Broken Glass and Shattered Dreams~An American Short Story

**Very brief overview:
The discriminatory treatment of Japanese and Japanese Americans both before and after the bombing of Pearl Harbor is a little discussed event. Much of the information regarding "relocation" and "internment" (a more accurate description is "incarceration") was "impounded" and hidden from sight, although it is just as much a part of American history as is Gettysburg or Martin Luther King Jr's I Have a Dream speech.

Prior to WW2, Japanese were referred to as "colored," and they were increasingly forbidden to own land even if they were born on American soil. After Pearl Harbor, rampant discrimination and fear was promoted by the government as all Japanese were considered "the enemy" and spies.

Those who were of Japanese ancestry were made to leave their homes and were "relocated" to shelters with only what they could carry. Men, women, and children were made to wear numbered tags, put in buses and trains, and taken to multiple locations for the evacuees.(with a strange and frightening similarity to the Nazi relocation of Jews.) The shelters, located in desolate wastelands, were made of planks of wood covered in tar-paper, with no plumbing or cooking facilities of any kind. Food was rationed out at the expense of 48 cents per person. Some shelters had been horse stalls that were "modified" for families. Those of Japanese ancestry lost homes, farms, and businesses, apparently to the government. 

In 1988, Congress awarded surviving internees reparations of just $20,000 each. The award could not be given to families of deceased internees.

This story is dedicated to the memory of every Issei and Nisei made to endure "relocation" to concentration camps. Your elegance, dignity, and pride are a legacy for every person of Japanese ancestry.

An American Short Story
The front wheel of the little navy blue bicycle hit the side of the garage with a muffled, “Thud!”  Michiko fell onto her left elbow as the right training wheel spun uselessly in the warm April air.
             Hiroshi ran to the opened front door of the Watanabe home. 
            Okaasan!” The ten year old called his mother frantically through the bottom screen.  “Michiko is bleeding!”
            The living room was bare except for two straight backed chairs.  It had been modestly furnished, but most of the family’s possessions had been bought for pennies on the dollar during the days after the bombing.  Katsumi entered from the kitchen, drying her hands on a floral apron.  The sweet, warm fragrance of rice filled the room.
       “What happen?” Katsumi asked in a small, soft voice.  But it was too late.  Hiroshi had run back to his little sister.
            Stepping out onto the porch, Katsumi found her children at the garage end of the short driveway staring at two men walking toward the house.  Michiko, who was no longer crying, held her elbow with her right hand.  Her light blue pants were ripped at the knees.
            “Ma’am, my name is Sergeant Riley.” The taller of the two men was dressed in a suit and tie.  The other was in a soldier’s uniform.  Katsumi only knew he was an American soldier.  Whether Army, Navy, or something else, she did not know.  “We need to speak with your husband.”
            Katsumi bowed slightly to the tie.  It was all she saw from her tiny stature as the San Francisco sun seemed to illuminate his blond hair and face.  “I so sorry that my husband--he work now.  He home dinner.” 
            “This area is to be evacuated, and your family must leave the premises.”  Sergeant Riley spoke matter-of-factly, but he wondered if the soldier beside him detected the sadness he felt carrying out this aspect of his job.  If the sergeant’s voice betrayed his feelings, it could be to his detriment.  Private First Class Donaldson remained silent but attentive at Sergeant Riley’s side. 
The garage stood alone beside the little home.  Its doors were open revealing several mismatched boxes filled with what remained of the family’s possessions along with several suitcases that occupied a corner of the space.
“Ah, so sorry,” Katsumi’s humble bow accompanied her words.  “You see, we prepare.” She pointed to the garage.  “We can come today, later.  Is okay?”  Her broken English tugged at the sergeant’s heart, but his face remained sober.
            “Please, Ma’am.  Otherwise your husband will have to be arrested.”  With that, the men turned and left in the black car that had blocked the driveway.
            The children’s deep brown eyes watched the car pull away.  “Who was that?”  Hiroshi questioned.
            “Not for you to know now.  For Father and Mother.  You play outside.”  She encouraged her children to resume their games, and uncharacteristically left her daughter’s scrapes unattended.
            Hiroshi wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw his mother wipe away a tear.  He followed her into the immaculately clean kitchen and stood silently behind Katsumi, but she felt the boy’s stare.  Steam rose violently above a boiling pot of rice on the stove.
            She knelt as she turned to him.  “Hiroshi,” the tears flowed freely from her dark, almond eyes.  “You good American boy!”  She sobbed on his neck.
            Hiroshi understood little of what was happening and asked nothing.  His arms around her neck, he consoled his mother like a little man.  “Don’t you worry, Okaasan.  Everything will be alright.  You’ll see.” 
           But nothing would be alright for a very long time. 
            Little more than nine years ago, Yukio Watanabe brought his pregnant wife to the United States hoping for more than their simple life in Okayama, Japan.  He found a job at a farmer’s market, and saved frugally.  Determined to do better than simply providing for his wife and young son, he had bought his own small business selling local produce and cigarettes in four short years of being in America.  Since then, he had to move into larger quarters several times as his business blossomed into a local grocery store.
            Yukio vacillated for weeks after reading the evacuation order of all Issei from San Francisco.  He had put his heart into the store and his employees, and he wondered who would care for them if he were gone.  On this evening, Yukio said goodbye to the last of his workers leaving for the day.  Standing at the door, he reached over and touched the edge of the gaping hole in the front window pane where the brick had been thrown.  Several shards of glass fell inward.  He left them and locked the door.
            Yukio Watanabe walked home from work with trepidation in his heart.  He knew there was little more he could do to avoid the “relocation.”  With the voluntary evacuation deadline under Proclamation No. 1 long past, he had no power to change the fate of his family.  They would have to join thousands of other Issei and Nisei to centers set up by the War Relocation Authority.  As he turned the corner to his street, he saw a black car blocking the driveway.  His throat dry, and his heart racing, Yukio sprinted toward the house. 
He met Sergeant Riley and PFC Donaldson in the driveway.  Katsumi had taken the children into the house to pack a small bag for each child to carry, and to wait for her husband.
The men had returned to ensure the family’s cooperation with Executive Order 9066 and Public Proclamation No. 4. Understanding, at least in part, the reality of refusal to cooperate with these mandates, Sergeant Riley offered to drive the frightened family to the temporary center instead of the alternative government transport.  Having two children about the same ages as the Watanabe children, the Sergeant wrestled with his emotions, knowing what would befall this seemingly gentle, little family.  But even this special treatment potentially threatened not only his upcoming promotion, but his career.
            After speaking to Sergeant Riley outside for several minutes, Yukio entered the house and addressed his wife and children firmly.
            “Dekakeyouka.  It’s time to go.”
            “Go where, Otoosan?” Michiko’s eyes were wide.
“On an adventure, Musume.”  For her sake and his own, he would not allow himself to show his own fear.  “Now please take your bag.”
Katsumi handed each child a bag and a bento box of tekka maki, rice, fish, and orange slices, and ushered them out the door toward the car.  She carried two more bags and followed her children and her husband down the short driveway.  Sergeant Riley held the car door open and helped the children to their parents in the back seat after putting the suitcases from the garage into the trunk.
As they pulled away from the house, Katsumi looked for the last time at the house they had called their home for the past three years.  She noticed that the garage doors had been left open, and one of the suitcases had been left behind.


Bento-boxed lunches which can be in very plain or very fancy box containers and differ considerably in their contents.
Dekakeyouka-“Time to go” with the assumption of returning.
Executive Order 9066- From the start of the War, the U.S. Justice Department had established restricted areas from which enemy aliens were excluded.  On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War, or his designate, to define military areas. It also gave the power to exclude from a designated military area both aliens and citizens alike.

Issei-term used in North and South America to specify Japanese people who emigrated to other countries in the years preceding World War II.

Musume-“my daughter”

Nisei-A person born to parents who emigrated from Japan.

Okaasan-mommy, mother

Otoosan-daddy, father

Public Proclamation No. 1- issued on March 2, 1942, it expanded the restricted area established by the U.S. the Justice Department by designating the western halves of California, Oregon, Washington and the southern part of Arizona as Military Area No. 1. Japanese-Americans as well as Japanese, German, and Italian aliens were excluded from it.

Public Proclamation No. 4-issued six days after Public Proclamation No.1, it announced the replacement of the so-called voluntary evacuation with a forced evacuation. After Sunday, March 29, 1942, evacuees would be forbidden to leave the area and had to await evacuation under Army supervision.(Watsonville Register-Pajaronian. March 26, 1942. p. 1.)

Tekka Maki-tuna sushi roll

War Relocation Authority (WRA)- On March 18, 1942, Milton S. Eisenhower was named the WRA's first directory.  He was charged with the responsibility of seeing an orderly evacuation of designated persons from the restricted military areas took place. Although the order did not explicitly call for relocation camps, the newly created WRA was given wide discretion in deciding the fate of the Japanese Americans who were forced to leave their homes. On March 21, Congress backed the evacuation measures by passing Public Law 77-503. The law made anyone convicted of violating a military order subject to a civil penalty of a $5,000 fine, up to one year of imprisonment, or both. During this time, although the West Coast was declared a theater of war, martial law was never declared and habeas corpus was not suspended. The civil court system was in full operation throughout the war, and anyone charged with espionage or sabotage could have been properly tried. Yet the federal government proceeded with its plans for a mass evacuation and incarceration of American citizens and resident aliens, based solely on race, without any individual review.

American Concentration Camps: A Documentary History of the Relocation and Incarceration of Japanese Americans, 1942-1945 (9 vols., New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1989)

Hatamiya, Leslie T. Righting a wrong; Japanese Americans and the Passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Stanford Univ. Press. 1993.

Lange, Dorothy. Impounded. New York, NY: WW Norton and Co, 2006.
Personal Justice Denied: Report of the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians (Washington, Government Printing Office, December 1982)


  1. My parents and their families were in Manzanar and Poston. Like most Nisei, they never really talked about it. We visited Manzanar a number of years ago and it was amazing that they had built gardens, ponds, etc. Making the best of a terrible situation. I remember when the Japanese American National Museum in L.A. had an exhibit. They had re-built one of the barracks from Manzanar. My mom said "Oh, they were lucky, they had tarpaper."

  2. Thanks for sharing that, Gail! I saw the exhibit in LA when I was doing research for this story. It was humbling walking through it and visualizing the conditions people were made to live in. You would appreciate Lange's book, listed in the bibliography. It was VERY enlightening!

  3. I remember learning about the Japanese internment in really interested me to the point of doing excess research on it, but what was shocking to me then, and is even more shocking to me now, is that these events have been kept so "secret" few people know about this shameful time in American history. I don't remember what it was called, but I read a novel about one of these camps, and the imagery was so clear that to this day I can close my eyes and see the camp. I think it is so important to remember these events and to give names to the victims, as you have done in your story.


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