The following is a fictional piece based off of actual events. Please read part one first.
Six days to figure out what to do with our farm, six hours packing what we could, six minutes of blank faces, six seconds of fresh air before it became no more. We were sent to a temporary relocation center at the Santa Anita Racetrack. Several weeks went by cramped into a stall made for horses. It was rather inhumane.
I wondered where Uncle Masao was. He was nowhere to be found. Searching through various stalls, I found my cousin Seiji. Seiji was a year younger me, the same age as my brother, Kaz, which was short for Kazuo. “Ojichan wa doko desu ja?”
Seiji’s mom, Auntie Mieko, began crying. “He was taken from us. They arrested him and we don’t know where they took him.” Auntie Mieko was hysterical. My dad’s brother wasn’t a farm owner, but a Buddhist priest. The FBI had arrested religious leaders of Japanese descent.
Then one day, we were shipped off to Poston, Arizona to spend the next few of years in an internment camp. But it wasn’t a fun camp, it was more like a prison.
The barracks were small, dirty and crowded. There were about 20 of us packed into one barrack. The winters were cold as we didn’t have any insulation. One of the grandmas in the barrack next to ours didn’t survive the winter of 1943. Our friends were dying of disease and malnutrition.
In May of 1943, my brother turned 18 and enlisted. I begged Kaz not to go, but he wanted to prove that he was as much of an American as everyone else. Fear took over not knowing if I’d ever see him again. I still remember the day he left the camp to go off to training. He turned to me and said, “Don’t worry onechan, I’ll be back before you know it.”
Kaz and Seiji left that day and joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It was a segregated unit in which Japanese Americans made a majority. I never saw Kaz or Seiji again.
A couple years of life in camp, food supply began to run low. They began serving us tapioca blocks mixed with sawdust once a day. We saw more deaths in our community.
My father grew frail. He worked in agriculture at camp, but the long days and lack of food were getting to him. I didn’t like seeing Otoosan so weak so I did something I swore I’d never do.
Some of the soldiers would take peeks at me when showering. One in particular fancied me. Sergeant Grant seemed to be in his early 30s, but would constantly stare at me. After showering one day, I approached him. I begged him to help me and my family. He agreed, but I would have to continue to show him my naked body.
Sergeant Grant began to slip me extra food or medicine and in exchange I’d show him my body. This is all it was until we began to have conversations during our daily routine. After four months, he stopped me from undressing and took me somewhere secluded to kiss me. We began to sneak around the camp stealing kisses whenever we could. But by September 1944, Sergeant Grant had been transferred.
In October 1944, Kaz and Seiji were killed in action on the frontlines in Europe. It seems racism never dies, but my brother sure died as a result of racism. At the mere age of 19, my younger brother and my cousin died. Aunt Mieko was besides herself as she had not yet been reunited with Uncle Masao.
Learning of my brother’s death, my father grew even weaker. In December 1944, his heart could not go on any longer. He suffered so much loss that his heart broke. My father suffered a heart attack that he could not recover from.
It was just my mother and I from then on. This injustice had taken away all the men that I loved.
We went on about another year in terrible conditions. I did my best to take care of my mother and Aunt Mieko.
In September 1945, we were finally released. Uncle Masao and Aunt Mieko we’re finally reunited, but he broke down as soon as he heard the news about Seiji. We tried to go back to our farm to find that someone else had claimed it for themselves. Our house was burned down too. Thankfully, our Caucasian neighbors managed to save a few of our mementos, but we still had no where to go.
We found ourselves sleeping in a rundown Buddhist temple for a while. My uncle and aunt eventually settled and took my mother in.
n 1947, I was reunited with Sergeant Grant. We married shortly after, but life didn’t get any easier. There were still anti-Japanese sentiments and even with a Caucasian husband, I never fit in.
It didn’t matter who was in power. Things remained the same. Racism is a disease that plagues society and unfortunately, it’s one that never seems to die.
Image from Unsplash