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)

 

Report on Health Care Facilities and Living Conditions

Report #1

The document titled “Report #1” of the Sally Lucas Jean Papers gives a general synopsis of Sally Lucas Jean’s first impressions of the Colorado River Relocation Center, a Japanese American internment camp located in Poston, Arizona. She begins the report with a description of her arrival at the camp, where she was welcomed with much hospitality and taken to her living quarters. She then describes the climate, geography, and living situations in the camp. Jean also gives an overview of the education and health care facilities available. Two of the main focuses, however, are Poston’s public health facilities and the living conditions of the staff compared to the living conditions of the Japanese American internees.

In the report, Jean puts a large emphasis on the internment camp’s health facilities. Jean, a public health educator and nurse, arrived at Poston on September 30, 1942, to work for the camp’s Public Health Department. Upon her arrival, the camp’s health facilities were still developing, even though the first Japanese American evacuees arrived at Poston almost four months prior, in May 1942 (Burton 216). She compliments the development progress, however, stating that a “well-equipped and excellently run hospital” has been established thus far (“Report #1”). The hospital staff consists of Japanese nurses and doctors who, according to Jean, “cooperate fully and efficiently.” There are also seven trained Caucasian nurses, whom Jean describes as “splendid.” She reports that her secretary is an “intelligent Japanese girl,” and although she is inexperienced, she is “eager and competent” (“Report #1”). Jean seems to be surprised by the excellence of the hospital facility, and is very grateful to work with such a qualified staff.

Japanese American Nurses at Poston, 1943

The camp’s medical workers were continuously taking action to improve the facility. In February 1943, the first Poston Medical and Public Health Conference was held to determine ways to advance the health department’s growth and to increase the quality of service to patients. After a five-hour meeting, the camp’s physicians, nurses, and public health experts decided on a few ways to improve Poston’s Public Health Department as a whole. Obtaining more hospital beds, hiring more nurses, ordering general healthcare supplies, and increasing tuberculosis testing were some of the proposals made (“Poston Medical”). Jean’s report mentions that improvements in the health facility were needed, and that this conference was especially helpful in the enhancement of Poston’s medical services.

In addition to the public health facilities, Jean’s report also focuses on the living conditions in the camp. She has a very positive reaction to the barracks, mentioning the “excellent three-quarters bed” and that the furnishings are “sufficient for comfort and convenience” (“Report #1”). Jean and other Caucasian workers lived in separate barracks from the Japanese American internees. Staff housing was much more accommodating than the housing of the Japanese American evacuees, with amenities such as indoor plumbing, painted walls, cooling systems, and refrigerators (PJD 158).

Exterior view of a barrack at Poston

The barracks occupied by the Japanese American evacuees were in comparably poor condition, but they tried to make the best of their living situations. Jean states that by the time she arrived in Poston, many families had already decorated their barracks, showing “indications of culture” in the camp (“Report #1”). Nonetheless, it was hard to disguise how dirty and barren the barracks were.

In most of the evacuees’ housing, there was a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling, and the only furnishings were a few small cots and makeshift bookshelves and tables (PJD, 159). Compared to Jean’s barrack, which housed only 12 staff members, the evacuees lived in cramped quarters where “whole families lived together in roughly divided spaces.” Sometimes over six families would live in one block of barracks (“Report #1”). Because of racial prejudice, Poston’s staff members undeniably resided in higher quality housing than the Japanese American internees.

Jean’s initial report on the circumstances at Poston War Relocation Center is significant because it gives outsiders a quick glimpse into what life was like in the camp. By giving a reliable description of the barracks and health care facilities with no embellishments, readers of the report are able to better understand the circumstances faced in Poston, both positive and negative.

Ellen Gould 

Sources:

Burton, Jeffery F. Confinement and Ethnicity: An Overview of World War II Japanese American Relocation Sites. University of Washington Press, 2002. Google eBooks. Web. 25 Feb. 2012.

“Report #1,” Folder 74, in the Sally Lucas Jean papers #4290, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Poston Medical, Public Health Conference Successfully Held in Unit One.” Poston Chronicle. 18 Feb. 1943. Densho Digital Archive. Web. 1 Mar. 2012. <http://archive.densho.org/main.aspx>