Internment in America by Frank Sandefur

Life is hard enough during a child’s high school years under normal circumstances. For Mrs. Uno, her high school years were anything but normal. In February of 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9006, which sent Japanese people on the west coast into internment camps in remote areas of the country. [i] Mrs. Uno was just 13 when this order was put into place. Since she was living in California at the time, she and her family were forced to leave their home and go to an internment camp. This was obviously life-changing for Mrs, Uno.

Mrs. Uno had lived 12 years of her life before internment. This raises questions about how her life was before the internment camps. When thinking of Japanese families living on the west coast in the early 20th century, one probably thinks that they all lived within one community. Mrs. Uno did not live in one of these communities. She actually mentions how she was neighbors with a lovely African American couple and a Jewish couple[ii]. She was very friendly with her neighbors and on several occasions, the Jewish woman would take her into town. The older women made sure to get Mrs. Uno home before curfew. A curfew that was issued for Japanese people on the west coast before the order to intern them were made. [iii]

Once that ordered was made, then off to the camp her and her family went. Mrs. Uno tells the story of her life in the camp a little bit more pleasant than expected. She mentions how some women had an “easier” life in the camps. By easier, she means less work exhaustive than being back home. Back home, women would have to work hard and long days farming. At the camps, they were able to take classes like sewing and painting. Mrs. Uno also mentions that this was her first real experience with Japanese culture. [iv]Since she did not really live in a Japanese community her exposure to her culture was limited. She did go to Japanese school once a week, but this was nothing compared to the exposure when she was in the camp. One thing that really changed Mrs. Uno life that she mentioned was when she went to a sunrise service. While at this service, she felt called by God. Another event that had a major impact on her while in the camp was her father getting sick and dying. Mrs. Uno would go visit her father very often and seeing the nurses care for me made her went to become a nurse.[v]

After she got out of the camp, Mrs. Uno moved to Des Moines, Iowa to finish out high school at Roosevelt High. After high school, she went on to a three-year diploma program and became a nurse. Even until this day almost 80 years later, Mrs. Uno is still very active in her church and started a volunteer program that has reached the federal level.[vi] These two things that happened in camp shaped the rest of Mrs. Uno’s life. In a way, even though getting interned was a terrible thing and should not have happened, getting interned may have set Mrs. Uno up for the life that she lives and loves until this day. How did Mrs. Uno stay so positive to change her life?

From a young child, Mrs. Uno was very optimistic about life. She mentioned how her brother was embarrassed because her family did not a lot of money and fancy things. She responded by saying she had clothes on her back and a roof over her head. She did the best with what she had and did not complain. This pride she said is why the internment camps are not as talked about as much as they should be. Mrs. Uno feels that Japanese people are so prideful and did not want to talk about their painful past. Luckily, the younger generations have made an effort for this period of time not to be forgotten. She mentioned how February is remembrance month and how she went to a big event in Sacramento for it.

Mrs. Uno was a teenager when she went to the internment camps. She did not let this experience affect her in a negative way. She actually had this experience shaped her life in a positive way. This experience could have easily broken someone and made them resent life and everyone. Fortunately, Mrs. Uno did not let this break her down.

[i] Matsumoto, Valerie. “Japanese American Women During World War II.” Women and War, 2016, 530-36. doi:10.1515/9783110971125.444.

[ii] Mrs. Uno, March 26, 2018.

[iii] Mrs. Uno, March 26, 2018

[iv] Mrs. Uno, March 26, 2018

[v] Mrs. Uno, March 26, 2018

[vi] Mrs. Uno, March 26,2018

Japanese Internment by Eleanor Kerr

In the article ‘Japanese American Women During World War II’, Valerie Matsumoto makes the statement that “the war altered Japanese American women’s lives in complicated ways”[1]. The rest of the article is a testament to that very fact, as Matsumoto simultaneously evokes the difficult hardships and the surprising advancements in the lives of Japanese women both during and after life in the internment camps.

Having been completely uprooted from their homes and swept into the camps, despite the fact that the vast majority of the Japanese Americans were citizens with the same rights as any other American, life in internment camps was undeniably traumatic. Such notions are reflected in Miné Okubo’s graphic novel Citizen 13660, one of the few visual representations from the period created by an actual evacuee, which depicts the mixture of both anger, sadness and despair at the prospect of entering the camps, as seen in the image below.[2]                                                     

Life in the camps subsequently had a significant impact on family relations and affected all women in the camps. Poor communal facilities coupled with overcrowded barracks meant that, as Matsumoto contends, “the sense of injustice and frustration took their toll on a people uprooted, far from home”[3]. Again, these ideas are similarly evoked in Miné Okubo’s graphic novel, in which she draws out the complete lack of privacy and the cramped living conditions that the Japanese women had to face on a daily basis.                                                      

Despite these awful living conditions, Matsumoto also notes a sense of growing independence for Japanese women in the camps, fostered by the fact that both men and women received the same wages for work. This equity in pay, Matsumoto contends, subsequently gave women the opportunity to explore the variety of jobs available for them in the camps. However, what I found most surprising was that the camps had newspapers, such as The Mercedian, The Daily Tulean Dispatch and the Poston Chronicle, which subsequently gave women the opportunity to create columns specifically for women, particularly aimed at Nisei women. The content of these columns mirrored the mainstream periodicals of the time, varying from how to impress boys, take care of their skin, to what the latest fashions were and subsequently reflected a desire to keep morale high despite the depressing environment. Such notions can also be seen in Citizen 13660, in which the resourceful way people create furniture to gardens from next to nothing is inspiring. Okubo therefore shed’s light on how although the camps were unjust, the Japanese women and men were able to overcome the hardships they endured.                                                          

Ultimately, I think that this period of American history is widely understudied, and being from the UK, I have never even studied Japanese internment until now. Therefore, I think personal accounts, such as Miné Okubo’s Citizen 13660 and the talk we were supposed to have with Lorna Uno, are vital for constructing an important narrative to a relatively ignored historical past.


[1] Valerie Matsumoto, “Japanese American Women During World War II” in Women’s America, ed. Linda Kerber, Jane Sherron De Hart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 535.

[2] Miné Okubo, Citizen 13660  (New York: University of Washington Press, 1983)

[3] Valerie Matsumoto, “Japanese American Women During World War II” in Women’s America, ed. Linda Kerber, Jane Sherron De Hart, Cornelia Hughes Dayton, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu (New York: Oxford University Press,  2016), 531.

World War II and Women by Chuck Sylvester

World War II, among many other things, brought untold misery and suffering onto millions of people across the world, including in the relatively untouched United States. Japanese-Americans, no matter their country of birth and with intense prejudice, were rounded up and taken into camps near the beginning of the war for America. The conditions in the camps were brutal. In a piece titled “Japanese American Women During World War II”, author Valerie Matsumoto writes, “The unceasing battle with the elements, the poor food, the shortages of toilet tissue and milk, coupled with wartime profiteering and mismanagement, and the sense of injustice and frustration took their toll on a people uprooted, far from home.” [1] The changes felt in the camps were more complex than a decrease in living conditions, however. They also involved changes in societal roles, as the women and children were expected to work similar, if not the same, jobs as the men and bring home the same amount of money. [2] Forced to shift their understanding of what women could and should do for jobs, the Japanese American women took a more active role in their daily life, albeit a forced one. Once released, however, they did not encounter a shift back to the traditional gender structures, at least not at first.

Internment : News Photo [3]

The shortage of labor seen after millions of young American men shipped out to the European and Pacific Theaters gave women the opportunity to transcend any sexist notions of what jobs and professions they could do. These jobs ranged not only in places like the industrial or business sectors but also in entertainment areas, like big band jazz. Sherrie Tucker explores this last point in her “When Subjects Don’t Come Out.” Although largely a piece regarding the quandaries surrounding the question of sexuality in these outfits, especially in the 40s, the article dives a bit into the fact that this void was being filled by these women, who came up out of the niche and into more mainstream demand. She states, “In the 1940s, however, they helped to fill the wartime demand for dance music and the band shortage caused by the draft vulnerability of male musicians.” [4] Tucker shows how widespread and prolific the issue of “wartime shortage” was, and how much women could fill these gaps.

All-Female Band : News Photo [5]

Women were coming to the forefront in various ways, and Japanese American women were no different. Once released from the camps and relocated from the West Coast, Japanese American found jobs for themselves in industries that were cut off from the previously twofold – for gender and race. “Prior to the war, racism had excluded the Japanese Americans from most white-collar clerical and sales positions…” but by 1950, “47 percent of employed Japanese American women were clerical and sales workers and operatives; only 10 percent were in domestic service,”  domestic service being their premiere pre-war profession. [6]

During the war, women, both of color and not, were able to assert themselves and provide in ways previously barred from them. Entertainment, business, industrial work – it was all needed, and they could do it. Japanese Americans benefited from this labor need, both in overcoming societal prejudices of their sex as well as their race, a factor that subjected them to harsh treatment in camps just months before. Although a largely destructive force for many different reasons, World War II also provided the means for women to make a chip in the wall that is societal gendered segregation.

[1] Valerie Matsumoto, “Japanese American Women During World War II.” In Women’s America: Refocusing the Past, 531. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[2]  Matsumoto, 532.

[3]  Dorothea Lange, “Internment,” Getty Images.

[4]  Sherrie Tucker, “When Subjects Don’t Come Out.” In Queer Episodes: In Music and Modern Identity, 294. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

[5]  Charles Harris, “All-Female Band,” Getty Images.

[6]  Matsumoto, 535.