The P.C. Serves as Our Oral History

April 26, 2019 • Columnists, JACL, Letters to the Editor

The Pacific Citizen cover for its Dec. 22, 1945, issue featured a depressingly familiar sight for the newspaper’s readers at the time, but with a difference: no rifle-toting U.S. military guard in the watchtower but instead a young Nisei couple gazing into the distance from the deck. Clara Hasegawa and Tad Miyake look relaxed, almost as if they are sightseeing, but the guard tower with its large searchlight still dominates the War Relocation Authority photo.

By the time this Holiday Special Issue edition was published, all of the WRA camps with the important exception of Tule Lake had closed.

The WRA had spent $162 million to round up and incarcerate 112,000 permanent residents and citizens, while the Army spent an additional $75 million, according to an article about returnees to the West Coast.

At the end of 1945, however, 7,000 Nikkei were still displaced and 
without a home, according to the 
article, which had the headline, “WRA Will Assist Returned Evacuees to Find Permanent Location on Pacific Coast.”

The article went on to state, 
“Because of the lack of permanent housing, about 4,000 of the 
returnees are living in trailers and converted Army barracks in the Los Angeles area, another 1,000 amid similar conditions in Northern 
California and perhaps 2,000 more in 
privately operated hostels, run by the 
American Friend Service Committee” and other church groups such as Buddhist temples.

Chicago became a new center for the displaced. Its population of 10,000 made it a sizable Midwest hub comparable to the 36,000 
Nikkei who formerly lived in prewar 
Los Angeles.

Even New York, Cleveland and Detroit now had “2,000 or more residents of Japanese ancestry,” the article concluded.

Today’s national map of the JACL is a result of the postwar displacement of Japanese Americans after World War II. Yet, in the Pacific Citizen’s 1945 Holiday Special Issue, it was unclear how the community would evolve in the future.

Other articles in the issue tell of a county sheriff in Nevada who fought the employment of returnees on the Southern Pacific Railroad (“California Attorney General Says Sheriff Attempted to Prevent Evacuee Employment”) and the situation of renunciants at Tule Lake (“Tule Lake Deportees Will Leave Soon”).

U.S. citizen Fumiko Tamura was attempting to reverse her decision to renounce her citizenship while incarcerated at Manzanar (“Judge Grants New Hearing to Renunicant”), and George Yoshioka, a 35-year-old veteran from San Jose was cruelly beaten to death in Stockton, Calif., during a robbery (“Three Arrested in Murder of Nisei Veteran”).

Reading back issues of the Pacific Citizen, available on the P.C. website (a comprehensive, fully digitized version of every issue since the newspaper’s inception in 1929 will be available online in the coming months) and also partially available on the Densho website (http://ddr.densho.org/browse/topics/389/) and at other sources such as the CSU Japanese American Digitization Project, takes readers back to a time when the people who had lived the history wrote of their experience as eyewitnesses.

In that sense, it’s similar to reading oral histories because the words of that time are not filtered through a historian’s interpretation or that of a third person.

In other words, the articles and editorials of the Pacific Citizen are a valuable primary source of our community history.

John Saito Jr., PSW Editorial Board member and president of the Venice-West L.A. JACL chapter, recently reminded us that a P.C. article last fall led to the reversal of a policy in Kansas that permitted the use of the letters JAP on license plates.

The P.C. article led to international coverage and heightened public awareness of the racist term that is hurtful and hateful.

Someday, future JACLers will read John’s article and the original Pacific Citizen reports to learn more about what it was like to live in the first quarter of the 21st century in Asian America.

Or, maybe they’ll want to learn what life was like after World War II, when an imprisoned people, recently released, struggled to get back on their feet.

But the P.C. can’t survive without 
resources, and the annual Spring Campaign is our opportunity to support the writers and editors so that they can continue to record our history. I’m contributing to the Spring Campaign, and I hope that you will join me.

Sincerely,

Nancy Ukai
NCWNP Editorial Board Member and JACL Berkeley Chapter Director

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