Yoshiko Uchida UC BERKELEY CLASS OF 1942

Yoshiko Uchida was a celebrated author of children’s books based on her experiences and cultural upbringing. She was a gifted student who graduated high school in two and a half years. Yoshiko attended UC Berkeley majoring in English, History and Philosophy, entering Cal at sixteen.
Sister, Keiko Uchida and Yoshiko Uchida, stand side by side, smiling, in front of their home in Berkeley.

She came from a close-knit family, which included her father, Dwight, mother, Iku, older sister, Keiko, and beautiful collie, Laddie.

Despite strong anti-Asian sentiments, the Berkeley community in 1940 was thriving with dozens of businesses run by Japanese Americans. This is where Uchida was raised, grew up, and spent most of her youth. This took a turn, however, when Executive Order 9066 was issued and began the Japanese internment. It devastated the Japanese American community, especially the businesses since many store owners were sent to camps and their businesses were left behind.

Uchida was a senior at Berkeley when the federal government decided to send all Japanese Americans on the West Coast to internment camps. Her father, a local community leader who had worked to foster relations with Japanese visitors to the U.S., was questioned and taken away by the FBI and then separated from his family at a camp in Missouri.

Photographer: Dorothea Lange

The Uchidas were able to entrust some of their possessions with their friendly white neighbors before they left. However, many families had nowhere to place their valuables, and they had no choice but to sell everything, including cars, sofas and expensive china plates for less than 1/100th of their actual price to people looking to take advantage of them. Many families went through similar experiences, and lost everything except what they carried with them to the camps.

This is a Japanese American-owned house in Berkeley with a sign advertising a last-minute sale of their belongings.
Chiura Obata’s painting of Japanese Americans congregating in front of the Berkeley Congressional Church
Yoshiko Uchida and older sister, Keiko Uchida, posing in front of their house with their beloved dog.

After the short notice, Uchida was forced to put an ad in the Daily Cal asking someone to adopt Laddie before being taken away -- she gave the dog to a young boy but it died from heartbreak just a few weeks after they separated.

Uchida’s family was assigned to the Tanforan Assembly Center in San Bruno, CA. At Tanforan, people were housed in horse stables with no personal space.

They were moved again to a camp in Topaz, Utah. This camp was in the arid desert and housed 8,000 other Japanese American internees and their families. Conditions in Topaz were intensely difficult as well. The internees were housed in hastily-built barracks that didn’t keep out the heat or cold. They were fenced in with barbed wire and watched by armed guards in towers.

Eventually, Dwight Uchida was released from the Department of Justice prison camp and allowed to join his family. The close-knit family was reunited in Topaz.

On June 15, 1943, the Uchida family (from left to right: Yoshiko, mother Iku, father Dwight, and older sister Keiko) stood in front of their barracks at the Topaz, Utah War Relocation Authority administered concentration camp.

Yoshiko used her college education to give back to the community at Topaz. She signed up to be a teacher.

In her camp memoir, Desert Exile, Uchida describes her days at Camp Topaz.

"I worked hard to be a good teacher; I went to meetings, wrote long letters to my friends, knitted sweaters and socks, devoured any books I could find, listened to the radio, went to art school and to church and to lectures by outside visitors. I spent time socializing with friends and I saw an occasional movie at the Co-Op. I also had a wisdom tooth removed at the hospital and suffered a swollen face for three days. I caught one cold after another; I fell on the unpaved roads; I lost my voice from the dust; I got homesick and angry and despondent. And sometimes I cried." -Yoshiko Uchida
Yoshiko Uchida painted a depiction of her everyday life at Topaz through this watercolor painting of her family’s barracks titled “Our Barracks.” (Right) She learned painting from Chiura Obata, a Berkeley professor who was also interned. Uchida’s Watercolor painting “Tanforan from the Grandstands” (Left) was submitted and allowed to be used in the project, Beyond Words: Images from America's Concentration Camps

Uchida also continued to develop a writer’s discipline in the camps. She kept a detailed diary and a scrapbook to record the daily ups and downs. These materials are now archived in the Bancroft Library.

The images above are from Yoshiko Uchida’s diary regarding the internment camp. (First: Uchida staying home due to being ill. Second: Uchida on a dust storm that hit Topaz. Third: Uchida relaying the bad weather of the camp and the happenings of Topaz. Fourth: Depiction of a trip to Mt. Topaz.)

After the internment, Uchida was accepted to Smith College, and her parents resettled to Salt Lake City. She embarked on her extensive writing career, visiting post-war Japan on a fellowship, and eventually resettled in Oakland with her parents.

She wrote extensively on the internment, drawing on her own family’s experiences.

Among the many books Uchida wrote about her personal concentration camp experience is Journey to Topaz: A Story of the Japanese-American Evacuation (1971). It was the first children’s book on the internment, and followed a Japanese American family’s journey from Berkeley, through Tanforan, and finally to Camp Topaz.

Yoshiko Uchida also wrote an autobiography of her childhood and time in the internment called The Invisible Thread. She documents important events and activities from those years, such as a chapter dedicated on what it meant to be a Japanese American to her, facing discrimination from early on in her life, as well as happier moments with her family, to uprooting her life in California and becoming a foreigner in the country she was born in.

Uchida's Journey to Topaz: A Story of the Japanese-American Evacuation (1971) was one of the very first children books written by a Japanese American author. It documented a fictional family's lives during the interment based on her experiences.

“I always ask the children why they think I wrote Journey to Topaz and Journey Home, in which I tell of the wartime experiences of the Japanese Americans. I continue the discussion until finally one of them will say, ‘You wrote those books so it won’t ever happen again.’” - Yoshiko Uchida
Yoshiko Uchida passed away on June 21, 1992, at her home in Berkeley, California.

“On Dec. 13, 2009, a special ceremony during convocation presented honorary degrees to the Japanese Americans who were forcibly removed before graduation. Of the roughly 500 eligible former students, 42 returned to UC Berkeley to finally receive their rightful diplomas 67 years late…. This ceremony and gesture of reparation was a special moment, but it came much too late many of the eligible Japanese Americans, including Uchida, were already deceased.”

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