Hot Off the Press

A New Story in "The Force of Ethics":

Japanese American Jack Hasegawa on 

World War II and Agriculture

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by Gary Moore

A Raw Deal (Part 6) – Making it Real (6/24/2022)

Posted on June 20, 2022 by gmoore@ncsu.edu

     Dr. Gary Moore, Professor Emeritus of Agriculture and Human Sciences, (University of NC), requested to reprint this expanded interview by Alice Bernstein in his weekly Friday Footnotes series for 13,000 Agricultural High Schools and thousands of college educators and writers. It appeared in June 2022 for Asian American and Pacific Islander History Month in relation to agriculture and Japanese American Internment camps during WWII. Dr. Moore credits Harold Mackin, of the Connecticut Department of Education, for alerting him to this story which follows below.

For the past several weeks the Friday Footnotes focused on Japanese internment centers during World War II. We have investigated the establishment of these camps, looked at agricultural education and Future Farmer chapters in the camps, recognized a special Japanese military unit on Memorial Day, examined their agricultural operations, explored their adult education programs, and detailed what faced the internees when they were able to return home. This week we want to “humanize” this history further by learning about the experiences of a particular person, Jack Hasegawa, who spent the first years of his life in these camps with his Japanese American parents and extended family. You should find his story to be very interesting.

Our Footnote’s guest columnist is Alice Bernstein from New York, a journalist, civil rights historian, and editor of Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism—2nd edition(2022). She has conducted video interviews with 400 people of diverse ethnicities for “The Force of Ethics in Civil Rights” Oral History Project of the Alliance of Ethics & Art. This Footnote draws on her interview with Jack Hasegawa, and the long history of his family’s farm in California. After a career in education and civil rights, Jack was Executive Director of the 4-H Education Center at Auer Farm in Bloomfield, CT, until he retired in 2015.

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Figure 1. Left: Jack Hasegawa, during the interview (copyright) David M. Bernstein.

Center:  Alice Bernstein (Third World Press website) and Right: Jack Hasegawa recently. 

Introduction by Alice Bernstein

Speaking with people about their lives and the ethical choices they made on behalf of justice makes for large respect. My purpose is to study and provide evidence for what the great poet and philosopher Eli Siegel (1902-1978), founder of Aesthetic Realism, identified: “ethics is a force” working in the world and in people throughout history. He described ethics as “the art of enjoying justice,” and explained its power and beauty:

When fairness is seen not just as an easily mouthed word but as the tremendous objective of all the conscious and unconscious thought of man, ethics will be seen as a sudden mountain range appearing near a dull, flat plain.

 

Jack Hasegawa’s life shows how true and alive this is!  As a Japanese American whose family faced enormous injustice in the war years and later, he used his life to fight injustice to all people. He told me that in high school, when he heard about the civil rights movement, and how people marching in Montgomery had been beaten and sprayed with water hoses, “I was determined to be part of the nonviolent struggle.” In college he went south, joining students in Georgia, and those picketing cafeterias in Nashville, and north to demonstrate and organize voter registration drives in Boston. He said, “We were very influenced by Dr. King and through him by Gandhi, with the idea that we should not give up; we should examine the roots of [injustice] and be part of change.” Later, Jack served many years as Chief of the Bureau of Educational Equity for the Connecticut Department of Education. 

 

I have learned from Aesthetic Realism—and it is the basis of my work—that the cause of racism and all injustice is the human desire for contempt: “The lessening of what is different from oneself as a means of self-increase as one sees it.” And the answer is respect, because respectfully trying to know the feelings of another person makes for authentic pride and self-respect. This study is urgently needed by every individual for our world to be safe and kind.

From the Interview

ALICE BERNSTEIN:  I’d like to begin by asking when you were born and where that was.

 

JACK HASEGAWA: I was born in 1944 in Colorado. My family was from central California near Fresno, but during the war we were relocated to Poston, Arizona. My father made an effort to make sure that I was not born inside the internment camp. He volunteered with my mom to work on a sugar beet crew in Colorado outside the camp, so I was born in Colorado where my dad was a sugar beet cutter and my mother was a camp cook.

The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, my dad left home for the recruiting office to volunteer. They turned him away as an enemy alien. That evening the FBI came to our farm and arrested my grandfather and all the Japanese-speaking men in our community. We didn’t see him again for about three years.

 

AB: Your father was born where?

 

JH: My dad was born right on the farm in Sanger, California.

 

AB: So your dad was an American.

 

JH: Yes. When he was in the internment center, the army came through when they were short on manpower and drafted men from the relocation center. My dad ended up in the 442nd combat battalion and fought in Italy. When he returned, he was put back into the relocation center.

 

AB: What you’re talking about is one of the most shameful things in American history. Your father was in the United States Army in what I believe was a segregated Japanese American battalion with white officers.

 

JH: Yes. It was the most decorated battalion. When they came back, President Truman gave them a special unit citation because they had the most casualties of any single US battalion in the Second World War.

 

AB: Then after they were honored with these medals, they were sent back to these camps?

 

JH: Those whose sons were still there were sent back. My family was still in custody. My dad remembers that every morning they would be marched down the road in between pickup trucks with civilians who’d been deputized carrying shotguns. Here he was, a veteran, born in the United States, who spoke Japanese relatively poorly, and yet he was treated as a prisoner.

 

AB: Would you like to say your parents’ names?

 

JH: My father is Peter Hasegawa. My son and nephew are both named for him. My mother is Yoshino Tajiri Hasegawa. She retired a few years ago after a long period as a public librarian in Fresno County. She published a two-volume oral history of the Japanese American families in our part of California. It’s a wonderful history.

 

AB: How did your family take this experience?

 

JH: A lot of the Japanese American families had a great deal of denial about the impact on them. When we were kids, they would tell funny stories about “when we were in camp this happened.” We had a vision of camp as like the summer camps we were being sent to—Boy Scouts camp. It was only when we were much older, coming home from college, having heard what it really was that we pressed them to tell us what had happened. Our family lost a great deal of land because, not surprisingly, when you’re in prison you cannot pay taxes. So a lot of land owned by Japanese Americans was sold at tax auctions. Some people had less land than we did—some had little stores, for example. It was devastating because when they came back they had nothing left. We at least had our farm.

 

AB: Did your father run the farm when—

 

JH: When my dad came back, he got a GI Bill and went to study electronics. He had been a radio operator in the Army. Shortly after that, we settled briefly in Greeley, Colorado where he’d done sugar beet cutting. But my grandfather got sick in California, so my dad was called back and ran that farm continuously from 1947 until he died in 1995.

 

AB: What kind of farm was it?

 

JH: Oranges—groves of oranges.

Interlude: the extended Hasegawa family’s citrus farms persevered with a staggering amount of labor, innovations, and agricultural ingenuity, so that by 1990, it became a charter member of the Sanger Sunkist Orange Company, enabling their ranch to be included in the 20% of farms that produced 80% of the fruit packed in Sanger.  

 

In 1980, Robert Kirchner, a former teacher and oral historian from Sanger, interviewed members of the Hasegawa family who spoke gratefully of the kindness shown to them during the war years. Ray Hasegawa, Jack’s uncle, said:

“We were fortunate having a neighbor who belonged to a Christian church. He agreed to take care of the land while we were away, but on a percentage basis. And I could say now, that he did a very good job, and we were able to hang on to the ranch. We had some mortgage left on the ranch, and they tried to take it away, but the neighbor who leased the ranch, hung on to it for himself as well as for us. So that’s the reason we were able to have the ranch today.”

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Figure 2. (above left). Seated are Jack Hasegawa’s paternal grandparents and their family in California just prior to the war.  Standing far left is Jack’s father, Peter; in the middle is his uncle Ray, at right uncle George; his aunt Helen is left and aunt Becky at right.  (above right) The boy at the farm picking oranges in the groves is
Chris Hasegawa, Jack’s youngest brother. And (below) The Hasegawa farm just after the war.

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The above photographs Courtesy of Chris Hasegawa for the Hasegawa family.

AB: Was your grandfather in the camp with your family or were they separated?

 

JH: Both of my grandfathers—my father’s father Shoichi Hasegawa and my mother’s father Jin Shichi—were separated from their families. December 7th was the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. By December 8th, the FBI was in the Japanese community and taking away the Japanese-speaking elders. There were almost no immigrant Japanese males left. Both of my grandfathers ended up in a regular prison where they stayed for quite a long time before they were re-united with their families.

 

AB: And your grandmothers—where were they?

 

JH: Grandmothers became the backbone of the families. Japanese in many immigrant communities believed that the men should have contact with the outside world, and the women lived almost entirely in the Japanese society. My grandmother, Tome Hasegawa, didn’t speak English very well. Years later, when I finished graduate school, I went to Japan for almost ten years and part of it was alternative service to Vietnam. I was a conscientious objector. I learned Japanese as an adult and that was the first time I had a long, connected conversation with my grandmothers.

So my grandmothers—here they were, women in middle age, each with five children, and they had to deal with all that happened. The FBI sent notices and they’d have their children read to them. The notices said you should report to the county fairgrounds with enough things for your family to live for an extended period—everything but food. Imagine having a week to do that!

All the things they had from Japan—scrapbooks, wedding kimonos, family heirlooms, all were taken away. My grandfather Hasegawa had lived on the farm. Any farm implement that had an edge: sharpened hoes, machetes for clearing brush, hunting things—all that might be weapons were confiscated by the FBI.

 

AB: I know that it took many, many years for an official apology to be made.

 

JH: Ronald Reagan issued the first apology. He wasn’t very enthusiastic, but Congress did act. The last camp was closed I think in 1948, and (the apology) was in the mid-1970s. There were 110,000 of us inside the camps and by the end of the war almost 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent had been in these camps. A benefit of $20,000 was provided to each survivor, but almost all of the first generation survivors were dead then.

 

AB: So there were no benefits to the families of the survivors?

 

JH: That is correct. The law was that you had to have been born under incarceration. I qualified because I was born while my parents were assigned to the sugar beet camp. But my siblings who were born later, would not qualify.

 

AB: As an American citizen I would like to say how much I regret what was done to Japanese Americans during the war.

 

JH: Well, the economic aspect was staggering. There was a famous case around 1968, Mashimoto vs. United States. Mrs. Mashimoto owned a little flower shop in Berkeley. When she was taken to camp, she lost her stock of plants and flowers and lost her lease. In 1968 she sued the government for the cost of her lost stock. The courts ruled that she was entitled to compensation at the rate of ten cents on the 1941 dollar. So by that ruling, my father figured out that for the 160 acres that were taken from us, we would have netted about $240.

 

AB: The deviousness in seeming to give something and then not giving anywhere near what is deserved, is a study in itself. What does it mean to give full justice to something or someone? That is a question Aesthetic Realism is mighty interested in, and which I want to take seriously in my life and as an historian. I hope through the questions I ask and the comments I make, to be just to you.

 

Addendum: After this interview, Jack Hasegawa was eager to learn more about Aesthetic Realism and to inform others. And on occasion he joined my colleagues and me at educational performance events in which we presented what we learned about the cause and answer to racism.

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Figure 3. United Auto Workers headquarters, Farmington, CT. “The People of Clarendon County”—A Play by Ossie Davis, and the Answer to Racism. Speakers included: (l-r) Steve Weiner, Muhammad Ansari, unnamed union brother, Yvette Wilds, Clarke King, Alice Bernstein, Jack Hasegawa. Photo by David M. Bernstein, courtesy of Alliance of Ethics & Art. Inc.

About the book, Aesthetic Realism and the Answer to Racism, Jack Hasegawa wrote:

 

“Alice Bernstein’s passion to end racism is the driving force in her life….Her work, [based] on the ethical principles of Aesthetic Realism which she learned from its founder Eli Siegel, is a valuable contribution to education and American history.”

 

To learn more about this education, visit: www.AestheticRealism.org

 

Concluding Remarks

 

Thank you, Alice Bernstein, for sharing this interview with us. And another thank you goes to Harold Mackin, an educational consultant with the Connecticut Department of Education for alerting me to this interview.

What have we learned from this series of Footnotes? We have learned that social injustice and prejudice can be manifest in many ways, but we have also learned of some heroes — people who did the right thing. We need to resolve to do the right things in our classrooms and in our lives...

References

Robert Kirchner, in Success through Perseverance: Japanese-Americans in the San Joaquin Valley / edited by Yoshino Tajiri Hasegawa and Keith Boettcher. Fresno, Calif.: Japanese-American Project, San Joaquin Valley Library System, 1980.

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