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George Hoshida, Japanese Internee
By Lauren Gray*
George Hoshida was born in Kumamoto, Japan in 1907 but spent relatively little time there. In 1912, his father, who had immigrated to Hilo, Hawaii, sent for his wife and children. However, funds were limited, so four year old George came to Hilo with his eldest brother, leaving two siblings in Japan.
Hoshida continued to live in Hilo, took a job with the Hilo Electric Company and was an active member of the Japanese community. At the beginning of World War Two, George Hoshida was a Judo instructor in Hilo, Hawaii, and was president of the Hilo Young Buddhist Association.
Although he had broken no laws, Hoshida was arrested in February of 1942*, two months after the United States entered the war. Hoshida believed that it was his involvement with Judo that led to his arrest and internment because the American military somehow found that activity "subversive." After his arrest, Hoshida was taken to Kilauea Military Camp, and from there to Sand Island, near Honolulu, which became a holding place for internees before they were shipped to camps on the United States mainland. Hoshida was initially taken to Angel Island, another holding camp outside of San Francisco, and from there he was assigned and reassigned between camps in Lordsburg, New Mexico and San Antonio, Texas. Hoshida also spent time in the Jerome Arkansas camp, the Gila Relocation Center in Arizona, and the Santa Fe, New Mexico camp, which had originally been built to house German POWs during World War Two.
During his incarceration, his wife and three children remained in Hawaii, but they were forced to evacuate their home in Hilo because of the family’s financial insecurity. Hoshida’s wife sold their home for a depreciative $1000 dollars. This situation was not uncommon among many Japanese American families who had lost their main source of income when the men were arrested and interned. At first, Hoshida’s wife and children were sent to the Jerome, Arkansas camp, and were not reunited with Hoshida until December 1943. They were sent to the Gila Relocation Center in Arizona soon after their reunion. Although Hoshida never became seriously ill during his internment, he believed his family suffered more. Two of his daughters became ill, but recovered. Although life in the camps was tedious, one of the things that kept Hoshida occupied and distracted during his internment was drawing. While other internees practiced gardening and tanka poetry, Hoshida sketched scenes and people from daily life in the camps. Though he had little training in art, Hoshida would first create the sketch, and then later detail the sketch from memory. As materials became available, Hoshida upgraded to pen and ink drawings, and later to watercolors. At times, guards would prohibit Hoshida from making his sketches, and other guards would, at other times, provide the materials for him to do so. At Lordsburg, Hoshida volunteered to teach basic drawing. Hoshida's drawings provide an indelible record of life as an internee.
He also performed construction labor for the camp, as Lordsburg was only half-completed upon his arrival. Hoshida garnered respect among his fellow internees and was elected as Barracks Captain, as the Japanese internees organized their own system of limited self-government within the camp. In addition to this permissible self-governance, Japanese internees were able to maintain some of their traditional Japanese culture. Hoshida’s daughter studied Japanese dancing, and during a New Year’s celebration, the internees were allowed to pound mochi, a rice concoction. The internees also made a Buddhist shrine, where many of the internees, including Hoshida, went to pray. On the other hand, internees were not allowed to speak Japanese, and many of the children in the camps forgot how to speak their language. In addition, the internees were also allowed restricted liberties. At the Santa Fe camp, internees were allowed outside of the camp to collect pine nuts. Others were released to work in the local communities outside of the camps.
When the war ended in 1945, Hoshida and his family moved back to Hawaii. However, when Hoshida tried to renew his position at the Hilo Electric Company, his application was denied, as his employers were distrustful of him after his arrest. Because his wife had sold their home, when the family returned to Hawaii they were left next to nothing. In order to support his family, Hoshida opened an appliance repair shop, drawing from the working knowledge he had gained of appliances and construction during his incarceration, and operated it out of his aunt’s garage. When other business attempts failed, he moved to Los Angeles, California and worked for the Municipal Court.
In 1952, Hoshida applied for, and received, American citizenship. Like other Japanese internees, Hoshida decided to document his life and incarceration, and began his memoir in the 1980s. Although it was never formally published, his family holds copies of the manuscript. Many of Hoshida’s drawings also survive, and were published in a tanka poetry anthology, Poets Behind Barbed Wire, in the 1980s.
George Hoshida passed away in 1985 in Pearl City, Hawaii.
*George Hoshida’s daughter, June Honma, remembers that her father was arrested the weekend after the Pearl Harbor attack, but Hoshida, in his memoir, claims that he was arrested in February.
* Lauren Gray is a New Mexico History Scholarship recipient.