General Survey from the Poston Chronicle

B3 Poston Chronicle1 B3 Poston Chronicle2 B3 Poston Chronicle3 B3 Poston Chronicle4 B3 Poston Chronicle5 B3 Poston Chronicle6 B3 Poston Chronicle7 B3 Poston Chronicle8 B3 Poston Chronicle9 B3 Poston Chronicle10 B3 Poston Chronicle11 B3 Poston Chronicle12 B3 Poston Chronicle13 B3 Poston Chronicle14

 

Women’s Roles During Japanese Incarceration and Their Implications

by Jenny Cai

            The Poston War Relocation Center was the largest internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II, housing almost 16,000 residents by June of 1943. It was located in southwest Arizona and most of its residents came from Southern California. Although limited sources are available to provide a detailed account of the lives of the Issei and Nisei, one can still gain valuable insight on topics such as gender roles through examining these sources.  One theme that is often overlooked in studies of the internment experience is the theme of women. However, through examining the June 6, 1943 Poston Chronicle newspaper, one can begin to understand the various roles women undertook in internment camps and why they undertook them, including nontraditional jobs such as construction work and traditional jobs such as child caregivers.

Due to the need for labor and the absence of Japanese men, women often filled jobs that were usually better suited for men such as construction work. In Poston, a total of thirteen adobe school buildings were constructed during the three years that the camp was operational. In the June 6, 1943 Poston Chronicle, Takeichi Kadani wrote a column updating residents on the status of the school construction and the predicted completion time. He stated that “50% of the work [had] been done by the women workers, which include adobe making to final adobe building construction.”[1] Although traditional gender roles for women do not typically include building or construction work, it can be inferred from other parts of the June 6 newspaper issue that one of the reason why so many women helped out with the adobe school construction was due to a lack of men available. In a segment on the front page of the issue, a survey reveals that “63 per cent of the people interviewed were eager to leave Poston.”[2] In order to ease and accelerate resettlement, the WRA wanted “all eligible evacuees absorbed in the normal society as quickly as possible.”[3] Thus, those who were qualified and eager to leave could apply for “indefinite leave” and find employment outside of Poston. The article further mentions a recent “mass registration for clearance” and details the process that “Joe Watanabes” would experience as they secure their leave clearance.[4] By using the name “Joe Watanabes,” to describe the average applicant, it can be assumed that most of the residents who left Poston indefinitely were males. Only men who were able to secure a job outside of the internment camp were given permission to leave, a challenge that did not prove to be difficult. Thus, the Japanese American women were left to take on some of the work typically done by men. This could explain why 50% of the school building construction was completed by women. According to Valerie Matsumoto’s research on life in Japanese internment camps, “Women as well as men proved adept at contributing to the comfort of their families. Especially in families without Nisei sons or Issei fathers, women shouldered all manner of work, including the kinds of physical labor previously done by men.”[5] This further underscores the assumption that many women took on traditionally male roles due to a lack of men. Although it may seem that Japanese women suffered greatly due to their additional responsibilities, they also “exacted surprising benefits from concentration camps and mounted subtle but effective challenges to patriarchal control”.[6] Because women took on the same jobs as men and thus earned the same wages as men, they became more financially independent. Furthermore, since many of the men left Poston, women also had more freedom which ultimately weakened “women’s subordinate position to men”[7]. The opportunities for women to take traditionally male dominated jobs came with it a status of higher gender equality.

A more traditional role that Japanese women took under Japanese American Incarceration was that of a mother and child caretaker. Women were expected to seek education and guidance on proper nutrition for themselves if they were expectant mothers and for their children. In a column written by Ida G. Rees, a field nutritionist, in the June 6, 1943 issue of the Poston Chronicle, Rees emphasizes the importance of mothers and children meeting their daily nutritional requirements. She advises these women on proper nutrition and even holds daily diet clinics available to any mother “in regard to either her own diet or the diet of her children.”[8] The fact that Rees only addressed Japanese American mothers in Poston show that men were not expected to shoulder any of the responsibility of childcare. This may again be due to the fact that many of the men were able to leave Poston and seek employment outside of the camp. Thus they were not able to shoulder even part of the responsibility of childcare.

While living in internment camps, Japanese women explored new employment opportunities that were previously only available to men. At the same time, women continued to take on traditional roles. The June 6, 1943 Poston Chronicle provides evidence of both types of roles through columns describing women working at construction sites and working as child caregivers. The various responsibilities these women shouldered were in large part due to an absence of men in these internment camps. However, these opportunities came with it certain unintended benefits including independence, freedom, and a less subordinate role in the household.



[1] Poston Chronicle, Japanese-American Relocation Records, #3830. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[2] Poston Chronicle, Japanese-American Relocation Records, #3830. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[3] Poston Chronicle, Japanese-American Relocation Records, #3830. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[4] Poston Chronicle, Japanese-American Relocation Records, #3830. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

[5] Valerie J. Matsumoto, City Girls: The Nisei Social World in Los Angeles, 1920-1950, 153.

[6] John Howard, The Politics of Dancing under Japanese-American Incarceration, 125.

[7] John Howard, The Politics of Dancing under Japanese-American Incarceration, 132.

[8] Poston Chronicle, Japanese-American Relocation Records, #3830. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

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