"An All-American Boy": The Story of Tom Haji and Rural Nisei in WWII
The purpose of this project examines the life of Tom Haji, a Japanese-American who grew up in Skykomish and Monroe, Washington, was interned at Tule Lake following Executive Order 9066, and deployed to France and Italy where he died in April 1945. Through a biographical recreation of Tom’s life that included examination of newspapers, yearbooks, historical photographs with those who knew him, this project reveals a set of complicated and more nuanced relationships between Japanese-Americans and white residents of rural Washington. While most accounts of the internment era emphasize division, Haji’s life and relationships show the importance of ordinary local activities as an inclusive force. For example, his basketball coach and his team boycotted a game in which port authorities attempted to block Tom from coming with his team to a game near the coast. From his hometown, his internment, and the war a sense of what life was like for many Japanese-Americans can be understood on a deep and personal level. Haji reveals a story of a boy and his family becoming integral members of their community when national prejudices against Japanese-Americans were at their apex. Even after Pearl Harbor, Tom and his family were still seen as trusted members of the community which made their sudden internment even more devastating. Despite his internment at Tule Lake, Tom willingly signed up to serve in the Army like many Japanese-Americans in defense of their country and would fall during a battle in April of 1945 in Italy. Even though Tom lived a short life, his is still dearly remembered in the town of Monroe and speaks to the importance of interpersonal and community dialogue and relationships in combatting institutionalized and local cultural racism.