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Author tells story of WWII camp

May 16, 2007

At a dinner party last year, someone gave author Cynthia Kadohata an article about a newly discovered film from the Poston Internment Camp in Arizona.

Needless to say, she was intrigued. Her father, Toshiro Kadohata, and her aunt, Motoya, had been sent to the camp as teenagers, and her new book, “Weedflower,” which was chosen as the 2007 OneBookAZ book for children, is about a 12-year-old girl whose family was sent to Poston.

Kadohata finally had a chance to see the film at the Arizona Historical Foundation (AHS) in Hayden Library when she was in town for the Arizona Book Festival.

The film, which dates to 1942, is part of the W. Wade Head Collection at the Arizona Historical Foundation in Hayden Library. Head was director of Poston from 1942 to 1944.

The first half of the film, whose soundtrack has deteriorated to silence, is devoted to scenes of almost frantic construction, as contractor Del Webb's 5,000-member construction crew sawed wood, poured foundations, nailed boards and installed utilities.

The film continues with scenes of Japanese-Americans arriving at Poston, many wearing what appears to be their Sunday best, and shots of life in the hot, dusty desert camp.

Kadohata said she regretted not having seen the film before she wrote “Weedflower,” notes Linda Whitaker, AHS archivist, who helped conduct the author's ASU visit.

“She said it would have helped her visualize the environment better,” Whitaker says. “Instead, she had to rely on firsthand accounts and background reading.

“The film made her feel like an eyewitness to the situation as it unfolded, from the construction to the first arrivals. Also, she was moved by the images of the children who are prominently featured in the film.”

More than 110,000 Japanese and Japanese American citizens, 62 percent of whom were U.S. citizens, were forcibly moved from the West Coast during World War II to the “war relocation camps” in remote parts of the United States .

“Many were given less than a week to sell everything before being taken to the camps,” Whitaker says. “Many were well-established professors, artists and businessmen.”

Kadohata's father was born in Costa Mesa , Calif., to tenant farmers. Her father did not like to talk about Poston.

“He always said that nobody was interested in the camps,” Kadohata says.

Her father was drafted out of the camp into the Army Military Intelligence Service, while her aunt worked outside camp as a maid.

Kadohata says she wanted to write “Weedflower” (the Japanese farmers' name for stock, one of the flowers they grew) partially to let people know how the people in Poston cultivated the land.”

“To me, it was amazing that the internees made such a huge effort to turn their desert community into a homelike environment,” she says. “One quote I read from the time was by a Caucasian man, who said he saw some of the most beautiful gardens he'd ever seen at Poston.”