Tessaku Seikatsu: Mainland vs. Hawaii Internees

From Life behind Barbed Wire [鉄柵生活 Tessaku Seikatsu]: The World War II Internment Memoirs of a Hawai‘i Issei, by Yasutaro Soga [1873–1957] (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2008), pp. 81-83:

Internees from the Mainland were more rebellious than those from Hawaii. From the point of view of Americans, this kind of behavior was seen as extremely disloyal but, given the pitiful circumstances under which mainland Japanese were placed, it was to be expected. I would not be exaggerating if I said that part of the responsibility for the recalcitrance of these internees rested on the United States government. Japanese in Hawaii were very lucky in comparison. Throughout the war, most were allowed to live comfortably and keep their businesses. For this we must thank Lieutenant General Emmons, a fair and intelligent man, who was commander in Hawaii when the war broke out.

When the first and second Hawaii groups came into contact with internees from the Mainland, they were generally considered inferior. (By the time I arrived at Lordsburg [NM], this was no longer the case.) Japanese from Panama and South America were also held in low esteem, so they felt much closer to internees from Hawaii. Japanese resent being discriminated against, but they themselves are prone to “closing ranks” to exclude others. Few ethnic groups exhibit this kind of behavior: It is definitely one of the shortcomings of Japanese. Those from the Mainland had suffered greatly under anti-Japanese policies and regulations, so they tried, consciously or unconsciously, to gain satisfaction by excluding those whom they considered to be “outsiders”—Japanese from Hawaii, Panama, and South America.

After we had lived together for awhile, the Mainlanders began to think better of us. Hawaii people often took the lead in promoting events and participated in many camp activities: theatricals, exhibitions, and sports, including sumo and softball. They began to realize we were fairly strong in not only number but also character. We received monthly remittances of fixed amounts from home and were the best customers at the canteen (camp store), which gave us a certain amount of clout. What we hated most was being blamed by Mainlanders whenever something went wrong. But in general we were not reproached and maintained a good reputation in the camps. I think this was due to our strong willpower….

Among Mainland Japanese were quite a number of illegal immigrants who had jumped ship in the San Diego area in southern California to work as fishermen or had smuggled themselves into the United States from Mexico. Lured to this land of Canaan, where honey and milk were said to be flowing, hundreds of Japanese and Chinese attempted the crossing. All along the vast, barren border lie the bones of many adventurers who failed. Swindlers offering transport to the United States for several hundred dollars would open their cargo doors while flying and dump their “shipment” in the middle of the desert without a second thought. I heard all of this from a man who lived in Mexico.

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1 Comment

Filed under Hawai'i, Japan, Latin America, U.S., war

One response to “Tessaku Seikatsu: Mainland vs. Hawaii Internees

  1. Pingback: Japanese Internment in Canada and the U.S. « Far Outliers

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