An evacuation sale in Los Angeles as Japanese Americans try to sell off their belongings. Photo Credit: Library of Congress
Soon after Pearl Harbor, the evacuation notices were posted. Then came the tension and the anxiety of "What do we do now?" All of our things had to be packed and stored because we could only take those things which we could carry. We had to sell our car - a relatively new Packard - for a very low price compared to what we had paid for it. People knew there were all sorts of distress sales going on, whether it was a person who had a store and had to get rid of his merchandise, or a farmer who had to make arrangements for his farmland. There were just a lot of things that had to be done in a very short period of time. We could feel the tension, and it all culminated on May 29, 1942, when we boarded the trains to go to the Santa Anita Assembly Center outside Los Angeles. This was a famous horse-racing track that they turned into an internment camp.
While my parents were stressed and sad, it was a little different for me. I was a boy going on a long train ride. It was really the first long train ride I had ever been on. I'd taken the train to San Francisco several times, but nothing like this overnight train. I was so excited, I asked my mother if I could wear my Cub Scout uniform that day.
I didn't go to school when we were at Santa Anita, and it was there
that I saw a riot involving two or three thousand people. It had started
when the Santa Anita officials distributed a list of contraband
articles: hand irons, knives larger than four or five inches, AM radios.
Well, one day the Army came through and started to inspect the barracks
for contraband articles, and people really got up in arms about this
invasion of privacy. Before we knew it, there was a full-scale riot,
and the military police, complete with jeeps armed with machine guns,
came in to put it down.
Luggage is being inspected after arrival at a camp. Photo Credit: Library of Congress.
I remember my friend and I sitting on the fence of the practice field, next to the racetrack, as the riot was going on. We sat there while the bullets went zinging by us - here we were, 10-year-old kids! We ran up and tried to peer through the brush to see more of what was going on. We were not really in the cross fire, but we were close enough to hear the bullets winging by us. When I think about it now, I sort of laugh and think about how lucky we really were. This was a full-scale riot. Of course, as a 10 year old, my response was "Wow! Look at the weapons, look at the tanks, and look at the jeeps and all that stuff coming in!" To others, it had a very different impact.
Why was tension so high for Norman's parents and other Japanese Americans selling off and packing up their belongings?