America’s Concentration Camps


June 2, 1942 –November 28, 1945

“My parents had very strong feelings of trying to keep the family together, because in wartime we never knew what was going to happen…. So we volunteered and went to Poston, Arizona.”
—Marion (Funakoshi) Manaka

The Arizona summer heat was a shock for the evacuees arriving from the Salinas Assembly Center in coastal California. Rudy Tokiwa recalled, “When the weather hit 80 degrees, we were burning up already. And the day we got to Parker, Arizona, 114 degrees. People were fainting like flies, because none of us prepared for any of this.”

Poston consisted of three separate camps, which the inmates nicknamed “Roasten,” “Toasten,” and “Dustin.” The camp was built on the Colorado River Reservation against the will of the reservation’s Tribal Council, which saw the internment of Japanese Americans as a repetition of the forced relocation their own people had endured.


Even though Poston didn’t have guard towers—considered unnecessary given the remote location, in the desert at a road’s dead-end—the usual barbed wire fence surrounded the camp. American citizens, especially, felt the sting of incarceration. “I was pretty bitter myself,” said Hisaye Yamamoto. “This went against everything we were taught in school that Americans did. Putting us away like that without even benefit of trial. And taking our property or making us sell it at a loss. Disrupting our whole lives.”

Yet Ms. Yamamoto thought that the friendships she’d made at Poston might not “have been as sustaining without our sharing the camp experience.” Inmates were also spared the overt hostility they had been faced with in their home communities. “At least we’re in a place where we’re not getting all this propaganda about ‘Jap, Jap,’” said Poston inmate George Yoshida. “We didn’t have to deal with that paranoia.”

A City in Itself

For many young Japanese Americans, a community operated almost entirely by people of Japanese descent was eye opening. Mr. Yoshida remembered a friend’s reaction:

“He was a Nisei, about my age… and it really blew his mind to see the camp run by Niseis, to see so many different Niseis doing different things. Here’s this journalist writing newsletters and producing the newsletter. And here’s this Japanese fireman. And here’s this Japanese police station and a Japanese Nisei policeman. And in the hospital, there were the nurses, doctors, all Nisei. Of course, we had some farmers who grew vegetables. Teachers. It was a city in itself, populated and run by Japanese. That opened the world for him. And it did for others, too.”

Quote credits
Marion (Funakoshi) Manaka, REgenerations, Los Angeles, Vol. 2, p. 270
Rudy Tokiwa, interview by Tom Ikeda and Judy Niizawa, July 2 & 3, 1998, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho.
Hisaye Yamamoto, interview by Chizu Omori (primary); Emiko Omori, March 21, 1994, Emiko and Chizuko Omori Collection, Densho.
George Yoshida, interview by Alice Ito, February 18, 2002, Densho Visual History Collection, Densho.