Couple’s unorthodox letters depict life in multiple wartime camps



Edited by Heidi Kim (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2015, 304 pp., $29.95, hardcover)

This book tells the difficult and painful story of a Japanese American couple from Hawai‘i and their wartime incarceration experience. George Hoshida was arrested in early 1942 by the United States government, and was thereafter incarcerated as a potentially dangerous alien. As a result, he spent almost two years at Sand Island in Hawai‘i, San Antonio, Texas and Lordsburg and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Meanwhile, Tamae and three daughters (including a newborn), were removed from Hawai‘i and sent to the mainland to be incarcerated in the Jerome camp in Arkansas.

The book’s text consists of a diary, mixed with later narration, by George Hoshida (phrased in the third person as “Yoshio”), plus letters exchanged by the couple in incarceration. Editor Heidi Kim has added the text of archival documents that further document the family’s journey and provides an outside official view of the protagonists.

The story recounted in the book is compelling, and differs in many respects from the mass of incarceration narratives. First, George Hoshida’s background provides him an unusual perspective. Born in Japan, he came to Hawai‘i at the age of 4. As a yobiyose (foreign-born child brought over by parents) he melds characteristics of both the Issei and Nisei generations. Though bilingual, he is more comfortable speaking Japanese, studies martial arts and feels Japanese in his habits. (He relates how in his youth he remained too Japanese in spirit to ask his girlfriend for a kiss). Yet his education is American, and he describes the United States as his “adopted parent” alongside his Japanese “birth parent.”

In his powerful expressions of love for his wife, and especially for his children, he departs from the classic image of stern Japanese patriarchs. Forced to leave school after junior high school (a training that exceeded Tamae’s fourth grade education), he nonetheless developed a fluent if unorthodox writing style.

The Hoshidas’ narrative is a moving testament that sheds light on the special circumstances of the thousand-odd Japanese Americans from Hawai‘i who were incarcerated during World War II and the hardships they faced. Arrested and imprisoned without charge, George Hoshida underwent a summary hearing before biased judges that revealed no evidence of disloyal activity, and was then sent for imprisonment on the mainland. Cut off from his family and incarcerated in “enemy alien” camps, he faced privation and nearly applied for repatriation to Japan. Meanwhile, Tamae was forced to accept public assistance and eventually to sell off the family home to pay expenses. Sent to the mainland as an “inessential person” with her three children, Tamae was confined in a War Relocation Authority camp in Arkansas, where in the damp and insect-ridden camp she struggled to care for her three children. (In a poignant episode, the family’s handicapped eldest child was left behind in a nursing home, where she suffered neglect and died). The couple were finally reunited in late 1943, and held by the WRA until the end of the war.

The letters exchanged between the couple, though stilted by censorship and regulations as to their length and language, flesh out the daily experience of inmates and indicate the enormous difference in the nature of daily life between camps with hostile or provocative administrators and guards and those who were more sympathetic. Similarly, the discussions over reuniting the family reveal how abstract issues of “citizenship” or “loyalty” played a minor role in crucial decisions about the fate of the confined people compared to immediate questions of family survival.

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