Scrapbookpages Blog

June 23, 2010

Kiyo’s story — life in an American internment camp

Filed under: World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 11:59 am

A book entitled Kiyo’s Story: A Japanese-American Family’s Quest for the American Dream: A Memoir by Kiyo Sato won the William Soroyan International prize for non-fiction in 2008.  It is the story of a young Japanese-American girl living on a strawberry farm near Sacramento, CA.  The first part of the book tells about her idyllic life in the 1920s and 1930s; just like every Holocaust survivor book I’ve ever read, Kiyo’s book  begins with a description of her wonderful childhood in a loving family.

Kiyo’s life changed completely when Pearl Harbor was bombed.  This chapter in her book is entitled “Reign of Terror.”  My childhood memory of World War II is that it was a time when people in America were very happy.  I know it sounds strange but World War II brought Americans together; the country was united for the first time as everyone wanted to do their part in winning the war.  American civilians were the people on “the Home Front,” and everyone was very patriotic.  But for the Japanese-Americans, there were signs in California towns which read “No Japs Allowed.”

For Kiyo and the other Japanese-Americans, World War II meant a time when they were the enemy, and white Americans wanted to get rid of them. In April 1942, they were rounded up and sent to internment camps under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066.  Kiyo’s family was first sent to a camp near Fresno, CA.  In her book, Kiyo describes the primitive conditions in the camp, particularly the latrines.

Kiyo mentioned that a columnist for The Sacramento Union newspaper wrote that the Japanese-Americans should be thrown out into the desert and allowed to die so that they can become like the skulls of cattle.  That is exactly what happened to Kiyo and her family; they were sent to the Poston War Relocation Center on the Colorado River Indian Reservation in Arizona, but they survived in spite of the stifling heat and dust storms.  After the war, the Sato family returned to their strawberry farm and found that it had been taken over by a white family.

Executive Order 9066 was a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the American Constitution which guarantees the right of freedom from arrest without charges, but white Americans didn’t care.  Japanese-Americans were put into camps before they had a chance to do any acts of terror or sabotage during World War II, just like “enemies of the state” were imprisoned at Dachau.