Letter from Kenji Okuda to Mr. and Mrs. Farquharson dated January 1, 1943

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Mr. and Mrs. Farquharson dated January 1, 1943. Mary Farquharson Papers, 1942-1945, Acc. 397-5, Box 1, folder 1. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

Page 1
Page 2

January 1, 1943

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Farquharson: A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU!!!

This is a balmy, springlike, beautiful New Year’s Day… the ground is oozy and muddy where the snowfall from a recent blizzard still remains and is melting away… a perfect day on which thoughts revert to the pleasant and happy things of life. Life, unfortunately, has not vanquished its murderous unpleasantness, but such a day as this can only renew our courage and faith in order to tackle the problem of furthering our aims and ideals. With this in mind I am trying to crystallize my thoughts into vital, living, purposeful resolutions for this coming year.

Your kind gift from Seattle was both a pleasant and tasty surprise. Perhaps my tastes are like that of the ordinary individual, for which I am thankful, but the candy has melted itself into our family so rapidly that I found it difficult to catch my breath. We certainly enjoyed it. Mrs. Farquharson, I don’t believe that I have had the opportunity to congratulate you yet on your appointment to the office of Northwest Secretary of the FOR, and so I would like to take this opportunity to do so, and also to wish you a most constructive and purposeful New Year. May God be with you!! Thank you also for the Regional NewsLetter which I was very grateful to receive.

This has certainly been a pleasant day with me. A joyous welcome to the New Year at midnight with a group of young fellows and girls… to bed a very tired but happy individual… and then to be permitted to sleep luxuriously with breakfast delayed from 7-8 till 9-10. Perhaps I should not mention it, but I regretfully say that I was the last one in this block to eat breakfast. This is the second occasion in all the months of camp existence at which we were permitted this luxury… Christmas and today. Dinner at four (we had only two meals) was a tasty, adequately and beautifully prepared typical New Year’s feast. My belt is still groaning.

We are grateful to the WRA for these special commemorations of the special occasions, but a critical analysis will find ourselves growing softer and softer as these minor (yet important) concessions are made. Just to quiet oneself long enough to think and to think purposefully has become a task… passing the buck and trying to avoid responsibility seem to be the most pleasant tasks in camp. My long neck seems to be caught all the time… this afternoon we had a little discussion on the talks three of us are supposed to deliver this Sunday evening, and we picked on a very touchy subject… "1943--Retrospect and Prospect" examining the meanings and implications of democracy and particularly in relation to our position. Two of us are pacifists… the third a Mills College grad who is very much interested in the pacifist position… referring, of course, to the speakers.

Lately I’ve been trying to think thru the question of what would be best for the friends of the evacuees to do. Concretely, job and schooling opportunities cannot be surpassed, but not everyone can offer such opportunities. Personally, I feel that all of us have the responsibility of awakening the Niseis to their present and future… not to feel sorry for them… so sorry that one cannot help the Nisei if he develops self-pity encouraged by the attitude of his friends outside. I’m afraid that I’m not making myself clear. So many who are interested in us feel sorry for us and make us feel righteous… we lament over our sad plight, but do not develop a constructive healthy attitude to meet that plight. There is where we need assistance.

Too many of the Nisei are myopic, short-sighted, and unthinking. They take the path of least resistance rather than stand on their own two feet. It is to them that we must make ourselves heard… from the inside of these camps as well as the outside. To them must be presented the challenge of the tensions which face us… a great man does not become so by overcoming little things… no… it is by overcoming huge things (either physically or mentally speaking)… thus this camp existence can so temper our faith and strength that no odds will deter us, or so soften us that ours will be the subservient, blindly obedient path akin to that of the Indians or Mexican pariahs.

School is looming closer and closer. Oberlin starts its second term February 4, and Bill’s writings only whet my interest in going. Tom writes from San Francisco that I have secured my FBI clearance, but have to wait for a WAR department clearance since all Niseis who have set foot in Japan are technically called kibeis. Such is me! In due time… in due time… but in the meanwhile I am trying to, or I should more properly say, thinking of doing some constructive things. Blame it on camp life, blame it on what you will… I find it harder and harder to push myself into action. I contemplate, but that seems to be as far as I get. My most important resolution shall be that I will act more and say less… that I will push some of the various ideas which pop into my head rather than let them die the very natural death they have been having. When I review my activities, or lack of activities, I feel like a shirker evading responsibilities by going to school… of one who is running away from it all. But my plans to continue my education outside are still as strong as ever.

Every Sunday morning at 7:15 a.m., our little cell group meets for an hour and a fraction to exchange ideas and to discuss various problems. Up until now, we have had no real continuity or plan to the meetings, but some of us have been thinking of an intensive study of pacifism and its positive as well as negative implications. Seven members of the FOR are the nucleus of the group, but we have up to a dozen present every time. Last Sunday we had with us George Yamada from CPS 5 who visited this center and spent Christmas with us also. Several other members of the Caucasian staff, including the head of the social service department and the cooperative education supervisor have expressed an interest in attending our gatherings, but the fact that they commute from Lamar makes attendance impossible.

One thing which a number of us feel is a camp need is more interracial understanding. We want Negro speakers… also any other minority groups… and particularly men like Bayard Rustin.1 If there is anything you can do to encourage his traveling around these centers, I hope that you will push it. The idea of two Negro faculty members was present for a while, and it now appears to have died a natural death. We didn’t push it enough. However, with the rapid turnover of teaching personnel, I feel that a place could very easily be made for these two outstanding personalities. More action and less talk next time.

Another New Year’s Day is drawing to a close. In a concentration camp separated by a barbed wire fence “from” the U.S., we shall do our utmost to preserve those values and ideals which we hold dear and to foster them to the best of our abilities. Thank you again for your tasty gift.

Kenji Okuda


1. Bayard Rustin was an African American pacifist and civil rights leader. In the early 1940s he was active in the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the American Friends Service. He later went on to help establish the Congress of Racial Equality.