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Sources of Freedom. Evacuation to Manazar (1942)

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In this 1942 eyewitness account given by Yuri Tateishi, a Japanese American, arrived at the Tanforan relocation camp in San Bruno, California. During World War II there were approximately ten camps established which held more than 110,000 Japanese Americans, many of whom were imprisoned until 1945.

Evacuation to Manzanar
An Eyewitness Account by Yuri Tateishi
April 26, 1942

When the evacuation came, we were renting a home and had four kids: it was terrible because you had to sell everything. We were just limited to what we could take with us, and so everything was just sold for whatever we could get. Our furniture was rather new at that time because we had just bought a living-room and dining-room set. I just finished paying for a refrigerator when I had to sell that. Of course, we got nothing for it, because we had such a limited time. I don't remember how much notice we got, but it seems it was two weeks or something because we had to rush to sell everything. I don't remember how much time we had, but it wasn't very long. Otherwise, we wouldn't be selling at such low prices. The day of the evacuation was April 26. The day before, we had to sleep on the floor because all the furniture was gone. We all slept on the floor, ate on the floor, and cooked what we could with what few utensils we had. I recall we had to get up very early in the morning, and I think we all walked to the Japanese school because no one had a car then. And everybody was just all over the place, the whole Japanese community was there, the West L.A. community. The Westwood Methodist Church had some hot coffee and doughnuts for us that morning, which helped a lot, and we were loaded in a bus.

Just about the time we were ready to load, my youngest son broke out with measles that morning, and I had him covered up, and then a nurse came up to me and said, "May I see your baby?" He was almost three but I was carrying him, and she said, "I'm sorry but I'm going to have to take him away." Of course, I thought, he would be sleeping at that time so he wouldn't know, but I thought also that he would wake up in a strange place, he wouldn't know anybody; and he probably would just cry all day or all night. But the neighbours said that they would go and check him, so that kind of relieved me: If he were awake, maybe we would have been able to tell him something, but he was asleep. It was easier for me because he was asleep. I don't know. But when I thought about how he might wake up and be in a strange place, with strange people, I just really broke down and cried. I cried all morning over it, but there was nothing we could do but leave him. He stayed at the general hospital and joined us at Manzanar in three weeks.

When we got to Manzanar, it was getting dark and we were given numbers first. We went to the mess hall, and I remember the first meal we were given in those tin plates and tin cups. It was canned weiners and canned spinach. It was all the food we had, and then after finishing that we were taken to our barracks. It was dark and trenches were here and there. You'd fall in and get up and finally got to the barracks. The floors were boarded, but they were about a quarter to a half inch apart, and the next morning you could see the ground below: What hurt most I think was seeing those hay mattresses. We were used to a regular home atmosphere, and seeing those hay mattresses—so makeshift, with hay sticking out—a barren room with nothing but those hay mattresses. It was depressing, such a primitive feeling. We were given army blankets and army cots. Our family was large enough that we didn't have to share our barrack with another family but all seven of us were in one room.

You felt like a prisoner. You know, you have to stay inside and you have a certain amount of freedom within the camp I suppose, but ... you're kept inside a barbed-wire fence, and you know you can't go out.

And you don't know what your future is, going into a camp with four children. You just have to trust God that you will be taken care of somehow. It's scary—not in the sense that you would be hurt or anything but not knowing what your future will be. You don't know what the education for the children will be or what type of housing or anything like that. Of course, you don't know how you're going to be able to raise the children.

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