Pearl Harbor and Japanese American Youth

Kay Uno remembers Pearl Harbor
Kay Uno remembers Pearl Harbor, an oral history.
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(Courtesy of G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

“I was nine at the time of Pearl Harbor, and I was in third grade. That Sunday we were on our way home from church and we had the radio on in the car. Everybody was excited. We said, ‘Oh, those Japs, what are they doing that for?’ We didn’t think of ourselves as Japs.” —Kay Uno, A Fence Away from Freedom[1]

“Little Citizens Speak”
“Little Citizen’s Speak” from All Aboard, Spring 1944. This article was written by a class of seventh-grade Topaz High students in 1943 and covers the students’ experiences from Pearl Harbor to Topaz.
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(Courtesy of the Topaz Museum)

After Pearl Harbor, many Japanese American youth recalled being bullied or ignored at schools on the West Coast. One seventh-grade student at Topaz recalled in 1943:

“When we reached our school the boys and girls who were not Japanese called us names and stared at us but we were glad of the teacher because they were very kind to us and the teacher told the boys and girls who called us names not to call us names but be friendly like other times when we used to play together and have lots of fun. When recess came the boys and girls were quiet but still they were staring at us and they started to giggle over nothing at all and some of the boys started to laugh and start whispering so we felt very funny then. When the school was over we just ranned [sic] home because the boys and girls was [sic] talking about us.”[2]

Loyalty sign
A sign in front of the Wnto Company Grocery store in Califorinia in 1942. The sign reads: “I AM AN AMERICAN.” Once relocation was ordered, Japanese Americans were forced to sell their businesses and leave their jobs regardless of loyalty to the United States.
(Photograph courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society)

Because of Pearl Harbor and the anti-Japanese backlash that ensued, many Japanese American youth became highly conscious of their Japanese ancestry. Although Kazuko Iwahashi never learned the reason why her classmates did not invite her to a party, she suggested it was because she was of Japanese descent:

“I remember thinking, well, gee, I never heard about the party. And I guess the kids were talking about it during recess or something you know. And I remember thinking I think just quickly that oh, maybe it’s because I’m . . . because of the war, because Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.”[3]

Iwahashi avoids using the word “Japanese” in her oral history. She believed she was excluded by her classmates because of her ethnicity. At the same time, she refused to label herself as “Japanese” because she was not born in Japan, but in the United States.

[1] Kay Uno, “Pearl Harbor Remembered,” in Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience, ed. Lawson Fusao Inada (Berkeley, CA: Heyday, 2000), 31.
[2] Seventh-graders of ’43, “Little Citizens Speak,” in All Aboard, (Spring 1944): 23.
[3] Seventh-graders of ’43, “Little Citizens Speak,” in All Aboard, (Spring 1944): 23.
Ellipsis in the original transcript.