It’s around this time of year that thoughts tend towards family and friends. The other day while thinking about this I found myself remembering stories I had heard from my grandmother-in-law in one of seasonal visits to her home. She has lead an amazing life; raising a family, becoming friends with Frank Lloyd Wright, witnessing WWII and the American Civil Rights movement. But, the most incredible of her stories in my estimation deal with a little known and seldom discussed episode in US history which she experienced first-hand and which forever altered her world-view; the Japanese internment camps of Executive Order 9066.
Rose Tanaka, born Rose Hanawa in San Luis Obispo California, was only 15 when Pearl Harbor happened and when 74 days later President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 allowing the government “to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded.” This order, while not inherently targeted at any ethnic group, quickly became used to gather and detain individuals of Japanese descent around the country. Rose, along with her family, were sent to perhaps the most famous of these, Manzanar, which was located in the California desert. For farmers from the California coast who supplemented their diets with fresh seafood moving to such a barren inhospitable place was especially difficult, on top of all the issues already inherent with such detention.
I spent hours with Rose going through her old yearbooks and correspondence from the two years she spent here. While it was in all aspects a prison, concessions were made for education, almost entirely volunteer, and journalism. Rose used her time in the camp to learn, make lifelong friends, and even have some fun such as playing trombone for the camp marching band. While I can’t truly put into words what her experience was like there are numerous wonderful films and documentaries about the camps by people who, like Rose and myself, do not feel that this part of history should be forgotten. Rose herself has often been interviewed for projects such as this and has spent the 70+ years since she left the camps advocating for civil rights and working hard to make America the place her parents dreamed it would be.
For more information about life in Manzanar in her own words I’ve attached two links. The first is to a youtube clip of an interview from one of the documentaries which Rose participated in ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-u-5st6VIWk )and the second is an official transcript of an interview performed by the National Park Service covering Rose’s life before, during, and after the camps ( https://bit.ly/2AN3Kyk ).
I hope that, as heavy a subject as this is, those of you who suffered through my writing will have learned a small part of America’s largely forgotten history and by writing this I will have helped Rose in her mission to spread information and understanding.