Stories of Japanese internment camp recovered

By Kathaleen Roberts

Albuquerque Journal

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 18 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

At just 19, Norman Hirose was likely the youngest man in the camp. He was incarcerated with his family first at Tanforan (San Francisco) then at Topaz, Utah, after asserting "no, no" on the loyalty questionnaire asking whether he would foreswear allegiance to Japan and serve in the U.S. armed forces. The government shipped him to Santa Fe in 1946, telling him he would go back to Japan soon.

"You really got the sense that he was excited and proud," Simon said. "He looked forward to the internment experience, because it was something new."

Aside from being stripped of their civil rights and separated from their families, most of the men said they had been treated well, although Simon documented "two or three" instances of negative treatment from the camp guards.

"Some would curse at them," he said.

Some detainees retained their loyalty to Japan by wearing the Rising Sun symbol on their clothing. Members of the Hoshi Dan, a pro-Japanese movement that grew out of California, were considered troublemakers and shipped to Santa Fe.

"They did military-style exercises," Simon said. "Everyone knew if you were moved to Santa Fe — that was about as low as you could go."

A small riot erupted after a guard tossed tear gas at a prisoner and billy clubs appeared. Officials gloated about keeping the incident out of the press, he added. "A few people went to the hospital."

Camp members were allowed to send and receive mail, but much of it was censored. "There are a lot of letters," Simon said. "A lot of folks said a whole letter would be cut out. This was very routine."

Seichi "Sam" Yamakawa, who died in 2011, was shipped to Santa Fe for stating in hearings that he would not serve in the U.S. Army and planned to repatriate to Japan to care for his mother. After the war, he returned to California only to find people from Oklahoma had moved West and taken over his family farmland.

"I think he must have said 10 times, 'Take it as it comes,' " Simon said. "He never was an ambitious man after his camp experience. His daughter was very sad about his whole life. But you got from him this sense of honor and a lack of bitterness."

"I went into this project thinking every interview would be the same — denigrating the U.S. government and parallels to 9/11," he added. "And to a man, it was the opposite."

Information from: Albuquerque Journal, http://www.abqjournal.com

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