“After we came back from camp, we were afraid to make noises. But when our kids came up; ‘What is the matter with guys?’ . . . You don’t want to call attention to yourself. You want to just be quiet and do your things and not make any waves and go by your very calm order of being. . . . Because in many ways if you went to prison or something really bad happened to you, and you weren’t happy about it, you are not going to sit there and tell your kids about it.”Fumi Hayashi[1]

View of Topaz barracks from the side
Image of barracks at Topaz.
(Utah State University, Merrill-Cazier Library, Special Collections & Archives, Leonard J. Arrington Photograph Collection, P0316, Box 3, Fd. 27, image 21)

At the beginning of internment, many Japanese American youth blamed the reason for their internment on the war and not on prejudice towards those of Japanese American ancestry.[2]

Although not at Topaz but another internment camp, Tule Lake, Nancy Takahashi stated in a class paper: “I fully realize the fact of why they relocated the Japanese citizens for I know some who are disloyal Americans and some who are loyal.”[3] Many youth did not feel the effects of internment until later in their lives. When asked what evacuation meant to him, Isao Baba reflected: “Being young at the time, I thought it was quite an experience. As I grew older, I began to realize it was a great injustice to the people of Japanese ancestry.”[4]

Looking at what youth wrote while at camp, it is clear that many were aware of racial prejudice towards them, although many did not label it as such. They also knew that internment was unfair to them. Although they understood that internment was not their fault, many attempted to alleviate the situation by proving their loyalty. This did not solve the problem because the U.S. government did not imprison Japanese Americans in internment camps because of questions of loyalty alone but because they assumed that the evacuees’ international and racial heritage determined their allegiance. The United States had convicted the innocent, deciding that Japanese Americans were guilty because of their race.

The Topaz Site 75 Years Later

[1] Tohmatsu, 78–79.
[2] Benson Tong, “Race, Culture, and Citizenship among Japanese American Children and Adolescents during the Internment Era,” Journal of American Ethnic History 23, no. 3 (Spring 2004): 24, accessed January 13, 2020, https://www.jstor.org/stable/27501456?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents.
[3] Nancy Takahashi, “My Attitude Toward Camp,” in Japanese American relocation collection, University of Utah Special Collections & Archives, MS 144, Box 4, Fd. 4, pg. 10.
[4] Tohmatsu, 77.