Sunday, February 13, 2005

Adult First Day Program

"First Day" is archaic Quakerese for Sunday, and I suppose traces to a time when naming a day for our local star and fusion furnace was considered problematic. Nowadays, we perpetuate the jargon for its anachronistic charm, ala that Planters Peanuts logo.

Our guests this morning, Henry and Scott Sakamoto, were invited to share about civil liberties and the internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry following Pearl Harbor. Henry was 15 at the time, and attending Lincoln High. He completed high school at the Minidoka Relocation Center (Hunt Site) in Idaho, then went on to college in Ohio.

Scott, his adult son, experienced the shock and horror of 911, followed by trepidation over the possible backlash against Americans of Middle Eastern ancestry. He assumed a community leadership role with an intent to keep history from repeating itself.

The USG did eventually acknowledge the whole policy was wrong. A 1988 government commision determined that Executive Order 9066 was more a result of racism, war hysteria, a failure of political leadership than a response to any real military need.

The camps were dismal, and Henry lost his older brother to a curable illness, but they were not mirror images of the Nazi death camps in Europe. The internees had access to mail order catalogs (e.g. Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward), were not tortured, and could apply for jobs or school on the outside. For example, Seabrook Farms in New Jersey made a special point of hiring workers out of the camps.

The exclusion zone was from the Pacific Coast to about 200 miles inland, so families with means could relocate, and thereby escape internment. For example the Naito family, still very prominent in Portland, moved to Salt Lake City.

Since these Americans had only about a week to settle their affairs before being interned, many were forced to sell land or stores at pennies on the dollar. Sometimes a neighbor or true friend held a farm and returned it. Other families weren't so fortunate and had to start over in late middle age.

After Adult First Day, the Sakamotos joined our children for more discussion. Rachael wondered if the inmates had radio access to baseball games and music, without which she would go crazy. They did, but in remote Minidoka, AM radio reception was rather poor. Emily wanted more details about the barracks, and took notes; she's doing a research project on the internment camps for school. Lucy discussed the importance of organizing in defense of civil rights.

Our meeting gave the Sakamotos a copy of Lives That Speak (ISBN 2-888305-32-0), plus I gave Scott a copy of My Dinner with Kiyoshi. Kiyoshi, Fuller's adjuvant, was born in the Heart Mountain Internment Camp.

We plan to purchase a curriculum about this chapter of American history from the Portland JACL -- another treasure for our meeting.

Additional Reading:
Jack Seabrook explains (Realaudio file, Kurt Vonnegut narrating)