• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

“I am glad to report that Dr. Tanaka [from San Diego] was finally placed on the staff. Now that I am barbering my arm seems to be getting better all the time. I am glad you heard from my father. I have not received news from him as yet.

“The food situation can be improved greatly (the tea and coffee are such in name only). I have spoken to the officials in charge and I am sure after talking with them that conditions will improve.”

May 4, 1942: Now that we have a number of San Diego men working in the kitchens, the food has improved a bit. I heard we are to receive meat soon, but I think it will mostly be stew meat, because we are not allowed knives, only spoons and forks as eating utensils.”

In late May, many left the camp for “seasonal leave,” to work the fields. Others sought new, “relocated” lives in the Midwest.

May 26, 1942: “Chicago, Denver, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and St. Louis are the ‘big towns’ that are attracting the most,” Tets wrote.

“What a difference time makes! The cry was ‘Go West’ (young man), now it’s ‘Go East’ (young Nisei).

“The outlook for a family to relocate outside is not very encouraging. Many families came into camp with only two to three suitcases per member. They had sold their furnishings for the home. Furnished houses are very rare or are too expensive. As a result, if the family goes out, they must start all over to furnish a house on an income that has…decreased during the past year.

“Another thing: many things that were sold are now not available or else priced much higher. This problem alone keeps many in camp. Couple that…with the uncertainty of the attitude of the people, jobs to support a family (majority of jobs now are menial), and then you have the bottleneck to relocation. So at present those who can afford the expense…are the ones relocating.

“I am sorry to report that many have begun to like this camp life — so easy-going with hardly any worries aside from what other way time can be more leisurely spent. I think that it harms the youths more than anyone else…. Live on the government is their creed — after all, ole Uncle Sammy will take care of them so why worry about the future? They are pretty disillusioned and cynical. However, there is hope, because now with all the young fellows going out many are becoming conscious of the outside.

“Nothing definite regarding relocation of either my sister or me. Too many things uncertain.”

July 28, 1942: “The hot weather is really sapping my energy so that I flop on my bed for a few hours after work to recuperate.”

August 3, 1942: “Monday morning and blue as usual. Feel a little bit stiff as a result of an afternoon of badminton yesterday….On Saturday I had one of the doctors here in camp check my lungs. He told me there was nothing to worry about. Later I am going to have him x-ray both my lungs and arm.

“Ten men came into Japanita from North Dakota. Four were former San Diegans. They told me dad is getting along all right and that he is barbering in camp. He had his trial but as yet does not know the verdict.”

On August 9, military police made an unannounced search for contraband. Along with scissors, knitting needles, and other potential “weapons,” they smuggled out money. A small group of Nikkei caught a uniformed thief in the act and beat him with chairs. Newspapers screamed “mass riot.” The Army shut down the camp for three days.

August 10, 1942: “Dear Miss Breed: You have by now read about the presence of military police here in camp. They were here Tuesday afternoon to Friday afternoon. The only people working were those in the mess division and certain sections of the maintenance and recreation department. Even the U.S. Mail was at a standstill.

“What a sad surprise when mail was resumed. I had a letter from dad saying that he had received notice of internment for the duration. There is a chance of reopening his case. In order to do so, he requires an affidavit of conduct.”

Breed petitioned William Fleet Palmer, United States Attorney, on behalf of Tets’s father. Along with a strong character reference, she added, “If Mr. Hirasaki could be sent to Santa Anita, the family could become a unit again before they are moved to a relocation center.”

Santa Anita had been a way station. For six months, the Nikkei speculated about their ultimate destination. Most rumors said it would be far inland: the “snow country” of Utah, Idaho, Colorado, or Wyoming — or even Arkansas. “Wherever we go,” Fusa Tsumagari wrote to Breed, “we all realize it will be ‘rough going,’ because other people have refused to live there before us.”

On August 20 the camp newspaper, The Pacemaker, announced: “The complete evacuation of the Santa Anita Assembly center will begin on Wednesday [August 26], when a contingent of approximately 600 persons will leave by train for the Colorado River at Parker, Arizona. An additional group of 600 evacuees will leave for the same destination on Thursday [August 27]. The two groups will be made up of families evacuated…from San Diego city.”

Parker, Arizona, wasn’t on many maps. Eighty miles from the nearest service station, it had only one telephone. Poston, the “relocation center,” was 16 miles south of Parker in what looked like endless wasteland: one of the nation’s hottest areas (said to be ten degrees hotter than the Libyan desert), and one of the windiest. Storms flared up in seconds and coated everything — skin, hair, teeth, sinuses, eyes — with a layer of fine dust almost impossible to remove.

August 26, 1942, written on a blue postcard: “Dear Clara: Leaving for Poston tonight.”


  1. Roger Daniels: “Their guilt was their ancestry.”
  2. Michael O. Tunnell: “Japanese Americans were as stunned by the attack on Pearl Harbor as the rest of the country… ‘They are attacking us!’ yelled a Nisei high-school student.”
  3. The San Diego Union, June 2, 1941: “The Escondido Humane Society has been called upon to handle stray animals [estimated in the thousands] from Encinitas to the Orange County border…We need help in mopping up after the Japs.”

Read Part Two

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it


Twister Sept. 2, 2012 @ 6:20 p.m.

Thanks, Jeff, for highlighting Clara Breed's contributions to peace and sanity in the midst of their opposites. (Note to Reader: You've got some exceptional writers working for you--please don't let them get away. And toss them a bone now and then, okay?)

Soon after I came to San Diego (1968), I called the City Librarian, and Clara Breed answered the phone. Whatta gal! I wanted to tell her about a book that had been written, typeset and bound by the author(s) (Beverly and) Henry Mockel. It included Henry's serigraphs, and an introductory essay on art that is tops. Breed was very kind and receptive, and the last time I checked, it had not been tossed by her successors. So CHECK IT OUT, so they won't sell it or "recycle" it. "Hot Air From the Desert" is the title.

Some ambitious historian should similarly publicize the work of other notable (and plain good) writers from the region . . . Milicent Lee, Judy van der Veer, and LoVerne Brown leap to mind as exceptionally good. And I suspect that they were all friends of Clara's.


Jay Allen Sanford Sept. 2, 2012 @ 8:48 p.m.

Every time I think Jeff Smith can't top himself with his historical articles, he proves me wrong - bravo on another riveting writeup! I look forward to the next -


Sign in to comment

Win a $25 Gift Card to
The Broken Yolk Cafe

Join our newsletter list

Each newsletter subscription means another chance to win!