Mary Tsukamoto: Teacher, Prisoner, American Hero

85x120xtsukamato.jpg.pagespeed.ic.W0tMgwon8I[1][1]At the start of World War II, Mary Tsukamoto was living a quiet life as the wife of a strawberry farmer in a diminuitive Japanese-American community in Florin, Northern California. When Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Empire of Japan on December 7, 1941, “a day that will live in infamy,” Mary’s quiet life was suddenly turned upside-down. Like 120,000 other persons of Japanese descent living on the West Coast, most of them American citizens, Mary was forced into a relocation camp by the U.S. government because her loyalty to our country was questioned. Mary, her husband, their five-year-old daughter, her elderly in-laws, her teenaged brother and sisters, and other members of her family wound up in Jerome, Arkansas, where they were incarcerated until authorities were convinced this family of farmers posed no threat to national security. While detained in the camp, Mary became part of a prisoner-organized effort to provide meaningful educational opportunities for their imprisoned children. Mary taught speech courses for the high school students and English language classes for the elderly.

After the war, she returned to college, completed her degree, and became an elementary schoolteacher, one of the first certificated Japanese American teachers in the United States. Her remarkable story is told in her autobiography, We the People, a volume which unfortunately is now out of print. However, with some effort, it can be found through second-hand book sellers or in some libraries (check WorldCat), and it is well worth the hunt. You can read also read her story in Chalkboard Champions, available through