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)

 

1943 Speech on Public Health (Part I)


Sally Lucas Jean's speech "Health Education in a Japanese Relocation Centre"

On October 12, 1943, Sally Lucas Jean gave a speech entitled “Health Education in a Japanese Relocation Centre”. The speech was delivered at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City for the War Time Public Health Conference in front of the Public Health Education Section of the American Public Health Association (APHA), and discussed the “Discovery of New Resources for Health Education in War Time”. Jean worked as a nurse in Poston, Arizona, in the largest internment camp for Japanese Americans. She played an integral role in the organization of evacuee doctors and the training of nurse aides. Additionally, she designed and implemented a Health Education program in the camp. This program, which she discussed in her speech, helped to influence the APHA’s qualification standard of health educators which was decided upon after the Conference (American Public Health Association).

At the time of Jean’s speech, America was in the midst of WWII and the incarceration. Japanese Americans were forced to leave to homes and businesses to move into hastily built Assembly Centers and eventually, more permanent Relocation Centers. The Poston internment camp was located in the dry desert of Arizona. Jean addressed the many discomforts and difficulties of the desert location for the internees – the cramped living spaces, the weather extremes, the dust storms – but then goes on to describe the camp’s efficient and effective hospital and Public Health Department, which has organized the training of nurse aides, health education, and prevention of disease.

Thus, in spite of poor conditions, the camp had an excellent Public Health Program. This is contradictory information for Jean to share in her speech, especially considering her audience and purpose. Jean’s speech is meant to inform medical professionals on Public Health Education. She could have given a simple introduction on the internment and Poston and gone immediately to discussion of the Health Education program there, but instead spends several paragraphs describing the horrible conditions at Poston, which is unnecessary information for the occasion. Although Jean appears to be reporting objectively in third person about Poston, her use of harsh language when describing the camp and other subtle mentions of information irrelevant to Public Health show her opinion of the terrible conditions at the camp and evoke sympathy from the audience towards the Japanese American situation.

Jean describes the cramped living spaces at Poston that require more than one family to occupy a single 29 by 25 foot space as an obvious “disruption of family life” (“Health Education” 2). Jean could have said that this provides grounds for lack of hygiene, health, and quick and easy spread of disease, but she chooses to acknowledge its harsh impact on family life instead. She continues to on to describe the schools, “…where on cold mornings both teacher and children shiver” (“Health Education” 2). Any mention of children, the pure and innocent, suffering and “shivering” in the cold at the camp draws the audience’s attention to the cruelty of the camp situation as well. She describes the desert sun that makes efficient work “impossible” and how dust storms penetrate the poorly built barracks and cover everything in silt (“Health Education” 2). Needless to say, these are miserable living conditions, but Jean concludes by saying that, “The internees have accepted all these discomforts with the stoicism of their race” (“Health Education” 2). The fact that the Japanese Americans accepted these horrible conditions without complaint demonstrates that they are mild-mannered and willing to endure the hardships of camp – not rebellious and vengeful like many Americans at the time thought.

A typical interior scene in one of the barrack apartments at Manzanar - an internment camp. Note the cloth partition which lends a small amount of privacy

In fact, anytime Jean speaks of the internees, she speaks of them with high regard and praise. When she details the training program of the nurse aides at Poston she describes them as, “…fine students and excellent workers…during the difficult days of adjustment and organizations building…they showed not the first indication of defeat or lack of spirit in any situation” (“Health Education” 3). The fact that Jean speaks so highly of Japanese Americans, who at the time of her speech were targets of severe suspicion by most American people, is a stark contrast with the massive anti-Japanese sentiments and assumptions made by Americans towards anyone of Japanese descent. Not only does Jean make Japanese Americans look good by calling them hardworking and spirited, she also mentions that they are doing all of this hard work as volunteers. They are performing nurse duties without being paid appropriately – yet another moment where Jean shows the audience how they willingly accept the unfairness of their situation.

At the conclusion of Jean’s speech, she deviates away from the purpose and once again appears to be defending Japanese Americans. She uses another powerful, contradicting statement to describe Japanese Americans in the camp: “…these people are virtually prisoners and many of them have only lately learned the ways of life in a democracy” (“Health Education” 9). Essentially, Jean is calling the Japanese Americans “prisoners” in a “democracy.” America’s democracy was founded on the principles of life and liberty, two things that prisoners do not have. Her use of these two opposing words at the end of her speech subtly concludes that the internment is a contradiction of the American way.

This conclusion is further supported by Jean’s final statement: “It seems fair to assume that these 18,000 people – more than two-thirds of whom are citizens of the United

"Evacuation Instructions"

States – will be able to leave this Relocation Center with improved health and vitality, capable of taking their proper place as good citizens in the fabric of American life” (“Health Education” 9). While this statement talks of the improved health of Japanese Americans due to the Health Education Program, there seems to be deeper meaning in the word choice of the sentence. Jean reiterates the number of “people,” not Japanese Americans nor the derogatory term “Japs,” but relatable, every day “people,” at an astounding 18,000. Notably, she adds that two-thirds of them are U.S. “citizens,” identifying that the aforementioned “prisoners” are Americans whose rights are protected under the Constitution. This is interesting as the government during the internment used the term “non-aliens” to describe Japanese Americans who were legal citizens. Government notices informing Japanese Americans about the evacuation stated that, “…all persons of Japanese ancestry, both alien and non-alien, will be evacuated from the above area…” (“Evacuation” instructions). The notice only describes Japanese Americans as “Japanese,” “alien,” and “non-alien.” This wording ties Japanese Americans exclusively to Japan and not to America, and does not even mention the fact that many internees are American citizens. It sounds much worse to evacuate American “citizens,” who are associated with rights and freedoms, than it does to evacuate ambiguous “non-aliens” of Japanese ancestry. Thus, Jean’s use of the word “citizens” takes a subtle stab at the government’s terms and legitimizes internees as Americans, contrary to the general public opinion of Japanese Americans at the time.

Jean continues to boost the view of Japanese Americans by saying that when they leave the camp they will take their “proper place,” insinuating that the right place is in America, not Poston nor Japan. For the sake of the Health Conference, she could have ended her speech after “health and vitality,” but instead she decides to extend her conclusion to the idea that Japanese Americans will return to society as “good citizens.” At this point in time, America was still caught up in the hysteria of the war with Japan and the belief that Japanese Americans were spies and not “good citizens.” Jean, however, contradicts the masses and instills a new and positive view of Japanese Americans in her audience.

Overall, Jean Lucas Jean’s speech at the War Time Public Health Conference provides the detailing of an effective Health Program implemented under the poor conditions at Poston. Yet, in her subtle digressions from the main health issues of the camps, she sheds a positive light on Japanese Americans in a time when media and propaganda led America to think the worst of them. In her juxtaposition of the horrible, inhumane conditions at Poston with the goodness and spirit of Japanese Americans, she sheds light on the injustice of the internment.

 -Meredith Richard

 

Works Cited

American Public Health Association. “APHA History and Timeline.” APHA.org. American Public Health Association, 2012. Web. 29 Feb. 2012.

“Evacuation” instructions (denshopd-p25-00049), Densho, the Yamada Family Collection.

“Health Education in A Japanese Relocation Centre” Folder 75: 3-11, in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Lange, Dorothea. “A Typical Interior Scene in One of the Barrack Apartments at This Center.” Calisphere. University of California. Web. 10 Apr. 2012.