Poston: My New Home

Julia Kim, guest writer


I woke up covered in sweat. The nightmare had been vivid. I made my way to my parent’s room. When I got to my parent’s door, I paused when I heard my parents whispering. I leaned against the door to hear what they were saying.

“Honey, what’s going to happen?” Mama whispered to Papa.

“I don’t know. Ever since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the people have started treating us like we’re their enemies. They don’t care if we’re American citizens; they only care for what we look like. Since we are Japanese, they consider us to be a threat.”

“Have you heard what happened to Mr. Kamari?” Mama asked.

“No, what happened?”

“I heard rumors that he was taken by the FBI. They accused him of spying for Japan. Can you believe that? He doesn’t even have family back in Japan. The FBI apparently took him somewhere and wouldn’t even tell Mr. Kamari’s family where they were taking him. It’s really horrible,” Mama said. “I also heard rumors that they were going to put all the Japanese in the West Coast in relocation camps.”

“They can’t possibly do that to us. It is highly unconstitutional and America will never take away the freedom of its citizens,” Papa reassured.

“Are you sure about that? People have been really afraid since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and you know that fear can make people do crazy and unreasonable things,” Mama said.

“I promise nothing bad will ever happen to us. I won’t let it happen, so don’t worry. I’ll go downstairs to the kitchen and make you a cup of tea. What are you doing here, Youko?” Papa said as he walked through the doorway.

“I . . . I had a nightmare,” I stammered.

“It’s okay Youko. We’ll go to your room and I’ll tuck you back in,” Papa reassured.

“Papa, are the FBI going to take you like they took Mr. Kamari?”

“Where did you hear that?”

“I heard you talking to Mama.”

“No darling, I’m not going anywhere. I’ll always be here to protect you. Good night Youko.”

“Good night Papa,” I replied yawning. Papa’s promise made me feel safe and warm.


The next couple of months were peaceful. I went to school, went to ballet class, played with my brother, and life seemed normal. Normal until May 1, 1942.

On May 1, 1942, as I was walking with my mother, I saw posters around the community ordering all people of Japanese descent living in Fresno to report to Fresno Assembly Center by May 8, and to bring only one piece of luggage per person. “Mama, what is that about?” I asked, pointing to one of the posters.

Mama looked at it in surprise. “I haven’t seen this around. Let’s read what it says. Youko, we have to go home now,” was all Mama said as she finished reading the poster. She grabbed my hand tightly and raced towards the house.

We waited in silence until Papa came home from work. “Honey, what’s wrong?” Papa asked as he saw the concern on Mama’s face.

“Have you seen the posters?” Mama quietly asked.


“Youko and I were walking and saw the posters. They ordered us to relocate to camps. Honey, our worst nightmare is coming true. What are we going to do?”

Papa sank down into the nearest chair. He covered his face in his hands. He sighed and said nothing. Just then my brother, Kiyoshi, ran in happily, exclaiming that his baseball team won the game. His cheerfulness disappeared as soon as he saw Papa.

“What’s wrong?” Kiyoshi whispered.

“We have to move,” Mama said.

“Move? Wait, what is going on?”

“The government is forcing all Japanese to move to relocation camps.”

“But we’re American citizens. They can’t do that to us!”

“I know it isn’t right, but there is nothing we can do.”

“She is right. We need to start getting ready to move,” Papa said. “How much time do we have?”

“One week,” Mama said.

“One week? That’s it?”

“Yeah. We have to report to the Fresno Assembly Center by May 8, and we can only bring one bag per person.”

“That means we have to sell most of our stuff.”

“Mama? What is going on?” I asked. “What do you mean we have to move and sell our stuff? I don’t want to move. I want to stay here. My friends are here. And next month is my ballet recital. I can’t miss that. Can we at least move after my ballet recital?”

“I’m sorry Youko, but we have no choice but to move. But look at the bright side, you can think of this as an adventure. You can pretend we’re going on a trip, and I’m sure you will make new friends there.”

I wasn’t convinced that moving to a new place was going to be fun, but I managed to smile to make Mama feel better.


The next week was really busy. Mama was busy packing everything, and Papa was busy closing and selling his business. My parents got rid of everything that connected them to Japan. They even burned the Japanese flag that had been in my family for generations.

Soon it was time to move. Mama and Papa made final preparations for the trip. Dressing in the morning was a challenge. Since we could only take one bag per person, we had to wear most of our clothes. I had on four different layers of clothing, and I was covered in sweat by the time I got outside. The sight of my family dressed like Eskimos would have made me giggle any other day, but today I remained silent.

There were hundreds of other Japanese Americans already at the Fresno Assembly Center when we got there. Our family was given a number: 268. I sat down next to our luggage and started to fall asleep when I heard a loud voice saying, “Families number 250 to 300 will be transported to Poston, Arizona, today. Only one luggage per person. The buses are waiting outside so move it!”

People shuffled outside. My family followed the crowd. We got inside a tightly packed greyhound bus. The bus felt like an oven and it smelled like sweat. I felt like I was going to throw up.

I leaned against Mama and tried to sleep. The bus was hot, but I clung onto Mama. Mama hugged me as I drifted to sleep.

I don’t know how long I slept, but when I woke up we were at Poston, Arizona. It was dark outside and I knew I had been on that bus for hours. I sluggishly stepped off the bus and looked around. My heart dropped when I realized we were in the middle of nowhere. It was hot even though the wind was blowing. A soldier shouted for everyone to go inside the camp.

The camp was surrounded by barbed wire and everyone went inside. The gate closed shut after us. The soldier ordered everyone to their new “house”. Our new home was barrack number 74. To be more honest, it wasn’t a barrack let alone a house. Our new home was a stable – a place “that had never been intended for human habitation” (“Internment). Mama tried her very best to make the place a little better, but there was very little she could do tonight. We ended up sleeping on hay and our clothes.

The sun crawled up the sky, and I realized my stomach was growling. My family and I hurried to the cafeteria. There was already a line when we got there. We waited in line for what felt like an eternity and then we finally got our food. My heart sank when I saw the food. On my plate, I grudgingly eyed a scoop of yellow and disgusting rice covered with brown gravy.


The next couple of months were torture to me. Our “house” improved. We cleaned out the stable and made mattresses out of hay and cloth. Papa even managed to secure us a small table and a couple of chairs. Even though our living quarters improved, it was still pitiful compared to our luxurious, two-story house back home. And the food was still terrible. Mama had managed to plant a couple vegetables in our garden, but it was still going to take months for the vegetables to grow.

I attended school with my brother Kiyoshi. The school we attended was comprised of forty kids in the camp and five teachers. The school had a “shortage of materials and qualified teachers” (Niiya). I hated going to this school, but my parents forced me.

Everything would have been bearable if I could dance. Being a ballerina had been my life long dream. A dream that was shattered by moving here. Every time I thought about my destroyed future of being a ballerina, tears streamed down my cheeks.

“What’s wrong Youko?” Mrs. Sachiko asked.

“What?” I asked. I looked around. I found myself in the small barrack that served as the school. I saw every face staring at me as tears streamed down my face. Embarrassment filled me as I realized that I was crying like a little girl at school in front of all my peers.

“Let’s end class early today. Youko, will you stay behind?”

Everyone filed out of the classroom. Kiyoshi threw me a concerned glance, but he too walked out. Soon it was just Mrs. Sachiko and me.

“Sweetie, will you tell me what’s wrong?”

“I . . . I was just thinking about how I can’t ever be a ballerina anymore and that has been my life long dream. My dream is shattered. I hate this place!”

“Oh. That’s what is bothering you.”

We sat in silence for a couple of minutes. Then suddenly, Mrs. Sachiko’s face lit up.

“I think I have a way to help you. My sister is a ballerina. I am sure she would be willing to give you lessons. If you want, you can get some of the girls and start a ballet class. I am sure you guys can have recitals and you can follow your dream.”

“Thank you! Thank you so much! You have no idea how much this means to me!”

The next month was like a dream. Ms. Tagawa, Mrs. Sachiko’s sister, organized a ballet club. We were busy getting ready for a recital. Soon, it was the day of the recital. I was nervous, but once I got up on the stage, I felt like I was flying. I knew right then and there that my life in Poston would be okay.


Works Cited

“Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.” DISCovering Multicultural America: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans. Detroit:Gale, 2003. Student Resources in Context. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.

Niiya, Brian. Poston, Arizona. Japanese American National Museum, 1993. Web. 13 Mar. 2016.


Grapes, Bryan J. Japanese American Internment Camps. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, Inc.,    2001. Print.

Shafer, Leah. “The Japanese Internment Camps (1942).” Dictionary of American History. Ed.  Stanley I. Kutler. 3rd ed. Vol. 9. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2003. 405-406. Student Resources in Context. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.

Takagi, Midori. “Japanese American Internment Camps.” St. James Encyclopedia of Popular   Culture. Detroit: Gale, 2015. Student Resources in Context. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.