Kodomo No Tame Ni, Please! For The Sake Of The Children And Grandchildren, We Need To Know!

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

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23 thoughts on “Kodomo No Tame Ni, Please! For The Sake Of The Children And Grandchildren, We Need To Know!

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  1. I am glad to read about “kodomo no tame ni” but there is still Japanese Americans afraid to open that dark chapter of injustice. They are the “Silent Americans.” They are almost gone for they were young Japanese Americans who were of draft age only to be reclassified to “enemy alien” 4C without due process guaranteed under our Constitution. I have been one of those “Silent American.” The trauma of betrayal and injustice by our Government remained too deep that left us in silence. I have heard young Sansei and Yonsei tell me that when they asked their father of grandfather about that dark chapter, they simply look and turn away in silence. It is real. Just two days ago I heard the same story from a Sansei whose father was 11 years old, from Terminal Island, sent to Manzanar and remained silent when asked by his children about that dark chapter. I too was at Manzanar who had taken educational courses to qualify as a Manzanar High School Physics teacher. The person was a photographer for the local newspaper. When I showed him the Manzanar High School Annual, he was busy clicking photo shots of the manual with hopes of learning about his father’s internment and possible find him in one of the school children class pictures. I gave him my memoire, “Lady on the Bridge,” “Ringo en” and a CD that contains my talk about Manzanar that I have been giving to local groups in the area. I know of many other “Silent Americans” who are still afraid to open that dark chapter of American history.
    Tadashi Kishi

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