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6-Loyalty Oath & Reflections
Can you tell us about your involvement in the loyalty oath?
The loyalty oath was such a difficult thing. The government decided at some point, that they changed their mode of operation. We were no longer going to be there—they wanted as many of us out. They were getting pressure from labor groups—especially farmed labor—who needed people to work on the sugar and potatoes and things like that. A bunch of them, at the time the student leave opened up, they were able to go out in groups to work for a farmer; they had to go back though. It was like farmed labor.
Tell us more about your specific position on the oath.
The government wanted to get us out of camp. They changed their position, they wanted to get us out of camp. It was costing too much money. There was a great source of labor in the camp, especially farmed labor. They had been pressured by the farmers throughout to get these people out. They would go out on leave, but they had to come back. Now they wanted to get rid of us permanently from the camps. They instituted a questionnaire. Twenty-seven and twenty-eight. The first was something about loyalty to the United States. The second one was "Would you volunteer for the Army?" Something about not having loyalty to the emperor. Well, none of us had loyalty to the emperor. We felt so American growing up in the United States, going to the schools and everything else. To us it was a crazy question, we said "Why would they say that we would give up loyalty to the Emperor?" For the Issei— for us it was easy. "No, we have nothing to do with the Emperor."
The second part of the question was the hard one. "Would you volunteer for the army? Would you participate in the American army?" For the boys that was a really difficult question. For the Issei, for the immigrant group, they had to forswear allegiance to the Emperor. If they did they would have no country, because the United States would never allow them to become citizens, and now they're asked to forswear allegiance to the Emperor. They would be people without a country. They were very upset about that. That question, was eventually changed to "Would you be loyal to the United States?" or something along that line. Which everybody could say yes, we would be loyal. The other one, "Would you volunteer for the army?" was a real difficult one for the Nissei young men. I think everybody seventeen years and over had to answer this questionnaire. You could be drafted, or you could volunteer.
Tell us about your personal involvement with the loyalty oath.
My personal involvement was really hard. We had a discussion in our Nissei Demo group, about which situation would you take. We knew this was wrong, we knew putting us in camp was really wrong. At the same time the war effort was something we really looked at too. My husband and I took a stand that we support the war effort. We felt that the stakes in Europe with Hitler—If Hitler, the treatment gave to the Jewish people, if the people in different countries were educated... He'd kill them. He kills everybody. We knew that was bad. We also knew that the Japanese went into China. We knew a little bit about when they went to Shanghai—a lot of people were killed, raped, all kinds of things happened. We felt that Japan needed to be defeated, that the axis powers needed to be defeated. We took the position that we would join the army, and we would support the United States in the war effort. We were looking at it beyond the Japanese Americans being put into camps.
Most Japanese Americans looked at like, "this is wrong, they put us into camp!", instead of "what should we do?" Most people, all of my college friends said "Yes, yes" and went on to graduate work or went on to colleges. The young people who were left, they Sansei who were left, had a very hard time. I knew people who said "No" because their parents wanted them to say no. I was a social worker at the time, and I saw families breaking up. The kids would be crying—fifteen, sixteen year olds who knew no Japanese who had really loved the school that they had been in before, enjoyed life in the United States, did not want to go to Japan. You had this whole thing with a lot of anxiety. In my part, we had opportunity to talk about it in block situations. Different blocks had block meetings. There must have been about 200 people in the camp, and we came to the camp meeting to decide what to do.
There were people who were so angry about being put in camp, that they said "Everyone should say No-No, we don't have allegiance to the United States, and we won't go into the army." They wanted the answer No-no. There were some people who were really pro-Japan. People who had been in Japan during the period, just before they came back to the United States. They were in Japanese schools, and everything else. They lived in Japan for a while. You called them Kibei, the people who were educated in Japan. Many of who, felt some kind of loyalty to Japan. They were the people who spoke up. Mostly the people who were in the kitchen. They spoke up and said "Everybody go No-no! Everybody go No-no!" One after the other after the other I looked around for Nissei men who would speak, but they were not going to get up to say anything. People really were intimidated.
I get up there and I'm scared. I go up there and I say to the group, "Don't let anybody make up your mind for you. You have to think for yourself. You have to think in terms of the war, what it means, also in terms of what your future is. You really have to think through, it's a personal decision, it should not be a group decision." There was big silence because girls are not to speak up—women are not supposed to speak up in the Japanese society, especially in the immigrant group, at all. Shortly afterwards they ended the meeting on that note. Very angry people told my father they were planning to beat me up. My father got concerned. They told my father, "It's your fault, because you sent your daughter to University of California, and so she thinks she can speak up. Well, she shouldn't be speaking. She's a woman! A young woman!" My parents really got it bad. We decided I'm not going to eat breakfast at the regular place in my block because the people in the kitchen were so angry at me. I went over and I stayed with my sister in another block, where things were not as hot. In fact, there were many blocks where there were just no problems, everyone just voted according to the way they felt. It was a difficult period for my parents because they blamed my parents.
I got out soon afterwards; they hurried to get me out of there. I got out and I went on. I was going to go to the University of Chicago but I met my husband, we got married, we had children. We decided I would go back later, to university. We went to New York City, and it was like freedom, just going to New York City. We were told before we left, don't speak Japanese, don't get in groups of more than three. Don't do anything that calls attention to yourself because you'll mess up the whole relocation program. We were people who were out fairly early. So we went over to New York and I looked around, everybody has different kinds of clothing to wear, coming from all different countries. They were speaking in different tongues, and speaking in different languages. I said to my husband, "God I could wear a Japanese Kimono, walk down Fifth Avenue, and no one would say anything!" To me it was like freedom, you could be yourself. It was interesting, really. I loved New York City.
But once we started to have children, I did not want to live in the city like that. We went to Chicago because we had some friends in Chicago who said it was really nice. What happened was that New York was a great place—I worked for a psychological corporation for a period of time, it was a fairly decent job. My husband, who is ten years older than I am, did not graduate from Cal. He went two years, but did not graduate because there were no jobs available! All his friends who went to Cal dropped out, because they were working in very unskilled jobs all over. He started a cleaning shop, because he worked in a cleaning establishment for a while. He did that, and we got along okay financially. When I got pregnant I said "I don't want to stay out here, let's go someplace else." My sister lived in Chicago, but in Chicago, it was a funny thing that happened. She was shopping, and one of the Japanese men came up to her and said "Are you Mrs. Saito?" She said yes. They said, "Your sister was the one who spoke up at that meeting?" She said yes. He said, "You know, your sister was right."
After he said that he scurried off, before she could get his name or anything. She said what happened to "No-no" people was very sad. Some of them ended up in Japan. They went to Japan, which was a defeated Japan, and they went through terrible experiences in Japan. Some of them, the young people always wanted to come back, and they did eventually come back. They felt like they missed a whole section of their life, because they were in Japan during the most awful time period in Japan; then coming back and having to start again, star over. I felt that I made the correct decision for me, because we were looking at the war. We saw that Japan had to be defeated, and we had no qualms about our stand. It's something that today, people are questioning us. "Why did you take a stand like that, why didn't you fight against putting us into camp?" Those days we had no allies! Nobody who would help us- the ACLU finally came through. After we got into camp and everything else, it was a difficult situation.
It was very difficult for my parents. My sister who was outside came back into camp because she was pregnant. She wanted to have her baby in camp, because it was free. She came back and she said she found my parents sitting and eating in the corner all by themselves. My parents who had so many friends, who were so popular before, even then, months later, they were ostracized by the community because of my speaking out. It was like it was their fault because I spoke out. It was a sad time for them. The good thing about my parents is they never said anything to me about it. I didn't know that was happening to them, until my sister told me years later that this is what happened. There was this very strong resentment against what I said. To make matters worse, we were in New York and there was a drive for blood. The Red Cross had a thing on blood. We went to give our blood, and of course the aid press was very impressed, because Japanese Americans were going to give blood to the Chinese! They took a picture of me with the blood. Somebody picked it up in the associated press, and my sister said "They put it up on the bulletin board, there was a picture of me giving blood to the Chinese war releif!" That did it for my parents, it was just like "My God, what kind of a daughter does she have?"
Do you still have that picture?
I don't have it, I wish I kept it. It was a picture of me giving blood. I said, "God I wish the AP took someone else’s picture”. It was kind of like a Japanese-American giving blood to a Chinese war relief. Anyway, it was difficult, and way later we went to visit my parents. When we had enough money we went to see them. I went over and I hugged my mother, and Japanese people don't hug. My mother didn't know what to do, because I went running to hug her and she began to giggle, because she didn't know what to do. It was so funny. I told her that I was very sorry, if things were hard for her. She said "That was ok. It was ok." It was a difficult period.
The happiest time for my parents was after the war. They came back, they had no children to worry about, no responsibilities along that line. They bought a house in Berkeley for 6000 dollars. A funny little house in Berkeley for 6000 dollars. We all went there while we were coming back until we found our own home. We were a very close family, and my mother and father got very active in the church. They were Buddhists until then, but they got active in the Christian church. Many women who were in the camp became Christian. When they were in Topaz, first Christmas was a very difficult time. Christmas time always meant so much to us. They found the project manager took them to a room, and there were all these dolls made for the children in camp by some Christian church. They said, they couldn't imagine that white women were sitting there making these nice dolls for the people they considered their enemies, who were put into the camps. Many of them converted to Christianity on the basis of the kindness of the church people to the people in camp. It was a very, kind of touching story when they told me about it. It made you feel so warm inside that there were people, and the Japanese acknowledged that.
After the war, there was a woman from Sacramento who sent books. She was a librarian; she sent lots of books to their camp. They acknowledged them and the Japanese Americans had a big dinner for them. They gave them some presents, and acknowledged their sacrifices for us. There was always in the Japanese community this thing of giving back to the people who helped you. It worked out very well.
Telling Her Story
Tell us about why you think it's important your story is heard.
What's important about it is certainly to give you an idea of what it was like in the camps. The history books can tell you that they were put in the camps and this happened and this happened, but I think the oral history part, where people can talk about actual events -ordinary people facing an extraordinary period. It was a really difficult period, but different people worked different ways. About three years ago, I was helping my friend in a study. Having the Japanese-Americans of my age—I'm eighty-four—but people who were in their late seventies and eighties in the Bay Area. I interviewed about thirty-eight people. One of the questions was, "What meaning did putting you in the camp have in terms of the rest of your life?" What was interesting was we had both positive things and negative things. What was interesting, was the Japanese-Americans that I interviewed, all did very well. Most of them went on to college, they came back, went to community college to pick up the courses that they missed when they were in high school. They went on to UC Berkeley or some of the other places. They did very well financially. They got into jobs that they had struggled for. Before WWII, no matter what your major was you didn't get a job as a Japanese American. This way they got jobs. They said that they learned about themselves. Being in a camp they learned about themselves, and they learned about the strength that they had. They felt they could deal with this thing that happened, that they came out pretty strong.
What about you, personally, though?
Forgiving. They said if you asked me that question right after the camps, I would probably have a different answer. Now that I have all these other experiences, and have lived this long life, I feel that it was only a short period in my life. It was wrong, and one of the things that they all said is that we learned about civil rights. We learned you've got to fight for civil rights. This is very interesting because before then we were very a-political. We knew very little. They felt that they learned a lot, and I felt that I learned so much about people. I learned so much about a variety of people, because everybody thinks that Japanese Americans are kind of one group. There are so many differences that it was something you had to deal with.
We learned also about the immigrant generation, and I was very upset when they were so nasty to my parents and everything else as a result of the questionnaire and my role in it. I also realized where they were coming from. I understood why people went "No-no", these people who didn't have a right to vote and were not part of the citizenry, were discriminated against their entire lives and then the final degradation—to be put into camp—was too much to bear. So I could understand a lot of that. I could also feel with the young people who were Americans and volunteered. My husband did volunteer for the army. I volunteered for the WAX. They said "You're going to volunteer for the crazy WAX?" (This was the women’s corps) My mother said "No, you can't go." I still needed her signature. I didn't go. We learned a lot, both positive and negative things.