Friday, June 12, 2009

Collection Integrity

Familiarity with the collection makes for a better Librarian, and allows for wiser decisions.

Sixteen years ago I began caring for the Depository collection. One of the first treasures I found was in the Department of the Interior. I found a sheaf of brittle bond paper from 1943 to 1945. The words on the paper were typewritten. Letters were fragmented, missing, super or sub-scripted randomly. It would have been easy to throw them away.

I found primary source documents from the War Relocation Authority, describing camp life during World War II, first-hand quotations from those evacuated. Hundreds of books and videos have been created about the Relocation camps. Many of them have first-hand accounts, intellectual and emotional descriptions of what people thought and felt about forced segregation.

In my opinion, if a Library has these documents, they should protect them, carefully copy them, and make them available for the public. Public Libraries should not rely upon Regional Depositories or University Libraries to save these materials. Their content is far too important to the on-going discussion facing our society about the value of people to simply discard because of condition. To this end, Libraries have a responsibility to maintain continuity between the past and the future. Librarians have a responsibility to work toward not breaking that continuity.

The following excerpts from a WRA document show the intense logic and emotion behind the making of a decision to maintaining continuity with the past, and a responsibility toward those who bridge the past to the future. The young Japanese man quoted is anonymous. In my mind, his loyalty and integrity are impeccable.


[Tom Kobayashi, Landscape, Manzanar Relocation Center, California / Photograph by Ansel Adams.]

(The following account, by the Community Analyst at Manzanar, reveals the life experience and viewpoints which lie behind one young man's "No" answer to Question 28 of the Army registration form. This question was one of those submitted to all male evacuee citizens in February, 1943. It was as follows: "Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?")

[The following are excerpts from the Notes]

(Hearing Board Member) HBM: Are you a duel citizen?

Nisei: No, I am an American citizen only.

HBM: Did you understand the question?

Nisei: I guess I did understand the question.

HBM: And do you want to change the answer or do you want the "No" to stand?

Nisei: I'll keep it "No."


Nisei: If I would say "Yes," I'd be expected to say that I'd give up my life for this country. I don't think I could say that because this country has not treated me as a citizen. I could go three-quarters of the way but not all the way after what happened.

[Choir, two singers, Manzanar Relocation Center, California / Photograph by Ansel Adams.]

Later I contacted this young man and asked him for a fuller explanation of his views. The following is what he told me:


"My dad is 58 years old now. He has been here 30 years at least. He came to this country with nothing but a bed roll. He worked on the railroads and he worked in the sugar beet fields. If I told you the hardships he had you wouldn't believe me. I owe a lot to my father. Everything I am I owe to him. All through his life he was working for me. During these last years he was happy because he thought he was coming to a place where his son would have a good life. I am the only son. I have to carry on the family name. You white people have some feeling like this but with us it is greatly exaggerated.

"I tell you this because it has something to do with my answer about the draft question. We are taught that if you go out to war you should go out with the idea that you are never coming back. That's the Japanese way of looking at it. Of course many in the Japanese armies come back after the war, just like in all armies, but the men go out prepared to die. If they live through it, that's their good luck. I listen to white American boys talk. They look at it differently. They all take the stand that they are coming back, no matter who dies. It's a different mental attitude.

[Manzanar from Guard Tower, view west (Sierra Nevada in background), Manzanar Relocation Center, California / Photograph by Ansel Adams.]

"In order to go out prepared and willing to die, expecting to die, you have to believe in what you are fighting for. If I am going to end the family line, if my father is going to lose his only son, it should be for some cause we respect. I believe in democracy as I was taught in school. I would have been willing to go out forever before evacuation. It's not that I'm a coward or afraid to die. My father would have been willing to see me go out at one time. But my father can't feel the same after this evacuation and I can't either.

"I suppose you know that if there is one thing the Japanese respects, it is integrity. I have to tell the truth. If these questions were just man-to-man, it might be alright to say "yes." But if it is put down as a record, I want it to be just what I feel. If I feel one per cent different I don't want to say "yes." That's how hard it is for us to answer that question.

From: Community Analysis Notes No. 1, January 15, 1944. From a Nisei Who Said "No", I 52.11:1.

Photographs from the Library of Congress
American Memory Collection.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, preserving documents like this one and making them available to the public is crucial.We can't learn from the past if we don't know it.