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Dusty Exile: Looking Back at Japanese Relocation during World War II (book)

Creators: Catherine Embree Harris

Book cover. Courtesy of Mutual Publishing
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Memoir of the forced removal and incarceration and its aftermath by a sympathetic white schoolteacher at Poston .


Catherine Embree Harris (1919–2012), raised partially in Honolulu and a recent graduate of Swarthmore College, ended up as a teacher at Poston due in part to the influence of her brother, John Fee Embree , an anthropologist and the head of the War Relocation Authority 's Community Analysis Section , and family friend John Collier , head of the Office of Indian Affairs, which was initially in charge of the Poston camp. In Dusty Exile , Harris alternates between chapters in which she describes her own experiences and those that provide general background about the mass incarceration. Supposedly an "assistant teacher," she finds herself in charge of a class of ninth graders at Poston Camp I when school starts in October 1942 despite having had no prior teaching experience due to the lack of teachers. She describes the initial state of camp conditions—a "school" that consisted of a recreation room at blocks throughout the camp, a classroom that had tables but no chairs (students had to bring their own chairs), and battered and out-of-date textbooks that didn't arrive until January 1943. She describes the various Poston journeys of her colleagues, both Nisei and white, and of school administrators. She also includes her perspectives on such key events as the Poston Strike, the " loyalty questionnaire ," and resettlement . She goes to Chicago for the summer of 1943 to pursue further education, returning to teach at the newly built school at Poston Camp II that fall. Due to a family medical emergency, she leaves Poston in December 1943. While pursuing a master's degree in education in 1944–45, she marries Arthur Harris, the director of education at Poston, and returns with him to the camp in November 1945 to help finish up paperwork and close the camp. After the war, the couple moves to Washington, D.C., where Arthur works for the Department of Education and Catherine works for various federal agencies (including a stint with the WRA in its final months). Harris fills in the postwar fates of various people she meets at Poston, including Nikki Sawada Bridges Flynn and Kiyo Sato , and concludes the book with a return visit to Poston in 1992 for the dedication of a memorial fifty years later.

Historical Accuracy

While Harris's perspective on the events she witnessed or took part in are valuable, there are quite a few small errors in her account of the broader story of the removal and incarceration. Among these:

• Citing the Immigration Act of 1924 as "limiting naturalization to 'free white persons and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent'" (page 7). It was actually the Ozawa Supreme Court decision two years earlier that definitively established that Issei could not become naturalized U.S. citizens; the quoted language comes from the 1870 update to the Naturalization Act of 1790 , which served as the basis for the Supreme Court ruling.

• Harris writes: "The FBI and the Department of War had declared that evacuation was not necessary." (9) She probably means the Justice Department—in which the FBI was situated—here, since Attorney General Francis Biddle and his deputies opposed the mass removal of Japanese Americans while Secretary of War Henry Stimson and his deputies supported it.

• "In the two earliest relocation camps— Manzanar in California and Poston in Arizona—the evacuees arrived directly from their homes." (15) While nearly all of those who went to Manzanar did go there directly, about a third of Poston inmates went to an " assembly center " first before being transferred there.

• Cites the WRA as moving "100,000 people from the West Coast" (38). It was the army that was in charge of moving out the excluded Japanese Americans, with the WRA administering the camps there were subsequently held in.

• In describing the Kibei , she writes that the reasons they were sent to Japan were "as a sort of family courtesy" to their Japanese grandparents or for what their Issei parents saw as superior education in Japan. (43) The two most important reasons Issei sent children to Japanese to be raised were (a) poverty and a lack of resources to raise the child and (b) to give the child familiarity with Japan and the Japanese language in case the family decided to return to Japan later and to open up job opportunities for the child in Japan given his or her seemingly dismal prospects for being able to land a good white collar job in the U.S.

• She refers to the Endo Supreme Court decision as coming on December 31, 1944. (102) The ruling came on December 18.

• In describing the Redress Movement , there are many small errors, including placing HR 442 in 1979 (it was passed in 1987) and the claim that "An official apology was signed and read by President Reagan in 1990." (126) Of course Reagan left office in 1989.

• As many other chroniclers do, Harris cites the figure of $400 million as the estimate of losses incurred by Japanese Americans due to the incarceration. Japanese American Citizens League leader Mike Masaoka later admitted to making this figure up.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho
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Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

Media Details
Author Catherine Embree Harris
Pages 136
Publication Date 1999
For More Information

For More Information

Harris, Catherine Embree. Dusty Exile: Looking Back at Japanese Relocation during World War II . Honolulu: Mutual Publishing, 1999.