Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which permitted the military to circumvent the constitutional safeguards of American citizens in the name of national defense.
The order set into motion the exclusion from certain areas and the evacuation and mass incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, most of who were U.S. citizens or legal permanent resident aliens. They were forced to evacuate their homes and leave their jobs and schools; in some cases family members were separated and put into different camps.
At the time, Executive Order 9066 was justified as a “military necessity” to protect against domestic espionage and sabotage. The causes for this unprecedented action in American history, according to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, “were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
Cogswell Polytechnical College has long served the diverse community that makes up the Bay area. Among our student body in 1941 were many Japanese Americans. Following is a letter written by a former Cogswell student from the camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming.
“Greetings from Heart Mountain, Wyoming! I arrived here from Pomona Assembly Center on August 18 (1942).
Michiko Imada (class of 1941), who was in the Tanforan Assembly Center wrote a few days ago that she is now in the Central Utah Relocation Center. Michiko and her sister, Tamayo (class of 1941), were working as senior clerks in the Administration Office, and Michiko wrote that she enjoyed her work very much. Before working in the office, Tamayo worked at the hospital as a nurse’s aid and Michiko as a mess attendant.
Sumiko Kasuya (class of 1941), according to Michiko, was working as a secretary to one of the recreation leaders.
In Pomona I had to work in the milk station because all the office jobs were taken by boys and girls from Los Angeles who were there before I was, but here in Heart Mountain I was able to get a position one week after arrival. I am working in the Administration Office as a senior typist/clerk. Five other girls – all from Los Angeles – and I are working in the Transportation and Supplies Commissary Mess Department. It is my job to receive the orders that are brought in every morning by the stewards representing each block, indicate the time, write the items and the amount to be delivered and pass the papers to the typists so that they may type the order on the requisition sheet and send them to the warehouse. There are many girls and boys working under different divisions, but we are the only ones working overtime. As the work cannot be completed during the day, it makes it necessary for us to work at nights.
Many people are leaving the camp every day to work for American families residing in Cody or Powell, or to work on farms. Also, many boys and girls are leaving to attend universities. To us who have nothing to look forward to, this camp life is pretty boring.
I am living in the northwest corner of the camp, and the entire view of Heart Mountain can be seen from the window.
There are two canteen stores and one dry goods store here. All prices seem sky high to us, but people from outside tell us that the prices here are reasonable. I imagine that everything is very expensive outside of camp. I can’t spend very much because my income is only $16 per month.
We have a very beautiful hospital here, located near the office. There are about sixty employees, including the chief medical officer, Dr. Irwin, and the head nurse. My former Girls High School (an early San Francisco school closed in 1952) friend is working under the head nurse, and she tells me that the work is very interesting. There are two San Francisco girls working in the hospital and about five in our office. I was told that many San Francisco people were working in the Tanforan Administration Office; the reason being that many San Francisco people went to Tanforan while few went to Pomona. Although I have met many people here, I still miss my friends in Tanforan.
How is our dear Cogswell? I do hope you will tell me how the school is getting along. Please tell me about Bo Quock Lowe, Anita Lee, Jane Mark, and the other Chinese girls who were my former classmates.”
Ikuko Kawabata (class of 1941)
-Bonnie Phelps, Dean of Institutional Advancement