A Step into Reality
“But we didn’t believe it. We said no, no. Not this country. This country is supposed to be the symbol of democracy and humanitarian concern and we didn’t think it could happen.”
Interrogations of Yuri’s Father
At the age of 20, Yuri Nakahara Kochiyama experienced an interruption to her “small townish, middle class life” that would change her perspective of America forever. What triggered this transition in her life affected the lives of all Americans at that time. On December 7, 1941, the U.S. was attacked by Japan through the bombing of Pearl Harbor, instigating the entrance of the U.S. into WWII. Yet, as many Americans were watching with disbelief as news of the bombing aired on television, Yuri’s life was affected in a more personal way. She was home alone with her father, Seiichi Nakahara, who was resting in his bedroom after having returned from surgery the previous day, when three FBI agents barged in and without explanation, took her father from their home, leaving Yuri dumbstruck and worried.
A few days later, Yuri and her family were informed that Seiichi had been taken to the Terminal Island Federal Prison despite his weak condition. After weeks of pleading, he was finally moved to San Pedro Hospital. However, to his family’s heightened anxiety, he was placed in a room for merchant marines where his bed alone was labeled “prisoner of war.” Again, weeks of pleading granted him a room of his own. Meanwhile, Yuri’s mind was perplexed not only by this trauma of her father’s mistreatment, but by the irony of her brother’s acceptance into the U.S. army. Here was the U.S. government causing the exacerbation of her father’s condition and the prejudice against her fellow Japanese, and yet they warmly welcomed able Japanese into the draft.
As time progressed, the health of Yuri’s father dwindled, and his disturbed mind showed itself through his sporadic re-echoing of questions he faced in his own interrogations. Well aware of Seiichi’s imminent death, they finally sent him home on January 20th, 1942, and twelve hours later the next day, he passed away. The FBI closely surveyed all Japanese attendants to Seiichi’s funeral a few weeks later.
*CONNECTION to 9/11 treatment of Arab-Americans* (link)
A month after the death of Yuri’s father, on February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt declared Executive Order 9066, enabling the military to ban any citizen by means of relocation from the west coast area stretching from Washington down to Arizona, and empowering them to do whatever they felt was best for the welfare of this area. By April 1st, despite the fact that no one of Japanese descent had ever been found guilty of disloyalty, all Nisei (2nd Generation Japanese Americans) were labeled as “aliens” and were relocated out of the area and into “assembly centers.” About 120,000 Japanese were relocated, and yet the operation went quite smoothly thanks to the cooperative Japanese.
Having no idea where they were going to end up or for how long, the Nakaharas were sent inland to a camp in Jerome, Arkansas. Even with the demoralizing changes brought upon the Japanese, Yuri kept a positive outlook on life and became very involved with the community of her internment camp. She taught Sunday school and volunteered at the mess hall. It was also in the internment camps that Yuri fell in love with her future husband, Bill Kochiyama, a Nisei soldier in the all-Japanese-American 442nd regimental combat team. During his time away at war, Yuri wrote him heaps of letters, to the point where Bill was embarrassed for receiving so much mail while others received none. He told Yuri to write to other soldiers as well, and it was through this request that Yuri helped found the Crusaders, a group of youths who would write letters of support for Nissei soldiers fighting WWII in the U.S. army.
The community work Yuri did in the camp acted as a jumpstart to Yuri’s later political involvement. With the closing of the camps in 1945, Yuri looked elsewhere to fight to improve the treatment she felt the Japanese deserved. It was in this search elsewhere that she found that her struggle was not unique; she would discover that others, though different in race, were fighting for the same cause.