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Japanese American Internment: Letters from the Inside

Anne Flemming's Fictional Memoir

Anne Flemming is a Writing Coach working in the Writing Centers at both the Oceanside and San Elijo campuses. Anne’s personal connection to the history of the Japanese Internment is through her aunt on her mother’s side. In 1944, Anne’s aunt, Joyce Parks (Uyeda), was born at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center in Wyoming. The Uyeda family owned a farm in the central valley of California near Sacramento. Forced to leave their thriving farm and the home they created, their neighbors watched their farm and property over the four years of the internment. The Uyedas, unlike many other interned families, were fortunate enough to return after the war to their property and livelihood intact. Anne’s fictional letters blend some of the experiences of her extended family during their internment with historical documents and facts, and the letters reference real people and historical events to paint a vivid picture of the resilience and grace Japanese Americans displayed during this period.  Anne passionately believes in educating others about this period in our national history, so our nation neither forgets nor repeats its mistakes.

Heart Mountain Relocation Camp, September 2, 1942

Mama asked me to write Betty Logan back home and thank her parents for watching the farm for us. It has taken me some time since we arrived in August to gather the nerve to even put pen to paper. I hardly know where to start or what to say to them. I miss Betty, I miss my friends, and I miss our farm and school. I would be a junior this year. I wanted to sew my prom dress and dance with my friends, but now I am in charge of my sisters, teaching them how to read and add and subtract- the student has become the teacher. There won’t be time for dancing and dresses. I guess dresses here would be quite impractical...

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Exhibit # 1

Dear Miss Breed, September, 1942

We have never met, but I received one of your stamped envelopes from a student in my 10th grade class who knew you when she lived in San Diego. Do you remember Ana Yamaguchi? She was first at the Poston Internment center, but her family was transferred up here to Heart Mountain about 3 months ago. I know she appreciates the letters you have sent, and she enjoys sharing your little gifts inside. Ana was kind enough to share with me the newspaper word puzzles you clipped out and sent.  Thank you for sending the book too. I finished it a few days after Ana loaned it to me, and now the...

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Exhibit # 4

Dear Betty, October 1944

Forgive me for not writing you the last two months, as life here has been hectic. Mama is very pregnant. She is due in early December. But the happy news ends with my first two sentences because Papa has been taken away to a prison after a six day trial that started the entire event months ago with a questionnaire about our loyalty to the United States. Back in February, military soldiers came to the camp and gave everyone a loyalty form. I have rarely seen Papa angry, as he is always so quiet and stoic, but he was furious that day. A good sized group of the Nisei men were discussing the confusing questions...

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Exhibit # 2

June, 1944

I finished sewing my dress for the senior dance. I must say I am quite proud of it, and Mama said that I sewed my seams straight and neat, which from Mama is a very big compliment. I borrowed a pair of heels from Rosie Fujiye’s older sister, and Mama is going to curl my hair and pin it for me. I am actually looking forward to the dance, and I can’t wait to see everyone dressed up looking their best. We spent the day putting up streamers throughout the gymnasium and chatted about who would show up to the dance with who tonight. I am going to the dance with Stan Nakamura, even though we are just friends...

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Exhibit #5

Date Unknown

I never smelled, touched, wore, or ate so much fine sand in my life! Sand is everywhere here. I wonder after one year here at Heart Mountain how much sand I have taken in.  Of course tar paper walls are not made to keep out the dust or air. When we first moved into our room here at Heart Mountain, the sand blew in in gusts through the holes in the wood posts and the cracks in the tar paper. My uncles worked for five days straight scavenging the camp for scraps of wood and paper to plug up the holes. Now, a year later we have small rooms within our 20 by 24 foot room house here. Mama has made it as...

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Exhibit # 3

Date Unknown

Our art class went out today to draw the morning light over the mountain. Mrs. Brown wanted us to capture the way the clouds dipped and touched the notched peaks. She told us to use bold strokes for the clouds because here in Wyoming the weather moves fast. I smeared my charcoal with my finger to get large tufts of grey to float over the mountain. I am not much of an artist; I would rather write. After about 15 minutes, I pulled out my notepad and started to describe the camp:

The barracks form neat and sharp rows of housing that face...

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Exhibit # 6

Photos From Heart Mountain

Photo: From arrival to postwar:  As a train arrives, internees help lift an elderly patient off the train;            Photo: (2) Eiichi Sakauye shows off a watermelon grown in camp as a result of the agricultural system he helped to create;            Photo: (3) Workers unload coal;            Photo: The Shishima family arrives at Heart Mountain;            Photo:High school students gather between classes            Photo: Interscholastic basketball game between Heart Mountain & Powell High Schools

(1) As a train arrives, incarcerees help lift an elderly patient off the train; (2) Eiichi Sakauye shows off a watermelon grown in camp as a result of the agricultural system he helped to create; (3) Workers unload coal; (4) The Shishima family arrives at Heart Mountain; (5) High school students gather between classes; (6) Interscholastic basketball game between Heart Mountain and Powell High Schools.

[Source: Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, 2013.]