President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s executive order number 9066 resulted in the evacuation and incarceration of some 120,000 Japanese Americans to what were called War Relocation Camps. On March 25, we were privileged to meet two men who spoke about their experiences in these camps.
Professor Sadayoshi Omoto, a native of Bainbridge Island, was enrolled at the University of Washington when he was evacuated to Manzanar. He began his slide lecture with photos of the Bainbridge Island evacuation and internment. Omoto described the ever present dust storms at Manzanar, and the barracks that held multiple families and offered no privacy. The monotony of it all.
Omoto brought slides that showed life in the internment camps as depicted by artists. In “Homage to Mary Cassatt,” Hisako Hibi painted a mother bathing her child in a small dishpan. A painting by Chiura Obata shows the long line of barracks with two lone figures in the snow. In another, an elderly couple is surrounded by ruin in an image that portends the coming of the atomic bomb.
Concluding his presentation, Omoto held up an honorary diploma granted by the University of Washington in 2009 to all Japanese American students whose studies were disrupted by their internment. He called it a “long journey home,” a long journey for him, but also for the University in finally recognizing the injustice done to its students. Professor Omoto graduated from Oberlin College. He is a retired professor of art history from Michigan State University.
Professor Iwao Ishino was a studying architecture at San Diego State College when he was sent to Poston camp in Arizona. There he met his wife Mary to whom he has been married for 65 years. He lived there for two years before being drafted into military intelligence work at the Pentagon. These experiences during the war led Ishino to study anthropology at Harvard. He is a retired professor of anthropology at Michigan State University.
Ishino’s presentation centered on a theme of “unintended consequences,” and took the form of questions to the audience. If you were given an order to leave, what would you take and what would you leave behind? How would you take care of people’s health? What would you do about babies born in the camp, or orphans brought in? How would you care for people’s mental health? What about the crops ready to be harvested? He related the story of how his wife’s poultry farm and been given to friends for safe keeping. After the war, the family learned the farm and its land had been turned into a residential area.
These were important stories for us to hear. The audience asked many questions after the program and stayed to meet the speakers. We extend our thanks to the Ishinos and Omotos for traveling to Kalamazoo.
Internment and Service Stories