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Testimony on Japanese Internment Camps

August 13, 1981 — Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, San Francisco CA


Honorable Chairman and Members of the Commission: my name is Tsuyako Kitashima. I want to thank you for allowing me to get a few frustrations off of my chest. The time I am allotted will not permit me to tell you the three years and four months of psychological trauma and bitterness I experienced in a concentration camp.

I, as an American citizen, was put in a concentration camp while German and Italian aliens were free. I was deprived of basic human rights merely because of ethnic origin. War does not excuse the violation of constitutional rights.

I lived in Centerville, now called Fremont, prior to evacuation. Because we lived near the main highway we were constantly approached by the police concerning the whereabouts of community leaders. At night the police would spotlight our kitchen window. Whether this was an act of trying to destroy us, I will never know. However, it was always frightening.

One day when the police stopped by, they noticed a small box of tin on our back porch. On their next trip, the box was gone and they immediately accused my mother of shipping them to Japan. It turned out that my brother, who worked for a Ford dealer, use dit to patch a hole in the muffler. His boss vouched for him, and we had no further trouble.

Under the circumstances, it was impossible to ship anything to Japan. How stupid it was that we burned everything that resembled Japan. Wished we had the guts that the Sansei and Yonsei have today. However, with a bayonet in your back we quietly obeyed.

My experience at the Tanforan Assembly Center was a grim period coupled with frustration and anger. After being searched like a criminal by the military police, I was served my first meal with consisted of two slices of discolored cold cuts, over-cooked swiss chard and a slice of moldy bread. The humiliation and degradation was too much, and I cried openly in disgust.

If that was not traumatic enough, my mother, three adult brothers, and I were assigned one horse stall. There was manure on the floor and hair from the horse’s tail was stuck on the rough walls. For our mattress, we were given mattress ticks and told to fill them with hay. We washed the floors, but we soon found the stench of the manure under the stable unbearable.

We spent the days outside and only went inside to sleep at night. The stable consisted of approximately twenty stalls. There was absolutely no privacy. I had to wait until my brother left before I could dress. There was hardly any room to move around in.

I could hear babies crying, family arguments, and the sick coughing throughout the night. It was sometime before we had a toilet in our area, so I had to go approximately two blocks to a makeshift toilet, with a cloth hung for privacy.

The surrounding area was always so muddy we used planks to get to it. I got sick with diarrhea during the night, and was too scared be walking two blocks to the toilet for fear the military police would shoot me, thinking I was trying to escape. The only alternative was to use a gallon can. My brother got mad at me because the stench was so bad. I took the can and placed it outside the stall. I had to get up early the next morning to dispose of it before people got up. Can you picture yourself in this predicament?

My mother’s arthritic condition became more severe, and she ws not able to go to the mess hall. My mother’s chief concern was her fear of possible separation from her children. She was one of the old pioneers who survived the San Francisco earthquake and went into farming, working from early morning until late at night helping to make California a great agricultural state.

Evacuation was strongly supported by the rival West Coast farmers interested in taking over trucks farming. We suffered a great loss.

The Evacuation Order 9066 denied me of the Fifth amendment in that it placed me i a concentration camp without due process of law in a land founded on freedom, liberty, and equality. Japanese Americans paid a high price on the battlefields to prove their loyalty to the United States. Their families held memorial services for their sons behind barbed wire fences.

Senator Daniel Inouye, dressed in full captain’s uniform, was refused by a San Francisco barber and was told we don’t serve Japs here. Many of us experienced the same discrimination. 

I strongly feel that restitution be made, including monetary compensation of at least $25,000 for losses, damages, for false imprisonment, and emotional suffering.

It has been said that potential costs for restitution would be less than one nuclear aircraft carrier. Let us stop expending money for war efforts.

There are so many injustices in this country that need cleaning up. Let us use our money towards safeguarding our Constitution so that this deplorable experience will not be repeated.

Honorably members, and nine members of the Commission; I am 63 years of age, and I wish to advise you that I plan to take vitamins A through Z so that I may live to see this injustice corrected. Please do not let me get hooked on these vitamins. I thank you for allowing me to testify today. 



Source: National Archives and Records Administration, Record Group 220: Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards in the series Transcripts of Public Hearings, 1981-1981 (Entry A1 39076-H), pp. 880-884.