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We the People: A Story of Internment in America (book)

Creators: Mary Tsukamoto, Elizabeth Pinkerton

Memoir of Florin, California-based Nisei educator and activist Mary Tsukamoto co-authored by Elizabeth Pinkerton and published in 1987 when Tsukamoto was seventy-two. Though the book covers her entire life, well over half of it focuses on her and her family's wartime confinement, their resettlement in the Midwest, and eventual return to California.

After a Preface by Pinkerton introduces Tsukamoto and introductions by Congressman Robert Matsui , Sacramento Mayor Anne Rudin, and Smithsonian Institution Curator Harold Langley, the book begins with news of the attack on Pearl Harbor and the removal of the Japanese American community of Florin, California, before going back to cover Mary's family story and the prewar years. The second of six children of immigrants from Okinawa, Mary Dakuzaku is born in San Francisco, but largely raised in Florin, a heavily Japanese American farming community outside of Sacramento. Despite being forced to attend segregated schools, Mary is an outstanding student and with the help of supportive teachers, wins a scholarship to the College of Pacific in fall of 1933. Forced to drop out due to health problems—she is plagued by arthritis throughout her life—and financial pressures, she returns to Florin in 1936 and marries Al Tsukamoto. The couple soon has a daughter, Marielle. Tsukamoto describes in detail her and her family's forced removal and incarceration first at the Fresno Assembly Center , then at the Jerome , Arkansas, concentration camp, documenting her despair, anger, Christian faith, and ultimately, drive to help others. She is an advisor to girl's clubs and president of the YMCA chapter at Jerome. She and her family eventually resettle in Kalamazoo, Michigan, before returning to Florin after the war. She becomes a popular school teacher after the war and is active in a summer school that promotes Japanese American culture and the Redress Movement in retirement. The book ends with Mary's testimony before the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians and with her contributions to the 1987 A More Perfect Union exhibition at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Beyond telling Tsukamoto's personal and familial story, We the People tells a larger story of the close-knit Japanese American farming community in Florin—built primarily around strawberries and grapes—that is destroyed by the war. Due to the vagaries of the exclusion orders , the community is split into four and sent to different camps. Due to the fierce anti-Japanese agitation in rural areas of California during the war, many former Florin residents decide not to return when the West Coast exclusion is lifted. Changes in the economics of farming after the war kills off the remaining agricultural endeavors, including the Tsukamotos': after farming for a few years after the war, they give it up, and Al becomes an electronics technician, while Mary goes into teaching.

Two other notable aspects of the story: (a) The Tsukamotos were among the relatively few Japanese Americans fortunate enough to have their home and property looked after by sympathetic white friends, in this case Bob Fletcher , who cared for several Japanese American farms. Given their relative good fortune, their home becomes a kind of hostel that hosts many other returnees who have place to go; (b) Though it is not dwelled on, Mary serves as executive secretary of the local Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) chapter just prior to the war and assists Japanese American families and army in the roundup, while arguing that Japanese Americans as a whole realized that it would be useless to resist. In his study of the Arkansas concentration camps, historian John Howard writes that "Tsukamoto spoke of a consensus that, in fact, did not exist." [1] She alludes to being criticized by other Japanese Americans for her actions. She remains active with the JACL through the postwar and redress years and views this history through a JACL lens and, in the words of co-author Pinkerton, "with a patriotic fervor that knows no rest." [2]

After its initial publication in 1987, a second printing in 1988 added a short epilogue that notes early reaction to the book, the opening of A More Perfect Union , and the passage of HR 442 (what would eventually become the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 ) by the House of Representatives. A Japanese translation of the book appeared in 2001. A third printing in 2008 commemorated the ten year anniversary of both Mary's and Al's passing. [3]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho


  1. John Howard, Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), 66.
  2. Elizabeth Pinkerton, "Preface," to We the People: A Story of Internment in America (San Jose: Laguna Publishers, 1987), 1.
  3. Elizabeth Pinkerton, "Happy 4th and July Update," Elk Grove Citizen , July 3, 2008, accessed on Nov. 14, 2016 at .
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Media Details
Author Mary Tsukamoto, Elizabeth Pinkerton
Pages 325
Publication Date 1987
For More Information

For More Information

Howard, John. Concentration Camps on the Home Front: Japanese Americans in the House of Jim Crow . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.

Tsukamoto, Mary, and Elizabeth Pinkerton. We the People: A Story of Internment in America . Elk Grove, Calif.: Laguna Publishers, 1987.