McGehee, Ar. Published by the Classes of 1944, 1944. pp. Printed in blue and black. Profusely illustrated. Quarto. Textured blue cardstock boards with plastic comb binding. Ink annotations and signatures throughout. Minor wear to boards. Two cracks to binding. Light tanning, a few ink stains and fingerprints. Very good. Item #WRCAM55261
A heavily annotated yearbook for the second year of the high school (grades 10-12) of the Rohwer War Relocation Center. As with many internment camp yearbooks, it looks eerily like any other high school yearbook from the 1940s. Located in Desha County in rural southeastern Arkansas, Rohwer was in operation from 1942-45 and was one of ten camps at which Japanese Americans, both citizens and resident "aliens," were interned during World War II. Along with the nearby relocation camp at Jerome (also in Arkansas), Rohwer was the easternmost such camp in the internment system. In our experience, material from the Arkansas camps is less common than those located further west. By order of President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066, all persons of Japanese ancestry were excluded from the west coast of the U.S., even though intelligence reports at the time found no evidence of fifth column activity among Japanese Americans (or Japanese immigrants) and advised against mass incarceration. At its height, Rohwer housed 8,475 Japanese Americans, predominantly from Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley. Each internment camp had its own schools and most produced yearbooks, just like any other school. Belonging to senior (summer class "S '44") Asako "Grayce/Grace" Onishi (1926-99), this yearbook contains everything one would expect: individual photos for the seniors, group photos for the other classes; photos of class officers, faculty, clubs, sports teams, community service programs, and other activities; humorous illustrations on the endpapers, and signatures and notes from other students and teachers wishing Grayce good luck in the future, promising to keep in touch, etc. Grayce has written her name on the front free endpaper. According to the 1940 Census, Grayce was born in Lodi, California in 1926, where she lived with her parents, Shinroku and Tomino Hamada (both born Japan), along with her sisters Mitsuka and Yaskiko, brother Susumu, and her grandparents and uncle. Edited by senior Shinya Honda, the yearbook is a moving document highlighting the efforts of Japanese-American students and their teachers to maintain some semblance of normalcy during what must have been a terrifying and humiliating time. The large majority of the students were relocated from California, as were eight of their teachers, who are listed as "Relocated Faculty Members" (without photos). The principal and counselors are predominantly white, although of the thirty-five faculty members listed, seventeen are Japanese or Japanese American, as are all six of the "Essential Workers" (e.g., registrar, librarian). The foreword quotes an address made in 1943 before the Holland Society of New York by Joseph C. Grew, former ambassador to Japan (1932-41) and at this time the Under Secretary of State. While some internment camp school yearbooks focus on patriotic duty, the excerpt used here strongly challenges the legitimacy of the internment program: "In time of war, especially, we must take every proper step to protect our country from hostile acts, especially, from espionage or sabotage within our gates. We have competent official authorities to attend to that consideration, and they are attending to it, constantly and effectively. I do know that like the Americans of German descent, the overwhelming majority of Americans of Japanese origin wish to be and are wholly loyal to the United States and not only that, but they wish to prove that loyalty in service to their native land....These Americans of Japanese descent have grown up in our country, in our democratic atmosphere. Most of them have never known anything else. Among those few who have been to Japan, most of them could not stand the life there and soon returned to the United States. The overwhelming majority of those men want to be loyal to us, and, perhaps surprisingly, the few who don't want to be loyal to us often say so openly. It does not make for loyalty to be constantly under suspicion when grounds for suspicion are absent. I have too great a belief in the sanctity of American citizenship to want to see those Americans of Japanese descent penalized and alienated through blind prejudice. I want to see them given a square deal. I want to see them treated as we rightly treat all other American citizens regardless of their racial origin - with respect and support, unless or until they have proved themselves unworthy of respect and support. That fundamental principle should apply all along the line - to every citizen of the United States of America." There is no commentary on the passage from Grew's speech, and the rest of the yearbook is comparatively apolitical, although there are occasional allusions to books and other materials being in limited supply, and a general sense that the world isn't quite as it should be. Grayce finally departed Rohwer on November 30, 1945. She returned to Lodi and married Shigeo Sakoda (1923-2012, also from Lodi). They had one son, Edward. A fascinating artifact of the Japanese internment during World War II.