Yoshiko Uchida (Class of 1942)

In 1942, months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Executive Order 9066 was issued, allowing the Secretary of War and military commanders to prescribe military areas. This vested them the power to exclude individuals, specifically 120,000 Japanese Americans and have them sent to internment camps. Over two-thirds of them were U.S. citizens, and many of them were children. None had committed any acts of sabotage throughout the war; they were imprisoned without trial simply because of long-standing racist views towards Asian Americans and a desire to curb their growing economic success. Among those imprisoned were hundreds of Berkeley students, who were forced to withdraw from school and give up their education—sometimes permanently.

 

One such student was Yoshiko Uchida winner of multiple literary awards, such as two Commonwealth Club of California Medals and a Child Study Association of America Children's Book of the Year citation. She was a Japanese American author known for works such as Journey to Topaz. Born and raised in the city of Berkeley, Uchida was a stellar student, beginning college at the age of 16 and pursuing a triple major in English, History, and Philosophy.

 

When the federal government first began its internment efforts, Uchida’s father, a local community leader who had often hosted visitors from Japan to the U.S., was one of the first people questioned by the FBI, then separated from his family and imprisoned at a camp in Missouri. Knowing that she would soon be next but without any clue how long she would be gone, Yoshiko placed an ad in the Daily Cal looking for someone to adopt her beloved family dog, a male Scotch collie. She managed to give him to a young boy before being taken away, but the separation was too much for the dog who died just two weeks later.

 

The internment did not kill her passion for writing; she maintained a scrapbook while in the camp and became a distinguished writer after her release. After the war, Uchida dedicated her career to writing best-selling children’s works such as Journey to Topaz and Invisible Threads, which sought to educate the public about the horrible camp experience and prevent such a constitutional violation from happening again.

Renowned author and UC Berkeley alumna

Imprisoned at Topaz during her senior year

“I always ask the children why they think I wrote Journey to Topaz and Journey Home … I continue the discussion until finally one of them will say, ‘You wrote those books so it won’t ever happen again.’”

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Brought to you by CWR4B: Images of History

Spring 2019