When the United States entered the Second World War in 1941 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Japanese Americans lives were drastically changed. On February 19th, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. The Order forced 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast to move into temporary camps and eventually move into permanent facilities located in remote areas on the West Coast. The damage that internment camps and assembly centers had on Japanese Americans was tremendous. As undergraduate history students at the University of Southern California, we feel that the scope of this injustice is not widely known. The popular Santa Anita Race Track in Los Angeles was used as a temporary Assembly Center between March and November of 1942. The Santa Anita Assembly Center housed nearly 19,000 Japanese Americans who had been living throughout California. Families were forced to live in harsh conditions and left behind all property, businesses, and belongings. This history, although acknowledged by a plaque at the Santa Anita racetrack, is conspicuously missing from Santa Anita’s online historical timeline.
On August 4, 1942 unannounced inspection of the makeshift homes and dwellings began in the Santa Anita Assembly Center. The federal government argued the search and seizures were to recover missing items from the common spaces and confiscate hot plates that were overloading camp circuits. These searches lit the fuse of frustration that soared within the camp. There is not a clear consensus among the witnesses as to what specifically lead to the riots. Some testimonies state that the anger was due to the seizure of private property. Others believed it was sparked by poor food rations and rumors that the supplies meant for the residents were being pilfered and sold by the armed guards that patrolled the camp. According to FBI report #100-14777 made by Edmund D. Mason on August 10, 1942 in Los Angeles, California; letters the were written contemporarily about the incident; and testimonies given years later, much of the violence was directed toward a man identified as Harry Kawaguchi, a Korean American or Japanese-Korean-American man who was a police informant. One interviewee believed he was a spy for the authorities. Kawaguchi was chased, beaten with chairs, and had dishes, cups, and several typewriters thrown at his head by those imprisoned in the camps. Kawaguchi was bleeding profusely during the attack which only stopped after repeated police intervention. The authorities responded to the mob behavior that spread throughout the camp by placing the camp under military-police rule for two days. After the riot, some inmates noticed slight improvements to their living conditions as their experience related to forced searches and food quality.
The Santa Anita Racetrack has a deeply important and overlooked history. On the racetrack grounds and in their internet presence, there is little information available on the over 19,000 Japanese Americans who were imprisoned at the Santa Anita Racetrack. It is important for Americans to understand the significance of this event and the long impact it had on Japanese life in California. Through exploring letters written by inmates in Santa Anita, photographs taken by employees of the federal government like Dorthea Lange, congressional testimonies, and legal documents we have begun to piece together what life was like during the seven months the Santa Anita Assembly Center was open in 1942. We hope that our archival research can help people understand the discrimination many Japanese Americans faced during the Second World War and further contextualize forms of injustice related to incarceration, wartime suspension of rights, and immigration today.
Santa Anita Race Track Before Pearl Harbor
Santa Anita Racetrack Timeline Contextualized with Japanese Internment by Krystal Cervantes
This timeline provides a brief account of the events surrounding Japanese Internment and the temporary assembly centers that existed prior to the internment camps. It also serves to place the Santa Anita Race Track within the narrative of Japanese internment and expand on the history of this popular space for parties, entertainment, gambling, fashion, and horse racing in Southern California.
The Journeys of Ten Japanese Americans Through Santa Anita Assembly Center by Kyra Schoonover
This map presentation displays spatial information about Japanese-Americans who were forcibly relocated to the Santa Anita Assembly Center during World War II. The map displays the location of Santa Anita, as well as the most common hometown counties of origin for inmates at Santa Anita. It also shows the ten permanent relocation centers for inmates after they departed Santa Anita for a more permanent internment camp. All of the statistical information about the counties and the relocation centers used in these maps come from the Moose Roots online research archive.
In order to further humanize what occurred, this map showcases the journeys of ten different Japanese-Americans, five Issei and five Nisei, to and from Santa Anita. The lines show where each person lived prior to being relocated, and where they were sent after their time at Santa Anita. Information about the ten randomly selected Japanese-Americans was found on the Moose Roots online research archive, which includes a digital repository of all inmates held at Santa Anita, over 18,000 people in total.
The Santa Anita Riots and Modern Memory by Bennett Shafer
On August 4th, 1942, there were massive riots in the Santa Anita Assembly Center that challenged the Interior Polices control over the camp. In this podcast, Bennett Shafer will take you into the archives to attempt to uncover the truth behind the riots and expose the way they are remembered today at the Santa Anita Race Track in Southern California in 2017.
James Tsutsui discusses working on the camouflage nets at the Santa Anita Assembly Center.
Tension Build-Up Inside the Santa Anita Assembly Center by Moises Cortes
The largest population held at one time at the Santa Anita Assembly Center was 18,527 people of Japanese descent. They were all enclosed by a cement and barbed wire fence, preventing prisoner mobility. The living conditions, working conditions, and lack of privacy prisoners endured were three of the largest factors that contributed to tension leading up to the riot in August of 1942. My analysis is pulled from two primary source groups. The first is the Santa Anita Pacemaker newspaper that was in circulation at the detention facility which was heavily censored and monitored by the wartime United States government. I have also gathered some of my perspectives from photographs and oral video interviews from survivors who lived at the Santa Anita Assembly Center during 1942.
Living Conditions & Privacy
The Pacemaker does not go into detail about the living conditions in the Assembly Center. Only by viewing oral history video interviews of survivors can you begin to get a vivid picture of the living conditions for the thousands of people in the Assembly Center. Hy Shishino who was 18 years old when he lived inside the Assembly Center lived in former horse stables and had to endure the stench of horse manure. Luckily for Shishino, he was assigned a barrack that was built on top of the parking lot.
However, as more Japanese were relocated to the assembly center, more room needed to be made to house them. Shishino says that his barrack was divided into small parcels over time, first it was 20 ft by 120 ft, then it was divided into 4, making the unit 20 ft by 30 ft, and eventually it was divided once more, resulting in a 20 ft by 15 ft unit. At the time of her residence inside the assembly center, 21 year old Mary Hamano described the basic barrack as 1 building, 3 units and 3 cots, 1 broom, and 1 bucket per unit. But even then, the new residents had to assemble their own mattresses. Other assembly residents like Mutsu Homma (29 years of age) and Toyoko Okomura (29 years of age) recall having to stuff a large bag with hay to make a mattress to sleep on. The showers and latrine facilities were located elsewhere and were communal. Okomura recalls that there were only 3 showers for 40 people, while then 11-year old Bill Hiroshi recalls having to walk 3 units of barracks to get to the latrine.
As if the reduction in the size of the rooms and straw beds was not bad enough, privacy was another issue. Mutsu recalls that there was a great loss of privacy. She remembers strangers simply walking into her barrack unit, and just pass by. Not to mention the raids, or inspections, that the US government would conduct on them.
In the first printed Pacemaker April 21st, 1942; Vol. 1 No. 1, it is stated that 800 pounds of rice was required to feed the 7,000 inhabitants. Aside from the rice, a typical dinner menu would call for 1300 pounds of baked barracuda, 130 pounds of Japanese pickles, 225 lbs. of beets, 100 lbs. of onions, and 150 lbs. of lettuce for salad ” While it may seem that the assembly center was making sure that the inhabitants were being properly fed, oral video interviews say otherwise.
Mutsu Homma says that there was little food in general at the assembly center, which accounts for her husband losing 30 pounds in two weeks upon their arrival. She goes on to state that the food was not always cooked right. She recalls that there was hardly any meat; That half the meat was taken by officers before it even reached the mess halls. This can explain her husbands drastic weight loss. Homma was the mother of three children while she lived at the assembly center. Ages 5, 4, and a new born, respectively. She recalls having difficulty feeding her newborn because the assembly center did not provide enough formula milk for mothers with babies.
The Pacemaker was a newspaper run and published by the Japanese people who lived there, which is why so many job listings were mentioned throughout the newspaper. It was always letting the inhabitants know that mess hall workers, utility workers, camouflage networkers, and many other positions needed to be filled. One June 27th, 1942, the Pacemaker reported that checks for the second fiscal month were expected to arrive soon and that a total of $22,117.89 was to be paid to 3,900 (Picture to the left). However, when various people spoke about their jobs during their time at the assembly center, there was never any mention of paychecks. They did, however, go into detail about their work duties.
Mustsus husband was assigned to be the head dentist, although he did not want to continue practicing once inside the center. He was forced to. To make matters worse, the dentist center was not adequately equipped nor funded. Mutsu recalls her husband having to buy equipment with his own savings that he brought with him to the center. One can imagine how frustrating this was, especially knowing that there would be no reimbursement nor monetary compensation for his skill and time.
A different resident, Michicko Hara Kawaguchi (16 years of age at the time), worked at the milk station where they would distribute the little amounts of formula milk to new mothers. Unfortunately for these new mothers, the milk station closed and Michiko began to be a worker for the Orange Mess Hall. At the center, there were 6 mess halls, or cafeterias, that were color coded and corresponded to a specific living district. In a way, Michiko had a light job at the mess hall. However, it was not so light if one considers how many people she was cleaning up after. With a population of 18,500 and only 6 mess halls, if evenly designated, a little over 3,000 people were designated to a mess hall. Thus, Mary had to, most likely, pick up dishes, wipe tables, and wash dishes for about 3000 people each day. Going off on this 3,000 people per mess hall statistic, one will almost certainly ponder about how cooks were able to cook for 3,000 people each day, most likely twice a day. One can hardly imagine the manpower and the amount of time it took. Not only was it difficult it difficult for the workers at the mess hall, but one can imagine the frustration of having to eat inside a mess hall. A small photograph collection at the University of Southern California Special Collections Archives pertains to the Santa Anita Assembly Center. Although small, it has a variety of photographs pertaining to different aspects of life in the assembly center. One of these photographs depicts meal time inside a mess hall. Two tables are crowded with people eating off tin plates that have small portions.
It is evident that from the moment that the thousands of Japanese people stepped foot into the Santa Anita Assembly Center that their lives took a turn for the worse. Before arriving, many Japanese families had homes and apartments where they lived in comfort and in peace. However, that changed at the assembly center. They went from the comfort of their homes, the comfort of their comfortable mattresses to smelly horse stables and military cots with bags stuffed with hay for a mattress. They no longer had the luxury of having to only walk a few feet to their bathroom and their shower. At the assembly center, not only did they have to walk several hundred feet to get to the latrine and shower facilities, but often, had to wait for them to become vacant. They also left behind a much more nutritious diet behind. They now had to settle for assembly food that barely kept them alive. Took away the pleasure of making their own special cultural dishes, the pleasure of dining out, and pleasure of dining with family and friends. Aside from leaving behind the comfort of their homes, they most likely also left behind a decent paying job for, essentially, forced labor working long hours and with no pay. With this overall downgrade in daily life, it is no surprise that tension built up within the thousands of Japanese that lived here. They probably felt how did we allow ourselves to live like this? Why?!. One can hardly begin to comprehend how much anger and frustration the Japanese people must have retained inside of them during their stay at the assembly riot. The build-up over many months was finally unleashed on the Korean informant, Harry Kawaguchi, the day of the riot, August 4th, 1942.
The Road to a Riot: A Teaching Guide and Powerpoint by Linda Rose
On February 19, 1942, ten weeks after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. The Order required Japanese resident-aliens (who were not denied citizenship) and Japanese Americans to relocate to internment camps. These camps were prison camps, though there were no trials or convictions. The people of Japanese descent were given little time to prepare for their new lives as prisoners. They were compelled to sell, give away, or abandon all the worldly goods they were unable to place in safekeeping with friends or acquaintances. Many of those bound for the prison camps believed that the relocation was for their protection, and that by going quietly they would prove their loyalty to the United States. Others seethed at the injustice they recognized was being perpetrated by their own American government. The following photo gallery uses photographs, letters written by young Nisei to a supportive librarian back in San Diego, and testimonies given by former inmates of the WWII Japanese Internment camps. These resources tell the story of how the Japanese Americans were forced to give up their freedom because they happened to look like the enemy, and how their confinement led to violence.
While waiting for the construction of permanent camps farther inland, nearly 19,000 of the 120,000 displaced Japanese-Americans were sent to Santa Anita Assembly Center. Those who gathered at Vermont and 23rd in Los Angeles were headed there to take up their imprisoned residence in newly converted horse stalls and hastily constructed barracks. Upon their arrival at the center the Japanese Americans, now prisoners of their own government, were met with dismal living conditions. Those housed in converted horse stalls were greeted by the lingering stench of urine. Privacy was compromised in every aspect of life. The walls that divided the horse stalls did not reach the ceiling. The barracks were built of green wood and the slats quickly shrank leaving wide gaps in the wall boards between family quarters. Conversations, arguments, crying babies, and the more intimate moments of life were unavoidably shared through the inadequate walls of the living quarters. The communal toilets and showers had no doors and offered no privacy. Meal times were no longer quiet family gatherings but consisted of long lines and large public tables shared by many families. It was rumored that the food rations were so meager because those in charge of guarding them were stealing the best of it. Living among them was a fellow prisoner, a Korean-Japanese American named Harry Kawaguchi, who was acting as an informant. The final straw apparently came when information spread throughout the camp that the officers who were conducting an inspection of the living quarters were confiscating and stealing residents belongings. On August 4, 1942 a riot broke out in the camp that left Mr. Kawaguchi badly beaten and the whole camp under a temporary military rule. The words and pictures of those who walked the dusty grounds at Santa Anita tell the story of how the path from freedom to captivity led many to become part of a violently rebellious afternoon.
Below is a powerpoint lecture, created by Linda Rose to be used in K-12 education.
About the Authors
This project was created by six undergraduates enrolled in the history of the American West, 1500-1992 at the University of Southern California taught by Dr. Rhae Lynn Barnes during Spring 2017. The majority of the digitized primary sources used in this project are courtesy of the Bancroft Library at U.C. Berkeley.
Krystal Cervantes will receive her B.A. in History, with a concentration on Mexican American history in California, from the University of Southern California in May 2017. She will then go on to graduate school at Boston College where she will work towards earning her Masters degree in Education, with an emphasis on teaching history in low-income schools. Krystals undergraduate research has focused on Mexican American youth in Los Angeles during the 1960s and 1970s. One of her goals as a future educator is to teach history beyond the restrictive narrative that continues to exist in the public education system today. With this research on the Santa Anita Assembly Center, she hopes to expand the knowledge of the reality of Japanese internment in Los Angeles and aid in having the Santa Anita Race Track publicly acknowledge its dark history.
Moises Cortés holds a B.A. in American History from the University of Southern California. Moises comes from the small industrial town of Wilmington, CA which is in the outskirts of Los Angeles, CA. He was a transfer student from Los Angeles Harbor College and it was there that Moises interest in history flourished. Only recently has he finished his undergraduate career at USC and plans to pursue graduate school. He wishes to one day return to his former community college and do for students what professors did for him during his years there. Which is inspire them, in whichever subject matter that may be.
Paul Delio is an undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. He is currently a rising senior majoring in History and minoring in Cinematic Arts. Paul Delio was born on July 31st 1996 in Palm Springs California. His passion for history blossomed as a high school student taking the advanced placement level American History course. He spent the majority of the 2016 calendar year interning at a law firm as he prepares to study for the LSAT and apply to graduate school.
Linda Marie Rose holds a B.A. in Narrative Studies and a Minor in History from the University of Southern California. She returned to school to study the art of storytelling and how it relates to teaching history in elementary schools. Her past job experience includes account reconcilement and bookkeeping for Bank of America and Ralphs Grocery Company, paralegal work in the city of San Diego, and substitute teaching at elementary schools in Virginia. Linda has worked with children extensively throughout the years, most memorably as a volunteer Childrens Music Director at churches in California and Florida. She is the mother of two sons and spent twenty-five years as the wife of a Naval Supply Corps Officer prior to her husbands death in 2012. Linda volunteers with Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe as a foster for animals waiting for their forever homes. To culminate her experience at USC Linda created a narrative-based, multi-unit history lesson that includes hands-on Archive Analysis and Mapping projects for third- and fourth-grade students. Her hope is that she can help educators replace the controversial sugar-cube mission project prevalent in many California fourth-grade classrooms. She is working with several teachers in Orange County, CA to implement the project into the currently-existing curriculum.
Bennett Shafer holds a B.A. in History from the University of Southern California. After spending a year at Denison University in Ohio, he transferred to USC as a sophomore. He also spent a semester studying in Maastricht, Netherlands and teaching English in Hong Kong. Most of his time at USC was spent volunteering in low-income schools and mentoring high school students. He will be doing a year of service with City Year Seattle in 2017-18, where he will continue to work in urban low-income schools. In his future, Bennett wants to engage in the United States most pressing problems with the education system.
Kyra Schoonover is a Political Science and History major at the University of Southern California, with a minor in Spatial Studies. After
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Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study, Compiler. “Philip Neff and Others, Santa Anita Assembly Center.” Letter. N.d. Philip Neff and Others, Santa Anita Assembly Center. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Online Archive of California. Web. <http://www.oac.cdlib.org/ark:/28722/bk0013c5q20/?brand=oac4>.
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Homma, Mutsu. Mutsu Homma Interview Segment 23. Interview. Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archives.
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Shishino, Hy. Hy Shishino Interview Segment 11. Interview. Densho Visual History Collection, Densho Digital Archives.
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Relocation Map Sources
“Japanese-American internees assembled at Santa Anita Assembly Center”, Moose Roots by Graphiq, Accessed April 19th, 2017 http://japanese-american-
Bill Hiroshi Interview. Densho Digital Archive. Densho Visual History Collection. Bill Hiroshi. Interviewer Martha Nakagawa. Los Angeles, California. February 8, 2012. Densho ID: denshovh-sbill-01-0009. Segment 9. Accessed March 15, 2017. http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-sbill-01-0009
Hy Shishino Interview. Densho Digital Archive. Densho Visual History Collection. Hy Shishino. Interviewer Sharon Yamato. Cerritos, California. January 31, 2012. Densho ID: denshovh-shy-01-0011. Segment 11. Accessed March 17, 2017. http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-shy-01-0011
Mary Hamano Interview. Densho Digital Archive. Densho Visual History Collection. Mary Hamano. Interviewer Megan Asaka. Denver, Colorado. May 14, 2008. Densho ID: denshovh-hmary_2-01-0014. Segment 14. Accessed March 17, 2017. http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-hmary_2-01-0014
Michicko Hara Hawaguchi Interview. Densho Digital Archive. Densho Visual History Collection. Michicko Hara Hawaguchi. Interviewer Richard Potashin. Sacramento, California. April 2, 2011. Densho ID: denshovh-kmichiko-01-0008 Segment 8. Accessed March 17, 2017. http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-kmichiko-01-0008
Mutsu Homma Interview. Densho Digital Archive. Densho Visual History Collection. Mutsu Homma. Interviewers: Dee Goto & Becky Fukuda. Seattle, Washington. August 27, 1997. Densho ID: denshovh-hmutsu-01-0020. Segment 20. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-hmutsu-01-0020
Mutsu Homma Interview. Densho Digital Archive. Densho Visual History Collection. Mutsu Homma. Interviewers: Dee Goto & Becky Fukuda. Seattle, Washington. August 27, 1997. Densho ID: denshovh-hmutsu-01-0023. Segment 23. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-hmutsu-01-0023
Mutsu Homma Interview.Densho Digital Archive. Densho Visual History Collection. Mutsu Homma. Interviewers: Dee Goto & Becky Fukuda. Seattle, Washington. August 27, 1997. Densho ID: denshovh-hmutsu-01-0024. Segment 24. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-hmutsu-01-0024
ID: denshovh-otoyoko-01-0010. Segment 10. Accessed March 11, 2017. http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshovh-otoyoko-01-0010
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Santa Anita Pacemaker. Vol. 1 No. 1. April 21, 1942. Densho Digital Archive. Densho ID: denshopd-i146-00033. Accessed March 28, 2017. http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshopd-i146-00033
Santa Anita Pacemaker. Vol. 1 No. 21. June 27, 1942. Densho Digital Archive. Densho ID: denshopd-i146-00021. Accessed March 28, 2017. http://archive.densho.org/Core/ArchiveItem.aspx?i=denshopd-i146-00021
Santa Anita Relocation Center Photograph. USC Special Collections Archives. Box 289, Japanese in the U.S.-California-WWII Relocation-Santa Anita- (Meal Time Inside a Mess Hall)
Toyoko Okomura Interview. Densho Digital Archive. Densho Visual History Collection. Toyoko Okomura. Interviewer Tom Ikeda. Denver, Colorado. July 6, 2008. Densho
Curriculum Slide Show #2 Sources
Arcadia, Calif. Meal Time, Cafeteria-style, for These Children at Santa Anita Park Assembly Center for Evacuees of Japanese Ancestry. Photographer: Albers, Clem Arcadia, California. 4/6/42. Online Archive of California. UC Berkeley, 4 June 1942. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
Arcadia, Calif. At the Entrance of Their Barrack Apartment at Santa Anita Assembly Center. As Soon as Housing Facilities Are Made Available, Evacuees of Japanese Ancestry Will Be Transferred to War Relocation Authority Centers to Spend the Duration. Photographer: Albers, Clem Arcadia, California. 4/6/42. Online Archive of California. UC Berkeley, 4 June 1942. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
Nobu Shimokochi Interview Segment 2 of 9, Date: 2010, Interviewer(s): Raechel Donahue. Collection: Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection. Densho ID: denshovh-snobu_2-01-0002.
Ruth Y. Okimoto Talks about Adjusting to Life | Primary Sources | Densho Encyclopedia. Densho ID: Denshovh-oruth-01-009, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
“Min Tonai Interview II Segment 6.” Interview by Tom Ikeda. Densho Digital Archive. http://archive.densho.org/main.aspx.
Arcadia, Calif. Young Evacuees Demonstrate Japanese-style Marbles at Santa Anita Park Assembly Center. Marbles Are Played inside Fish-shaped Lines Photographer: Albers, Clem Arcadia, California. 4/6/42. Online Archive of California. UC Berkeley, 4 June 1942. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
Arcadia, Calif. A Ping Pong Game on a Home made Table Occupies the Attention of These Young Evacuees of Japanese Descent at Anita Assembly Center. Photographer: Albers, Clem Arcadia, California. 4/6/42. Online Archive of California. UC Berkeley, 4 June 1942. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
Arcadia, Calif For Young Evacuees of Japanese Ancestry Are Tucked in Bed for an Afternoon Nap at Santa Anita Assembly Center. Photographer: Albers, Clem Arcadia California. 4/6/42. Online Archive of California. UC Berkeley, 4 June 1942. Web. 27 Apr. 2017.
Cafeteria-style assures promptness in serving meals at Santa Anita Park assembly center for evacuees of Japanese ancestry. Evacuees are transferred later to War Relocation Authority centers for the duration. — Photographer: Albers, Clem — Arcadia, California. 4/6/42
Evacuees of Japanese descent among a contingent of 664, first to be removed from San
Francisco, awaiting buses at 2020 Van Ness Avenue to transport them to Santa Anita Park assembly center at Arcadia, California. Evacuees are transported later to War Relocation Authority centers for the duration. — Photographer: Lange, Dorothea — San Francisco, California. 4/16/42
Ishino, Margaret. Letter to Miss Breed Letter and envelope from Margaret Ishino written to
Clara Breed, Transcription. August 18, 1942. (email@example.com).
Tuumagari, Fusa. Letter to Helen McNary. Letter and envelope from Fusa Tsumagari to Helen
McNary. Transcription. (firstname.lastname@example.org).