The exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast during WWII came to an official end on January 2, 1945. By the end of the year, nine of the ten War Relocation Authority concentration camps had been shut down — although Japanese American “renunciants” and Japanese Latin Americans slated for deportation to Japan remained imprisoned even after the war’s end. On the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the end of Japanese American incarceration, we take a look back at some of the images from this moment in history.
By 1945, many Japanese Americans, particularly college- and working-age Nisei, had already left the camps to “resettle” in Midwest and East Coast hubs, which meant that the majority of those who remained were elders and families with young children for whom another forced move was a significant hardship. Incarcerees were ordered to leave and given just $25 and a one-way ticket home — but many had nothing to come back to.
Most returned to the West Coast without serious incident, but well-publicized discriminatory and terrorist actions greeted many returnees. Against this backdrop, Japanese Americans struggled to find housing and employment, and many turned to overcrowded hostels and government-run trailer parks as a last resort.
The extreme hardships of the immediate return to the West Coast eased for many over the next decade. By 1950, the Nikkei population on the West Coast was well over 80% of what it had been before the war, and before long Japanese Americans came to be seen as a “model minority” — although that image ignored the many, particularly Issei, who never recovered, as well as long-term cultural losses and psychological effects. As Brian Niiya writes in the Densho Encyclopedia, “Incarceration had not killed Japanese American communities—and Japanese American identity—but it had changed it in ways that wouldn’t be understood for many years.”
Adapted from Brian Niiya’s Densho Encyclopedia article “Return to the West Coast.” Read more: http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Return%20to%20West%20Coast/
[Header photo: Original caption: “Last of the residents of the Amache Relocation Center board the train at Granada for the journey to the west coast or to new homes elsewhere in the country.” Photo by Hikaru Iwasaki, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.