Ben Uchida, American citizen, spent his twelfth and thirteenth years in a Japanese internment camp. This is his journal of those terrible years that changed his life forever.
My name is Ben Uchida, number 13559. Even though I had never been to Japan, can’t even speak more than a few words of Japanese, and was born in the United States, I spent 1942 and ’43 in a concentration camp in northern California.
After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, the US government decided that anyone who was even part Japanese should be locked up, just in case they were dangerous to Americans. They even included American citizens, like my sister and me.
I’d never thought I looked different from the other kids at school, even though most of them were Caucasian. But when I went to school the day after Pearl Harbor, I realized I did look different. My hair was black, my skin was darker, and my eyes were almond-shaped. My face was the face of the enemy. Just a few months later, we were told to pack just what we could carry, sell everything else, and get on a train that would take us to our new home.
Home! Ha! That was a joke! “Home” was barracks with tarpaper roofs and no insulation, no curtains, no furniture, no kitchens, no indoor plumbing. And on top of that, it wasn’t one room per family. Small families like ours had to share. We had six people in our room. But we were lucky. Mr. Tashima was nice, and knew how to make furniture so we didn’t have to live on the floor for too long.
There were things to do. I joined a baseball team, and it wasn’t long before we had to go to school. But nothing could make any of us forget for a minute that we were prisoners, surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Prisoners, not because of something we had done, but because of who we were and what we looked like.
Let me tell you what it all felt like, the bad and the not-so-bad things about living in an internment camp.