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Resettlement

As early as the spring of 1942, leave programs were established that allowed select Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans to leave the confinement sites to pursue education, employment, and permanent residence east of the evacuation zone. The first program focused on higher education. A seasonal leave program also allowed for temporary release to assist with agricultural work.

As part of a comprehensive resettlement policy, the War Relocation Authority needed a way to identify people who would qualify for resettlement programs. The result was the flawed loyalty questionnaire that asked inmates whether they would be willing to serve in the military (Question 27) and whether they would swear unqualified allegiance to the United States and forswear any form of allegiance to the Emperor of Japan (Question 28). These two questions caused a great deal of concern and unrest. Amache had the lowest percentage of “no” responses to the loyalty questionnaire of all confinement sites, only 0.2% did not answer “yes” to Question 28. However, there was still draft resistance, with 31 Nisei from Amache charged with the federal crime of failing to report to military duty and sentenced to detention in the Tucson Federal Prison Camp. Read more about the response to the draft at Amache in Chapter 5 of Prisons and Patriots: Japanese American Wartime Citizenship by Dr. Cherstin M. Lyon.

At the same time, Amache had the highest percentage of military volunteerism of all confinement sites. Some were recruited for the Military Intelligence Service to serve as Japanese language interpreters. In 1943, President Roosevelt announced the formation of a Nisei fighting unit, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team that allowed incarcerees to leave Amache for military service.

In 1944, Esther Takei became the first Japanese American from any site to resettle back to the West Coast. She was allowed to move from Amache to Altadena in Southern California and enroll in college at Pasadena Junior College. Hugh Anderson, a family friend who had worked at the Poston, AZ incarceration camp, arranged for Esther’s resettlement as a test case to gauge public reaction. While Esther initially received a warm welcome from the school and Anderson family, she soon endured people yelling epithets and spitting at her and received threatening letters and phone calls. Esther stood her ground and her experience persuaded Maj. Gen. Bonesteel to approve widespread West Coast resettlement in January 1945, a year before he had planned. Learn more about Esther at Densho, or in the LA Times article in memory of her heroism.

Like the vast majority incarcerees, Esther’s family lost everything that had not been left with the Andersons. Yet communities from the Livingston, CA area were able to maintain continuity after WWII. Residents of the Yamato farming colonies in California’s Central Valley (Livingston, Cressey, and Cortez) formed a corporation headed by a European-American to hold their property during the war. They were sent to Amache and unlike many were able to reclaim their property after the war, allowing for continuity among the Japanese American community in the area for generations before and after the war.

Many feared returning to the West Coast as many of the first to return encountered violence and hostility and difficulty finding housing and jobs. Because of friendships and connections made outside of the camp, many from Amache chose to stay in Colorado. Denver became the second largest resettlement community outside of the West Coast.

Oct 15, 1945, the last residents of Amache board the train for the journey to the west coast or to new homes elsewhere in the country. National Archives photo by Hikaru Iwasaki.