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I'm An American Too, Aren't I?

Updated on December 14, 2016
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.

Santa Anita Assembly Center for Japanese Quarters 789, May 2, 1942

Dear Susan:

This morning the bus brought us to the old Santa Anita racetrack. I don't know how long they plan to keep us here. We spent all morning in the control station just inside the main gate. What kept us there so long was Father trying to settle the handling of our farm. I thought maybe when they saw from his uniform that he had served honorably in the First War, they would make allowances for us, but they did not. They did tell us though, if we were interested in purchasing War Savings Stamps, where we could buy them.

Everything we carried in with us was opened and inspected. The military police examined every mundane item as if it were something of some importance. Our radio was kept, but almost everything else returned. My Mother asked if we could have the things back later. The soldier said, "possibly."

Father and Mother were asked a lot of questions about our family, me and even Lee. What their interest could be in an eight year old boy, I couldn't say. I think the questioner was a little uncomfortable when Father said his oldest son was a sergeant in the United States Army. Mother had to answer questions about Grandfather also, even though he passed on last year.

Other families were arriving all the while we waited. Many came on the same kind of green school bus we rode. Some drove trucks or cars loaded with boxes and suitcases. An ironing board stuck out the back window of one station wagon. I started to call out to those people because I knew they wouldn't get to keep it. That inspection room was full of ironing boards women had tried to carry in with them. Mother told me to keep quiet.

A doctor examined each of us, gave us vaccinations, and removed the name tags that had been tied to our wrists when we boarded the bus this morning. Finally, we were taken to what the soldier called our "quarters." It is one of many one-story buildings in rows and rows stretching all the way across and up and down the length of what used to be the race track's parking lot. All the "houses" are covered with colorless tar paper. The "street" we are to live on is named Azucar. That was the name of a horse that used to race here at Santa Anita.

Our quarters has one room, but we each have our own cot with a blanket. There is one screened window and the floor is made of concrete. It's kind of dim. There is only one light fixture, and it only has a forty watt bulb in it. The people here call the bathroom a latrine. It is about a half dozen doors down the street.

We take our meals at the yellow mess hall. I have a yellow button I have to wear to get in to eat. And if we don't go at the time we're assigned to go, I guess we go hungry, although they must have to serve meals almost around the clock to get all these people fed. I wonder if tonight was a typical supper. We had a frankfurter, boiled cabbage that didn't taste like Mother makes it, bread and rice, and cherries out of a can.

We met some of our neighbors who will be going to meals the same time we do. They told us a lot about what to expect living here. One elderly man said the only thing he could not get used to was the search light that circulated every five or ten minutes at night. It keeps him awake. A woman warned Mother of the long waiting lines they have to stand in to be able to wash and iron their family's clothes. She said there are never enough clothes lines available at any one time to hang their laundry out to dry all together. The family members need to spread out and keep track of where the clothes are hung in different places.

It seems many of the people work here, so Father may be able to do some farming. The men grow most of the vegetables that are served in the mess halls. Lee and I can attend English classes, and he might be able to join a softball team. I hope they offer literature in those classes because Lee and I have both spoken English all our lives and don't need to take lessons. Grandfather still spoke some Japanese, especially the months before he passed.

Apparently there will be enough to do to keep us busy while we are here. I wonder, though, how long it will be before we can go back home. Mother says they are holding us here for our protection. Father says we have been betrayed by our own country. I just miss you and my other friends. This place is so foreign to me. It is nothing like our house, or our farm, or our school, or anything I have ever known. Others say this is all because of the war. But that doesn't make any sense. To look at you, no one would ever know your family moved here last year from Germany, and they let you stay at home.

Please write.

Your friend,



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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 20 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Rant on! Thanks

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 20 months ago

      Kathleen , Yesterday in my state , I went to re-new my drivers license, I needed my old license , I took my passport , Not enough ! I had to have my SS card , two letters addressed to me at my address , and a credit card which cost an extra 3 % to use . America's fears or paranoia's are unfortunately directed mostly at Americans , I believe we are all becoming slaves to a tyranny , this federal government and the apathy of our "leadership ". Yet as an American I try to make everyone in my life more than welcome here . Fortunately for us , it seems that foreign immigrants ARE often our best people ! But hey I'm ranting so , great hub girl , I didn't know you and Theresa were buddies , Two beautiful souls !

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 20 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      ahorseback: You make my ultimate point beautifully. There were circumstances that led this nation to take the steps they took at the time, however misguided. Could we take similar misguided steps in today's world? Under the right circumstances - we sure could.

      wrenchBiscuit: You nailed my point also. Fear can drive an entire nation to react unfairly when we feel threatened. Just look at the aftermath of 9/11. Sometimes it is choosing the lesser of two (or more) evils. Sometimes we later regret our choices.

      Thanks to all of you for advancing this discussion. (Yes, Theresa and I are sisters from another mother. Thanks for the blessings and pray for those who must put up with us in their universe!)

      Snow Falling on Cedars is an excellent recommendation (book and film) to get a greater appreciation of how our nation's choices during the genuine threat of war directly affected the lives of our own citizens.

    • wrenchBiscuit profile image

      Ronnie wrenchBiscuit 20 months ago

      This is an important and well written story. Contrary to what apologists will say about that particular era, the truth is that the Germans were as big a threat as the Japanese. Considering the ambitions of Hitler and the Nazi party, many will argue the Germans were an even greater threat; not to mention the fact that the U.S. had already waged war against Germany in World War I. Let us also not forget that German terrorists attacked Black Tom Island in New York Harbor July 30, 1916, blowing up a major U.S. munitions depot.

      All things considered, it is remarkable, but not surprising, that Japanese Americans were herded off to the Konzentrationslagers, while German Americans were not. If the issue had simply been fear, then German Americans would have also been rounded up as well. But of course, the issue was a mixture of fear and racism; both of which are American as apple pie.

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 20 months ago

      Theresa ! Hello , OMG oh my gosh , really , that is so cool ! Nothing in the world like the closest friend . Blass you two and keep on . Do you two sit on that big front porch ? LOL.......Hugs

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 20 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Ed - I absolutely love Snow Falling on Cedars. Sorry for butting in, but Kathleen and I are very close friends. We have known each other since 12th grade, shared an apartment briefly, lost track of each other for almost twenty years, reconnected a little over 20 years ago, live 25 minutes from each other, and meet for breakfast every other week. She talked me into HubPages and into publishing my dissertation! We have HISTORY! :) Blessings!

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 20 months ago

      Not to totally defend this act , but the world was as dangerous a place as possible to America then , Imagine the cultural differences from then to now , the media alone for one . Simply , for the most part a written one with the newer embellishments of radio , a political atmosphere where to join the world wars was a huge gamble , an American public totally naïve of the realities of the war , a far more structured public opinion than today .

      I believe that America "did what it had to do ", yet today we have perfect hindsight , Do we not ? Of course its very easy to find the higher moral ground today ,the message here is an emotional one and rightfully so , Have you ever seen the movie "Snow Falling on Cedars ", it ttells a story like yours of that time . I highly recommend the movie ! I'm gonna share this !. Nice write .......Ed

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 20 months ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      This executive order went into effect 74 years ago today. Hard to believe this ever happened in America.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Great History and great narrative story-telling. We too often forget or ignore this part of World War II when we review America History; quite a bit took place on the home front. Terrific twist at the very end of the letter.