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Japanese Alien And Japanese American Poets In U. S. Relocation Camps

4596 words - 18 pages

On February 19, 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued the infamous Executive Order 9066, which resulted in the internment of 110,000 Japanese Aliens and Japanese Americans in concentration camps because of the so-called "military threat," they posed. In 1945, poet Lawson Fusao Inada wrote the following poem, titled "Concentration Constellation," which refers to the various relocation camps that were used to contain these people:

In this earthly configuration,
We have, not points of light,
but prominent barbs of dark…

Begin between the Golden State's
highest and lowest elevations
and name that location

Manzanar. Rattlesnake a line
southward to the zone
of Arizona, to the home
if natives on the reservation,
and call those Gila, Poston.

Then just take your time
winding your way across…
just make yourself at home
in the swamps of Arkansas.
for this is Rohwer and Jerome.

But now, you weary of the way.
It's a big country, you say.
It's a big history, hardly
halfway through - with Amache
looming in the Colorado desert,
Heart Mountain high in wide
Wyoming, Minidoka on the moon
of Idaho, then down to Utah's
jewel of Topaz before finding
yourself at northern California's
frozen shore of Tule Lake…

Now regard what sort of shape
this constellation takes.
It sits there like a jagged scar,
massive, on the massive landscape.
It lies there like the rusted wire
of a twisted and remembered fence.

As Inada points out with his analogy to a constellation, the United States government had constructed many camps and scattered them all over the country. In other words, the internment of Japanese-Americans was not merely a blip in American history; it was instead a catastrophic and appalling forced removal of 110,000 people from their homes. In order to prevent history from repeating itself, it is important that study is done on the subject. As Inada illustrates, government documents and written accounts are not the only way to study the issues surrounding the internment; poetry, being a traditional and cherished practice brought over from Japan and continued in the United States, serves to give a unique and informative perspective into the lives of the Japanese internees. Not only does the poetry written by Japanese aliens and American citizens of Japanese descent describe the living conditions in the relocation camps they were imprisoned in, but it also demonstrates the array of emotions these people felt, including the hope of one day being free, the anger at being imprisoned, and, most prominently, the sadness from being away from home and loved ones.

Why was writing poetry so popular in the internment camps? Jori and Kay Nakano relate that short poems "were ideal forms for the internees' expression of their pent-up emotion," because of the scarcity of writing paper. The Nakanos also point out that short poems were a Japanese tradition of expression, and thus a form that the people of Japanese descent were...

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