During the renovation of a historic building in Denver, Colorado, Alissa Williams and her husband Mitch discovered a collection of 250 letters and postcards that were sent by Japanese living in the United States, interned in American concentration camps during the WWII.
These concentration camps were one of the defensive measures adopted by the Americans after the attack that Japanese troops had performed over Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. With this policy, the US government wanted to protect itself against possible attacks against national security, that could be committed by the Japanese population residing in the United States.
The letters found had been sent to the T.K Pharmacy, owned by a Japanese-born Colorado businessman, Kobayashi Thomas, and managed during the war by his brother-in-law, Yutaka "Tak" Terasaki.
The epistles were written in both English and Japanese, and came from internment camps in California, Wyoming, Arizona, Arkansas, Utah and Colorado. In them, the inmates asked for a wide variety of products that were not only related to the pharmaceutical environment, from cough drops to condoms and ounces of chocolate.
The internees could pay for all these items because they received a small salary for doing work inside the camp. They charged about $ 19 a month and some of them even managed to take some extra money home. Despite their isolation, they read certain newspapers within the fields, and these contained advertisements for products that could be ordered by mail or by catalog. In fact, some of the latter were found in the set of letters.
The denver pharmacy It seemed to offer products that were in high demand by internees, and its clients would probably feel more comfortable buying from a Japanese-owned company than from a properly American one, no doubt due to the tensions produced during the war.
Thomas Kobayashi and Terasaki Tak are no longer among us to clarify the enigma of that correspondence, however Tak's younger brother, Sam, has explained that his brother was a former member of the League of American Citizens - Japanese, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting since 1929 for the civil rights of Asian Americans. In addition, Tak's wife, Mrs. Mitchie, was working for Ralph Carr, the vindictive governor of Colorado from 1939 to 1943 at the time.
Carr put his career on the line to defend the rights of Japanese-American boarding schools while he was governor. He made public statements against the internment proceedings claiming that it violated the Constitution, and did not turn his back on displaced Japanese Americans, despite widespread racism and paranoia throughout the country.
At that time the Japanese were called "the yellow danger”, And it was not until 1988 that Congress approved the Civil Liberties Act, where it was finally recognized that «a great injustice was committed»With citizens of Japanese origin. The brave stance that Carr took diametrically affected his political career. He lost a race for a position in the Senate in 1942 and never again held popularly elected positions. However, he established a great reputation as a person of integrity and fairness in the most difficult circumstances.
On the other hand, the historian of the State of Colorado, Bill Convery, affirms that the T.K Pharmacy It must have been one of the few pharmacies owned by Japanese-Americans in the western United States, since all the properties of that nature located in this area had been confiscated by the government and interned with its regents.
Likewise,the internees could not bring many material goods to the field and they did not know where they were going or how long they would be away from their homes. «Among the few options they had to soften the impact of this unimaginable situation, those companies did what they could"Convery commented.
The building had been unoccupied for seven years until the Williams family bought it in 2010, and at no point was there the slightest notion of the existence of these letters. The reason why they were housed inside the wall It remains a true mystery, since many of the epistles that were sent from the concentration camps were found out in the open inside them.
Alissa and Mitch Williams, meanwhile, have reported their finding to the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. Interestingly, the museum is currently in the middle of a major project that intends to collect oral histories, photographs and letters from the interneesSo you will surely be very grateful and satisfied with the new documents that Messrs. Williams can provide you.
The Memory Project carried out by the museum, it began at the beginning of the year 2012, specifically on February 19, coinciding with the seventieth anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. The presidential order, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt authorizing the military to declare parts of the United States 'areas'in which any or all people could be excluded”. That order led to the admission of people who fit the description of what they called "Foreign Enemy Ancestry» (ancient alien enemies), and that they sent to live mainly areas of the Pacific coast.
This initiative seeks to make a permanent museum in line with the memories of people who were interned due to the implementation of Executive Order 9066. Currently, anyone can read some of the tributes that have been uploaded to the website, or even donate money to the project if they are very interested.