Forced to Leave: The Story of the Fujita Family

Denkichi Fujita immigrated to the United States from Japan in 1900, his wife Fuji in 1910. Like many Japanese in the Oceanside area, Denkichi engaged in farming to support his family. In 1930 there were of 132 Japanese living in the Oceanside census district, including the Fujita family. In 1940 the census records indicate that number to be 349.

The Fujitas raised three children, all born in San Diego County, including Minoru Fujita, who was born on February 10, 1917. Minoru, along with his siblings Isamu “Sam” and Audrey, who has born in Carlsbad, attended Oceanside-Carlsbad Union High School.

1931 Oceanside-Carlsbad High School Baseball team. Isamu “Sam” Fujita is second from left, middle row.

Both Isamu and Minoru played sports, football, baseball and track. Minoru was notably involved in the high school student body. In 1941, Audrey Fujita was noted for “the fastest speed ever typed in competition in Southern California Commercial Meets” typing 79 words per minute.

Minoru Fujita with fellow classmates Jerome Green, Lula Ley. Class of 1934 Oceanside-Carlsbad Union High School.

All three Fujita children were mentioned prominently in the local paper for their participation in local clubs and activities. It seems they were included and accepted in the local community and given due recognition for their many achievements.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and during World War II, heightened anger and suspicion grew of Italian, German and Japanese immigrants. In February 1942, registration of “enemy aliens” began. The local paper reported that there was a “long queue of applicants” being registered of “non-citizen residents of Japanese, Italian and German parentage. Mrs. Ferrell Lauraine, assistant postmaster, and Harold Ulmer, of the post office clerical staff, are conducting the examinations and issuing the identification certificates which bear the photo, thumbprints and detailed data.”

The local paper reported on April 1, 1942 that “Arrangements to put one of the most successful of the Japanese ranches on the Santa Margarita Rancho into trust, for the duration, has been completed this week, according to Mr. M. Tachibana of the Aliso at Sycamore canyon, seven miles north of Oceanside.” Tachibana leased over 200 acres on the rancho which was being transformed into a military base.

Two weeks later the South Hill Market was offering free cabbage with the purchase of 50 cents of grocery or meat. The ad said, “This cabbage was obtained from an abandoned Japanese ranch. It is the finest cabbage you have ever had. Come in and get yours while it lasts.” Of course the ranch had not been willfully abandoned; its owners had been rounded up and sent away.

It was estimated in 1942 that Japanese grew and farmed 35 to 50 percent of the vegetables grown in California. The government scrambled to find farm workers to replace both the Japanese farmers who were being interred and men who had been drafted to fight in the war.

Locals had mixed feelings but largely supported the evacuation of the Japanese. While feelings of hostility were on the rise, some came to the defense of the local Japanese community and in a letter to the editor of the Oceanside Blade Tribune Bessie Lindsey Stewart wrote, “I do not feel however, that developing a hatred toward these worthy Japanese people who have won the affections of the residents of Oceanside and Carlsbad will remedy this situation in the least. They, like us, are caught in the torrent from a broken dam but can do nothing to stop the onrush of the water.”

The following month curfew for Japanese was enacted. Public Proclamation Number 3, issued by Lieut. Gen. J. L. DeWitt, U. S. Army, was received by Oceanside Judge W. L. Hart on March 27, 1942. The proclamation, became effective at 6 am and “established” the hours which “Japanese nationals and citizens alike may be on the streets.” The order went on to say, “at no time are they allowed on the streets between 8 pm and 6 am, and at all other times such persons shall be at their place of residence or employment or traveling between these places.” In addition, Japanese were prohibited from firearms, weapons, ammunition, bombs, explosives, short wave radios, transmitters, signal devices, codes or even cameras.

The next month J. Amamato, a 57-year-old native of Japan, was arrested for breaking the new curfew. He was staying at a boarding house (The Bunker House) but had ventured up to Hill Street (Coast Highway) where he was detained. Many felt that the boarding house should be immediately cleared of all Japanese inhabitants because of its proximity to the electrical utilities yard directly behind it. Citizens expressed fears of sabotage.

Boarding House aka Bunker House at 322 North Cleveland Street.

The “relocation” of Japanese immigrants, and Japanese Americans began in San Diego in late March and early April of 1942. The Oceanside Blade Tribune reported that “Three hundred Japanese are preparing to leave Oceanside by train Friday for the Parker reception center on the California-Arizona line, and 300 more will leave Sunday.  This will complete the evacuation of all Japanese from San Diego County. The Japanese all must go by train and are allowed to take only limited personal effects.  Their cars have been stored in San Diego for the duration.”

Isamu “Sam” Fujita was the executive secretary of the Japanese-American Citizens League and was noted for his “valuable assistance and cooperation in the Japanese evacuation.” During the registration process he and his sister Audrey served as interpreters to their fellow countrymen and women.

Isamu “Sam” Fujita

Included in this forced relocation was the Fujita family, who were sent to the Poston Interment Camp in Yuma County, Arizona. Sam Fujita was quoted as saying, “It is part of our duty as Americans to go. If our departure will improve public morale, it is our job to accept it in the spirit possible. This seems to be the best way we can be of service, and we are taking it in our stride.

Despite the fact that he and his family were incarcerated by the US government, Minoru Fujita enlisted in the Army on May 21, 1943. He was injured during combat by an artillery shell in 1944 and was discharged December 28, 1945. The internment camp where his family lived had closed just one month earlier.

It is unknown whether the family returned to the immediate area after they were released. Sam Fujita died in 2003, four months before his 90th birthday in La Mesa. Minoru Fujita died at the age of 92. Audrey Fujita Mizokami died at the age of 101 in Hawaii.

2 thoughts on “Forced to Leave: The Story of the Fujita Family

  1. Thank you for writing this. History must be retold, whether it is glad or sad, in order to remind the next generations what we did right and what we did wrong. I hope we never experience a blot like this one on our national conscience again.

    Liked by 1 person

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