I’ve been interning with Densho the Japanese American Heritage Project (digitizing Japanese American history and making it available in various ways) this summer. Amidst creating finding aids and QA testing some digital repository software, I’ve been transcribing some handwritten letters because handwriting and OCR are not friends. Not even frenemies.

The letters are from Helen Amerman Manning, who taught high school at Minidoka as a young woman. She writes a lot about how nice everyone (staff and internees) are, how dusty it is, and whenever she washes her hair. She goes to choir a lot, too. So much of the letters are daily observations that it’s easy to miss the incredibly historical parts (she meets Min Yasui almost as soon as she gets there. Like almost everyone else she meets, she thinks he’s wonderful and bright.). Then I came across this excerpt today:

I had a nice card from Ren today and a letter from Aunty Hope. Confidentially she burns me up with her failure to realize that the evacuees are not war prisoners but over 50% are American citizens! And a lot more than that proportion are people who came here for a new start in life (just as her ancestors did) or else were born here (just as she was) and are completely in sympathy with the American ideals. Again I would remind her that no Japanese in America has been convicted of sabotage but many American citizens (many native-born!) of German ancestry have!

I’d just like to see how the DAR’s would behave under the same circumstances! Ask her if she wants her American friends with German names put in concentration camps in this country! Ask her how she likes the idea of fellow citizens living behind barbed wire with MP’s on duty, and no charges against them! If Tom and Ten are fighting so that we can send the “Japs” back to Japan and put the Jew and negro “in their places” she’d better look out for fear they start sending everyone but the American Indians back where they came from! How do you suppose the 5000 or more Japanese Americans in the army feel about fighting for the preservation of race prejudice? Would Tom and Ren have any misgivings about loyalty to a country that wasn’t sure it would have room for them if they lived “to come back”? Would they fear to go out to die for America and leave their aged parents (most volunteers’ parents are over 60) uprooted in a potentially hostile country?

I love the bit about sending everyone but the American Indians back to where they came from, because who gets counted as an “America” remains such a modern argument.

Densho Archive Image: denshopd-p171-00040

To find the letter, go to:

http://www.densho.org > Archive > Photo and Document Collections > Private Collections > Helen Amerman Manning Collection > page 2 > denshopd-p171-00040


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