This is a Christmas letter written by Sally Lucas Jean to her family and friends from the War Relocation Center in Poston, Arizona on December 12, 1942. This letter is important because it is a direct monologue from Sally Lucas Jean presenting significant occurrences of the camp that culminated to a deadly strike one month earlier, November 1942. Although such events evoked fear and discontent for Sally and for others in the camp toward the Japanese, she provides defense for the Japanese Americans and tries to provide explanations for the behavior exhibited by the majority. Sally conveys a sense of justice and compassion towards the Japanese Americans of Poston in her letter. She assures her family and friends that all is well and explains that she is looking positively toward spending the holiday season with the Japanese Americans of whom she describes are forced to reside “away from their usual circle of friends and in unfamiliar surroundings, with only minimum comforts.” Sally Lucas Jean writes this letter in a way that balances the release of information regarding occurrences concerning the camp with reassurance and solace for her family and friends during what should be a peaceful holiday season for all.
In the letter, Jean displays genuine care of the internees and writes about how the Japanese Americans and the workers try to make the holidays as comfortable and festive as they can given the restrictions of their location and situation. She explains that the effort made in the interest of Japanese American welfare at the camp will “help them to feel less forlorn.” She writes that she is “glad to demonstrate [her] friendship for them by sharing the life they must live.” She expresses her attitude toward the situation of Japanese Americans and her feelings about her role in in the camps. Sally knows the significance of her role in the camps and believes that although her work may not be helping win the war in a direct way, she must continue to work with those people who are imprisoned as a war measure.
An alteration of the mood for the letter ensues when Sally Lucas Jean addresses a recent Strike that occurred in the camp expressing that she is “at liberty to tell you about it.” This incident is known as the Poston Strike and is one of the most notable events that occurred at the Poston relocation center (WRA: A Story of Human Conservation 47). Sally provides a first hand account of the Strike and provides an overview of the incident offering explanations as to why it occurred, the organization, the settlement, and the aftermath of the Strike. She writes that the “doctors and nurses took no part in the affair” and also makes sure to note that she was not in “any danger at any time.” She further elaborates saying “though I had no fear at the time for myself, it was good to know the soldiers were here.”
The mention and context of the Poston Strike is significant in the letter and for the message that Sally Lucas Jean conveys through her writing. The Strike was caused by the build-up of tension and discontent within the camp leading to a chain reaction of popular sentiment. Tension grew as a result of newfound competition between the Nisei Community Council and the newly created Issei Advisory Board. Discontent grew as a result of the worsening living conditions in the camp and paranoia was the product of the camp adversity, which developed in among the residents as administrators sought information about “suspected troublemakers.” On November 1, 1942, this accumulation of paranoia resulted in an internee, who had cooperated with the WRA, a suspected “informer,” being severely beaten by “a group of unidentified men” (Kashima 178). The men were arrested and detained. The Issei delegation and community council demanded the release of the prisoners but were refused (“Poston, Arizona”).
The Community Council resigned in protest after the second refusal to release the men. With this resignation, the evacuees formed a “leadership committee which decreed a general strike” and picketed the police station (Kashima 179). The administration negotiated with protest leaders to “end the strike peacefully” (“Poston, Arizona”), and the incident was “settled by an agreement between the administration and the committee of the residents” (WRA: A Story of Human Conservation 10). The letter written by Sally Lucas Jean complements this historical occurrence and emphasizes that the incident did in fact ended peacefully and that the “air has been cleared by the crisis;” however, she adds that there is uncertainty about difficulties in the future.
Sally Lucas Jean mentions the uprising that occurred at the Manzanar Relocation Center, known as the Manzanar Riot, which draws similarities to the Poston Strike. This incident had also been a product of growing tension among the Japanese American internees, specifically between those who supported the Japanese American Citizen League (JACL), a group of Kibei, and black marketing by camp administrators which resulted in sugar and meat shortages (Poston, Arizona). Although the Manzanar Riot was a significant incident that occurred among the internment camps, Sally only briefly mentions it in a sentence, but by even mentioning the Manzanar Riot, she is able to draw potential blame away from the Japanese American internees and is able to direct blame on the environment and poor conditions of the internment camps. Such conditions, she believes, were dangerous catalysts for the development of stressors which lead to occurrences such as the Riot or the Strike. Mentioning the incident at Manzanar, which can be easily compared to the incident at Poston, allows one to infer that the Strike at Poston was not a unique response to the poor camp conditions that the Japanese Americans were forced to live in. It provides sustenance toward Sally’s position of defense for the Japanese Americans as she tries to offer an explanation for the behavior of the Japanese Americans writing that “it is an unnatural life for the people [to live].”
In the opening of the letter, Sally Lucas Jean writes that she is “trying to express [her] attitude in the situation so that you will not feel anxious about this member of your circle.” Throughout her letter, Sally communicates her compassionate sentiment toward the Japanese Americans and their situation. Despite the conformed ideas about superiority and inferiority of position and race present in the country at that time, this letter shows that underlying the prejudice conditioned in society is the fair belief that Sally holds in which such treatment and condition is not right, not just, and not natural. She concludes her letter with a positive outlook towards life on the West Coast where, despite all the conflicts, “has not been spoiled.” She writes, “man by his stupidity cannot destroy the natural beauty of the world,” a message ever so entwined in the Christmas season.
Kashima, Tetsuden. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime