An Analysis of a Family with the Father in the Internment Camp (12/12/1942)

primary source

Missing Fathers by Adam Bergere

            In 1942, the United States government, namely President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, issued Executive Order 9066. Executive Order 9066 allowed for the designation of certain parts of the country as military zones. Although Executive Order 9066 does not explicitly state that Japanese Americans would be interned, this was the real reason President Roosevelt passed this order. Roosevelt did this as a response to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Many Japanese were told to relocate away from these designated “military zones,” which were zones that covered roughly half of the West Coast states. Consequently, the relocation of Japanese to internment camps affected mostly Japanese on the mainland of the United States and not the Japanese in Hawaii. Japanese internment camps did not keep Japanese families together at all times. Fathers were separated from families because of hasty relocation orders, labor contracts and recruitment to the U.S. army; this separation resulted in recreation as a past time for women to busy themselves while they wait for family reunification. This document, titled “An Analysis of a Family with the Father in the Internment Camp,” is a report written by a camp researcher who analyzes the behavior of a family whose father is separated from them in the internment camp. A white staff member of the internment camp wrote this document presumably. Additionally, the primary source document was written by a sociologist working in the Naval Reserve, as a result, it is important to consider this source could be biased for these two reasons.

            Many Japanese fathers were separated from their families because the Wartime Relocation Authority (WRA) was unable to bring families together despite their best efforts to. Some families were separated from the start because relocation was rushed and messy. Families in this situation had to petition to rejoin their family; however, not all of these requests were successful. On top of this, many families were separated through forced labor (enlistment). “The WRA implemented its use of enlistment by requiring a pledge by all of Poston’s Japanese Americans.”[1] This pledge read: “I swear loyalty to the United States and enlist in the War Relocation Work Corps for the duration of the war…”[2] Unfortunately, many of these men did not foresee that it would separate them from their families and signed the work pledge “without bothering to read it”—he notes “people just lined up and signed.”[3] This enlistment for work led to some men being sent out of camps for work for extended periods of time. Many were sent to different camps without any idea of how long they would be sent away for. As a result of the relocation of many Japanese fathers, many families missed their fathers and waited patiently for the day these fathers would come back. Many single men were sent to camps such as Santa Fe, while their families were sent to Crystal City. The primary document notes that only two out of the nine families in the particular internment camp had their fathers there.[4]

            The United States government also needed reinforcements for the war effort in the Pacific front. The government, as a result, offered to Japanese men in the internment camps to serve in the American Army instead of having to stay in the camps. Many Japanese men took this offer and swore to serve the American Army unconditionally. As a result of many of these Japanese men serving in the war, many families never heard back from their father in the mail. Many families eagerly awaited the return of their respective fathers. The author notes how many families and kids would check the mail periodically. He notes one specific instance when one mother said “there should be a letter from father, is there any for me?”[5] Unfortunately, however, the author had to break the bad news to the mother and notes that the “expression on her face will be hard to forget.”[6] The way the author describes the mother’s disappointment illustrates how horrible the internment situation was for the Japanese; the government did not put the Japanese’s wellbeing as a priority and did not mind that Japanese men were leaving their families. The absenteeism of fathers acted as an impetus for families to turn to recreation as a pastime to busy themselves as they waited for their fathers’ (hopeful) return.

Plagued by the thought that the father of the family may not ever return, families occupied themselves by “doing some type of work” in order to “free their minds from disgust that the father would not be able to return…”[7] The author of the document, the camp researcher who analyzed the Poston internment camp, observed that “daughters were making sweaters, mitten, scarfs, and practically anything by knitting or crocheting.”[8] This observation highlights the camp researcher’s observation earlier—women and female children pursued hobbies such as knitting and crocheting to take their minds off their missing father. On top of this, if the children’s’ minds were filled with “disgust,” it is hard for them to focus on school. Furthermore, without a fatherly figure to look up to, kids are also likely to be less motivated since they do not have a father to encourage them. Kids would also not have their fathers there to play or do activities with them over the weekends; this also contributed to the depressing nature and sentiment of the camps for these families.

The Japanese family structure was ruined due as many Japanese men were separated from their families in the internment camps. This was a result of the work pledges given by the WRA and the recruitment to the U.S. army in the interment camps. Because of this, many families were sad that they could not see their fathers. Although many families were separated from their fathers, fortunately, it did not turn out badly for everyone. Some families were reunited in the end—fathers came back from war and others finished their labor contracts. The author of the primary source explains the emotional stress that he saw the families go through, these emotions are exemplified when he states that he saw “tears in the eyes of both the father and the sons” when they were re-united. [9]



[1] Okihiro, Gary Y. “DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE CAMPS.” In Encyclopedia of Japanese American Internment. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2013.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Bailey, Paul. City in the Sun: The Japanese Concentration Camp at Poston, Arizona. Los Angeles: Westernlore Press, 1971.

[4] An Analysis of a Family with the Father in the Internment Camp. Papers, 1942. Cornell Kroch Library (accessed October, 2014).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

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