San Elijo hosts Japanese American internees

This year marks the 75th anniversary of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1942 Executive Order 9066, effectively incarcerating all people of Japanese descent following the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Last Thursday, in remembrance of this shameful chapter in our history, the San Elijo campus had the privilege of hosting Mas and Grace Tsuida– a married couple native to San Diego who met inside the relocation camps after being forced there.

Grace was born in El Cajon, where she spent her life on her parents’ tomato farm. She attended El Cajon Elementary School until the eighth grade and then moved on to attend Grossmont High School. During her sophomore year of high school in 1942, President Roosevelt signed executive order 9066, resulting in her expulsion from Grossmont High, and her family’s imprisonment at the Colorado River Relocation Center near Poston, Ariz.

“We were all in tears.” stated Tsuida when explaining what it was like to leave her entire life behind.

Before taken to the camps, however, her family, along with thousands more were held at Santa Anita to live in horse stables for four months while the camp was built. Once completed, the prisoners were taken to Poston through busses and trains. And just like that, they were imprisoned by their own government.

Their life in Poston was radically different than the one they lived in El Cajon.

“It was hot, and dusty and windy,” explained Tsuida, “And scorpions, we had scorpions.”

The bright San Diego adolescence she once lived was now a mere memory in a harsh reality. Inside the camp, life was to proceed “normally.” She continued and eventually completed her high school education inside the camp, where it seems as though the camp at least made an attempt at recreating American high school life by providing the interned teenagers with dances and clubs to participate in during their relocation. One of the most striking differences was the lack privacy Japanese Americans were subjected to.

“Everything was community,” explained Tsuida, “The shower, the bathrooms, everything. The bathrooms had partitions, but no doors.”

I urge you to take a second to pause and picture yourself in an environment with thousands of strangers, in a desert wasteland without the privacy to even use the restroom.

Mas Tsuida was in Panama working as a commercial tuna fisherman in 1942. Two days after the Pearl Harbor attacks, his boat was ordered to report to the Panama Canal where he and the rest of his crew were held for two weeks. After two weeks, he came back to San Diego and was immediately given a physical. Two weeks after that, Tsuida was drafted into the U.S. Army, the only branch of the military accepting Japanese Americans at the time.

Tsuida was stationed in Fort Riley, Kan. and fought for the 442nd battalion, a segregated combat regiment consisting entirely of Japanese American men. During his service, Tsuida served in Italy, France and Germany. Displayed in front of the couple were Mas Tsuida’s various decorations, including a Purple Heart, the Congressional Gold Medal and the French Legion of Honour, the highest military honor awarded in France

One day, President Roosevelt visited Fort Riley.

“All of us Japanese were detained in a barrack and the guys had machine guns all the way around. And we were detained in this one barrack until President Roosevelt went away,” Explained Tsuida. In other words, the men sworn to fight for the country, men willing to die were detained at gunpoint during the President’s visit.

After the war, the Tsuidas moved back to San Diego and lived normal lives. But their story must not be ignored. This chapter in our nation’s history is one we need to reflect and learn from, one that we need to keep in the back of our minds to avoid anything similar from happening again. They, along with countless others were unjustly imprisoned by their very own government for no other reason than their Japanese descent. Not a single person was found to be disloyal to the United States. In 1988, President Reagan issued an official apology and restitution payments for the survivors. Stories like the Tsuidas’ serve to remind us of the dangerous, downright heinous mistakes our country is capable of making.


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