WRA Brochure “Relocation Communities for Wartime Evacuees”

 

The document “Relocation Communities for Wartime Evacuees” is a brochure about ten different internment camps published by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) in September 1942. The WRA is headquartered in Washington, D.C. This brochure documents the selection and reasoning behind the sites, as well as specific details such as evacuee capacity and gross acreage for each site. This was the first substantial publication about the camps, published very early in the history of the internment.

The ten different Relocation Centers were placed amongst the states of California, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Arkansas. In total, the evacuee capacity for all of the camps was 119,000. The document states that the camps were to be “an equitable substitute for the lives and homes given up.” The WRA attempted to build the camps near agriculture ready land but ended up choosing the “wilderness” areas like the desert-terrain that Poston was located in. The “wilderness” areas were resorted to because the WRA did not want to displace a lot of people in order to build the camps that supposedly were equal to previous living conditions for the Japanese Americans. Although the only camps mentioned in this brochure are the ones run by the WRA, there were other camps throughout the west as well run by the Wartime Civil Control Administration (PJD 136).

The Colorado River War Relocation Project was more often known as “Poston” and was located in Poston, Arizona. Poston was the largest in acreage of the relocation centers, with an evacuee capacity at 20,000 and a gross acreage of 72,000. As mentioned in the brochure, the climate in Arizona was harsh, with temperatures reaching 120oF in the summers and 9oF in the winter. The camp was built upon a desert terrain, where the rainfall average was only three inches a year. Even though it was clear that this was not the best climate for agricultural work, the WRA brochure said with a completion of an irrigation system eventually 41,000 acres would successfully produce crops such as vegetables, fruits, berries, and melons. The brochure states that any extra food produced would be used for army consumption, yet Personal Justice Denied says that all who spoke of the food agreed that it was less than satisfying. One man recalls one of his first meals including moldy bread, discolored cold cuts, and overcooked Swiss chard (PJD 141-142).

The document clearly states in the section entitled “Community Life” that the camp will have a similar daily life to an “ordinary American city.” The Relocation Centers were to have their own community government, schools, stores, medical care, newspapers and more. Yet, in the memoir Citizen 13660, the camp Miné Okubo describes is far from normal life. She describes her first experience trying to get dinner by telling of the hour-long lines and cold, windy weather they had to wait in (38). In an “ordinary American city,” one has many different options of where to eat dinner: at home, a picnic, or a restaurant. Eating at a mess hall is just one example of how internment camps were not similar to a normal city. The misleading brochure the WRA published and the official government reasoning that the Japanese Americans would benefit from being evacuated by being protected against the mistreatment by other Americans seemed to differ greatly from the actual reality of the Japanese Americans living in the camps (PJD 155).

The “Returns for Work” section of the brochure discusses the benefits of working a government job while at the camp. The Japanese Americans in the camps were paid $12, $16, or $19 a month. Even in 1942, this was an extremely low and unacceptable wage. The minimum wage in California in 1942 was 45 cents an hour, which translates into $72 per month for a forty-hour workweek (Table D-23). In Citizen 13660 Okubo was accepted for work at the Topaz Times and was paid $19 per month, the highest possible payment rate. Even at the highest rate, this was still not comparable to what Okubo would have been making outside of the camps.

The document “Relocation Communities for Wartime Evacuees” reads more like a brochure for a hotel than information about the reality of the internment camps for Japanese Americans during WWII. The WRA published this skewed information in order to downplay the tragedy that was happening in the American west at this time.

-Nicole Mogensen

Works Cited

 

“Table D-23: Minimum Wage History California and United States.” Www.dof.ca.gov. California Department of Industrial Relations. Web. 10 Apr. 2012.<http://www.dof.ca.gov/html/fs_data/stat-abs/documents/d23_000.pdf>.

 

Okubo, Mine. Citizen 13660. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1946. Print.