WWII Internment Camp Survivor Takes Aim at Historical Racismby Jan Janes on Mar 15, 2020
Addressing issues of racism and equity, Mas Hashimoto returned to Gavilan College to talk with students about the internment of American citizens of Japanese ancestry, by Executive Order 9066, during World War II.
Wearing the tag that was required as Japanese American families were relocated to
internment locations, Mas Hashimoto talked with students about the hardships.
“I’m from here, born in the United States,” he said. “There is only one race: the human race.”
As a third-grade student living in Watsonville, Hashimoto and his family were uprooted from their home and business and had to sell their farm equipment. They were moved to temporary housing in the stables of the Salinas rodeo, then transported by train from San Juan Bautista to barracks in the desert of Poston, Ariz. Each family was allowed two suitcases, bedding, only what they could carry.
Students who attended the program offered answers to the question: What would you bring? Hashimoto described the practicality of the things people chose, the life struggles inside the camp and lessons learned along the way.
“The FBI raided our homes,” said Hashimoto. “They wanted to know why we had postcards from Japan. My family burned many photos and documents.”
Hashimoto, now 84 and a retired high school history teacher, shared examples of the US history of racism, including the Constitutional decree describing a slave as 3/5 of a person, the Trail of Tears, where members of the Cherokee Tribe were marched off their lands, and the Dred Scott decision, which ruled that a slave in free territory was still a slave. “The Irish, when they immigrated, were met with signs ‘Irish need not apply,’” he said. “On the other side of the sign: ‘no Japs.’”
The audience viewed photos of the barracks, maps showing the different locations of camps, and the interior living conditions. Thousands of Japanese men volunteered to serve in the Army, even as the internment was underway. “Was it worth it?” Hashimoto asked. “Yes, to protect our families.”
The Gavilan College Library has many books about that era in history.
He noted current day racism, reflected in movies and television. “In Gone With the Wind, black people were dumbed down, playing subservient roles,” Hashimoto said. “Hispanics and Mexicans are displayed as bandits. Asians as either gangsters or Tibetan monks.”
He encouraged the students to change the narrative. “You’re going to have to write your own stories, star in your own movies,” he said. “Local indie films tell the stories of real people.”
Brenda Blake, who teaches at Gavilan College,
shared a photo of her family with Mas Hashimoto,
her US History teacher at Watsonville High School.