The Internment Experience

Internment Notice

Internment Notice

You’re in shock. You can’t believe it. But there it is—instructions posted on the street corner addressed to all people of Japanese ancestry living in California, Oregon and Washington. The United States government is uprooting you from your home and sending you to one of 10 internment camps across the country.

Do you…

Business

Because you are of Japanese heritage, you and your family are going to be relocated to the camps—even though you are an American citizen. In preparing to leave, you’ve sold your family home and your car.

What will you do about the grocery store your family has owned and operated for years?

The Family Dog

The Family Dog

You’ve taken a huge loss on your business as you prepare to leave the life you’ve always known. Suddenly, you find out you can’t take your dog Coco with you to the camp.

What happens to Coco?

Packing

Packing

Government officials tell you that only one suitcase is allowed in the camps.

What do you pack?

Coping

Coping

It’s finally sinking in. Today you say goodbye to the life you’ve always known. In the blink of an eye, all the joys and the comforts of home will only be a memory. As you board the train to your internment camp, your mind is racing, thinking of everything you’re about to lose. Some people are looking at this journey as an adventure. Others see it as a prison sentence.

How will you bear it?

New Home

New Home

Your internment camp looks and feels like a prison. The armed guard at the gate glances down at the identification tag tied to your clothes and motions you toward your assigned barracks. You’re tired and need to use the bathroom.

Where do you go first?

Meals

Meals

You walk to the mess hall every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. You wait in long lines and eat cafeteria style with hundreds of other people. Food rations are extremely small and you often walk away hungry, feeling the familiar ache of emptiness in your stomach. To make things worse, your younger sister is still growing.

Do you…

Illness

Illness

With as many as 10,000 people living and working in your camp, sharing sinks and showers, there are so many germs, you’re bound to catch something.

What can you do to not get sick?

School

Education

Kindergarten through 12th grade students are provided an education at the internment camps. You’re able to graduate and earn your high school diploma. You’ve always dreamed of becoming a doctor like your father. But that’s impossible in camp.

What do you do next?

Family

Traditions

Uprooted and far from home, you cling to traditions to create some normalcy for yourself within the camp. Your cultural foundation has been shaken but as a Japanese American, your instinct tells you to persevere.

How do you keep your traditions alive?

Enlisting

Enlisting

You turn 18 and are given the option of enlisting as a soldier in the United States Armed Forces. Even though you are imprisoned in your own country, Japanese American internees are allowed to fight in the war overseas.

What do you do?

Loyalty Oath

Now that you’re an adult, you must fill out a government form defining your allegiance to the United States by answering two so-called “loyalty questions.” They are questions 27 and 28 on the form. The way you answer these will determine if you are perceived as a potential threat to your country or if you are trusted enough to be released from camp and relocated to non-restricted interior states.

Question 27 asks if you are willing to serve in combat for the United States, and Question 28 asks if you swear allegiance to the United States and renounce all loyalty to Japan.

Would you…

Returning Home

You are released from your internment camp in 1945 when the exclusion order is repealed. After three years in camp, you are finally allowed to go home. But it’s not that simple. Your family no longer has a house, jobs, or a car.

Where do you go?

Racism

Life after the camps comes with its own set of challenges. Even though you are using the skills you learned in the camp to make a new life for yourself, you and your family are still distrusted and disrespected. Yes, you are an American citizen but it seems like all people can see is your race.

How do you react?

You Chose:

Go peacefully, it is the law

Life as you knew it is suddenly over. You’re forced to leave your home, your school and your friends. No matter how painful it is, you begin to pack as much as you can in one suitcase, obey the law, and do as you’re told.

You Chose:

Put Up a Fight

You refuse to obey the order that forces you into an internment camp. You stay behind, watching as your family packs their suitcases preparing to leave. A few days later, you’re caught and arrested. You appeal your case to the Supreme Court but you lose and are sentenced to five years’ probation. You are sent to an internment camp anyway.

You Chose:

Sell Your Grocery Store

Someone agrees to buy your grocery store, but knowing that he can take advantage of your desperate situation, he will only pay you half of what it’s worth. Your family has no other option and must accept his offer.

You Chose:

Trust A Neighbor To Care For Your Store

A neighbor offers to watch over the store while you’re gone. You’re hopeful he will keep it in good condition until you’re allowed to return home, but there’s no guarantee. He could end up charging your family for taking care of it or sell it as soon as you leave.

You Chose:

Give Coco To The Animal Shelter

You’ve heard the agonizing yelping of neighborhood dogs left behind with just enough food and water for a few days. You can’t bear to leave Coco inside to suffer, hoping someone will rescue her. You take Coco to the SPCA, but they are already overrun with hundreds of cats and dogs that other families have left behind. You can only hope another family finds Coco as lovable as you do—before it’s too late.

You Chose:

Entrust Your Dog To Your Neighbor

Coco only responds to Japanese commands. After a few frustrating weeks, your friends get tired of a dog that won’t obey. They know the animal shelters are full, so they let Coco run out the front door. Your dog is now a stray. Maybe someone will find her and give her a home.

You Chose:

Clothes And Shoes

This may sound like a good idea at the time but when you’re sent from sunny California to the snow-covered mountains of Colorado, the clothes and shoes you bring won’t be anywhere near warm enough in a freezing winter.

You Chose:

Family Treasures And Photos

You want to keep your precious family photos and the jade necklace your mother wore on her wedding day, but how will that keep you warm when you arrive at your internment camp in Colorado during a snow storm? You should have packed warm coats and boots. Then again, how could you have known? No one told you where you were going.

You Chose:

Stay Upbeat

You keep a stiff upper lip. You try to stay positive. But when you arrive at the gate of camp, you’re met by an armed guard. You’re in the middle of nowhere. Fenced in. Surrounded by barbed wire. You take a deep breath and summon every ounce of courage you can muster. You remember the photographs you had to leave behind and hope those memories won’t fade.

You keep a stiff upper lip. You try to stay positive. But when you arrive at the gate of camp, you’re met by an armed guard. You’re in the middle of nowhere. Fenced in. Surrounded by barbed wire. You take a deep breath and summon every ounce of courage you can muster. The family picture your brought is in your pocket folded into fours. You take it out of your pocket and feel grateful for the familiar faces staring back at you.

You Chose:

Prepare For The Worst

You prepare yourself for the worst and the worst has come true. The camp looks more like a prison than you imagined. Military guards meet you at the gate holding guns. You’re fenced in. Barbed wire makes sure of it. The clothes and shoes you packed bring little comfort.

You prepare yourself for the worst and the worst has come true. The camp looks more like a prison than you imagined. Military guards meet you at the gate holding guns. You’re fenced in. Barbed wire makes sure of it. You clutch your grandmother’s jade necklace and thumb through your family photos, worrying that nothing will ever be the same.

You Chose:

Your New Home

You enter your barracks. You and your family live in a 15’ by 20’ space separated from the others in the barracks by blankets hanging from the ceiling. A single light hangs above you. The furniture is Army cots lined against the wall. At least you’re with your family. Some internees have to share their barracks with strangers.

You Chose:

Your New Bathroom

Several hundred yards from your new “home,” you see a long line of people outside the community bathroom. When you finally get your turn, there’s just a row of latrines. Right around the corner are the showers—one large room for boys and one for girls. No stalls. No shower curtains. No privacy.

You Chose:

Share Your Rations

You give your sister part of your rations. While the government provides three meals a day, they’re slim. It’s not much, but you’re still willing to share your hotdogs and potatoes with her. You don’t want your little sister to go hungry, especially while she’s still growing.

You Chose:

Hope She's Getting Enough To Eat

Because you’re in an internment camp, you get smaller rations than the rest of the country. Food quality is poor. Meals consist primarily of what is called “surplus” … scraps of leftover meat, hotdogs and Spam. For much of your time, you won’t even be given rice, but potatoes instead. Sometimes you walk away from dinner hungry. You hope your sister doesn’t feel the same. She needs all the nutrients she can get while she’s growing.

You Chose:

Take Precautions

You work in the camp chicken coop and are careful to wash your hands before heading to lunch. Despite your best efforts, you still catch the flu from the family living next door. Since you’ve been skipping dinner to make sure your sister has enough to eat, it takes you longer than usual to feel well again.

You work in the camp chicken coop and are careful to wash your hands before heading to lunch. Despite your best efforts, you still catch the flu from the family living next door. Your sister is also sick, and especially weak, after not having enough to eat in recent weeks. You worry about her ability to recover.

You Chose:

Avoid People Who Are Sick

You stay inside hoping to avoid catching the flu from your neighbor. But your house is cold and you’re sleeping on an Army cot with thin blankets. Your immune system is so weak, you end up catching the flu anyway. Since you’ve been skipping dinner to make sure your sister has enough to eat, it takes you longer than usual to feel well again.

You stay inside hoping to avoid catching the flu from your neighbor. But your house is cold and you’re sleeping on an Army cot with thin blankets. Your immune system is so weak, you end up catching the flu anyway. Your sister is also sick, and especially weak, after not having enough to eat in recent weeks. You worry about her ability to recover.

You Chose:

Join The Camp's Labor Force

You can’t attend medical school like you had hoped, so you decide to work as a laborer in the fields alongside your father. Maybe one day you can use your farming skills outside the camp.

You Chose:

Keep Studying

You continue studying on your own. You find people in the camp who were doctors and nurses before being sent to the camp, and ask for their mentorship. Maybe one day you’ll be allowed to leave the camp and apply to medical school.

You Chose:

Preserve Them

The way you protect the sacred traditions of your Japanese American heritage is by continuing to do things the way you used to at home. At dinner, you sit together in the mess hall as a family. You keep traditions alive by incorporating them into your daily life.

You Chose:

Create New Ones

You keep traditions alive by adapting them to your new surroundings. You eat picnic lunches outside the mess hall on a sunny patch of grass. You help the cooks use American food to create Japanese-inspired dishes like “hotdog sushi.” You gather your family to plant and tend a Japanese garden full of native flowers. You try to stay positive and keep moving forward.

You Chose:

Enlist

You choose to prove your loyalty. You enlist in the United States Armed Forces and serve alongside another 3,600 Japanese-Americans. You’re honored to fight for the freedom of all people, regardless of race, color, religion or ancestry.

You Chose:

Stay In Camp

You’ve seen how Japanese-American soldiers are treated when they come to visit their families. Even though they arrive in full military uniform, they are still stopped at the gate, searched and checked in by an armed guard. You can only hope that one day it will be different.

You Chose:

Answer Yes

You answer YES to both questions and you’re considered “loyal” to the United States. But by declaring your willingness to serve in combat in Question 27, you are essentially volunteering to enlist in the Armed Forces. That means you may end up fighting in the war overseas.

You Chose:

Answer No

You’re angry that your loyalty is once again called into question. How can you even renounce loyalty to Japan in Question 28? You’re an American citizen. You weren’t born in Japan and have never even visited. So you protest by answering “No” to both questions and you’re considered “disloyal” to the United States. You and thousands of other Japanese Americans, known as “No-No Boys,” are sent to the high-security Segregation Center at Tule Lake. You are stigmatized by your country—and by your fellow Japanese Americans. Despite the consequences, you stand by your decision.

You Chose:

Return Home

When you arrive home, you find your house in ruins and your family grocery store converted into a restaurant. Luckily, your neighbor lets you stay with them until you get on your feet, but they will be expecting you to help with rent. Since you didn’t continue your studies during camp, you accept a job as a busboy at the restaurant.

When you arrive home, you find your house in ruins and your family grocery store converted into a restaurant. Luckily, your neighbor lets you stay with them until you get on your feet, but they will be expecting you to help with rent. You take a part-time job at the restaurant that replaced your family’s grocery store and enroll in school to continue your medical studies.

You Chose:

Start Fresh

You know there is nothing left for you to return to. Your house is gone. Your business is gone. Instead, you and your family decide to take the skills you learned in the camps and make a new life for yourself. You find a small plot of land in California and start a farm.

You know there is nothing left for you to return to. Your house is gone. Your business is gone. Instead, you and your family decide to take the skills you learned in the camps and make a new life for yourself. You find a small plot of land in California and start a farm. Although you work hard to help your family, you still dream of being able to continue your medical education someday. You worry you’ll never get the chance to be a doctor.

You Chose:

Try To Ignore It

You try to look the other way at discrimination but it’s hard to do when you pass by a NO JAPS ALLOWED sign on the way to the post office. You keep your head down and keep to yourself. It’s no wonder Japanese neighborhoods start to pop up around town. It may be isolating but it feels safer living in a community where you’re welcome and respected.

You Chose:

Rise Against It

You vow to fight in the war against discrimination at home. You become an outspoken leader in your community and a champion of civil rights. You hope to promote positive change and work to improve relationships between Japanese Americans and all those of different races in your country.