First letter from Jean to family and friends

Jean's Letter to Family and Friends

On October 11th, 1942, Sally Lucas Jean wrote to her family and friends about her arrival at the Poston, Arizona camp and her experiences to date. This letter goes into great detail about the camp climate, the difference in how Caucasians and Japanese Americans were treated, and the school system. Jean uses a positive and respectful tone to convey her message, while helping the reader gain insight into a worker’s experience in the camps.

Aerial view of barracks

            In this letter, Jean mentions several times how different the Caucasians and the Japanese Americans were treated. She explains to the reader how the word “Caucasian” is used to distinguish the white employees from the Japanese Americans. She describes how the white employees are housed separately and more favorably than the Japanese Americans. They are housed in single rooms with bathrooms located in their barracks. This differs from the Japanese Americans’ barracks, where an entire Japanese American family would have one space assigned to them in a barrack that was typically about fifteen by twenty feet (“Oregon”). Their bathrooms would be located in a central location. Bathrooms were shared by upwards of 250 people with no partitions between the toilets or the showers. This gave them little privacy (“Relocation”). In some cases the sewer systems had not been built yet, forcing the residents to use outhouses (PJD 160)

Child eating in mess hall

The second time Jean shows this imbalance is when she says that, while the employees are served in a mess hall like the Japanese Americans, their food portions are more generous and have a greater variety.  The Japanese American’s’ provisions customarily consisted of canned rations and boiled potatoes. The most common meals were wieners, dry fish, rice, macaroni, and pickled vegetables (PJD 89). The milk was only for the children and often there were no fresh vegetables or fruit (“Food”). Many of the Japanese Americans were used to rice and vegetables, which made this food indigestible.

Sally Lucas Jean displays prejudice in her letter by saying that the Japanese Americans pay nothing for food or shelter. Her sentence implies that they are fortunate to be housed in the camps as well as lazy for not paying their way. However, this was a mandatory move for the Japanese Americans that took years out of their lives and they lost all citizenship rights. Japanese Americans were not allowed to leave the camps where they were surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. They lost employment wages for the years that they were interned and suffered great financial losses. At the end, they were paid ten cents on the dollar for each dollar they had lost. After internment, they had difficulty finding jobs and obtaining loans. They suffered the loss of education and job training that could never be atoned for.  It was not a choice for them to be in the camps like it was for her and it was not a time they could happily look back on.

Jean refuses to voice an opinion on the number of the Japanese Americans that are disloyal. She does not accuse them of sabotage or disloyalty as General DeWitt did (PJD 47-92). Since she does not have the facts, she does not feel that she should make a decision on the loyalty of an entire group. Sally Lucas Jean decides to consider all of the Japanese Americans as being as loyal as she is. She compares them to the “Spanish-Americans” in New Mexico; their parents have partial knowledge of the language and area. “They too, have several generations settled in the land, but they are not being discriminated against like the Japanese Americans are.”

Her tone is rarely negative during the letter, and it often shows how much she respects and pities the

Church group

Japanese Americans that are interned. Jean recalls a time she attended a church service and realized the Japanese Americans were as devout as any other observer. The War Relocation Authority allowed almost all religions to worship, except for State Shinto worship, which was seen as Emperor worship (PJD 173). She describes how they were dressed modestly in Caucasian clothes with clean blouses and groomed hair. She calls them an unfortunate group of people and says she respects how they have accepted their fate. She was in a position of power and did not have to respect them or try to understand their plight; however, she chose to empathize with them and see life from their perspective.

 

–Mary Willoughby Romm

Citations:

Burton, J., M. Farrel, F. Lord, and R. Lord. “Poston Relocation Center.” Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. National Park Service, 1 Sept. 2000. Web. 26 Feb. 2012. <http://www.nps.gov/>.

“Food.” University of Washington Libraries. 20 Mar. 1997. Web. 27 Feb. 2012. <http://www.lib.washington.edu/exhibits/harmony/exhibit/food.html>.

Letters to Family and Friends October 1942, Folder 75 in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290 Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Oregon Responds to World War II: Not Exactly Paradise: Japanese American Internment Camps.” Oregon State Archives. Oregon State. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. <http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/exhibits/ww2/threat/camps.htm>.

“Relocation of Japanese Americans – War Relocation Authority – 1943.” Museum of the City of San Francisco. The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco, May 1943. Web. 27 Mar. 2012. <http://www.sfmuseum.org/hist10/relocbook.html>