Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated May 30, 1942

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated May 30, 1942. Higano Family Papers, Acc. 2870, Box 1, folders 9-11. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

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Area A Headquarters
May 30, 1942

Dear Norio-san,

On this first Memorial Day after our fateful entrance into a frightening, devastating war….thousands of young Americans have already perished and other thousands are fighting furiously dying and killing….there is nothing in this camp to remind us of that occasion except a memorial service this evening at 7. No military parade will we see; no valiant or half-hearted display of armed might….just a quiet service for those Japanese pioneers who have died striving that we, their children, might inherit something of that Great American ideal, Democracy.

But how futile and hypocritical this all sounds…in concentration camps in a Democracy…to be kept herein at the sole discretion of the military….and yet to be expected to be willing to do our best to insure the defeat of a nation with which so many of us are connected only by facial and racial characteristics. But the strange twists and turns life takes…perhaps to remind us that thru this very variety comes the occasions for the tragedy and the brightness of living. Ahm tryin to get philosophical.

Thanks, Norio, for your prompt, at least I thought so, reply to my letter, and I’m glad to always hear the latest news from the Windy City. If and when you might write to or see Harry, give him my address and tell him that it should be his turn to write. After all, with over a dozen letters now piled by this typewriter to be answered, I’m afraid I’ll never be able to get around to writing to him. And the same goes for Betty M.

You’ve probably met O’Brien within the last two days, and now I’m waiting impatiently for some word of the outcome of the meeting which was held yesterday in Chicago with M/S Eisenhower of the W.R.A….if we can’t go out to school easily, I’m ready to volunteer for work in the beet fields of Oregon, but that is coming later. And I was slightly disappointed to hear that the U. of Chi refused to accept any more Japanese students…slightly is putting it mildly…and I couldn’t believe the first reports I had heard concerning the Chicago order. I still can’t understand it, but I hope that even this situation can be clarified at the meeting, or was clarified yesterday.

How is Sadako Seki getting along? Perhaps she should head back slightly and go to school…U. of Nebraska, U. of Utah, U. of Colorado, and similar schools. It might interest you to know that Nobie Inamoto, who started to request acceptance at schools after he got into camp, was admitted to both the U. of Utah and the U. of Colorado Engineering schools. Thus I cannot say that all student possibilities are closed…

I had heard from Mr. O’Brien when he was here in camp last Sunday that those who went to the Quaker College in N. Carolina were greeted royally. It cheered me up to feel that at least some schools were welcoming Japanese with open arms. And my application to Oberlin evidently has not been passed upon for I have received no answer even yet…if I don’t get any word by Monday, I will write again to try to clarify the situation. I’m still counting on going there.

I don’t know any more than I have read in the papers about the East Coast being evacuated…I am inclined to doubt it, but after all, the most unexpected things are becoming quite common place today. And this story about Chicago being called a restricted area has come to my ears from other sources too…but know no more…I also am inclined to doubt this. And according to the latest news, Yakima and Wapato as well as the Salem, Oregon region will be evacuated next week to Tulelake, California, just south of the Oregon California border near Klamath Falls.

The weather here in camp has been quite hellish….rain, shine, rain…it’s cloudy now half way between rain clouds on the horizon and the sun hiding beneath, or above, some clear clouds overhead. The roads are still quite muddy although drying out rapidly, but it’ll soon turn to muck if the rains start. Almost a week of this spring-winter like weather…not cold, but plenty of moisture. Confined to camp…and you’re at some conference enjoying yourself, I hope. But anyway, make plenty of contacts to pave the way for us suckers who are to follow and have to study like the dog in order to do it.

By the way, I’m surprised that Bill should attempt an analysis of us in camp from the outside….I can’t make any broad generalizations even after four weeks and three days here in this H. CynicaL? I don’t think so…Japanese are quite good at making adjustments when they must. Superficial lightheartedness? Again I don’t agree….I don’t think that there is any lightheartedness.. we must make the best of conditions, and there are plenty of humorous events every day if one preserves his sense of humour. Nothing lighthearted....

Moral conditions in camp are excellent. Since it is still light at lights out time, and there is no room for privacy at least Area A, there is no promiscuity that I can see. Portland seems to have a little more than we have....the girls who smoke down there don’t hide it…up here I haven’t seen a girl smoking yet. The youngsters are bearing up remarkably well...

I can’t fathom the REAL attitude of the working Nisei. Most of them never were wholeheartedly in favor of evacuation, if any one was, but they were not courageous enough, or didn’t know how to register their protest in any effective manner. Once they are within, they are seeking to make the best of conditions, and some don’t want to leave. Others want to go out alone and establish themselves, but few of these people want to take chances being married and with children to support. The college nisei are anxiously awaiting a clearance of their status. If they can’t go to school, they are prepared to resign themselves to a fate which will keep them within enclosure for the duration…I want to go out and pioneer in any type of work if college prospects are closed. The high school group is still enjoying themselves…they were quite numerous among the first nine who went to work in the beet fields…I’m pleased at their unbroken spirit.

The isseis have plenty of time on their hands, but they manage to exist, if not more than that. And there have been very few serious sicknesses among the camp members that they’ve developed after they came in. All contagious diseases are transferred immediately to the isolation ward across the street in Area D. There has been only one death.. a baby about three months old…here in camp....the mortality rate is quite low. Another lady died in Area B yesterday....I think that those are the only two here after arrival in camp. Personally I have little fear of the morale disintegrating…there is sufficient variety in the monotony of every day existence to prevent that. If the weather improves, I’m certain the morale will increase correspondingly. The dances manage to keep the younger group going, if nothing else.

Now to discuss some angles on goings on in camp. Monday or Tuesday of this week about 200 volunteers left for the Tulelake Permanent Resetttlement site to prepare the way for us who are or I should say might be following shortly. Among the volunteers were Tom and Lilly Uyeno, the Soyejima’s, and Tom Okabe. The first reports from there indicate that conditions are much better than at any other resettlement site yet selected…at least climatically. Already another 50 families from just this area have expressed a desire to follow them down after hearing of the conditions...much more space, more freedom, better housing conditions, more facilities… and an air of permanence which is lacking at this site.

I didn’t sign up because of a peculiar notion that going down there might affect my chances of getting down to school....some went down because they had heard that going there would enhance chances of getting out…the truth lies somewhere in between. And just two days later another occasion of note came up..the U.S Employment Service came in here recruiting for the beet fields of Idaho, the next day an article was carried in the papers in which Gov. Clark called the Japs rats, and no one wanted to go. Two days ago nine young men, Bill Yamasaki among them, left as an advance crew to work in the beet fields of eastern Oregon near Nyssa, somewhere by Alice Hashitani’s. No word has yet been received from them…this is probably their first day in the fields…but if reports are favorable, there may be a mass exodus in that direction. At least there is the possibility of freedom and no armed guards are in the vicinity…conditions in other words are the same as they were before we left Seattle. The curfew restrictions are quite confused…I have heard that curfew restrictions applied there, and I’ve also heard that they don’t. Who knows! I’m pleased that we are to be allowed to go out into private employment, even for the summer, for this indicates that there is some possibility of the school of that which would have us resettle in private communities as they open up to us instead of keeping us in camps for the duration might have a chance of winning out. The latter plan would just delay any solution to this huge program and problem of mass resettlement until the end of the war when we will be forgotten as the soldiers are released to be integrated as best possible into the life the nation.

I was just talking with Jackie Wieland who comes down to see us about every Saturday, by bus if necessary. It certainly makes one appreciate the value of friends…Mrs. Woody, Clara, Jack M., Frank Seeley, Donna Hine....they’ve all been down at least once. And I’m still waiting for word from O’Brien…how did the conference turn out? But one must learn to be patient.

As to the possibility of the whole camp here being removed to Tulelake, no one seems to know....we may be going to the camp at Minadoka [sic] in Idaho, or even one site which was just selected as I understand it in Wyoming....And to answer the question about Caucasians coming into camp…there is very little possibility to come in for any length of time or to get permanent passes…Rev. Thompson is in charge of securing speakers for Sunday services and distributes perhaps a dozen passes per week for four areas… not very many, and with little possibility of more people coming in. Miss McCullough has been inside several Sundays, but all she can do is discuss plans and to bring in supplies and get outside support....she can do no actual work inside.

Rev. Andrews also comes down once a week bringing down supplies, Rev. Warren comes down whenever he can get a pass…about twice a month…restrictions are rigidly enforced.

I have heard several interesting stories lately....in order to pass from one area into another, an official pass is required. Yesterday the Army cracked down on regulations and those kids working in D across the street had a hard time coming back into A. As the group was finally getting across, one girl hailed one of the guards and seeing a dog walking alongside asked why the seargent [sic] (sp.) didn’t search the dog for a pass which he didn’t seem to have. Whereupon he (the sarge?) yanked her out of line turning a beet red himself, called a superior who warned her that such talk might lead her into the brig....the Army wouldn’t stand for such talk from anyone. It was funny, and we all congratulated, at least in our hearts, the girl who had the guts to do it....but that indicates how strict the Army has suddenly gotten…and that the day after Stimson’s speech warning of a Japanese air raid on the Pacific Coast…maybe there is a tie-up there, but I cannot read behind the scenes.

As you may have heard, Gordie refused to register for evacuation and surrendered to the F.B.I. the day Bill Makino left Seattle. He’s still in the Federal tank at the Country-City Building with C.T. Takahashi, Kenji Iki, and another Japanese among others and seems to be making the best out of conditions. Almost enjoying himself! He is the only one all up and down the coast who has shown his refusal or dislike for the evacuation and may make a constitutional test of the whole procedure. More power to him…he’s receiving backing from the Civil Liberties’ Union..Art Barnett is doing quite a bit for him although not his lawyer. He was indicted by the Grand Jury this week and will be tried soon....no trial date has been set however.

I hate to disappoint you but I have a soft, easy job inside the headquarters now (of Area A) as information manager with a desk, secretary, and what have you. Today is a holiday at the office, so I’m taking advantage of this opportunity to type to you. And last night we had a dance..fourth one since we got here…very few girls I even want to dance with, and I’m still looking. But there’s one Sumner girl whom I might interest myself in..quite tall, attractive, not too good as a dancer but can improve, but I still don’t know her name. With so much time on my hands, perhaps I take things too easy. But just let me out of here, and have a little freedom…..

Once a week we’re having dancing lessons for beginners…and I’m acting as one of the instructors. It’s great fun, and I can tell any girl what I think of her dancing without hurting her.....that’s life. Enuf's enough so until ago.

Just a friend & pal,