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

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.