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Observer Sept. 23, 2004 

Mary Cazort was a Little Rock homemaker, the wife of Dr. Alan Cazort, when she and a group of other prominent Little Rock wives visited the internment camp at Rohwer, near McGehee, in 1942. They visited on behalf of the YWCA, which had been asked by internees to establish a Y at Rohwer. What Mrs. Cazort saw there and how she understood it is a history lesson for today, one of many surfacing as the “Camp Connections: A Conversation about Civil Rights and Social Justice in Arkansas” conference about America’s wartime incarceration of its Japanese American citizens convenes this week at the Statehouse Convention Center. Excerpts from Mrs. Cazort’s letter: The address of each person is designated by the block in which he lives and the number of the room in the house, rather than by street and number. For instance, you may live at 42-1-A. The block also serves as a unit of government and a Council is made of a representative from each block. Each house is a long narrow frame building, covered on the outside with dark green building or roofing paper. Each house is one room wide and I judge that to be about twenty feet. … The floors are bare, just as they were laid — no paint, no stain, no varnish. In fact, there is little or no paint in the whole place. … Each family has 1 room for a home. … At the time of the evacuation the Government agreed to allow each family to bring a certain amount of furniture but due to the lack of freight cars no furniture has been brought so far. … There are 8,500 Japanese at Rohwer and so, of course, in that number there are all types and it is interesting to see how much and how little they have tried to make their homes livable. Nearly all have curtains at the windows. … We were told in some cases, though, the people had not even unpacked — either because they do not have the inclination or because they feel that it is only a temporary arrangement. Of course, we ate in the Caucasian mess hall and the food was good, well seasoned and palatable. … We understand the food served to the Japanese is not the same. Just as good but more to their liking. One thing that was a surprise to us was the number of Buddhists. … I had a feeling before our visit that there would be a good deal of poverty but to my surprise and joy I didn’t see any, although among 8,500 people there are no doubt some who have and do feel the pinch of poverty. … It was New Year’s when we were there and that is their most important holiday … and so they were more or less dressed up — but the little children were all well-dressed, good shoes, good overalls and little wash dresses and I think nine-tenths of them had on the brightest red sweaters you ever saw. The little youngsters are so cute. … They were romping and playing and having a good time, little conscious that they were evacuees, and still I wondered what influence this abnormal life is having on them — sitting in mess halls instead of at the family table — whole families living in one room — and under the influence of parents who are more or less unhappy, unsettled and perhaps depressed. … … in nearly every home there was a branch of cherry blossoms. The blossoms were made in the most clever fashion from toilet paper delicately colored with diluted mercurochrome, growing perhaps on a gum or oak branch. These people are very artistic and deft with their hands. … One of the questions most often asked is “what is the attitude of these people?” Well, I will say that they are not hilariously happy and still I didn’t hear any of them complain, nor did they seem to be depressed. To me they seemed sad although the minute you speak to them they return a cheery smile. One of the Caucasian teachers said she thought they were hurt to think that their loyalty and patriotism had been doubted. … We must remember that many of these people are educated and the owners of property. We were told that one man was securing the help of an attorney in McGehee to help him in making his Income Tax Return. They told us he was paying a tax of $75,000. … One man is said to have sold 150 trucks before he was evacuated. Another was known as the “Tomato King” of Southern California. Certainly it was a sacrifice for them to leave and sacrifice what represented a lifetime saving. Of course, we know what happened on the West Coast and no doubt it was necessary to take every precaution but I’m wondering if in the years to come we won’t realize that it was a mistake to handle the problem as it has been — to snatch these people, the majority of whom are American citizens — from their homes and possessions and to literally make prisoners of them. We wonder if the people of California aren’t laughing up their sleeves. …
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