That comic book superhero, Wonder Woman, first appeared in 1942, and I’m not surprised. Wonder Woman fought against the forces of evilwhich were usually the Nazis. Mim was my personal wonder woman that year. While Paul had enlisted in the Army to fight abroad, Mim battled her forces of evil in California. That’s how she saw it.
It started in February. President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 authorized our military commanders to exclude every Japanese and Japanese American from the Pacific Coast, including all of California.
“These are our neighbors, Florrie,” she told me, pacing back and forth the way she always did when she was upset. “The Nazis are rounding up the Jews and we’re rounding up the Japanese. Have we gone mad?”
I wasn’t even going to try to explain the difference. At the heart of the matter, Mim was right. I still saw in her the same girl who had printed the Vote for Justice card thirty years earlier. I was also well acquainted with Chiura Obata and his wife, Haruko, who had an excellent art supply store and studio on Telegraph Avenue. Chiura taught in the art department at the university, and I admired his work.
Still, when the time came, the Obatas and more than a thousand others in Berkeley had to leave for government interment camps. The first stop for most of them was the Tanforan Race Track, where they lived in what had been horse stalls.
Mim and I joined the Fair Play Committee to protest the forced relocation, but not much came of our efforts. We did enlist the help of Robert Gordon Sproul, who was the president of UC Berkeley then. He was also a friend of the Obatas. Robert helped make it possible for Japanese American college students to finish their degrees at universities and colleges outside of the exclusion zone. As I remember, Yoshiko Uschida was one of those students, although Rachel didn’t know her.
That April and May, Mim spent mornings at the First Congregational Church on Channing Way. The church had opened its social hall as an embarkation spot for internees. Mim baked oatmeal raisin cookies to give to the families who came there. She gave church members a box of toys to distribute to the children on their way to the camps. And she framed the note someone had nailed to her front door.
JAP LOVER. DON’T AID THE ENEMY!”
She hung the note in the front hall.
The Obatas went to Tanforan and then to the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah. Chiura set up an art school there, and managed to eke out an existence and maintain his dignity until he came back to teach at Berkeley, as I recall. Fred Korematsu took a different approach.
I didn’t know Fred, and neither did Mim, until she got involved with his case through the Northern California branch of the ACLUthe American Civil Liberties Union, in case you didn’t know.
Fred was Rachel’s age. He was born and bred in Oakland, and worked in his family’s flower nursery after he graduated from high school. Apparently he’d tried to get defense work but had been rejected because he was Japanese. When the order came down to report to assembly centers, Fred had plastic surgery on his eyelids, changed his name, and went into hiding.
A couple of weeks later, they arrested Fred for violating a military order, and threw him in a San Francisco jail. Mim was on the phone in a flash. I think if typography hadn’t been her first love she would have gone to law school. The director of her ACLU chapterErnest Besig was his nameconsulted with Fred and agreed to take the case as a way to test whether the Executive Order was legal.
This was a big step, mind you, because the national ACLU was against Besig’s actions. They didn’t want to rile up the President in time of war. Mim told me that at Fred’s arraignment in June, Besig posted bail, but the military police prevented Fred from going free. Off he went to the federal prison and then to trial. On September 8, they convicted him of violating military orders and sentenced him to five years’ probation. Fred wound up in Topaz, while Mim and Besig worked mightily to have his sentence overturned on appeal.
That was September 8, mind you. The very next day, a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of Brookings, Oregon, down where the State of Jefferson might have been. A plane slipped in under the fog and dropped incendiary bombs into the forest near Brookings. Luckily a forestry student was on duty at one of the lookout towers. He notified authorities, and they discovered smoldering fragments of bomb and a three-foot-deep crater. The damage might have been awful, like the 1923 Berkeley fire that terrified Mim, but Mother Nature acted in our favor. The forest was too wet to catch fire. Let’s raise a glass to Oregon weather!
The Japanese did try again toward the end of the month, as I recall, but the forest was just as wet then. The incendiary bombs did practically no damage. By then Paul was heading for war in the Pacific.