The 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, held on April 25, 2015, at the Manzanar National Historic Site, featured two “Voices From Camp”—former incarcerees who spoke about their experiences behind the barbed wire and beyond. First up is former Poston incarceree Hatsuko Mary Higuchi.
My name is Hatsuko Mary Higuchi. I was born in 1939, on the eve of World War II. Executive Order 9066 destroyed my family’s life. We were sent to Poston, Arizona—a concentration camp on the Colorado River Indian Reservation.
Like Manzanar, it was desolate. When we arrived, we saw rows and rows of black, tarpaper barracks, surrounded by barbed wire, and soldiers with guns.
The day we arrived, it was 126 degrees. Our room was small. Cots were lined up side by side. There was only one, bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.
Latrines, showers, and laundry rooms were in distant buildings. There was no privacy. My mother bathed my baby sister and brother in the laundry room sink.
Our clothes were hand washed. I remember, clothes hanging on a rope strung across our room, with water dripping onto the floor. My mother had to do this because of the severe dust storms outside
After the war ended, we returned with nothing, except my parents’ determination to rebuild our lives.
We lived in an old wooden shack. My parents rented farmland in Lawndale.
When we started public school, our Japanese names were difficult for our teachers to pronounce. We were given American names: Hatsuko became Mary.
We were poor. We took our lunches to school in brown paper bags, and used them until they fell apart. At lunch time, I was so embarrassed that I unwrapped my sandwich under the table.
My little sisters and I took public transit to Saturday Japanese language school.
One day, a woman got on the bus, and when she saw us, she started yelling, “get these Japs off the bus! They don’t belong here!”
She screamed this over and over. We were frightened and started crying.
In fourth grade Social Studies, we read about the war with Japan. I remember crying because I felt I was the enemy. I felt guilty, ashamed, and inferior.
My parents farmed from 1946 to 1951, until they saved enough to put a down payment on ten acres of farmland in Torrance.
Soon after, my father died of heart failure. I learned that 40 percent of the incarcerated males died before reaching the age of 60. When my father died, he was only 45.
My mother, who was ten years younger, made a brave decision to not give up the farm. She decided to farm the ten acres herself, while single-handedly raising four small children.
The years of incarceration were never, never discussed in my family, nor did I learn about it in elementary, middle, and high school, not even at UCLA.
I took my mother to Poston, came home, and did a painting of guard towers and barracks. I asked her what she thought.
My mother sat quietly, studying the painting. Her expression turned to great sadness. She said, “in camp, not a day went by without wondering, what is going to happen to my children? What will become of them?”
She did not want to talk about the camps. When I forced the issue, with tears in her eyes, she said, “Pu-re-zu…Hanashitaku-nai, hanashitaku-nai, Hatsuko, please, I don’t want to talk about it.”
I pleaded, “O-kaasan, kodomo no tame ni, please, for the sake of the children and grandchildren, we need to know.”
My mother suffered a stroke in 2008. We took her home when we knew there was no hope.
I felt honored and privileged to take care of her, after all her years of sacrifice, for the sake of the children, kodomo-no tame-ni.
Like so many Nikkei families, the toll on our Nisei parents, and Issei grandparents, was terrible. Because of them, we survived, but to what extent we fully recovered is another question, which I leave to our distinguished keynote speaker, Dr. Satsuki Ina.
A retired elementary school teacher, Hatsuko Mary Higuchi earned a teaching credential from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Master of Arts degree from Pepperdine University. Well-known for her paintings depicting the Japanese American Incarceration experience, Higuchi’s art was inspired by renowned painter Henry Fukuhara, a former Manzanar incarceree who is famous for his paintings depicting the camp. To learn more about Higuchi’s award-winning work (we’ve seen it…it’s breathtaking), check out her web site, Mary Higuchi Arts.
The views expressed in this story are those of the author, and are not necessarily those of the Manzanar Committee.
LEAD PHOTO: Artist and former Poston incarceree Hatsuko Mary Higuchi, shown here during her remarks at the 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage, April 25, 2015, Manzanar National Historic Site. Photo: Gann Matsuda/Manzanar Committee.
Hatsuko Mary Higuchi’s Speech at the 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage
News, Speeches, Reflections and Photos From The 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage/2015 Manzanar At Dusk
- Rev. Paul Nakamura:“A Ministry Bound With The Quest For Justice And Civil Rights For All” – Part 1
- Rev. Paul Nakamura: “A Ministry Bound With The Quest For Justice And Civil Rights For All” – Part 2
- Manzanar Committee’s Bruce Embrey At 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage: “Remembering Is Not Passive. We Must Act On Our Memories”
- Watashi wa Manzanar! Continuing Our Civil Rights Legacy
- Hearing Stories About The Japanese American Incarceration Opens Doors To New Perspectives
- A Family Ripped Apart Forever By The Infamous Loyalty Questionnaire
- The View From Manzanar
- 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage Photos and Downloadable Printed Program
- 2015 Manzanar At Dusk – In Photos
- 46th Annual Manzanar Pilgrimage – Official Photo Essay
- My First Manzanar Pilgrimage
- The Pain Of Unjust Incarceration Transcends Generations, Ethnicity
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