RELOCATION: The Final Chapter
Within the war relocation centers for people of Japanese descent last December there was visible a curious phenomenon. Joint announcements by the War Department in Washington and the Western Defense Command in California had revoked the mass exclusion orders which for two and a half years had exiled the center residents from their homes on the West Coast. Simultaneously, the War Relocation Authority had announced that it would direct its efforts towards resettling all eligible evacuees by the end of the year, and that all relocation centers would be closed by the end of 1945. The residents of these centers had been evacuated against their will to live in barracks. From the beginning the majority had hated the all-pervasive desert dust, the communal eating in mess halls and monotonous mess hall food, the lack of space and privacy. Yet, paradoxically, many of them had become comfortably accustomed to life in the centers and had developed a profound reluctance to leave.
Before evacuation, most were too proud to accept charity. They had in the time since come to cling to the false security of the center and of government support. Life outside looked complicated and difficult. Within, they were at home in the internal politics and gossip of the center. Center newspapers were issued regularly; the center baseball teams played neighborhood towns, and the towns played return matches. Evacuees said incredulously: "The center can't close; the center is like a town."
Looking at the "outside," they heard of problems of finding housing, of getting jobs, of making friends. Incidents of terrorism on the West Coast were magnified against the soundboard of center gossip and rumor. Boycotts, legal difficulties, problems of support, made the dependency and isolation of the centers seem comparatively desirable. With a center-bred timidity, the residents tended to minimize the favorable reports from already-relocated evacuees, and to see the problems of resettlement as almost overwhelming.
We knew that many of these problems were real problems, even though not insoluble. It would be no easy matter to return 60,000 people to the mainstream of American life which for over two years had flowed on without them. In 1941, when Japanese fliers attacked Pearl Harbor, the Japanese of America, one of our most recent immigrant groups, had just begun the process of assimilation into American life which so many other national groups had followed earlier. It was the Nisei, the first American-born generation, just coming of age, who were taking their places in American schools and offices, whose friends were Americans of all nationalities, and whose culture was almost wholly American.
Evacuation checked this gradual, wholly natural process of cultural assimilation. Taken suddenly out of normal mixed communities, aliens and citizens alike were grouped in the tightly ingrown, racially segregated communities, where it became easier and easier to think and talk "Japanese" and to forget the normal life outside.
At the same time, in the communities which the evacuees had left, the ranks closed behind them. Renters took over the management of their farms; new tenants moved into their homes; Mexican workers took their place in the floating farm labor market. Behind them, too, the ranks closed psychologically. Set apart from other Americans even more by the fact of their evacuation and segregation in centers than by the cultural and physical differences which had distinguished them before the war, the Japanese Americans became even more suspected, distrusted and even hated. Grouped in centers, they were a natural target for race-baiting opportunities.
But it is clear that the re-integration of the evacuees into American life would become no easier as time went on. The longer the evacuees remained in centers, the more dependent they would become, and the harder readjustment would be to make. The maintenance of the evacuees in centers would only increase suspicion and encourage race-baiting; the passage of time would make the economic readjustment no easier. Somehow the readjustment had to be made in order to avoid the only alternative -- the permanent maintenance of centers for people of Japanese descent as "rejects" which our democracy had failed to absorb. We knew that the full war economy and the demand for workers increased the urgency of speedy liquidation, and that with the help of the many groups and individuals who had been supporting the resettlement program all along, we could do the job, by facing each problem and tackling it as it came.
For over two years, we had been helping evacuees to relocate in communities all over the country outside the evacuated area. It was a slower process by far than the original evacuation -- and with reason, for it was a process of individual readjustment on the basis of individual choice, not a mass movement. The post-revocation program was different again, in that it was to be a program of total, rather than partial relocation. But it was still a program of individual resettlement with individual freedom of choice. We had to work on and help in solving the resettlement problems of every evacuee eligible to leave the center, no matter what his age, financial status, or number of dependents. It was a challenge we were determined to meet.
Many of the evacuees face the problem of starting out again with meager financial resources. For nearly three years, they have been earning no more than $19 a month. Many suffered severe losses in the evacuation, and had their savings still further depleted while living in the centers. But those who are physically able to be self-supporting do not need or really want charity. The most effective help which they can be given is help in getting back into paying occupations as soon as possible. To this end, the field relocation offices advise the evacuees of jobs which are available in the communities where they plan to resettle and, if necessary, help them to make contacts with prospective employers before they even leave the center.
Farmers and independent businessmen who need loans to get started again cannot get them direct from WRA, since we have no special authority from Congress to go into the loan business. But WRA can and does advise the evacuees as to the private and public agencies to which they can apply for loans. Some men who formerly ran independent businesses have made arrangements to start work as salaried employees in order to save enough to become independent again. Similarly, some farmers are starting in again as share-croppers or as paid farm managers. It isn't easy to work your way up again, but those who are doing it seem to be proud of their independence, and confident that their years of experience will speed up the process of reacquiring their former status.
Evacuees without any financial reserve to draw upon immediately can apply at the centers for short-term assistance grants to cover such costs of resettlement as the expense of new furniture, or a first month's advance rent, or may later apply for grants covering such emergency expenses as medical care. This assistance is in addition to the $25 per person given to all needy resettlers by WRA to tide them over until the first pay checks start coming in.
All these types of assistance are set up to help the individuals who are able to support themselves once they get started. Those people who because of old age, illness, or number of minor children are not able to be self-supporting present another sort of problem. Since WRA cannot go on acting as a welfare agency for these people indefinitely, we are gradually assisting these individuals to relocate to communities where they can receive the continuing, long-term assistance which they require. Some, of course, have children who can help in their support. Many have boys in uniform and are receiving Army allotments. Others will have to depend on established welfare agencies. Some of them are eligible for the categorical assistance programs of the Social Security Board -- Old Age Assistance, Aid to Dependent Children, and Aid to the Blind. Others must be cared for by county agencies. The problems of these dependent people are referred, by the welfare staff at the centers through the field offices of WRA, to the appropriate agencies in the community where they plan to resettle so that they will know -- before they leave the center, if necessary -- what kinds of assistance they will be eligible to receive after resettlement.
Cooperation from state and county welfare agencies has been excellent. State boards in the three West Coast states -- and in Oregon and Washington the state board supervises county welfare programs -- have pledged cooperation in helping needy evacuee residents. Although the county welfare boards in California are not under state supervision, the individual county boards have with minor exceptions proved willing to give evacuees the help available to other needy residents. Even bed-ridden patients are being moved to hospitals in their home towns. Indeed, cooperation from West Coast welfare agencies has been so good that in some cases, individuals have been accepted by the agencies for some weeks before they were able to complete other arrangements to return.
Another serious problem aside from that of finances has been that of housing. Anyone who have recently tried moving will appreciate the difficulties involved in finding a house or apartment in most cities today. On the West Coast, the problem is particularly acute, for West Coast industry expanded tremendously during the war, and both war workers and relatives of men in service in the Pacific flocked into West Coast cities. Negroes moved into the former Little Tokyo in thousands, and evacuees returned to their former communities to find them full to seam-splitting.
However, when the job WRA is doing is looked at in perspective, it is far less complicated than the job of finding housing for the many thousands of incoming war workers in industrial cities. As this article is written, evacuees have been leaving the centers for the East and Midwest in slightly larger numbers than those going back to the West Coast, and it seems safe to predict that although this proportion may shift, no more than 35,000 will return to the Coast from centers. Many of these will return to rural areas, and the others will be scattered in dozens of cities all up and down the Coast, so that the number to take up residence in any one West Coast city will not be large.
The housing problem is a tough one, but we are convinced that it can be beaten -- not just by one cure-all solution, but by attacking it on all sides with every possible partial solution. For those evacuees, of course, who own their own homes, the problem is merely one of repossession, and the WRA staff is helping such people to get their house back under OPA rulings. For others, new housing has to be found. We are arranging for a staff member in each main field office to devote full time to locating housing, working with local housing agencies, and advising the cooperating private agencies which have given invaluable assistance in solving this problem. A housing registry can be kept. Evacuees who return to their own homes are sometimes able to take in friends. Other evacuees have found jobs as domestic or as caretakers which have housing furnished. In Portland, Spokane and San Francisco as in Philadelphia and some other cities, we have been successful in arranging for public housing projects to accept evacuee tenants.
In general, it is true that the turn-over in a large city is so great that an evacuee who can find a temporary place to stay, and is willing to keep on the look-out, will sooner or later find a permanent place more to his taste. This is the purpose served by the hostels which have been established by interested private groups in a number of cities on the West Coast and elsewhere (in many cases, with the loan of WRA surplus equipment) to shelter evacuee families while they look for permanent homes. It takes persistence, and a good deal of leg-work, but in general, we have found that the housing shortage can be solved, in California as in Cleveland, Chicago, and other war-crowded communities in the Midwest and East.
Other factors which once loomed up as "problems" are turning out to be no serious problems at all. The transfer of evacuee children to outside schools has so far gone forward with remarkable smoothness, with regard to both the transfer of academic credits and the social adjustment of the pupils concerned. Evacuee children returning to the West Coast have met with little difficulty. In Santa Barbara, the nine-year-old son of one evacuee family was chosen captain of the soccer team within ten days after his enrollment in school. Evacuees who reported difficulty in getting insurance for their property, soon found that although some companies refused to serve people of Japanese descent, others -- whose names are kept on file by WRA -- are entirely willing to accept evacuee business.
However, with the lifting of the mass exclusion orders, the problem of public sentiment towards the resettlers took on a new importance. In the East and Midwest, with some very few exceptions, the evacuee resettlers fitted into their new homes and jobs without a ripple. In general, those individuals of Japanese descent who went back to the West Coast before December 18 under special permits aroused comparatively little consternation among their neighbors. Indeed, newspapermen interviewing the neighbors of an evacuee farmer who returned in November found one citizen sorely confused; he didn't know that his acquaintance Yamamoto had been away.
But with the Army's revocation of the mass exclusion orders, racists, economic opportunists, and bar-room heroes joined forces in a desperate, last-ditch attempt to keep the evacuees from their homes. The petition, the mass meeting, the "No Japs Wanted" sign, the boycott, and the rifle shot by night were the weapons of this group, seeking to use every means, including force, to make the wartime evacuation into a permanent defeat for Americans of Japanese descent -- and for American democracy.
Fortunately for both, the vocal exclusionists on the West Coast have found themselves outnumbered by the tolerant and fair-minded. Incidents of violence and terrorism against returning evacuees received more and more unfavorable publicity throughout the nation in news stories, editorials, and radio comment. Secretary Ickes' condemnation of these incidents was widely publicized. Meanwhile, the democratic-minded on the West Coast joined together to support the decision of the War Department and to protect the constitutional rights of people of Japanese descent. Citizens' committees to counteract racist agitation were formed in communities up and down the Coast; in Monterey over four hundred and fifty leading citizens countered a paid advertisement by an exclusionist group with a full-page advertisement of their own entitled "The Democratic Way of Life for All"; church and civic groups organized hostels, passed resolutions, and wrote letters expressing their stand.
We in WRA have come to believe that giving to the public full and accurate information on the activities of the terrorists is one of the most effective means for putting a stop to their activities. It is noteworthy that, as this is written, there has been only one reported instance of attempted violence against a returned evacuee in the period of nearly two months since Secretary Ickes' May 12 statement of condemnation. Accordingly, we have followed a policy of publicizing the facts on all "incidents," as well as referring to the federal authorities of the Department of Justice all cases of boycott of terrorism where it appears that a federal statute may have been violated.
Probably the most effective fight for the rights of Americans of Japanese ancestry has been made neither by this agency nor by law enforcement officials nor by interested private individuals. This fight has been made by the American soldiers of Japanese descent, who in their magnificent record of battling against fascism abroad have done more than any other group could possibly do to defeat racist ideologies at home. It is not remarkable that some exclusionist groups were quick to protect the admission of Nisei into the armed forces. The achievements of the Nisei soldiers, particularly those who have been fighting in the Pacific against the Japanese enemy, and whose activities are coming increasingly to public attention, have been very effective in breaking through the psychological haze with which racial agitators have tried to surround the distinction between race and loyalty.
We have come to see very clearly during the past three years that in the long run, although race prejudice may at first be intensified and brought to the surface by the settlement of people of Japanese descent in a prejudiced area, it is finally dissipated only by having the Japanese Americans come in, settle down, and take part in the life of the community. This has happened in communities all over the United States since the resettlement program began. It is now happening on the West Coast.
The prejudices which can grow bitter and intense against a racial stereotype are harder to maintain against a neighbor. It is significant that at the time of evacuation, the citizens of one California community went to the Western Defense Command to state that although they knew most Japanese to be dishonest, untrustworthy, and disloyal, they knew their own neighbors of Japanese descent to be "different." They compared their neighbors -- unwittingly -- to the racial stereotype -- and concluded that the local group was "exceptional." It is also significant that race prejudice against the Japanese increased, rather than decreased, after the evacuation. And as the evacuees return, settle down, take up their plows, open their shops, re-commence professional practice -- as their children enter school and join the football and basketball teams -- the race-baiters will find themselves fighting a losing and unpopular battle in their attempts to make the evacuation permanent.
The program of the War Relocation Authority has been an exciting adventure in the democratic method. It is an adventure in which Americans all over the United States have taken part. Perhaps 110,000 displaced people seems like a small problem, compared to the millions of homeless and dislocated people of Europe and Asia. Their losses and difficulties may seem small, compared to those of the Chinese, the Poles, or the Jews of Europe. But this comparatively small segment of our population has had a symbolic significance out of all proportion to its size. It has been a kind of testing ground for democratic procedures in the country which has become increasingly the leader of world democracy.
We had a mass evacuation, dictated by war necessity, which overrode the peacetime rights of one minority in our population. But in our gradual, slow, sometimes painful process of individual readjustment, we have furnished a guarantee that the American way is to repair and make restitution; that even in a war, we do not forget the rights of individuals; and that while fighting on battlefronts around the world, we will not allow ourselves to forget the problems of democracy near at hand.
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