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"Prejudices don't fall off like an old coat": more on Japanese-Americans relocated to Pittsburgh

In March we looked at length at the history of Japanese American forced relocation to Pittsburgh, where an old North Side orphanage was to house families brought from the west coast to western Pennsylvania to work. The proposal was protested by North Side residents, though ultimately only two families stayed there in mid-August, 1945. There were letters to the editor criticizing Pittsburghers’ attitudes toward these relocated citizens, but the newspapers didn’t devote space to the uprooted Japanese Americans themselves. On August 11, 1945, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette talked with a few living in the area for the page three piece “Nisei Thrilled At Surrender Offer of Japs”:

What do the Nisei (Japanese-Americans) who are living in the Pittsburgh district think of Japan’s offer to surrender?

Well, at least two of them are thrilled at the news.

But they want to know if there will be any change in the attitude of the men and women of the Twenty-sixth ward, who at a recent mass meeting jeered down the War Relocation Authority’s attempt to house the Nisei there.

A skeptical Nisei is Hana Eejima, who in high school was awarded the American Legion Medal for outstanding citizenship.

“Prejudices don’t fall off like an old coat,” said Hana yesterday. “People who were prejudiced against the Nisei are the kind of people who always have a petty hatred against something or other. But here are enough nicer, more liberal people in Pittsburgh who make up for those few who caused trouble about housing the Nisei here.”

Hana is one of the many young Japanese-Americans who found refuge here. She is employed in a suburban home.

Edward and Mrs. Shinizu, janitors at the Beth Shalom Synagogue, expressed thankfulness that the war is “practically over.” About anti-Nisei prejudice here, Mr. Shinizu said:

“I think that it will wear off eventually.”

Hana was familiar to the paper and its readers through a June 26, 1945 Post-Gazette profile on her, “Young Nisei Girl Proud Of Her Medal”.

Hana Eejima took the bronze medal lovingly out of its cotton-padded leather box. She smiled wistfully as she read its inscription.

On one side it said “For God and Country” and on the reverse side, “Awarded to Hana Eejima for outstanding character, personality, all-around scholarship and citizenship.”

“The American Legion gave me this when I was in high school in California,” said the pretty Japanese-American girl in her low cultured voice. “I had majored in American history and I thought America was the greatest place in the world. I still do, too!” she added with a defiant toss of her had.

She didn’t add “In spite of some of my fellow countrymen.”

Hana is one of the Japanese-Americans, all native born, who have been brought to Pittsburgh by the War Relocation Authority.

She is a daughter of a Japanese college-educated man who came to this country 57 years ago to continue his studies at Columbia University and liked America so well he never returned to his native land. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, she was uprooted from her own comfortable home (which boasted a three-car garage and was staffed with servants) and sent to the Santa Anita assembly center in California, along with other west coast people of Japanese descent.

“I was awfully shaken by it at the time, but now it all seems like a bad dream,” she said yesterday.

The Eejima family was sent from California to Southern Colorado, where she, her parents and two brothers were housed in a one-room barracks equipped with army cots.

The worst experience of the internment was when her Japanese-American soldier friends returned on furlough to visit their parents in the camp.

“Some of them had been wounded and they couldn’t help feeling hurt when they had to come from their own army camps to another camp to see their parents,” she revealed. “Most of them wouldn’t talk about it, but several of them did say, ’What are we fighting for?’”

Brothers in Army

Hana’s two brothers are teaching Japanese to American servicemen at the Naval Language School at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo. Her parents, now quite old, live with them.

Now 24, Hana, who never performed a household chore more strenuous than drying the dishes or helping her father rake his produce gardens, is working as a domestic in the country home of a Wexford family. She plans to enter the University of Pittsburgh in the fall and later will study to become a librarian.

She wouldn’t comment on the cold reception she and her fellow Japanese-Americans have received in Pittsburgh. All she would say was “I like Pittsburgh. I like being free again. And I know it will all work out all right someway.”


*This article was originally published on his blog, PennsylvAsia on June 18, 2013.


© 2013 Brian Deutsch

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