A Letter from a Japanese American to her PenPal
Santa Anita Assembly Center for Japanese Quarters 789, May 2, 1942
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.