'Perpetual aliens'

1 2 3 | 4 | INDEX

Even if they had wanted to, Hosokawa and his staff could not have done much to encourage revolt at Heart Mountain. Their newspaper was established, funded, and monitored by the War Relocation Authority, as all the camp papers were. "Could such a newspaper criticize the agency that had given it life? If so, to what extent?" Hosokawa asks in his book. The newspaper, he writes, could not be simply a "mouthpiece" for the agency--"but neither should it snipe constantly at the WRA."

Hosokawa and the other Sentinel journalists could not help but recognize that the War Relocation Authority was often on their side. "The government had imprisoned us and that was considered unfair, but early on it became quite evident to us that the WRA as our prison keepers was also very interested in our welfare. It was our friend," Hosokawa says.

"There was a huge amount of criticism and condemnation from politicians and rabble rousers and racists all over the country. There were some very vicious things being said all over the United States--these were the things that the WRA was trying to control."

Beyond the threat of government censorship, the staff of the Sentinel also had to contend with their own hesitation to report on some issues. The draft, for instance, divided the camp. If Heart Mountain had the most draft resisters of any internment camp, there were still plenty of Japanese Americans there who went out of their way to display their loyalty to the United States.

The spirit of these flag-waving "super Americans" found its way into the camp press. Like other camp newspapers, the Sentinel published numerous pieces extolling the valor of Nisei soldiers overseas, who were fighting the Japanese. The Sentinel had good reason to play up the community's patriotism: After all, if there was the slightest hint of disloyalty, those who wanted Japanese Americans incarcerated would have their justification. "Asians are perpetual aliens," Ling-chi Wang, chairman of the ethnic studies department at the University of California at Berkeley, says. "The struggle has always been a struggle to be a part of the American citizenry."

At Heart Mountain, Nisei mixed freely with the Japanese-born Issei, and as a result many of the younger internees began to take greater interest in their ethnic heritage. The camp community observed Japanese traditions, such as the summer Obon festival and special New Year's traditions. But the Sentinel downplayed coverage of those festivals, just as it had highlighted the bravery of the Nisei soldiers. After all, bringing attention to Japanese cultural observances might taint the camp occupants as less than patriotic. "We didn't try to press the point that Japanese traditions were being followed," Hosokawa says.

In October 1943, after a year of running the Sentinel, Hosokawa was released from the Heart Mountain camp. He and his family went to Des Moines, Iowa, where Hosokawa found a job as a copy editor for the city newspaper, the Register. Soon afterward, he joined the staff of his old enemy, The Denver Post. By the time he retired from journalism in 1993, Hosokawa had served as a Korean War correspondent, a Sunday magazine editor, an editorial-page editor, and a newspaper ombudsman.

Looking back almost six decades later to his experiences at Heart Mountain, Hosokawa says that the Sentinel did not do enough. Although it provided space for its readers to voice their anger and frustrations, it could have taken a stronger stance on some issues, he says--such as the controversy over the barbed-wire fence. "We should have stated in an editorial that the fence was wrong," Hosokawa says. "What we did was publish a news story."

But however limited it was, the journalism produced at Heart Mountain was far superior to what was being done elsewhere (click here for more information) in the internment community. Hosokawa was not told what to put in his paper. The staff produced some hard-hitting news articles, and provided an outlet for readers to express their concerns and frustrations. "It very well could have been Ö just a mouthpiece for the camp administrators," Hosokawa says. "But we encouraged public comment." And at a time of incarceration, that was no small thing.


React >
Ready to enter the fray? Step into the Forum, or write a Letter to the Editor.
Like what you just read? Give Inthefray.com a buck.

Editorsí Picks >
If ordered through these links, a portion of the sale goes to Inthefray.com

Out of the Frying Pan
Reflections of a Japanese American
By Bill Hosokawa and Tom Noel
University Press of Colorado, 1998
Purchase this book through Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com

Watchdog under the watchtower

Fenced in

Talking back to the 'blockheads'

'Perpetual aliens'

Story Index