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America's Betrayal (book)

Creators: Jodi Icenoggle

Book cover. Courtesy of White Mane Kids
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Young adult novel by Jodi Icenoggle written in the first person voice of Margaret Yamaguchi, a high school sophomore and aspiring writer in Valle Verde in coastal California. Her father runs a successful orchard and oversees a happy family that includes Margaret's mother, an older brother Robert, and younger brother Timmy. She has also started going steady with John Wilson, star athlete of Valle Verde High. But her happy life is slowly torn apart by the outbreak of war. As anti-Japanese sentiment rises after the attack on Pearl Harbor, so do tensions at the high school, particularly for an interracial couple like John and Margaret. Inevitably, the Yamaguchis get sent first to the Salinas Assembly Center , then to Poston , while John gets drafted. As family tragedies ensue, Margaret comes of age in the concentration camp, starting a camp newspaper and waiting for John to come back. But will he?

Author Icenoggle (1967– ) was born in Minnesota and grew up in Montana, where she graduated from Montana State University. She writes in the book's preface that she first learned of the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans when she was twenty-three from an unnamed Nisei friend. "Appalled" and "outraged" by the story, she was determined to do something, resulting on America's Betrayal , her first novel. She later wrote the popular children's picture book ' Til the Cows Come Home (2004).

Icenoggle includes much historical information on the run up to Executive Order 9066 and to the Yamaguchis' forced removal, using the device of having Margaret, an aspiring journalist keenly interested in current events, carefully report on what she's read in the local papers. This historical background is mostly accurate. There are however a number of errors or implausibilities in the descriptions of life in the concentration camps. The two main ones:

• Margaret starts and edits the camp newspaper at Poston and largely produces it herself with the help of her brother and another friend. While there was a newspaper at Poston and other War Relocation Authority (WRA) administered camps, it was instigated by the camp administration who hired the staff. Published daily except for Monday for much of its existence, The Poston Chronicle had a large staff that included many prominent writers and journalists including Hisaye Yamamoto , Harry Honda , and Henry Mori.

• As various developments of the war take place, Margaret gets her hopes up that she will be released, but is inevitably disappointed until early 1945, when the family leaves for Colorado. In reality, the WRA encouraged "loyal" Nisei like Margaret to leave the camps early; in particular, young people like Margaret seeking to go to college were among the first to leave with the aid of outside organizations like the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council , some as early as the fall of 1942. Yet, Margaret never even considers the possibility of leaving early.

While conditions in the camps were often poor, they are exaggerated at times here. The Yamaguchis live in a horse stall at the Salinas Assembly Center; while there were such horse stalls at some "assembly centers," there were none at Salinas. Margaret describes being strip searched upon entering Poston (page 115), which did not occur. She also reports that a letter from John has been opened and censored by a guard (146); with the exception of mail coming from internment camps in which prominent Issei were held, there was no routine mail censorship in the WRA camps. Two Nisei in Poston are killed in Europe as members of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team , but the timing of their deaths is off by months. One volunteers in February 1943 and is killed that spring (163); in reality, the 442nd trained at Camp Shelby, Mississippi for nearly a year and didn't see battle in Europe until May of 1944. Another character is drafted in February 1944 and dies in June, again not accounting for the time spent in training.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like The Invisible Thread by Yoshiko Uchida; Looking Like the Enemy: My Story of Imprisonment in Japanese-American Internment Camps: Young Reader's Edition by Mary Matsuda Gruenewald; Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata

Media Details
Author Jodi Icenoggle
Pages 196
Publication Date 2001