Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated September 14, 1942

Letter from Kenji Okuda to Norio Higano dated September 14, 1942. Higano Family Papers, Acc. 2870, Box 1, folders 9-11. University of Washington Libraries: Manuscripts, Special Collections, University Archives.

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Granada WRA Center
Monday 9/14/42

Howdy Norio,

I am gazing at the antics of a very clumsy beetle –like bug and at the same time trying to collect my thoughts. Frankly, I think that he’s either so overgrown he doesn’t know what to do (pretty big, all right), or he was just made that way – the pan bug. This place is full of them – ants, beetles, grass ticks, and a thousand and one other species. A paradise for the insect hunter!!! A couple of nights ago, just before some rain, we had an invasion – they ran into the sides of the building sounding like hailstones striking, they got into the rooms despite the closed door and screened windows, and in one room so covered the bed that the bed covers couldn’t be seen. And the poor bug exterminator, yep we have one employed full time on the payroll, didn’t know what to do with them.

To get back to the more immediate – thanks a lot for your prompt reply – you were among the first to boost my morale here at camp, and I’m managing to write a fairly prompt reply – I won’t guarantee as good results for the next one – the back log is piling up on me. By the way, I wrote Sueko as you suggested, and I’ll be hoping for a reply fairly soon. Those Portland nurses you mentioned – have you met them yet? I think I know Mary Terusaki – her sister is Mako Yanagimachi’s wife – and is from Milwaukee, Oregon. Give me your real impression now – no fooling around – but I hope that you get some peaches and no lemons. Just have to be good to you sometime – it’s the second nature in me coming out.

Don’t worry, pal – I’m fighting that Army order with every ounce of strength I can muster. I’ve applied to get out filling out exactly three forms (paper, papers, and more papers) since I arrived here (two of them today), and so that should fulfill all the requirements on this end. Tom Bodine wrote me today and said that he had given my name and address to a W.R.A. man to take up with the Army. It seems that I’m not the first case to be blacklisted, and in several previous cases G-2 has changed its mind. Got a little more intelligence than I gave it credit for! But the whole student program has been slowed down again – about 60 students had been given permits, and another 50 were on the verge of receiving permits when a new requirement before clearance was introduced – all students must receive the approval of the F.B.I in Washington, D.C. When the F.B.I, is having so much investigative and routine work to do, when their routine is as crowded with the more important details of national security, it will take weeks and maybe months before approvals will be forthcoming. Tom writes that if this were a measure pushed in by anti-relocation forces, he could use his energy fighting it, but when it is introduced as just another red tape requirement, the discouragement is overwhelming. And so I have no corner on the griefs and discouragements of the whole effort – in fact mine pale into insignificance when compared with those of the men and women working so vigorously for all of us. Theirs is not work for the profit motive; theirs is the sacrificial effort and therefore more deep-seated both to joy and sorrow, achievement and disappointment.

And call my troubles and worries suffering? Far from it – they are but insignificant episodes upon the currents of life. But how true the words of Thomas Kelly, a leading Quaker thinker. “Suffering stretches the heart, but oh – the agony of that stretching.” I have no reason to regret my actions – if this forced path of trial is a result of my expression of my inner consciousness, I am so sorry that the family was made to undergo the suffering – but I feel that I cannot have taken another path. We cannot live in an enclosed shell entirely apart from society or the smaller unit of the family – my duty now to the family, my conscience, and to God is to make the best – to do what I can – in these circumstances. And Betty, in essence, repeated that thought at me – she’s got intelligence and common sense, and she’s developing it back there in New York.

I’ll probably bore you, but I’ll try to give a brief word picture of camp and camp life. This whole center is located on the side or gentle slope of a hill in a pattern as indicated by the mimeographed floor plan I am enclosing. When completed this camp will contain about 30 blocks and 8,500 people – 3 schools and a central business district. The ad. building, the schools, the business block – all in the blueprint stage while construction is rushed on the barracks themselves. The rest of the Merced center (1,500) are coming in this week, and the contractors have just about made 6 blocks liveable (each block holds about 250). As soon as they are in, some 3 or 4 thousand will come in from Santa Anita – the West Los Angeles group, I understand. There’s hope there – as long as we don’t get the notorious California rowdies! But as I started to say, this camp is on a rolling hill overlooking the Santa Fe mainline and U.S. Highway 60 – only about 3/4 of a mile away and running thru a grove of trees. As far as the eye can see are rolling hills - some the cultivated green, others of the baked brown color of the desert. This camp in many respects is much better than Eden, Idaho. The dust here is not as bad being sandier and not as fine, but when the wind starts to blow (as it so often does) several days at a time, it is like living in a minor dust storm. The hot blasts of air, and then the stinging, crushing, biting pellets of sand. There is no escape, and everything in the rooms feels irritable, sandy, unpleasant to the touch.

The blocks consist of 12 barracks, 6 on each side of a central mess hall and another building contains showers can illegible phrase at bottom of page flush toilets of a first class type, but no privacy. Six seats right next to each other – absolutely no privacy. But I’m used to it after my experience at Puyallup. The Merced residents are taking it a little harder – they had more privacy back “home.” The plan is identical with that at Eden, but here the floors are of red brick laid right on the sand within a concrete outer foundation. In what little rain we’ve had the roofs have leaked like a illegible but the fibreboard ceiling has managed to absorb it all – so far.

By the way, if you have any occasion to travel this way – its near Lamar, – give me warning, and I think that you’ll be permitted to come into camp and live for awhile at least. There’s a nisei corporal on furlough now who is staying here as one of us – and I understand that if preliminary arrangements are made, anyone can live in here or at least visit. The animal life, in addition to the bug life is varied – I’ve seen two rattlesnakes (ugly looking monsters), a blue rattler, jack rabbits and squirrels captured and put into cages, kangaroo rats, sand turtles, and several varieties of snakes which are as yet unidentified. Some have accumulated the excellent beginnings of a miniature wild life zoo.

There’s one striking thing about the mess halls, the “height” of the tables. I manage to get my feel in – picnic style bench tables – and then go down and down until I’m afraid that I’ll be seeing hell before I touch something solid. Perhaps it’s clumsiness, but I’ve nearly kicked the tables over trying to get up several times, and it’s very hard to sit down in a lady-like manner. The seats must not be more than 12 or 15” high as compared with the 20” of the benches at Puyallup –

For general information – Dillon Myer is head of the W.R.A. – not Eisenhower. And if you have any funds to spare it would certainly be worth your while to subscribe to the “Pacific Citizen” containing the latest news on all the activities in camp and throughout the country of the nisei. You’re a J.A.C.L. member – only $1.75 a/yr. & send subscriptions to illegible Bldg., Salt Lake City, Utah. Keeps you posted in the latest developments – good material for any talks you might be called upon to give – not a salesman talking – just an interested spectator. Sorry – Don’t know the whereabouts of Kaz Kimura – wish I did, but I haven’t the slightest idea of how to get in touch with him. The last time I heard, he was still in Wyoming.

Ah yes – there is some good news to report, or at least I hope that it is. Bill Makino has received a travel permit to leave for Oberlin – he should have left on the 12th, but I qualified my original statement because Tom was afraid that the permit might be revoked because of the new requirement – if Bill hadn’t left before the Army and the W.R.A. could do anything! At least we'll have one good member and representative from out here back there trying, I hope, to explain our problems and difficulties. He may be one of the few to get back there in time for the fall semester. Confidentially, I think that he’s seriously, or maybe not so seriously, interested in a girl who was last in Pennsylvania at a Brethren work camp – a illegible someone from the College of the Pacific b/e (before evacuation) and evacuated voluntarily trying to get into Minnesota – music major. He met her at National Assembly during Christmas vacation – some of the local village gossip.

I am amazed at one condition here – the youth, or at least the seeming youth, of the mothers and wives around here. Of course, the evacuation has brought about a lot of evacuation marriages, but the young mothers – or is it that I can’t judge their ages! There’s one girl in this block who looks only 19 or 20, and she’s been married for two years. I remember one kid commenting at the dance back in Merced that more often than not, he’d be cutting in on a married couple much to his embarrassment, so I took his advice to heart and made it a practice to watch the third finger, left hand. Amazing results – saw a mother who didn’t look over 18 with a child a good 16 months old. It’s true that the majority of these are from very introverted communities such as Walnut Grove where a segregated school system is in effect, and the narrow field of contacts, the rural background, and the younger age at which social activities start may be the reason. Again – it might be the unfortunate results of promiscuity which would be larger because of the freer social code and also as an outlet for the feelings of suppression and persecution such as the Japanese in California would naturally find very strong. Wish that I could make an investigation into the matter – I shall if I can stay here long enough – and see if there are any real, basic explanations for some of the differences (outward at least) between the Seattle nisei and those here. Ought to be very, very interesting.

My Y. contacts at the moment are proving valuable beyond words. Ruth Haines enjoyed her vacation in Denver, got acquainted with the educational personnel of the WRA, and propagandized me to the skies – I may have the chance to get some form of a statistical research job there – I’ve got my fingers crossed. The personnel, in general, is of no compassion with the WCCA – here the various camps and their directors have only the broad principles set down by the organization – the details and a large part of the general policy are an outgrowth of camp life. In contrast every last rigid detail was an order from San Francisco in the WCCA. And the men selected for the WRA are a hundred fold more sociable, interested, with a social outlook and vision which gives hope to the intelligent ones within camp. One of the educational men – a PhD by the way – came up to my room to talk with me, and another has promised me a visit – a definite contrast with the marked cleavage policy of the temporary centers. And the Schwieso’s know the supervisor of personnel, community services, etc. Mr. Moore – in fact he is a schoolmate and close friend of Chuck. That’s how the land lies –

At present I am employed as “field worker” for the housing division making person checks, material checks, and what have you – one way of seeing and studying the people at close range. Ought to be a little busy tomorrow and the next day, but this is understood to be a very temporary job. I have, according to the job interviewer, the qualifications of a junior accountant, so if all else fails, I shall strive to keep the books in balance. Plenty to do around here – don’t worry – to keep me out of mischief.

Can’t say too much about the people themselves yet – have gotten acquainted with a pacifist in camp, and also a very active 7th Day Adventist illegible. I’ll have the chance to become acquainted with that denomination – in fact the kid I met is a 3rd year theology student – the Adventists are a very closely knit group, and surprisingly strong and virile despite the youth of the membership. The fundamentalistic doctrines seem to evoke a fervor which is so often lacking in liberal Protestantism. Met one swell girl the last night I was in Merced, and she’s still back there. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing her this week – I’ll go bugs if I can’t find a girl to talk to – have to have feminine company, as you might well understand. Hell – my position isn’t easy – I see plenty of skirts, but I don’t know a soul, and I definitely must not spread the idea that northwesterners are wolves. I hope that you did as well as I am doing?? Plenty of nice tall and some hot looking ones around. When you get so many Japs, it’s surprising the number of resemblances one notices!

At least one compensation to be derived here – the beauty of the sunsets. The Northwest sunsets were beautiful, but those have such a different type of beauty and solitude and grandeur – truly is it Indian summer. The color of the sky – from the pure white of the gigantic clouds to the orange to the purple – and all of its colorful shades – exhibited in the heavens – how serene, how calm, and yet the people so blissfully ignorant of the breath taking panorama before them go around shouting, yelling, cursing – crying about being deprived of seeing or doing anything worthwhile. Men are so blind – perhaps this evacuation will make those nisei who have the guts and courage to live through it deeper and give them a realization that our materialistic, decadent civilization has not and cannot lay the proper emphasis and perspective – of the values and worth, of the much greater worth of the spiritual things of life. But to gain this one lesson would offset tremendously the evil, cancerous effects of the evacuation on the niseis and isseis themselves.

I’ve roamed far and wide tonight – I hope that you can glean something of interest. Don’t study too hard for your exams, control yourself well in Chicago – and I’ll be seeing you – soon.

As ever,