Former Manzanar Resident Speaks to Sophomores about Japanese Incarceration

Destiny Vera and Alexis Standley, Contributors

Sophomore Jeremy Yamamoto’s grandmother visited La Serna High School recently as a guest speaker who experienced the hardships of the incarceration camp called Manzanar, located in the Owens Valley of California between the Sierra Nevada on the west and the Inyo mountains on the east. 

Jeremy’s grandmother, Chiyeko Akahoshi, endured the forced removal from her home that many Japanese-Americans had to face during World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by the Japanese military. Akahoshi told the Puente sophomores about the difficulties she faced living  in cramped wooden structures with limited resources. The camp at Manzanar was one square mile and housed ten thousand detainees. Families crammed together in one-room structures and waited in long lines to use toilets with no stalls and no privacy.

Jeremy’s mother, Robin Yamamoto, a La Serna graduate, contributed to the presentation by giving the students background on what led up to the incarceration. She explained President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066, enacted on February 19, 1942, which forced Japanese Americans from their homes into the camps. The executive order lasped at the end of the war and was eventually terminated by Proclamation 4417, signed by President Gerald Ford on February, 19, 1976.

The library guest speaker event was a culmination of a unit of study the sophomores completed in their English class. During the summer, the students read the nonfiction book Farewell to Manzanar by James D. Houston and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston. The students researched the topic of the U.S. incarceration camps for Japanese Americans during World War II.

The camps were used to keep in  Japanese-Americans, as the government and public suspected that Japanese Americans might have connections to Japan. The fact that there was no evidence that Japanese-Americans had anything to do with the attack on Pearl Harbor did not deter officials from rounding up Japanese-Americans and forcibly moving them to the ten camps set up in rural or desert areas.  Russian spies in the United States were discovered during the 1940’s, yet internment was not done to the general Russian-American population. 

Akahoshi explained to the La Serna students how she and the other Japanese-Americans made the best they could out of the difficult situation while in the camp. The prisoners were allowed to bring only one small piece of luggage. People slept on cots and were given only one blanket, despite low temperatures. She attended high school at Manzanar and graduated from high school. Akahoshi showed her yearbook from Manzanar, which includes her senior portrait. She described what it was like to be surrounded by barbed wire fencing and to see guards in towers with guns preventing people from leaving the camp. Akahoshi’s family was one of the first families to arrive at the camp and the last to leave. When she and her family returned to Southern California, they discovered that their former landlord had thoughtfully kept their belongings stored, waiting for their return.

The La Serna Film Academy video-taped Akahoshi’s presentation and that video will become part of the La Serna Library’s archive for oral history. The video will be available for future Lancers to watch.