March 23, 2020
In The Time of COVID Day 5
Victory Gardens and Internment Camps
I don’t know if there is any place in the United States better suited for social distancing , shelter in place and home isolation than Cambria. We are a village of less than 7 thousand people in a rural coastal setting with approximate 25 mile distance to the nearest other town (San Simeon is a hotel strip with some apartments and condos 6 miles north). There are many walking trails and a large dog park and many `pullout parking areas for beach access that dot Highway One from Morro Bay north over a hundred miles through Big Sur Coast to the Monterey Peninsula. Our village has an older population with many retirees. It is this group that remembers the old times.
Our cemetery has a section with an abundance of grave markers dated 1918, the year of the Spanish Flu. We were not spared the ravages of that Pandemic. Now there are rumblings through the retirees about Victory Gardens. Food scarcity brings to mind rationing during WWII. People, at that time, grew private gardens to feed their extended families when food resources were being directed toward the forces defending our country.
Yesterday we started our COVID-19 Victory Garden. We planted Early Girl tomatoes and we seeded a greens bed and tomorrow we will set out Cilantro and green onions and radishes. The plantings will expand in the coming weeks. We will be here this year to tend our garden and enjoy our labor’s bounty.
Back to World War II….
I was born a few years after the end of that war but there were remnants of it in my hometown. At 14, I had a paper route that started at the old sight of a WW II metal scrap pit. People deposited anything metal there and it was collected sorted and shipped to smelters and refineries to aid the war effort. But, there is a dark side to this tale.
It is no surprise that not all Americans were, or are now, treated equally. During WWII, not all Americans were free to grow their gardens and pass freely in the effort to help the war effort. The citizens of the neighborhood around Fourth and McClellan where my paper bundle was dropped each afternoon, were rounded up in early 1942 and relocated to Hart Mountain and Tulelake and other internment camps because of their Japanese heritage. On the yellow barrier fence of that open pit was painted “Collect the Scrap the Beat the Jap” in 8 inch high black letters. In the Fall of 1945 the internees returned to their neighborhoods to find their houses ransacked and their possessions looted. They stoically began to rebuild their lives. In several windows Gold Stars were displayed. Each signified a son, brother, uncle, or father who had died fighting for this country, all members of the fabled 442nd Infantry Division. Those heroes paid a terrible price. But, The degrading racist signage was not removed at war’s end. It still remained in 1962, seventeen years after the end of the war.
As a kid I wondered why someone hadn’t painted over those slogans. The neighborhood silently endured the racist insult year after year. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that the painting over of that signage was my responsibility. By then, the east-west freeway had leveled the neighborhood.
Yesterday we planted our COVID Victory Garden, we try to do our part to self isolate and to help those in need. If things get worse and fear and paranoia raise their ugly heads we must stand against those forces of evil and strive to stay calm, humane and helpful.