Preserving American Freedom

The Evolution of American Liberties in Fifty Documents

Selected Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Correspondence, May 28-July 22, 1942

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Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Author(s): 
Recipient(s): 
May 28, 1942
Sonoko U. Iwata
Block 42—Building 7-D
Poston, Arizona
postage stamp postage stamp postage stamp
POSTON ARIZ. Arizona MAY 29 1942 330 PM
Barrack No. 19
Santa Fe, New Mexico
DETAINED ALIEN ENEMY MAIL EXAMINED BY 3 U. S. I. & N. S.
Source Information: 
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Iwata, Shigezo
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053)
Box 1, folder 36
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Author(s): 
Recipient(s): 
May 28, 1942
It's been almost ten days since we’ve come here and thanks to the efforts of those responsible, many improvements have been brought about, making it much easier for us to adjust ourselves to our new surroundings.
There are three separate settlements which are three miles apart and capable of housing 20,000 people. We are in the Northern settlement which has facilities for 10,000. I don’t know just how many blocks there are here but I know there are more than fifty and each block has a little over 200 residents. We from Indio and Thermal and Palm Springs are more or less grouped
Source Information: 
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Iwata, Shigezo
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053)
Box 1, folder 36
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Author(s): 
Recipient(s): 
May 28, 1942
together here in Block 42.
In every block there is Dining Hall, Recreation Hall, Block Office, Laundry, and Men and Women's Rest rooms. So, you see, each block is like one community and it's up to those of us who comprise the community to make it better, through cooperative efforts.
First two days when our block kitchen was not yet ready to serve food, we went over to our neighboring block which is across a wide field. We had to stand in line under the hot sun and when inside we had to again stand in line with our plates and cutlery. Honestly it made me think of what might be in a cheap restaurant. It was like survival of the fittest, too, as small babies were and grown-ups had the same chance. On top of all that, there would be just saurkraut and wienies and rice. Miki couldn’t very well eat them and then I couldn’t be sure that I could get milk. So, things were pretty awful for a few days. Now that our block kitchen is working, conditions are much better. There isn’t much standing in line and the atmosphere is more like that of a dormitory; and more often than not, we have good food.
At evening
Your letter of 26th came to me this afternoon at four o'clock. I certainly was glad to hear from you.
Source Information: 
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Iwata, Shigezo
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053)
Box 1, folder 36
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Author(s): 
Recipient(s): 
May 28, 1942
It’s all right about the "pink slip" if you’ve already sent it. The Mexican fellow was all right but at the last minute Mr. Shrainer tried to act for him and instead of giving me the cash, he deposited it in with the bank in my name to be turned over to me when you sent the "pink slip." Some people advised me to have you send the "pink slip" to the bank if it were not too late. That is why I asked you. But it is all over now. I’ll write to the bank and to the Mexican again, though, to be sure.
My neighbors in the adjoining room are Mrs. Tsunoda and her family and Toshiye san's family. In the building next to us are Sugimoto san's, Kitigawa san's and Musashi san's. They all help us a great deal. Toshiye san heard from her father and was quite downcast.
Love,
Source Information: 
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Iwata, Shigezo
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053)
Box 1, folder 36
Letter from Shigezo Iwata to Sonoko U. Iwata
Author(s): 
Recipient(s): 
June 18, 1942
1
Dear Sonoko,
Have seen your letter dated June 16. It has become hot here in the last two, three days and I can picture you having a hard time because it must be extremely hot in Parker.
The lay-out of the room was very interesting.
Last Monday, I had the notice of intern. Soon I expect I'll be going elsewhere. Mr. 1 was given notice, too. Mr. Yano and Mr. Sugano have not received theirs. Among the Thermal group, Mr. Musashi is the only one paroled. It's a poor showing. But we do not know the reason for our arrest so we’re at wit's end. I don’t think they will hold us throughout the war. There is an effort being made through the consul of Spain to enable families to live together but I think it will be difficult to become a reality. Tsunoda, Sugimoto, Sakamoto, Hirata, Iwata have received notices of intern and soon we will be sent elsewhere. Yesterday 2 people (including me) were notified to be prepared to leave for parts unknown but it was cancelled after all. I will be sometime near, I expect. With some of the people paroled to join their families in the relocation camp; some to be interned; calmness is lacking. I proposed for the head of the dormitory but after three days, I had to resign. DETAINED ALIEN ENEMY MAIL EXAMINED BY 25-1 U. S. I. & N. S.
Source Information: 
Letter from Shigezo Iwata to Sonoko U. Iwata
Iwata, Sonoko
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053)
Box 1, folder 32
Translated by Iwata, Sonoko
Letter from Shigezo Iwata to Sonoko U. Iwata
Author(s): 
Recipient(s): 
June 18, 1942
2
A little while ago, Mr. Yonemura and Mr. Uyeda left for Parker to the relocation camp. Their addresses are:
  • Mr. Yonemura
    Block 14, Bldg. 6-D
  • Mr. Uyeda
    Block 14, Bldg. 7-B
Mr. Uyeda is related to Mr. Nishimoto. Perhaps he is visiting you even now. Even if the internees will leave soon from here, they will forward the mail, so please keep on writing.
I'm glad the children are all well. Masahiro's schooling could be a little too early. Let him stay with you and help you. I guess Misao and Miki are growing so. Wish I could join you and live with you all. Glad to know that meals are improving. The heat is getting worse so be very careful. We are all well here so don't worry. Mr. Ooka sometimes comes to visit. He is still not sure of his status. Regards to all.
DETAINED ALIEN ENEMY MAIL EXAMINED BY 25-1 U. S. I. & N. S.
Source Information: 
Letter from Shigezo Iwata to Sonoko U. Iwata
Iwata, Sonoko
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053)
Box 1, folder 32
Translated by Iwata, Sonoko
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Author(s): 
Recipient(s): 
July 22, 1942
Block 42, Building 7-D
Poston, Arizona
postage stamp
POSTON ARIZ. Arizona JUL 23 1942 330 PM
ISN-25-4J-110-C1
Camp 3, Co. 9, Lordsburg Internment Camp
Lordsburg, New Mexico
CENSORED WAR DEPARTMENT LORDSBURG, NEW MEXICO
Source Information: 
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Iwata, Shigezo
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053)
Box 1, folder 53
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Author(s): 
Recipient(s): 
July 22, 1942
CENSORED WAR DEPARTMENT LORDSBURG, NEW MEXICO Poston, Arizona
It's odd that I haven't heard from you all last week and not so far this week. I hope nothing has happened.
I am enclosing a copy of the letter of appeal I wrote to the Attorney General Francis Biddle in Washington, D.C. and to United States Attorney William Fleet Palmer in Los Angeles.
Perhaps if I had written with the assistance of others, it would have been better but every word came from the bottom of my heart and I did the best I could.
Yours,
Source Information: 
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Iwata, Shigezo
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053)
Box 1, folder 53
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Author(s): 
Recipient(s): 
July 22, 1942
Copy
The Honorable Francis Biddle, United States Attorney General United States Department of Justice Washington, District of Columbia
Sir:
I am taking this means to appeal to you for a reconsideration of the decision against Shigezo Iwata, my husband, who was taken into custody on March 11 from Thermal, California; given a hearing on May 15 at Santa Fe, New Mexico where he was detained; and transferred to Lordsburg, New Mexico on June 19 as an internee of war and now identified as ISN-V5-4J-110-C1 and located in Barrack 4, Camp 3, Company 9, Lordsburg Internment Camp.
I am an American citizen of Japanese descent and I believe in the government of the United States. I am grateful for the privileges I have been able to enjoy and share as a part of democratic America.
The decision you have recently rendered against Shigezo Iwata, my husband, must have been reached after a careful consideration but I am making this appeal to you in the hope that there might be room for reconsideration.
I solemnly affirm that Shigezo Iwata, my husband, has at all times been loyal to America and has always coöperated with our government, observing all regulations and trying his best to add constructively to the welfare of the nation. In the almost five years of our married life, I have always known
Source Information: 
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Iwata, Shigezo
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053)
Box 1, folder 53
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Author(s): 
Recipient(s): 
July 22, 1942
-II-
him to practice simple honesty. He has been open-hearted, too, though markedly reserved. Our life has been a struggle on a small income but always, there was hope and ambition for a higher living and we were slowly but surely attaining it. If Shigezo Iwata is returned to his family now settled at the Poston War Relocation Camp, I can assure you that he will coöperate and unite in efforts to build up this city of Poston which we know is a part of democratic America.
This appeal, I make, not because of our three small children who undoubtedly will receive more adequate care if their father could be with them nor for my own desire of keeping our family together since I know that countless number of homes are being permanently broken because of this conflict, but because I firmly believe that Shigezo Iwata, my husband, is a loyal resident and has never been or never will be dangerous to the security of the United States. Moreover, to be considered such is a dishonor we cannot bear to face.
Whatever your final decision, I shall still have faith in God and in our government but I keep praying that you will be able to give Shigezo Iwata a favorable decision.
Any word from you will be greatly appreciated.
Source Information: 
Letter from Sonoko U. Iwata to Shigezo Iwata
Iwata, Shigezo
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053)
Box 1, folder 53
About This Document: 

After the surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941, Japanese-Americans saw many of their freedoms and constitutional rights slip away. Fearful that Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast would betray the United States, President Roosevelt passed Executive Order 9066, which granted Congress the ability to take away constitutional safeguards from American citizens in the interest of national defense. This order led states such as California, Oregon, and Washington to exile Japanese-Americans to internment camps managed by the government, often splitting up families and confiscating property in the process. Sonoko Iwata and her husband Shigezo, who lived in Thermal, California, faced separation from each other and the loss of their home as a result of these measures. Shigezo, a Japanese immigrant, was arrested by the FBI in March 1942 on suspicion of being an "enemy alien." He was given no warning and received no formal charges. After undergoing trial in Santa Fe, which his family was not allowed to attend, he was moved to a camp in Lordsburg, New Mexico, for an indefinite period of time. Sonoko, a natural-born American citizen, received a month's notice before she and her children, along with many of their neighbors, were sent to Arizona's Poston Relocation Center in May. Throughout their respective detentions, Sonoko and Shigezo exchanged postcards and letters, three of which are presented here. These letters provide a view into the lives of the Japanese-Americans who had their freedoms suspended as a result of wartime fears and reveal the Iwatas' resilience in the face of adversity and devotion to each other.

On July 21, 1942, Sonoko wrote to the US Attorney General Francis Biddle, a man known for his dislike of the government's extreme anti-Japanese measures. Sonoko begged Biddle to release her husband based on his loyalty as an American citizen. The few Japanese-Americans who were freed during this time were usually endorsed by Caucasian, natural-born citizens. Most of the Iwatas' neighbors and friends were Asian-American, however, and Sonoko was unable to find any white people to advocate for her husband.

Shigezo was eventually relocated to Poston on July 6, 1943, and reunited with his family. After the end of the war, the Iwatas were allowed to leave the internment camp. They eventually settled in Bridgeton, New Jersey, where Shigezo and Sonoko found work at a frozen produce shipping plant. The Civil Liberties Act of 1988 would attempt, at least financially, to rectify the government’s action by providing surviving members of internment camps with a $20,000 reparation payment. The Iwata correspondence is crucial to understanding the experience of wartime America. Although mistreated by their government, Shigezo and Sonoko never lost faith in finding justice or faith in each other.

Sources:

"Brief Overview of the World War II Enemy Alien Control Program," US National Archives and Records Administration, accessed November 2012, www.archives.gov/research/immigration/enemy-aliens-overview.html.

Freedom for Some: The Japanese American Internment Experience, Balch Online Resources.

Japanese American Internment Unit Plan, Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Shigezo and Sonoko Iwata Papers (Collection MSS053), Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Finding aid