La Mesa woman discusses family’s internment in American labor camps during World War II

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At the La Mesa Library this week, a guest speaker talked about a dark period in the annals of American history. Linda Canada, President of the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego, introduced Mitsuko Kawamoto whose family had experienced first-hand the uncertainty and fear shortly after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

At the La Mesa Library this week, a guest speaker talked about a dark period in the annals of American history. Linda Canada, President of the Japanese American Historical Society of San Diego, introduced Mitsuko Kawamoto whose family had experienced first-hand the uncertainty and fear shortly after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.

In 1942, a wave of suspicion rolled out from the US government towards people of Japanese descent living in America. All around the nation, a series of internment camps were set up to which these people were sent.
Kawamoto was only seven years old when men in suits showed up, demanding that her family leave all their things behind to go to the internment camp at Poston, Arizona. Kawamoto was a happy little girl, her father a crop farmer in Chula Vista, her mother a devoted housewife. Kawamoto had three brothers a and three sisters and they all lived in a modest, two bed-room white clapboard house.

The family had no electricity, no running water, but they did have their own well. They were poor but comfortable, never going hungry.
Then Japanese planes flew over Pearl Harbor, dropping bombs on the US Naval station, sinking battleships and killing thousands of sailors. The United States declared war on Japan. President Franklin D. Roosevelt released the Executive Order No. 9066 in February of that year. The edict demanded capture of the Japanese-Americans living on American soil.

“Because we looked like the enemy,” Kawamoto explained at the La Mesa Library presentation.
On April 8, the Kawamotos were ordered to leave their home. “When those men showed up, it was like an emotional bomb had dropped in our lives. But all I knew at the time was that I didn’t want to have to give up my playhouse that my dad had built out of the big box that the refrigerator had come in,” she said.
Kawamoto remembers that her mother had to put most of their belongings in a big barrel. “What a sad day!” she said.

A drab olive-green military truck came to take them away. They first arrived at the Santa Anita Assembly Center, the internment camp set up at the Santa Anita Horse Track. Tar-paper barracks had been built for the 8,000 interned there.

Four months later, they were sent off to their new home, travelling by train to the Poston, Arizona camp.
“I remember being really excited because I got to take a train,” Kawamoto said. “We went over a very long bridge over Parker Dam.”

When they arrived at Parker, Arizona, school buses took everyone to Poston Camp No. 3.
“It was hot, dusty, windy and dismal scenery. That dark tarpaper and brown sand was everywhere,” Kawamoto said.

Their first dinner in the new town consisted of weenies and green peas. “We had a butter knife to eat with. Can you imagine trying to eat with that?” Kawamoto said.

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