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Helen Tsuchiya

Helen Tsuchiya

Japanese-American internment Camp Survivor

Born: CA, United States
Heritage: Japanese-American

Respect your teacher. Learn to respect each other.

Helen Tsuchiya

Japanese-American internment Camp Survivor

My name is Helen Tsuchiya. My maiden name was Tanigawa. I recently celebrated my 80th birthday. Growing up, my family included my parents and three sisters. My parents were born in Japan, but I was born in the united States. My father was a farmer, growing mostly grapes on our farm.

Many things changed for me, beginning December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The United States declared war on Japan. Some people believed that Japanese-Americans could not be trusted. Executive Order 9066 was passed. This order said that Japanese-americans must be put in internment camps. There was war hysteria.

Japanese-Americans on the West Coast were evacuated from their homes. We had only a few weeks to prepare and we could only take a few things with us. We ended up selling some of what we owned for very little money. My mother thought that the house would be protected and things would be fine when we returned. but in one day, everything had been stolen—even pictures of my parents’ wedding. It broke my mother’s heart.

In the internment camp, we lived in barracks and the land was surrounded by barbed wire. our family lived in a 20-foot by 20-foot room for three years. It was so dusty it was difficult to breathe. bathrooms had no privacy.

The survivors of the camp later received $20,000 as an apology from the United States government. but my parents had died before receiving the apology—they were the ones who really deserved the apology. Once a woman questioned why I had received this money. I told her, “you can have it, if you’re willing to lose three years of your life and lose all that you own.”

This is so difficult to understand because everyone in my family was a United States citizen. there were even Japanese-Americans who served in the United States military but later could not eat at some u.S. restaurants because they would not serve us.

Sometimes a Pima girl would walk up to the barbed wire fence and talk to the Japanese-American children on the other side of the fence. She felt sorry for us confined in the camp, while we felt sorry for her, confined to the reservation.

After the war my family decided to move to Minnesota. In California someone else was farming our farm and living in our house. We didn’t want to go back to California. They hated us there because we were Japanese. Minnesota saved us. I didn’t run into prejudice here.

I am a Buddhist. Buddhism teaches you to be compassionate and kind to people. you must be compassionate, patient and think of others in a good way.

Notation: Download PDF

Be Kind to All That Lives

Honoring Helen Tsuchiya

Be Kind to All That Lives
Honoring Helen Tsuchiya

My father, he was a farmer
He grew the grapes to make the wine
out in the fields of California
to grow the grapes
that grew on the vine

Words alone cannot restore
Lost years that
won’t come back no more
If only we could right the wrongs
of the past in this song
Be kind to all that live

From Japan, Mother and Father
came to this land, where I was born
but after Japan, bombed Pearl Harbor,
the life we loved, was no more

It was like the grapes of Wrath
the home we loved was ransacked
Mother left wedding pictures there
to protect our home, soon stripped bare

Be kind to all that live

Three sisters and I and one brother
Mother and Father forcibly removed
Into a camp, behind barbed wire
to live in a twenty square foot room

With one toilet after another
No partitions, no privacy
With two bathrooms for several hundred
American Japanese

Be kind to all that live

Father he could not make the payments
on the farm, we lost it all.
the grapes he grew were plowed under.
the farm replaced by a mess hall.

A Pima girl she would ride bareback
on her horse, to the barbed wire fence
When she did, the kids came running
Looking out towards
the life they missed

Be kind to all that live

We made the best of a bad situation
For three long years in the intern camp
Kabuki plays, standing ovations
So many never did come back

If I were to change tomorrow
I would start here right now
to help put an end to sorrow
I know we each know how

Be kind to all that live