Japanese American Baseball in the Camps
Introduce young students to Japanese American internment during World War II through baseball-related discussions, readings and activities. Help students understand how hardship can lead to both personal growth and a stronger sense of community.
U.S. History (from the National Center for History in the Schools)
- Topic 1: Living and Working Together in Families and Communities, Now and Long Ago.
- Topic 3: The History of the United States: Democratic Principles and Values and the People from Many Cultures Who Contributed to Its Cultural, Economic, and Political Heritage.
- To become aware of the Japanese American internment during World War II.
- To understand how hardships can lead to personal growth and strengthening of communities.
- To understand how need can lead to creativity and resourcefulness.
- To become aware of multiple perspectives in history.
- Our Guard in the Watchtower Became a Spring Baseball Fan at Santa Fe by Kago Takamura
- Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki, illustrated by Dom Lee. Book not included.
- "Compare and Contrast" graphic organizer (PDF)
- "Draw & Write" worksheet (PDF)
Background Information (for the teacher):
On December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, there were more than 110,000 people of Japanese descent living on the West Coast of the United States. Within a few months, they were all gone from their homes. Because of fears of espionage and sabotage along the Pacific, the government placed Japanese American men, women, and children in internment camps in the interior of the country. Two-thirds of the internees were U.S. citizens. None of them was ever charged with a crime.
Though anger and resentment were inevitable among the detainees, many quickly realized that they needed to create a sense of normalcy and accomplishment in order to survive. As Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston puts in her memoir, Farewell to Manzanar, each camp became, in time, "a totally equipped American small town, complete with schools, churches, Boy Scouts, beauty parlors, neighborhood gossip, fire and police departments, and glee clubs."
Despite relocation, the men in the camps continued their pre-war pursuit of baseball by building diamonds and bleachers and setting up leagues for all ages. Soon, baseball became a powerful symbol of resilience and an important part of community life in the camps.
Part One: Accessing Prior Knowledge
Lead a discussion with the class about team sports. Ask if any of the children participate on athletic teams. If so, ask:
- where they play (baseball diamond, hockey rink, soccer field)
- what equipment they need to play
- when they play
- what people are needed to make a team or a game complete (number of players, coaches, spectators, etc.)
- and, most importantly, why they play (for fun, fitness, companionship, skill building, etc.)
Part Two: Examining the Images
Present Our Guard in the Watchtower Became a Spring Baseball Fan at Santa Fe. Ask students to name what they see (colors, objects, actions, emotions). Write the students’ responses in the appropriate place in the "Compare and Contrast" graphic organizer.
Repeat the exercise using the illustration on the cover of Baseball Saved Us.
Part Three: Read Aloud
Read aloud Baseball Saved Us. Before you begin, explain to the students that the characters in the story were taken from their homes and sent to live in a camp in the desert. They had not done anything wrong. They, their parents, or their grandparents had been born in Japan, and the United States was at war with Japan. You might also talk for a moment about name-calling and how that makes one feel.
Questions for a post-reading discussion:
- What were some things that made the boy in the story unhappy? (Name-calling, leaving home, the guard who was always staring, loneliness in the cafeteria.)
- What made him happy? (Got the winning hit and a thumbs-up from the guard, his baseball skills improved in camp, got the support of teammates.)
Return to the "Compare and Contrast" graphic organizer and discuss the students' observations of the differences between the images, and the possible reasons that two versions of the same scene might look so different.
Have students use the "Draw & Write" worksheet to make a drawing of their favorite team sport and to write a sentence about why they enjoy participating in that sport.
For additional teaching resources visit www.SmithsonianEducation.org