In what ways did Japanese Americans work to maintain a sense of community while they were interned?
The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II came at a great price. While the American government was concerned about internal political sabotage by Japanese Americans and feared espionage, many loyal citizens were interned in camps against their will despite pledges of loyalty to the United States.
Once at camp, Japanese Americans sought to make life as normal as possible for themselves. Most camps had apartments where basic cots, blankets and a small heating stove was provided, but little else. Many used materials from the camp scrap pile to fashion workable dressers and shelves for their simple apartments. Each camp was run by Americans of Caucasian heritage, but Japanese Americans fueled a sense of community by setting up generally stable small town existences with fire and police departments, schools, newspapers and even baseball teams. Most Japanese Americans worked around the camp; each was paid between $12 to $19 per month. There was also a small monthly stipend for clothing. There were cooking positions, janitorial positions, public maintenance, public welfare positions and construction positions. They tried to make life as normal as possible for their families by engaging in all the activities necessary for survival. Although food was not always of the best quality in the camps, Japanese Americans were allowed to celebrate holidays like the New Year and Thanksgiving. Special food was cooked and prepared for the camp internees on those days. Some Japanese Americans also had a chance to make Japanese rice cakes for their celebrations; depending on the camp, food may have been better or worse in quality.
Many of the Japanese had to send out for others to purchase materials for them that were not found in the camps. The Japanese American National Museum has in its possession letters written by children to special acquaintances outside their camps. Many of these letters requested items like yarn, fabric, mirrors or books.
Many tried to live normally and compromises were made for those Japanese who were more used to American food and traditional Japanese who enjoyed more Japanese fare. College students were among the lucky few who could leave the camps for designated time periods, although the wait for a pass was lengthy and internees had to be cleared by the FBI.
All in all, Japanese Americans survived bravely in the camps through a combination of courage, perseverance and faith in the country they had come to call their own.
Uchida's work speaks to how Japanese Americans experienced a sense of community while they were interned. From the opening description of “hundreds of Japanese Americans along the fence,” a sense of community is established. This sense of community emphasizes that all of the Japanese Americans who are interned are experiencing the same fate and suffering under the same condition of pain and suffering. The narrative focus does not overlook the idea that all who were interned were fundamentally similar in their experiences. At the same time, the close and cramped conditions of internment helped to further create this sense of community in the camp: "To say we were all intimately acquainted would be an understatement." Over the course of the narrative, those who were interned worked together to make life more tolerable. Whether it was rotating duties such as laundry or helping to establish some realms of privacy such as homemade curtains and drapes, a sense of community emerged throughout the camp. The individuals who were interned were not alienated from one another. Rather, it becomes clear that each of them acknowledged the condition in which they lived. It was a condition where more was similar than different. As a result, being able to work together as a community and operate in a communal context becomes the primary means through which those who were interned work towards a sense of community.