of them American citizens by birth, had been forced to leave their homes, sent, without ever being charged of any crime, to lives behind armed guards and barbed wire.
Pre-order your copy here or add it on Goodreads!
Illustration by Yoshi Yoshitani.
I’m giving a talk with Tadaima! A Virtual Community Pilgrimage next week! Spanning nine weeks and having hundreds of signups already, this virtual pilgrimage endeavors to provide educational and community-building opportunities for descendants of the camps, the Japanese American community, and the wider public. Registration is totally free—just visit the Japanese American Memorial Pilgrimages website and tune in next week for a fun half hour of history and family stories. 🌸
PANEL ALERT! For AAPI Book Month I'll be on two panels, both streaming free to your home, no registration required!
Sunday, May 17. 11am PDT.
Last but never least, it’s Twitchy! 🤪 Highly excitable. Beautiful human. Fan of the five-finger discount. Just a kid and going to war while his family’s in an incarceration camp back home. Constantly going for broke. #WeAreNotFree
Want to win one of Twitchy's bookmarks? Go to my Instagram!
Preorder your copy here or add it on Goodreads!
FOUR MONTHS until WE ARE NOT FREE launches and I’m putting the finishing touches on a pre-order campaign (get your copy here) and prepping some fun extra content for fall. It’s also Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and is Asian Author Alliance is putting together some really wonderful virtual panels to celebrate! Stay tuned for that schedule. 🎉
Meanwhile, I’m also finding time to work on a new project that’s 1) super different and 2) super exciting! I once heard an author say he only wants to write books that he maybe can’t write, and I absolutely feel that. I relish a good creative challenge, so tackling something new with techniques or ideas I haven’t tried before is always so invigorating! Can’t wait to share it with you all. ☀️ Happy May!