Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Dearest Joan Project, Letters

I first saw something about the Dearest Joan Project on Letter Writers Alliance and because the internment of the Japanese during WWII is a topic we need to remember, I was interested in two ways:  letters and internment.  

Joan Gillis was cleaning out the attic and came upon a box of letters from 70 years ago.  

"The earliest letters date back to the spring of 1942, when an estimated 22,000 Japanese Canadians were forcibly removed from the B.C. coast by government order. Some were sent to work camps in the Interior; others were sent to work on farms in the Prairies. 
Gillis was only 13 years old at the time. Most of her correspondents were that age or several years older, all of them Japanese-Canadian. They ranged from close friends to passing acquaintances, most of them pupils at Queen Elizabeth Secondary School in Surrey, B.C."
The letters from young Japanese-Canadian teens to Joan Gillis are an important part of a history that both Canadians and Americans have mostly forgotten.  Take a look at the Dearest Joan Project and read excerpts from some of the letters.  Like any normal teens, they were interested in the goings on at their school and the songs on the Hit Parade, but of course their situations were not normal.   

Letters fascinate me.  Letters from friends and family, from authors and historical personages, and from these teens who had one friend with whom they were able to keep in contact during the most difficult time of their young lives.  The letters are now in the University of British Columbia's Rare Books and Special Collections


Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Watkatsuki Houston is a good book for young people to get an idea of an Japanese-American internment camp.  Jeanne was seven when her family was sent to Manzanar.  

The sites were inland and isolated and included:  Tule Lake, CA; Minidoka, ID; Manzanar, CA; Topaz, UT; Jerome, ARK; Heart Mountain, WY; Poston, AZ; Granada, CO; and Rohwer, ARK.

More information can be found at Japanese Relocation During World War II.  The article from the National Archives includes both fiction and nonfiction about the period.  


  1. Letters are always fascinating, aren't they!

    1. Especially those from historic periods!

  2. It is important for these events in history be remembered and their effect on the people concerned as well. And who gave the final order for internment? And now past events are being repeated. And then I think about the time in 1992 when
    Kristi Yamaguchi was the skating champion and could not get endorsements because America was so mad at Japan because their economy was booming in electronics. The world is just messed up, and I guess it always has been. Or maybe I am.
    xx, Carol

    1. Young people are often completely unaware of the relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during the war. As a lover of historic letters, I still find these letters particularly poignant. I did not realize that Kristi Yamaguchi had difficulty getting endorsements!

  3. I have an American-born Japanese friend in California whose family was interned during WWII even as her father was an American soldier. Her daughter wrote a play about her grandfather's experiences. My friend's husband, a dear friend from my Tennessee days, died recently and left a hole in all our hearts. He was just an East Tennessee boy who married a beautiful Asian woman whose family accepted and befriended all his friends. I love letters, too, and a couple years ago I transcribed the letters I had saved from my childhood through college that my family wrote to me. I certainly didn't save all of them but enough to give an idea of our family life, differing writing styles of my family members, our concerns. With three girls in our family clothes and boys were frequently discussed. I typed most of the letters because the various formats/stationery didn't lend themselves to just being copied. I put them in a book and gave it to my sisters for Christmas.

    1. I love that you transcribed your family letters! What a great idea for a gift for your sisters--something they would treasure and past down to their children.

      Years ago, I sent letters to my father and my aunts asking about their favorite Christmas memories. On Christmas day, I read the letters at our Christmas get together, and it took forever because of the laughter and questions. All the letters were copied and all my cousins have copies. I wish I'd done that more than once! What if I'd asked about other specific things: like where they were when Pearl Harbor was attacked? (I do know my father was at a theater on the LSU campus when they broadcast the news.) Or what food rationing was like? There are so many questions I have now that can't be answered.


Good to hear from you!