a ten-year-old japanese-american girl in an internment camp -- 3/15/17

Today's selection -- from Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp by Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey. In 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 forcing the removal and incarceration of 120,000 individuals of Japanese descent to camps in California, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and Arkansas. The Supreme Court upheld the action. It was not until the 1980s, due to a courageous suit brought by some of those impacted, that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals judged the action to be unconstitutional. This book tells the story of one very young girl placed in one of these camps:

"On the fateful morning we gathered in front of a church in March of 1942, I knew an ominous event was unfolding but had scant knowledge of its historical significance.

" 'Koko de mat'tete, ne, Yuri-chan,' my mother entreats. 'Wait here.'
" 'I'll be all alone. Let me come. Let me come. Please,' I beg.
" 'No. Sit quietly,' she insists in Japanese; I always answer her in English. 'Where's Daddy?'
" 'I don't know. I have to register.' ...

"I have just turned ten, and I am sitting on my father's cardboard suit­case because a month before, on February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt had signed Executive Order 9066. My mother explained that now we had to go somewhere inland to a camp. We'd ride a train and go to camp. Just imagine! A train ride to camp! ...

"But where is the train my mother promised? Only a line of ordinary buses stretches down the street. ...

Going Camping

"My mother insisted I wear my white Sunday dress with red buttons and my black patent-leather shoes.

" 'This is a special trip,' my mother said. 'We must look neat. We don't want people to think we're beggars.' Did people camp in good Sunday clothes? They'd get so dirty. And everyone looks so serious, so worried. Some women are crying. ...

"My mother returns with cardboard tags stamped 18286 and ties one to the front of my dress; she puts another on my father's suitcase.

" 'What's this?' I ask.
" 'So many people; it's easier to remember numbers, so they gave us this number.'
" 'That's funny. I'll write my name on it.'
" 'No. They want only that number.' ...

"My brother appears just as we board the bus, but there is no sign of my father. ... The bus starts without him. My mother frowns and lays her hand on my forehead. 'You feel hot. I'll go find some water.'

"I wait for a long time, and then I must have slept because the next thing I know, the bus has stopped. Outside I see soldiers in front of a barbed wire fence, and behind them are row after row of black shacks but no tents. ...

" 'Yuriko, come, stand up.' My mother nudges me forward. My suitcase is too heavy, so I drag it down the aisle. 'Don't do that. The bottom will wear out,' she scolds me.

"I kick the suitcase out the door and jump off the bus. The ground feels wobbly. 'Mama, let's go back home. I don't want to camp anymore. Let's find Daddy and go home.' ...

" 'Is this our camp?' I ask Mama. 'How is Daddy going to find us?'
" 'This is a different kind of camp. For Japanese people,' my mother explains.
" 'What do you mean?'
" 'That's what the government decided.' ...

"My mother takes my suitcase. I peek into the room: four metal beds. Striped gray mattresses. Ugly. And they smell funny. ...

"When we reach the barrack, there he is -- my father is lying in a heap on a bed.
" 'Daddy!
"My mother interrupts: 'We got our ...' but then stops short.
"I run to him. 'We got your blanket. Where did you get yours?' He doesn't answer.
"My mother turns toward us, ignoring my father. 'Put your blankets down and get ready for bed.'
"I try hard not to cry. 'No, Mama, let's go home. We found Daddy, so let's go home. I don't want to camp here.' ...

" 'Wake up, Daddy,' I whisper. 'Let's go home now.' I get into bed, determined not to cry. It was a strange night. Searchlights swept our window. Sometimes the light flooded the room, outlining our cots against the slatted walls; then they drained away, leaving ghostly images. ...

"Morning was a confusion of banging doors, bawling babies, shouts in Japanese and English, a search for toothbrushes and towels, and a dash for the bathroom.

"My father did not get up. We tiptoed out."




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Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp: A Nisei Youth Behind A World War II Fence


Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey


University of Utah Press


Copyright 2014 by the University of Utah Press


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