Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga is a Nisei (second generation) Japanese American born in 1925 in Los Angeles. She was incarcerated at Manzanar, California, and later Jerome and Rohwer, Arkansas. In the 1980s, working as the primary archival researcher for the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, she discovered documents that led to the federal congressional commission’s recommendation of a presidential apology and monetary redress for surviving Japanese American detainees. In this interview excerpt, she describes the difficulty of caring for a young baby in the crude living conditions of Manzanar. She also speaks of the inferior health care available to Japanese Americans in the incarceration camps.Listen to Audio:
EO: So tell me about your pregnancy and giving birth, and about your daughter.
AH: All right. First my pregnancy. Since I was young, it was a pretty easy nine-months' gestation. It would have been easier if we had not had to have our meals, three meals outside of our own apartment. Our own apartment finally — served as bedroom, living room, and of course, the main things we lacked were kitchen and bathroom facilities. So three meals a day we had to get in line for food and being pregnant and suffering what most pregnant women go through — what is known as morning sickness and nauseous periods, waiting in line for our meals during that period was very, very difficult under the, the conditions that existed there: the dust storms, the heat, the cold.
Then when... I think the lack of real good milk at the time which was considered very important for pregnant women to have, that, I think, affected my fetus, the fetus, the embryo a great deal. When my child was born in the camp hospital, she was born with an allergy to the powdered milk that they permitted babies to have during that time. And it was not diagnosed that she had an allergy to this powdered milk and that she should have what was called at that time, Carnation milk in a can. I requested that for my child, but they said, “No, that, all those, that has to go to the army.” To the men in the armed forces, and we would not be permitted to unless we could afford to send for it from outside. And, of course, we couldn’t do that, we were earning minimum salaries which ran from twelve dollars a month, sixteen dollars a month and nineteen dollars a month at that time. Nineteen dollars for the professionals, sixteen dollars for semi-skilled — for skilled, and twelve dollars for the unskilled laborers. We could not afford to buy canned milk. So my daughter suffered tremendously. She was hospitalized in the camp, went in and out, in and out, with stomach disorders because of her inability to, to get this milk, which was, of course, the lifeline for infants at the time. Most children double their weight, most infants double their weight, birth weight, at six months. My child had not doubled her weight in a year, she was so sick.
EO: How did this make you feel?
AH: Very angry. I was very angry and felt so responsible for my child. There’s nothing, nothing at all that I could do about it. And I think the lack of this important nutrition at this time of her life has affected her whole entire life. She didn’t have the basic ingredients to be a healthy person.
EO: What was the hospital like?
AH: Oh, the hospital, very sort of primitive. The doctors were mostly Japanese American doctors. The white, Caucasian doctors served as supervisors, overseers. The nurses and the doctors were primarily Japanese and they were skillful. We, I’m sure, although I didn’t know anything about hospitals and supplies at the time, but I have read what Japanese doctors who served in the camps said, that they lacked medicine, they lacked the proper equipment to do the necessary work that they needed to do as doctors. I think the, we were probably very low down on the totem pole in terms of priority as far as the government was concerned at the time.
Source: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga, interview, March 20, 1994, San Francisco, California. From Densho Digital Archive, http://www.densho.org/. Interviewers: Emiko Omori, Chizu Omori, segment 10, denshovh-haiko-02–0010 (accessed October 14, 2009).