Are We Americans Again?
A Portrait of Japanese American Internment

Lesson Plan Days 1 and 2: History and Overview

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Show Document #1: "Letter to Estelle". After reading the letter, ask students to look for clues to determine the time, place, and events that are indicated in its writing. For example:
Time Place Events
  • typewriter
  • $1.00 gas and light bill
  • 20th Century
  • (movie studio)
  • took a bus
  • writer cleaned their house
  • furniture gone, in storage?
  • check hasn't come
  • using their things
  • thinks they're on vacation

Ask students to predict what has happened to Estelle and her husband, Arthur.

Briefly introduce the Japanese American Evacuation, Internment, and Relocation:

Evacuation: The removal of Japanese Americans from their homes due to Executive Order 9066, signed in 1942 by President Roosevelt. During this period Japanese Americans were kept in Detention Centers (local, temporary quarters also called "Assembly Centers") before being sent to Relocation Camps.

Internment: The period of time from 1942 - 1945 during which over 112,000 Japanese Americans - two-thirds of them United States citizens by birth -- were held in Relocation Camps, sometimes hundreds of miles from their home. There were eight camps in the western United States and two in Arkansas.

Relocation: This term is used interchangeably. Relocation to the United States government meant being transferred to the camps. Relocation to the Japanese Americans referred to their experience of transition back into society after the camps closed. For the purpose of this paper, the term Relocation Camp will refer to the Internment experience. The term Relocation will refer to the experience after the Internment.

Follow up to Letter to Estelle: Estelle and Arthur Ishigo lived in Los Angeles, California. Estelle was a student in art school and Arthur was a janitor for Paramount Pictures. At the time of the evacuation they had been married for 13 years. Estelle, a European American, decided to join her husband, a Japanese American in the camps. Estelle and Arthur were taken to the Pomona Assembly Center, then to Heart Mountain Relocation Camp, Wyoming. The letter was written to Estelle at the Pamona Assembly Center in May 1942.

Ask students to fill in the exact time, place, and events that lead to the letter.

Time Place Events
1943 Los Angeles, California World War II
  E.O. 9066

The following excerpts match the works of art with the manuscript Estelle Ishigo kept during her experience with the Japanese Evacuation, Internment, and Relocation. The quotes cited are taken from the original rough draft of Lone Heart Mountain, published in 1972. Errors in spelling and spacing are consistent with the rough draft.

Show document #2: "Baggage Truck Preparing to Leave for Heart Mountain Camp, May 10, 1942 7:00 a.m"
“It was very hard to know what to put in that duffle bag to decide what to take. there was no way of knowing what might happen what we really might need one hundred pounds of baggage read the order no more.

Gathered around the church that early May morning were four hundred and fifty of us standing in groups with bundles and baskets piled at the curb. Red Cross women brought trays of hot coffee, but nothing could quell the fear and bitter weeping of some. the dreadful uncertainty of what might happen what it might be like.

They began loading bundles into trucks, and we saw some of the baggage of those who had not weighed their '100 pounds' carefully left lying in the streets.

Then one at a time the buses came with armed Military Police, pulling up to the curb, soldiers stepped out and ordered us aboard.

Lead class discussion regarding the Evacuation. Discussion may include:

  1. What do you think Estelle and Arthur brought with them?
  2. Why did Estelle decide to go with her husband?
  3. Compare what the adults lost in the Evacuation to what the children lost.

Estelle and Arthur were taken to the Pomona Assembly Center. This was a temporary center, held often at fairgrounds, to hold the internees until they could be transferred to the camps. Pomona was only open for three months (May - August, 1942) but processed 5,434 people through to Relocation Camps.

Show document #3: "Untitled (Meeting at Fence)" 1942.
“The first sight of the barbed wire enclosure with armed soldiers standing guard as our bus slowly turned in through the gate, stunned us with the meaning of this ordered evacuation. Here, was a camp of sheds enclosed within a high barbed wire fence, with guard towers and soldiers with tommy guns. Not 25 miles from home and still in the U.S.A. but suddenly like a foreign land.

There was a visitor's day when we went, like prisoners, in our camp cloths to a fenced area where we could sit and talk for a short time with those from the outside under the watchful eyes of armed guards.”

Lead class discussion about the Assembly Centers. Discussion may include:
  1. Why did the War Relocation Authority call this a voluntary evacuation when it was mandatory?
  2. Respond to the quote "Not 25 miles from home and still in the USA - but suddenly like a foreign land." What does this mean to Estelle? Have you ever felt like this?

From Pomona they were taken to Heart Mountain, Wyoming. The Heart Mountain Camp held over 10,000 internees. There were 468 buildings divided into 20 blocks. Each block provided two laundry and toilet buildings. The rooms provided were approximately 16'x20' to 20'x24'.

Show document #4: "A Stormy Day, Heart Mountain" September, 1944.
“There were hundreds of barracks in the mile square enclosure. We went out that first night into the wind, woundering over the rough terrain, to look for the buildings with latrines and a place to get water: and some looked for a friend or relative and lost their way as they wandered far among the rows of black tar paper barracks.

Then at sunrise, we looked beyond the camp, above the bare and rolling swells of ground and saw the face of Lone Heart Mountain tipped with rose from the first rays of morning sun;

Lead discussion about the Relocation Camps. Discussion questions may include:
  1. Why do you think the internees were taken to Wyoming?
  2. How would you feel as an internee at Heart Mountain Relocation Camp?

The Relocation Camps were bleak, however the human spirit is resilient. Although life was restricted within the camp, the internees tried to make it as pleasant as possible. Many adults worked on the "local" newspaper, painted, wrote, played musical instruments, or planted gardens. Children still went to school where they learned, made friends and played. There were Boy Scouts, sports teams, and other clubs to join for enjoyment and social activity. The Internment experience was more difficult for the adults, who had lost their homes, jobs, and security, than for the children, who still had many age appropriate activities available.

Show document #5: "Home" December, 1942.
“Some began making little things of beauty from colored papers or scraps of silk, gorgeous flowers, arranging them according to old traditions or into brightly colored balls to hang on the dark walls or the barrack rooms. Or carving, painting, poetry writing, and even dress making. And many old men sat for long hours over games of Goh; and they would meet together to enjoy these gentle activities in their rooms.”

(For further information on the game of Goh see "Introduction to Go")

Show document #6: "Untitled (Woman with Child)," 1944.
The women of our barrack shared a catalogue and Grandmother turned the brightly colored pages to embroidering and flowers and she ordered some thread and a packet of garden seeds. She wanted to nurse little growing things in her room Just once again to see the beauty of a young living plant. Dreaming her dream she took her little grandson by the hand and they walked together past rows of barracks and along the fence. A soldier in the tower eyed her with curiosity ad saw her stoop to let her grandchild ride upon her back.

Lead class discussion about the Relocation Camps. Discussion questions may include:

  1. Do you think the following groups responded to the Relocation Camps similarly? Why or why not?
Show document #7: "Boarding the Train to Leave Heart Mountain Relocation Camp" November, 1945.
Each person was given $25.00 and transportation to where ever they wanted to go, train loads of people were being scattered to many parts of the country. Some returning to the West Coast were facing no Jap signs and once in a while, a flaming home or a shot fired in the night.

Now we climbed aboard trucks once again, to be carried back to the train. It was night time and the only light on the dark waste land came from the windows of the train. We climbed aboard and put our bundles under the seats and up on racks and then pressed our faces to the window to see for the last time this camp and the mountain; and as the train slowly moved away, the rows of barracks, the guard towers and the fence lay in the moon light and Heart Mountain rested in silver light against the dark sky and they slowly grew smaller as the train crept away through the dark of night.

Lead class discussion about the leaving Heart Mountain. Discussion questions may include:

  1. Where do you think many internees decided to go? Why?
  2. What jobs do you think were available to them?
Show document #8: "Untitled" (Relocation/Trailers)

When the Relocation Camps closed at the end of the war, the internees were each given $25.00 and transportation to the destination of their choice. Many communities, however, did not welcome the Japanese Americans, and even posted signs warning them to stay away. Estelle and Arthur returned to Southern California. The government provided trailer camps, referred to as Relocation Centers, for some of the internees to live in until they could reestablish themselves. Estelle and Arthur lived in a trailer camp (Relocation Center) and worked in fish canneries in San Pedro. Two years later Arthur went to work for the Los Angeles International Airport. Arthur passed away in 1957. Estelle stayed in seclusion until her death in 1972.

Lead class discussion about the Relocation Centers. Discussion may include:

  1. Why did the government provide trailers for housing as Relocation Centers?
  2. What do you think life was like for the Japanese Americans now?
  3. Compare circumstances before and after the Internment experience.
During the 1970's and 80's a concerted effort was made by a range of Japanese American community organizations and legislators to "obtain an apology and compensation from the United States government for its wrongful actions towards them during World War II." (Niiya, Brian, editor. Japanese American History, An A-to Z Reference from 1868 to the Present. Facts on File, New York, 1993, pp. 289 - 292).

In 1990, 45 years after the closing of the camps, President George Bush issued an official apology for the "serious injustices" that were done to the Japanese Americans during World War II. This included $20,000 per internee and an acknowledgment that we can never fully right the wrongs of the past. Unfortunately, many of those who had suffered most by losing their jobs and homes, by this point, had passed away. Estelle and Arthur had no survivors; therefore, no one received the apology on their behalf.


Lead class discussion about the Official Apology. Discussion questions may include:
  1. What was the significance of the Official Apology? What do you think it would have meant to Estelle and Arthur?
  2. What do you think would happen if the government issued Executive Order 9066 today? Would things be different?
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