This is a copy of the “The Siren,” published by Hollenbeck Jr. High School (Jr. Rough Riders) students in December 1941. What should we notice about this page?
It is at this time a publication with mostly Jewish and Japanese names in the masthead, and the occasional cute spelling slip-ups which reveal there are possibly some Spanish speaker’s hands at the presses typesetting as well. And most interesting, an article by one little Jewish girl named Marilyn Greene, about the tone of Christmas in Boyle Heights in 1941, right after the US was thrown into WWII:
Christmas 1941! We are all looking forward to a joyous Christmas season, a time when all would be in a glad holiday mood, a time of peace and good will.
This Christmas season has come but not as we foresaw. It will be a wartime Christmas, for on December 7, 1941, the Japanese Empire declared war on the people of the United States.
We have a special concern for our loyal American citizens of Japanese descent who are as truly American as any of us.
They have our especial (sic) sympathy in the hard days and difficult situation that may lie before them.
We Americans of all colors, races and creeds must unite to win, that freedom for all people may be possible.
The apprehension felt in this immigrant community was justified.
Shortly after their Japanese Americans neighbors were taken and incarcerated in camps, such as those erected at the stables of Santa Anita Park Racetrack. The neighborhood kids would then take the electric streetcars all the way out there to see their friends. Though the kids were never allowed to go inside and their interned friends weren’t allowed to come out; and absolutely no one was allowed to touch the fence that separated them, but they could only talk from afar. And at best hope to sneak a baseball across to them when the guards weren’t looking.
A caucasian American gives a baseball bat to an interned Japanese American, through a wire fence, at the “evacuation assembly center” at Santa Anita. January 1, 1942.
For their Japanese American neighbors, their property and belongings were most often liquidated, before being shipped off to the hastily made internment camps such as those at the racetracks. Then eventually being interned for the duration of the war in more permanent camps in such places as Manzanar and Tule Lake; the latter being the destination for many of the community leaders and religious ministers, who were separated from their families and isolated.
In the wake of all this, our local Jewish publishers were alone in decrying this injustice in the media. Al Waxman’s “East Side Journal” and the “L.A. Reporter” were the only newspapers in the nation to editorialize and decry the Japanese internment at the time. A brave and bold position in decrying injustice, a lone position Waxman would also hold in the wake of the violence directed against Mexican Americans in the midst of the so-called Zoot Suit Riots as well.1
The rounding up of our Japanese American families in this mostly immigrant eastside community came with an overwhelming sense of horror, especially for the children. Seeing their neighbors, who were just as American as they were, instantly being treated as enemies of the nation. And traumatized by the implications this had for anyone else who might be labeled “un-American.”
The incineration of Japanese Americans is still widely considered the most tragic and traumatizing event in Boyle Heights history.
Pictures from Manzanar and Tule Lake, where many Los Angeles Japanese Americans were interned:
Topics for Further Discussion:
Notice the section to the left titled, “Anxious to help” by Harold Karpman, he talks about wanting to be helpful when questioned by school authorities and the police. He cautions, “Let’s not become panicky at wild rumors, but be on alert to observe closely all possibilities of the rumors being true.” Before going on to say, “Report any un-American activities to your police department, or to any faculty member of this school. Let us all try to keep our American the way we like it and are used to it.”
Notice the lower left poem: “American’s All” by Marvin Wernick. Despite all the racism and xenophobia which was gripping the country, some of the children at Hollenback School were countering that in their newspaper; “Black, Red, Yellow, White, / Side by side we stand and fight…. When hatred and and war strike out at humanity, / they share the blows / In Unity….” In a country that was caught up in the wartime winds of ultra-nationalism and questioning the true Americanism of many, Marvin’s poem declares of those who fight for the cause of justice and right, those who fight for their rights of democracy, “For they are the children of America.”
1Al Waxman, was the uncle of former US Congressman Henry Waxman (D-33rd), also formerly of Boyle Heights and members of the Breed Street Shul.
- “Japanese Boyle Heights in the 21st Century” (KCET)
- “Power of Place Boyle Heights Project” – the well celebrated 2002 exhibit by the Japanese American National Museum (JNAM)
- “History in the Making: The Construction of Community Memory and Racial Subjects in the Boyle Heights Exhibition” – In this 98-page thesis the author takes a critical look at JNAM’s “Power of Place.” Exploring why, and in which ways, people have had to downplay the harsher realities of Boyle Heights history in order to deem it worthy of celebrating. (University of California, San Diego)
- “Rekindling our Jewish holiday Spirit in Boyle Heights“