Christmas Letter to Family and Friends

Letter (page 1)

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.

Letter (page 2)

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.

 

-Ariel Esperancilla

 

 

Works Cited

Kashima, Tetsuden. Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime

“Poston, Arizona.” Japanese American Veterans Association. JAVA, 6 Oct. 1992. Web. 29

WRA: A Story of Human Conservation. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, War Relocation Authority, 1946. 10. Print.

“Christmas Letter to Family and Friends Dec. 21, 1942” Folder 74 (p.1)

“Christmas Letter to Family and Friends Dec. 21, 1942” Folder 74 (p.2)

 

Jean Personal Letter November 8 1942

 

First page of Jean's letter

On Sunday, November 8, 1942, Sally Lucas Jean typed a personal letter while sitting outside her room in Poston to give an update to her “family and friends.” This three-page document deals with several specific aspects of life at Poston, including travel outside of camp, healthcare and education, poor weather, gardens, and her personal comforts and discomforts . Jean, as a director of health in the camp, spends much of this letter describing her dealings with the schools; through this, however, she reveals several other important aspects of camp life, including the lack of medical personnel, the health of school children, and the poor weather conditions that tended to disrupt camp life (1-3).

After her greeting and a short description of the weather, Jean dives into the substance of her letter by recounting some of her difficulties in setting up public health “protection” for school children.

This situation required attention to many phases which usually had been established previously. For instance, the public health department is manned by evacuees, most of whom are physicians but none of whom have had training in public health. It cannot be expected that they would be prepared to arrange procedures to prevent the spread of contagious and infectious diseases as their work in life has been to cure rather than to prevent.” (1)

Hence, Jean was able to find trained workers, but not people trained in the right areas. Despite these difficulties, however, Jean expresses enthusiasm over the healthy state of the children and the willingness of their parents to keep them that way:

“It is thrilling to have all mothers respond to an invitation to come to the school for these examinations. It is the first time in my experience that 100% of the mothers and teachers meet with the doctor… The children are in splendid condition and are well cared for. They have fewer defects than the average group this age.” (1)

The high rate of mothers’ involvement may have quite simply been due, at least in part, to the geographical proximity of the barracks to the schools, but from Jean’s perspective, the involvement of parents and teachers more than made up for the lack of experience of Poston’s public health workers.

Classroom building at the Poston I elementary school. Credit: Photo from National Park Service website

Poston had its own school system that encountered numerous unique struggles, not the least of which was the problematic weather. Whilediscussing the cold nights and mornings, she writes that “the teachers take the pupils out into the sun for games until it is warm enough to sit in the room” (2). Going outside “has its drawbacks because of the glare of books and paper” (2). Insulation and heating was evidently a serious problem if teachers needed to take their students outside in order to avoid the cold. This kind of disruption could only have harmed the quality of education at Poston.

Indeed, weather affected not only education but camp life as a whole for Jean. Even as Jean wrote her letter, it was too hot to sit outside but too cold to sit inside. She was concerned for the infants and young children in barracks, and on one cloudy sun cold was “unbearable” (2). She also encountered a strong sand-storm during her trip to Manzanar (3), and Poston dealt with similar issues; its three sections “were nicknamed ‘Roasten,’ ‘Toasten,’ and ‘Dustin’ by the incarcerees” (“Poston”). Compounded by poor building materials and structures, these adverse weather conditions served only to make camp life more trying for all involved.

The struggles with finding properly trained personnel were clearly not limited to the area of public health, nor were they Jean’s alone. For several days, she performed exams for parents of school children because of a lack of nurses. She also states how grateful she was to have a trained nutritionist on staff to help with the children’s food, implying these professionals were a rare luxury (1). Indeed, the biggest health problem in camp was “too few medical personnel, particularly nurses. The result was overworked doctors and nurses and delays in treatment” (PJD 164). An incarcerated orderly named George Yoshida went to work for the hospital in Poston because he “had taken biology and thought, ‘what the hell, it might be fun.’” Clearly, the supply of specifically trained medical personnel was low at Poston and elsewhere.

Jean portrayed teachers in a positive light in this letter by depicting their willingness to engage in the health of their students, and other sources concur with this positive view. Mas Hashimoto, a student interviewed years later, said that most of the teachers were young, dedicated, talented Nisei or Sansei who had college experience or degrees. Education, however, was often poor because of a lack of supplies. Hashimoto had neither paper nor pencils for “quite a while” (Hashimoto interview). Some camps lacked chairs and tables for months, and any technical or laboratory equipment was a fantasy. Most camps also needed certified teachers, particularly for higher grade levels and more advanced subjects (PJD 171); by the time of this letter, however, Poston seemed to have mitigated at least some of the problems with supplies, so Jean and others such as Hashimoto maintained a positive view of at least the elementary teachers. This serves to contribute to Jean’s positive outlook in this letter, despite the obvious difficulties she faced.

 

Seth Wynands

 

 

Works Cited

“Poston.” Ed. Geoff Froh. Densho. Densho, n.d. Web. 1 March 2012.

George Yoshida, interviewed by Alice Ito and John Pai, February 18, 2008, Densho.

http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-ygeorge-01-0025

Mas Hashimoto, interviewed by Tom Ikeda, July 30, 2008, Densho.

http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-hmas-01-0020

Letter to Family and Friends Nov. 8, 1942, Folder 75, in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290,

Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at

Chapel Hill.

http://dc.lib.unc.edu/u?/ead,217362

http://dc.lib.unc.edu/u?/ead,217526

http://dc.lib.unc.edu/u?/ead,217503

NPS photo:

http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/anthropology74/ce10e1.htm

Letter from Aiko Nakatani 1943

This document is a handwritten letter from Aiko Nakatani to Sally Lucas Jean, written in 1943. The missive is signed ‘Aiko,’ and based on the identifying information provided in the letter, such as her block number and the fact that she was Jean’s secretary, we have identified her as Aiko Nakatani. Aiko Nakatani was a young Japanese American woman from Los Angeles interned in the Poston camp in Arizona during the Second World War. While living in Los Angeles, Aiko completed four years of high school and attended Japanese language school. She could read, write and speak both English and Japanese. As a Nisei fluent in Japanese, Aiko probably would have garnered suspicion by the U.S. government in their attempts to thwart alleged espionage and conspiracy. While at Poston, Aiko worked in the health sector of the camp as the “Secretary to Health Education Consultant” (Nakatani).  At the time of this letter, Aiko was nineteen years old, living in the Poston Relocation camp in Arizona. Aiko’s father, Kakichi R. Nakatani, died in Poston after contracting an illness and being treated in the “contagion ward” (Nakatani). He was born in Japan in 1886 and lived in Japan until he was nineteen years old (Nakatani, National Archives). Aiko Nakatani’s experience in Poston illuminates several issues that are important in considering Japanese Americans’ time in incarceration camps.

This letter sheds light on an unlikely relationship as Aiko thanks Jean for teaching her career skills, providing emotional support and for bestowing gifts upon her. Aiko expresses that she looked to Jean as a role model. In Poston as well as other relocation centers, camp responsibilities often took parents away from children during meal times and other times crucial for family bonding (Sasaki interview). Children, often confused about their circumstances in camp, looked to adults other than their parents for answers. May K. Sasaki who was interned in Camp Minidoka recalls admiring a teacher in the camp who stressed to her students that being Japanese was not a crime (Sasaki interview). This was in stark contrast to the conclusions many Nisei drew on their own about why they were in camp, especially when their parents did not provide answers. Aiko worked within the camp, as many did to earn money as well as to occupy their free time and to feel like they were contributing something worthwhile. Aiko worked as a secretary for Jean and Jean provided a parental authority in Aiko’s life when her father died. Aiko acknowledges that Jean was a valuable teacher and anguishes over how she will ever be able to repay the debt. According to the letter, Jean helped Aiko develop the necessary skills to be a secretary in the camp. This ultimately gave Aiko a purpose in a place where many people felt purposeless. This occupation also gave her an opportunity to develop important skills.  Higher training was a problem in the camps, where the highest education available was high school.

Densho Interview with May K. Sasaki

Aiko’s father died prior to her writing this letter. Several incarcerees in Poston contracted polio and were placed in a separate ward; this could have included Kakichi Nakatani, as the illness from which he died is not identified in public records. Aiko speaks of the time of her father’s illness and death, thanking Jean for her support during this difficult time. Jean attended Aiko’s father’s funeral and brought flowers with a vase. Their friendship was strange given the circumstances but Aiko acknowledges this and praises Jean for her lack of “racial prejudice” This is notable, given that racial prejudice amongst Caucasians is the inherent reason that Aiko is interned in camp.

Aiko mentions her father’s death and funeral, calling attention to this somber aspect of camp life. Funerals occurred within the camp when people died while incarcerated. Flowers for the ceremony were often fashioned out of paper by internees as shown in archived photos from camp (Buddhist funeral photograph). Wreaths made out of crepe paper were common. Fresh flowers were a rarity in the dry climate of Poston and the other relocation camps in desert climates. There was a designated place in the camps for people to be buried but most internees had their deceased loved ones cremated, keeping the urn in their barracks (PJD 178). Most hoped to spread the ashes once they were released from detainment because few wanted to bury their loved ones in a place they hoped to never return after being released. Some camps built funeral parlors, which provided a venue for internees to mourn their lost relatives. Tule Lake constructed a funeral parlor that was akin in structure to a barracks (Camp funeral parlor photograph). This scanty building is likely similar to the one Jean visited to pay respects to Aiko’s father. At one specific ceremony for fallen Japanese American soldiers, a photo was taken in the camp funeral parlor where the attendees and mourning family posed in front of a cross (funeral for Nisei soldier photograph). Special religious burial rituals were difficult to accommodate. Also, few Japanese Americans could bear the emotional toll of burying someone in what was essentially the middle of nowhere. This was a place where they had suffered great injustice.

Incarceration took most of the agency away from the family unit in making arrangements for their deceased loved ones. This was one of the most agonizing violations of the freedoms of Japanese Americans by the U.S. government. Being denied the resources such as fresh flowers and the opportunity to host a reception after a funeral in the memory of a loved one was a painful restriction for many Japanese Americans in camp.

Many young women worked as secretaries within camp, like Lily Sakemi, pictured here, who is close in age to Nakatani when she worked for Jean.

Aiko’s letter to Sally Lucas Jean provides an exclusive insight into the life of a young woman whose life was interrupted by internment at Poston and how she dealt with this unjust situation. Aiko sought refuge with a slightly older Caucasian woman for whom she worked when personal tragedy befell her.  It is interesting to look at who Japanese American adolescents turned to for advice and support during their times at camp as well as the way in which death and funerals within the camps were addressed. The Japanese Americans’ times in camps such as Poston must not be forgotten because their time in camp had such profound impacts on the rest of their lives.

 

by Corinne Jurney


Works Cited

“List of Medical Personnel 1942,” Folder 74 in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical     Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Letter to Sally Lucas Jean 1942,” Folder 74 in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Nakatani, Aiko. Japanese-American Internee Data File, 1942 – 1946. Records About Japanese Americans    Relocated During World War II, created 1988 – 1989, documenting the period 1942 –   1946. Record Group 210. National Archives, Washington, DC.

Nakatani, Kakichi R. Japanese-American Internee Data File, 1942 – 1946. Records About Japanese Americans Relocated During World War II, created 1988 – 1989, documenting the period 1942 – 1946. Record Group 210. National Archives, Washington, DC.

May K. Sasaki, interview by Lori Hoshino and Alice Ito, 1997, Densho.

“Buddhist funeral” (denshopd-i39-00019), Densho, Wing Luke Asian Museum: Hatate Collection.

“Camp funeral parlor” (denshopd-i37-00205), Densho, National Archives and Records Administration Collection.

“Funeral for Nisei soldier” (denshopd-i39-00019), Densho, National Archives and Records Administration Collection.

“Lily Sakemi, age 20” War Relocation Authority Photographs of Japanese-American Evacuation and Resettlement. January 1944. Series 12.

Agriculture within the Poston Relocation Center

Report 5, written on January 17th, 1943, is a personal letter from Sally Lucas Jean to her family and friends.  This letter offers a brief description of the cultivation of agriculture products within the Poston Relocation Center.  According to Report 5, farming was quite difficult inside the incarceration camps (Sally Lucas Jean, Letter).  Although over half of the Japanese Americans in California were successful farmers before the incarceration, farming while interned was no easy task (PJD 42).  While incarcerated, Japanese Americans had to deal with the challenges of farming in an unfamiliar territory.  However, it is quite evident that Japanese Americans were able to successfully grow various types of agriculture products despite the hardships of the incarceration.

According to the Sally Lucas Jean papers, droughts and a lack of water originally posed as a major problem for cultivation.  Although the Poston Relocation Center was only two and a half miles away from the Colorado River, much of the water that was brought into the incarceration camp was used for cooking and personal hygiene instead of agriculture production. (Burton 1).  Therefore, Japanese American farmers mainly relied on rainwater to bring nutrients to their agriculture products.  However, in 1943 a large-scale irrigation system was installed at the Poston Relocation Center.  This innovative irrigation system pumped water directly from the Colorado River onto the crops, which effectively provided agriculture products with the correct amount of water needed in order to thrive (Sally Lucas Jean, Relocation).

In this document, Sally Lucas Jean also mentioned the destructive dust storms, which were a major hardship for Japanese American farmers in Poston, Arizona.  The topsoil in the desert was very sandy and occasionally, severe windstorms would sweep through the countryside and redesign the entire layout of farmlands.  Japanese Americans were constantly plowing the fields in order to reshape the landscape and bring fertile soil to the top of the ground.  Sally Lucas Jean depicted this scene by saying, “…but one learns how to exist, without too much discomfort, even in the midst of the most severe sand storm.”  She later remarked, “The men driving huge tractor plows wear masks, similar to a gas mask, threading their way up and down the uneven ground with appearing ease.” (Sally Lucas Jean, Relocation).

The vast majority of agriculture production within the incarceration camps was commercial farming that was sponsored by the War Relocation Authority.  The War Relocation Authority would provide necessary farming equipment and then hire interned Japanese Americans for cheap labor.  Specifically, in Poston, a wide variety of crops were grown on the WRA sponsored farms including vegetables, berries, melons, potatoes, oats, and alfalfa.  With the correct conditions, the Poston Relocation Center could yield up to 41,000 acres of crops (Sally Lucas Jean, Letter).  In addition to this, crops could often be harvested multiple times throughout the extensive 258-day growing season.  According to Sally Lucas Jean, “In the summer, temperatures sometimes rise as high as 120 degrees.  But this warmth brings up the crops with remarkable speed.  Alfalfa, for example, sometimes returns as many as seven or eight outings a year.”  (Sally Lucas Jean, Relocation).  The crops harvested by the Japanese American farmers were consumed within the interment camps, sold to retailers across the country, or internationally distributed to American troops (PJD 126).

Even though the bulk of agriculture production completed within the incarceration camps was commercial farming sponsored by the WRA, many interned individuals still grew their own crops.  Victory gardens across the incarceration camps began to spring up in support of the American armed forces (PJD 140).  As one interned individual said, “When we entered camp, it was a barren desert.  When we left camp, it was a garden that had been built up without tools, it was green around the camp with vegetation, flowers and also with artificial lakes . . .” (PJD 161).  Specifically, the Japanese American families within Poston Relocation Center also harvested their own crops.  According to The Poston Chronicle, the local newspaper within the Poston Relocation Center, the community held a harvest festival during the middle of August in 1942.  This harvest festival was noted as being similar to a county fair in which individuals would enter their best vegetables into a contest (“Poston”).  Weather it was commercial farming or individual cultivation, Japanese Americans were surprisingly able to overcome all odds and successfully grow multiple agriculture products while interned in Poston, Arizona.

-Austin Powell

Works Cited

Burton, J., M. Farrell, F. Lord, and R. Lord. “Poston Relocation Center.” An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. National Park Service, 1 Sept. 2000. Web. 24 Mar. 2012. <http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/anthropology74/ce10.htm>.

[Letter to Family and Friends written on Jan. 17, 1943: Folder 75, Report #5], in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Poston Official Daily Press Bulletin Vol. III No. 3 – July 25, 1942” (denshopd-i145-00064), Densho, the Poston Chronicle

[The Relocation Centers – Colorado River: Folder 75], in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.