Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.5, RH.6-8.8, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.3, SL.6-8.1, SL.6-8.2, SL.6-8.4, WHST.6-8.1

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.2, Civ.6, Eco.1, Eco.2, Eco.6, Eco.9, Geo.4, His.1, His.4, His.5

NCSS: Time, continuity, and change; Culture

Enjoy this free article courtesy of Junior Scholastic, the Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

“We Are Americans Too!”

Seen as security risks, more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans were rounded up during World War II and sent to internment camps far from home

Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images

While the internment camps were being built, some Japanese-Americans were held in crowded temporary camps like this one in Santa Anita, California.


Jeanne Wakatsuki, 7

Riku, 45, Jeanne’s mother

Chizu, wife of Woody, Jeanne’s brother

Man, a neighbor of the family

*Newscaster, a radio news reporter

Woody, 24, one of Jeanne’s four brothers

Kiyo, 10, Jeanne’s brother

Lillian, 14, one of Jeanne’s five sisters

*Sam Jones, a neighbor of the family

*Ronnie, 8, Sam’s son

Granny, 65, Riku’s mother

*Guard, at the relocation camp

Narrators A-E

*Indicates a fictional or composite character. All others were real people.


Narrator A: World War II began in Europe in September 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. By late 1941, the war had spread to East Asia, where Japan had allied itself with Germany.

Narrator B: At the time, Jeanne Wakatsuki (wah-kaht-SOO-kee) was just another American kid growing up in California. Then came the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. It was, President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “a date which will live in infamy.”

Narrator C: As the United States was plunged into the war, Jeanne and her family learned a bitter truth: For Americans of Japanese descent, being a U.S. citizen did not afford the same protections that other citizens enjoyed.

Scene 1: 1941

Narrator D: On December 7, a small fleet of fishing boats in Southern California is headed out to sea. Jeanne’s father, Ko, is on one of the boats. His sons Bill and Woody are his crew. From the shore, women and children are waving goodbye.

Jeanne Wakatsuki: When will they be back?

Riku: Two days? A week? It depends on how good the fishing is and how much they can catch.

Jeanne: Wait, look! The fleet is coming back already.

Chizu: Maybe someone is hurt!

Jeanne: But why would all the boats come back?

Riku: Something must be wrong.

Narrator E: A man runs out of the nearby fish cannery.

Man (shouting): We just heard it on the radio! The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii!

Narrator A: That night, the Wakatsuki family—and people all across the U.S.—listen to the radio for news.

Newscaster: Today at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time, some 200 Japanese aircraft bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. More than 2,000 servicemen were killed. Another thousand or so were wounded.

Narrator B: Ko, who was born in Japan, burns the Japanese flag.

Jeanne: Why is Papa doing that?

Riku: So people don’t think we sympathize with the Japanese attackers.

Jeanne: Why would they think that? We’re Americans.

Riku: Yes. But they don’t know what’s in our hearts. They don’t know we are loyal to America.

Narrator C: Two weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, FBI agents come to the house and take Ko away. The family is in turmoil.

Woody: The newspaper says that Papa used his boat to sneak secrets and supplies to Japanese subs.

Kiyo: Papa loves this country!

Lillian: And we’re all proud to be American! How can they doubt us?

Narrator D: The U.S. government labels Ko a hostile “enemy alien.” He’s sent to a prison in North Dakota. It is weeks before his family learns what happened to him.

Scene 2: 1942

Narrator E: Now that the U.S. is at war, people fear that there will be an attack on the mainland. Many Californians are anxious about the 93,000 Japanese-Americans living in the state. In February 1942, in a house near the Wakatsukis’ . . .

Sam Jones: Stay away from those Japanese kids! They’re the enemy!

Ronnie: But Dad, Jeanne’s American! She’s in my class.

Jones: She won’t be there much longer. President Roosevelt just issued Executive Order 9066.

Ronnie: What’s an executive order?

Jones: An executive order is an official directive issued by a U.S. president. This one will let the government round up all the Japanese in this country and take them where they can’t do any harm.

Narrator A: On February 25, many Japanese-Americans receive the same order: Leave home within 48 hours. The Wakatsukis and others go to an assigned location in Los Angeles, California. Govern­ment workers attach a numbered tag to every bag and every person before they board waiting buses. During the bus ride . . .

Riku (crying): Our fishing boat! Our house! We had to sell them for a fraction of their value. All our years of working and saving—for nothing!

Granny: Shikata ga nai.

Jeanne: Grown-ups keep saying that. What does it mean?

Riku: “It cannot be helped.”

Woody: It means that we’ll do the best we can with what we’ve got.

Narrator B: After a long ride, the bus comes to a halt. Everyone files out and looks around in shock. Row after row of wooden buildings, quickly and clumsily built, are dwarfed by a vast desert. Barbed wire surrounds the camp. Armed guards stand watch in towers.

Jeanne: Where are we?

Guard: This is Manzanar. Settle in—it’ll be your home for a while.

Narrator C: The newcomers are horrified by conditions at the intern­ment camp [a place where people who are considered a threat are confined during wartime]. The buildings are just wooden planks covered with tar paper. The wind blows sand, dust, and bitter-cold air through every crack. Twelve members of Jeanne’s family must live in a cramped two-room unit.

Locked Away, 1942-1944

Some internees were German or Italian, but most were of Japanese descent.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

Scene 3: 1942

Narrator D: Internees try to make Manzanar more livable. They fix up the buildings, hold religious services, and organize volleyball and other games. But the camp remains bleak. Summer brings blistering heat topping 100°F.

Narrator E: In September, Ko is released from prison and arrives at Manzanar. He is angry and bitter.

Jeanne: What’s wrong with Papa?

Woody: He’s a proud man who has lost everything. Even worse, people here are calling him inu [EE-noo].

Kiyo: That means “dog”!

Woody: It also means they think he’s a spy for camp officials.

Chizu: Everyone is tense—10,000 of us are stuck in this awful place.

Jeanne: For how long?

Woody: Nobody knows, kiddo. Remember: Shikata ga nai.

Narrator A: On December 5, resentments boil over. When angry internees pelt military police (MPs) with stones, some MPs open fire. Two internees are killed.

Scene 4: 1943-1944

Narrator B: After the riot, conditions at Manzanar improve. The government builds schools and relaxes some of the camp rules.

Narrator C: In December 1944 . . .

Newscaster: The War Relocation Authority has announced it will be releasing internees over the next year. The camps will close . . .

Jeanne: Why don’t you look happy, Mama? Isn’t this good news?

Riku: No home, no job—where can we go? How will people treat us?

Kiyo: Maybe we’re better off here.

Narrator D: But Jeanne’s oldest siblings leave as soon as they can. Woody joins the U.S. Army; others take jobs in New Jersey.

Scene 5: 1945

Narrator E: In August, the U.S. drops atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrenders, and World War II ends. In the camps, feelings are mixed. Internees are glad the war is over, but many of them have lost relatives in the destruction caused by the bombs. Jeanne and her family prepare to leave Manzanar in October.

Kiyo: I’m excited—but scared too! Are you nervous, Jeanne?

Jeanne: A little. So is Papa.

Kiyo: Yeah. He’s afraid we won’t survive in the outside world.

Jeanne: I think we’ll do OK. Remember: Shikata ga nai!

Narrator A: Jeanne is right—eventually, the Wakatsuki family does do OK. An aid organization helps them get an apartment in Long Beach, Cali­fornia, and helps Riku get a job. But no one who spent time in an internment camp is left unscarred.


Narrator B: After the war, an increasing number of Americans recognized the injustice of the camps. But not until 1988 did the federal government formally acknowledge that it had done what President Ronald Reagan called “a grave wrong.” The internment of more than 110,000 Japanese-Americans remains one of the most haunting episodes in U.S. history. 

Write About It! Why has the internment of Japanese-Americans been called “a grave wrong”?

Adapted from FAREWELL TO MANZANAR by Jeanne W. Houston and James D. Houston. Copyright ©1973 by James D. Houston, renewed 2001 by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved. All professional, amateur, motion picture, recitation, lecturing, performance, public reading, radio, and television rights are strictly reserved. Inquiries on all rights should be sent to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt at 3 Park Avenue–19th Fl., New York, NY 10016 and Scholastic Inc.

Under Lock and Key

U.S. Border Patrol/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Undocumented immigrants at a U.S. Border Patrol processing center in McAllen, Texas

In recent years, U.S. officials have enforced increasingly strict policies against illegal border crossings. Thousands of undocumented immigrants are currently being held in prison-like detention facilities. The detainees—including families with small children—often have no idea when, if ever, they’ll be released.

Survivors of World War II-era internment camps have said they find news images of today’s detention centers eerily familiar. A key difference: The internees of the 1940s were U.S.-born citizens or established legal immigrants; today’s detainees are newcomers who entered the U.S. without authorization. Many of those now being held fled dire conditions in Central America, including gang violence and political persecution. They are seeking asylum (official protection) in the U.S. But under new “zero tolerance” policies, asylum seekers are more likely to be deported, or held in long-term detention centers while their asylum claims are processed.

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