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Diaries in History: Resilience and Memory in Japanese American Internment

The Yale Sterling Library currently has on exhibit items from its collection of paintings, diaries, and other materials related to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. This free exhibit, “Out of the Desert: Resilience and Memory in Japanese American Internment,”  is open through Feb. 26, on weekdays, at Yale University’s Sterling Memorial Library at 120 High Street in New Haven, CT.

A watercolor by Charles Erabu Mikami depicting the Topaz internment camp in Utah. Charles Erabu Mikam, via Beinecke Library, Yale University

A watercolor by Charles Erabu Mikami depicting the Topaz internment camp in Utah. Charles Erabu Mikam, via Beinecke Library, Yale University

In her article about the exhibit, The New York Times reporter Patricia Leigh Brown focuses on on internee at a camp in Arkansas, Yonekazu Satoda, 94, whose diary from during his internment only recently came to light.

As the article reports, Mr. Satoda records the trivial and profound, revealing the experiences of those interned — innocent civilians — as poignant and all too human.

“Today was supposed to be my graduation day at Cal.” [May 13, 1942]

“Got hell from Mom for fooling around with women.” [May 19, 1942]

“Hot as hell today. Ptomaine poisoning in mess hall. 3 or 4 hundred sick.” [May 20, 1942]

Interned for 3 years, Mr. Satoda was supposed to have graduated from Berkeley on only his second day of his confinement.

Posted prominently in public, posters like this one instructed "all person's of Japanese ancestry" to report for "evacuation" by April 3, 1942. Many internees lost their property as they rushed to store and sell their belongings to pack only what they could carry. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

Posted prominently in public, posters like this one instructed “all person’s of Japanese ancestry” to report for “evacuation” by April 3, 1942. Many internees lost their property as they rushed to store and sell their belongings to pack only what they could carry. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

Mr. Satoda became an “Mr. Satoda spent nearly two years as an intelligence officer in Japan, retiring as a major after 20 years of service in the United States Army Reserve.” Here he is with his wife, Daisy Satoda, who had been interned at Topaz.

Mr. Satoda with his wife, Daisy, who had also been detained at an internment camp during World War II. Mr. Satoda’s diary is part of a Yale exhibition on Japanese-American internment. Credit Ramin Talaie for The New York Times

Mr. Satoda with his wife, Daisy, who had also been detained at an internment camp during World War II. Mr. Satoda’s diary is part of a Yale exhibition on Japanese-American internment. Credit Ramin Talaie for The New York Times

 Mr. Satoda’s diary struck me immediately, not only because it is such a valuable historical resource. It also looks like my mother’s diary.

The first page of a diary Mr. Satoda kept at an internment camp in Arkansas in the 1940s. Beinecke Library, Yale University

The first page of a diary Mr. Satoda kept at an internment camp in Arkansas in the 1940s. Beinecke Library, Yale University

My mother’s diary likewise was in a ringed binder.

From Joan's diary: Saturday, August 30, 1941

From Joan’s diary: Saturday, August 30, 1941

I often wondered by she used a ringed binder. Was it because it was cheaper? Or she could add pages if she wanted to?

Numerous religious and humanitarian groups opposed the internment. This pamphlet was published by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

Numerous religious and humanitarian groups opposed the internment. This pamphlet was published by the American Baptist Home Mission Society. From http://bit.ly/1XHnFAa

On December 7, 1941, after Pearl Harbor was bombed, she reflected about the fate of the Japanese now that the U.S. was destined to join the war. She had been in the country with her girlfriend, Ruthie, and they had had no idea that the bombing had taken place. Then they get a lift into Chicago.

One of the fellows drove us into the city and then Ruthie and I took the streetcar and saw a bright headline. US and Japan near war. And waited in a quiet tavern for another streetcar and got on and gasped to see in black placid letters as though it had been said before: “Japan Attacks U.S. We are at War. . . .” And saw two Japanese on the streetcar, gravely watching us. . . .

I hope those calling for Syrian refugees to be interned learn from the history of our nation.

2 responses »

  1. I hope we would learn from that bigoted episode in our history as well. But it seems we often repeat our mistakes. I wish we would remember to be brave.

    Reply

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