Lodi begins an extraordinary moral examination of its past Thursday.
We will gather at several churches, halls and public buildings to share our thoughts on a book, "Farewell to Manzanar," the tale of a Los Angeles family's "evacuation" from their home during World War II because they were of "Japanese descent."
The Wakatsuki family was just one of thousands touched by Executive Order 9066, signed by Franklin Roosevelt on Feb. 19, 1942.
In early 1942, the U.S. Census made a special count and found 4,484 "Japanese" living in San Joaquin County - 1,725 aliens and 2,759 American-born. On May 14, the Lodi News-Sentinel announced, in an eight-column headline across Page 1, that U.S. officials "Order Out 2,550 Lodi Japanese." They had until noon, May 21, to relocate to the Stockton Fairgrounds.
Those of us born since World War II have seen the Japanese internment through the lens of the civil rights movement and condemn it. That thinking, I believe, has given our country a sound moral grounding to face the events of Sept. 11. But just after the outbreak of World War II, with our perspective dominated by the threat of the Japanese Empire and a history of anti-Asian bias in California, Lodians supported the evacuation nearly universally.
Yet there was much respect for the Japanese-American community in Lodi. The News-Sentinel's reporting of events reflected an ambiguity that is worth examining as we take inspiration from "Farewell to Manzanar."
Like most newspapers of the day, News-Sentinel headline writers used the expediently short "Jap" to refer to the Japanese Empire and its military. I haven't detected that the term was used to refer to local residents.
A "sidebar" story to the evacuation announcement told Lodians the Sentinel had arranged with "special correspondents" Paul Shimada and Misao Hiramoto to report news "of soon to be former residents of the district both those who are citizens and those who are not wherever they are."
The voice of the paper was mostly that of its energetic and community-minded editor, Arthur Marquardt. His daily column "Over the Morning Coffee" anchored the Sentinel's front page in those days. Clearly "Marq" had fast friendships in Lodi's Japanese-American community and yet he wrote from the perspective of a white man prominent in his own domain and supportive of the nation's war effort.
On May 15, Marq abandoned his usually breezy style and composed this reflective piece:
"The clang of hammers was about the only sound to disturb North Main Street yesterday as the boards started to go across the blank, staring windows of Japanese stores
"Lodi itself seethed with the last-minute activities of Japanese stoically preparing themselves to go - where they did not know. Most of them agreed it was the only thing that could be done, some were very happy at the prospect, a few, perhaps, were bitter but did not show it. One of the things that has reconciled them to pulling up stakes is the flow of reports back from such centers as Manzanar that conditions were excellent
"Their future is not as unsettled, after all, as that which awaits Americans of fair complexions (The future of the Japanese-Americans) is foretold and assured. They have little, now, about which to worry
"We who remain?
" We don't know what part we are to play - how our efforts may be utilized to best serve the interests of the nation and (its drive to) victory.
"One by one we see our fellows, without fanfare, leaving, the one to join the armed service, the other to enter some defense industry Only the farmer knows that he will remain, the backbone of any war effort
"He will be called on to do almost the impossible, to produce more and more from his fields (while his labor supply dwindles) sturdy individualist that he is, he still is unable to do all the work himself.
"We, all of us, be little men caught in a whirlpool that none may surmount individually The thing to do is be patient, do our jobs for just so long as it is granted to us to do them
"Just the same one itches to get in and do something, anything, rather than wait."
On May 21, the last day Japanese were allowed in Lodi for years, Marq told the town about the community and military service of Sam Funamura, Eddie Masui and Jimmy Sasaki, "who rallied to the call for volunteers in the California State Guard (and served until) they had to terminate their duty with honorable discharges."
Square in the middle of the front page that day was this open letter from Funamura:
"To the People of Lodi -
"The time has come to say good bye to the people and places that we have come to cherish.
"It is especially hard to part with the good people of Lodi, for this is one place where we have been made to feel part of the community. Lodi has always been good to us, one community where race, creed or color mattered not. Truly a Democratic community.
" But if by leaving in this manner, we can contribute a small bit to the ultimate victory of our United State of America, we feel that it is our duty to make this change as gracefully as possible.
"So, until the day that our government … may see fit to allow us back within your midst again, with sincere hopes for your health, happiness and prosperity, we remain, sincerely yours,
Lodi Japanese American Citizens League,
Sam Funamura, V.P."
Marty Weybret is the Lodi News-Sentinel's publisher. He can be reached via e-mail.