Baseball in the Internment Camps

On the last Saturday in April, there is a pilgrimage to Manzanar, the site of one of the 10 camps where Americans locked up their fellow citizens during World War II. The “fellow citizens” were of Japanese ancestry and the US government, composed of other “fellow citizens” who were white, declared it couldn’t tell if “they” were actually spies or saboteurs for the enemy.

Today, on this last Saturday in April, we want to join in honoring our fellow Americans who were so demeaned and yet whose dignity shines down through the years.

It was one of the darkest moments in the history of our country as those of Japanese ancestry were herded into camps behind barbed wire by the US military, locked in and left there for years.

American-Japanese on their way to an internment camp

The Japanese-Americans responded with incredible fortitude and determination to survive and return to the lives they had been forced to abandon.

American-Japanese children saying the Pledge of Allegiance

They were also determined to prove they were “real Americans.” Many served with outstanding bravery in the US Armed Forces during the War — although they were allowed to serve only in the European theaters, away from the Pacific war where there could be others who looked like them.

In the camps they had another way of proving their American-ness: they played baseball.

A baseball game at a Japanese Internment Camp

For the children especially, living under guard, it was an outlet for their energy and their rage at being confined.

Author Ken Mochizuki recounts their story in Baseball Saved Us, a children’s book published by Lee & Low Books in 1993. Artist Dom Lee did the realistic and touching pictures in the book.

The story of how the interned families built a baseball diamond and made uniforms for the kids from mattress covers inspires.

But how the little boy himself triumphs over his own fear and the prejudice of others makes this a book worth reading and re-reading, no matter your age. For young people it is a lesson both in history and principles.

It is also a valuable reminder of the terrible harm prejudice can do and the stupidity of it.

In today’s world, especially America where those in charge talk about building a wall and sealing our borders to those of different color and faiths, it’s a reminder we all need and should heed.