Monday, July 4, 2011

Portrait: Molly Kitajima

After I photographed Fran Ellis in 2010, Fran introduced me to Molly Kitajima. Fran and Molly are both on the Board of Directors of the Tule Lake Committee, which supports preservation of the site of the Tule Lake Internment Camp, and also organizes pilgrimages to Tule Lake in northeastern California. Not only was Molly active in supporting the movement for redress and reparations, but Molly was the first person I met who was incarcerated in Canada. Very few Americans are aware that Canada (and also Cuba) also conducted large-scale incarceration of people of Japanese descent during the war.

(Photo by Andy Frazer)
Molly is a native of the Surrey and Delta region in British Columbia. During WWII, Molly's family was sent to the Winnipeg Assembly Center, and were eventually moved to a large sugar beet farm in Middle Church, Manitoba for the duration of the war. When I photographed Molly she was 86 years old and teaching Taiko drumming

It was a pleasure to meet Molly because she is full of energy and has a wonderful memory of growing up and being interned in Canada. This was one of the longest interviews I've conducted so far.
  • Molly describes her life living on a farm in British Columbia before WWII. They had one of the first farmhouses to have piped-in water and electricity. She also talks about how her mom and dad came immigrated to Canada (LISTEN).
  • The year before WWII, her father returned to Japan. When he saw that Japan was preparing for war against the U.S., he tried to warn everyone that Japan was no match for the U.S. After they threatened to imprison him, he fled to Canada. He later learned that his ship was the last ship to be allowed to leave the country before Japan attacked the U.S. (LISTEN)
  • Molly describes her siblings (LISTEN).
  • Her dad returned from Japan and warned everyone that Japan was planning to attack the United States. Molly remembers attending a meeting of the Japanese-Canadian League when they heard the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor. (LISTEN)
  • After December 7, 1941 the officials began confiscating Japanese-American's fishing boats and cameras. Her dad continued warning everyone that they would all be interned, so he was promptly arrested. Her relatives from Vancouver Island were incarcerated first. They were sent to an assembly center at the Hastings Park race track in Vancouver. Molly recalls her memories of the people at Hastings Park living in the filthy stables. (LISTEN)
  • Japanese-Canadians from Vancouver Island were evacuated first. The young men were immediately sent to road camps. The wives and children were temporarily left in Molly's village. Since many of these wives didn't even speak English, Molly and her siblings would visit them and help them buy groceries and helped tend to women who were pregnant (LISTEN)
  • Her dad tried to get the local authorities to promise not to incarcerate the Japanese-Canadians. He was arrested after refusing to stop telling everyone to sell their possessions because they were going to lose them when the government order them to evacuate (LISTEN)
  • Molly and her brothers did paperwork for J.C.C.A before the evacuation. They wanted to help the people in the village get the best arrangements when they would be interned (LISTEN)
  • One of Molly's neighbors refused to be evacuated with her husband because she was having a relationship with another man. Molly's brother was able to arrange for the woman to be evacuated with her boyfriend, and the woman was forever grateful to him (LISTEN)
  • Before Molly's family was evacuated, her mom slaughtered all of the chickens on their farm, cooked them, and prepared hundreds of chicken box lunches. When they were on the evacuation train to Manitoba, her mom would give the box lunches to their friends who were in the road camps along the way. (LISTEN)
  • Molly talks about her memories of the evacuation train ride over the Canadian Rockies. At Jasper Station, the RCMP guard wanted to take Molly's family to a great apple pie bakery in the station. But his superiors forbid him from letting Molly's family leave the train. (LISTEN)
  • She recalls her memories of the Winnipeg Assembly Center; including the tightly-packed cots, and a limited number of toilets and baths (LISTEN)
  • Molly's family was sent to a large commercial farm, instead of the more common road camps. Many of these farms would arrange for multiple Japanese-Canadian families to be packaged together to create a more productive labor force. Many of these families were not happy about being forced to live with each other (LISTEN)
  • Molly talks about the living and working conditions for the interned Japanese-Canadian farm hands (LISTEN)
  • On the farm, they had an out house that was separate from the main house. During the winter they had to tie a line between the house and the out house to prevent getting lost in a blizzard while walking to the out house. (LISTEN)
  • Her family worked very hard to finish harvesting all of the sugar beets before the arrival of winter in mid-October (LISTEN)
  • After working on the sugar beet farm during internment, Molly talks about her empathy for Cesar Chavez and the farm workers in California (LISTEN)
  • Molly's family requested to be sent to a working farm because they had heard many bad stories about the conditions on the road camps. But the conditions on the farms were so bad that they regretted not being sent to a road camp like most of the Japanese-Canadian internees (LISTEN)
  • While living on the farm in Middle Church, Manitoba, her younger brother was killed by a drunk driver while he was pulling his wagon to get water for the family. The driver of the car was the wife on an R.C.M.P and was never charged in her brother's death (LISTEN)
  • Japanese-American men serving in the Military Intelligence School in Fort Savage, Minnesota, would take the train up to Winnipeg to meet the women in the Japanese-American community. Molly talks about the arrangement between Winnipeg and Fort Savage, as well as the story about how she met her husband (LISTEN)
  • During the war Molly's dad was doing some research for the government, so he traveled across Canada while the family had to remain on the sugar beet farm (LISTEN)
  • After Molly's family was released from internment at the sugar beet farm, they decided to settle in Winnipeg (LISTEN)
  • Molly discusses her memories of hiring discrimination against Japanese-Canadians in Winnipeg (LISTEN)
  • After Molly's family moved to California, she was very vocal in the Movement for Redress. Once the U.S. government formally apologized the Japanese-Americans, Molly went back to Canada to help start the Movement for Redress in Canada. The Canadian legislation passed, and the Japanese-Canadian citizens received their reparations before the Americans received their reparations (LISTEN)
  • Molly's nephew was asked in second-grade where he was born. He truthfully told the teacher he was born in the Tanforan Race Track in San Mateo, CA. The teacher sent a note to the parents accusing the boy of lying in school. Molly went to visit the teacher and was shocked the learn that even the school teachers had never heard that the race track had been used as a Japanese-American assembly center (LISTEN)
  • During World War II, Cuba also interned people of Japanese descent. Molly tells the story of how she was asked to go to Cuba to act as an interpreter for many Japanese-Cubans who only spoke Japanese, and were applying to the Cuban government for reparations (LISTEN)

You can also read the TRANSCRIPT of the above interviews. 

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