For long, terrible days, Yuri and her family did not know where her father had been taken. Her brothers, away at college, returned home; Peter had to hitchhike because no one would sell him a train ticket. Finally, a lawyer working for the family managed to locate Seiichi on nearby Terminal Island in the federal prison.
After tireless petitioning by Yuri’s mother Tsuyako, Seiichi was released to a San Pedro hospital in early January 1942. On Jan. 13, Yuri and her brothers were finally able to see their father for the first time since his December 7 arrest. His time in the federal prison, denied adequate medical care and suffering hours of interrogation, had taken its toll; he was delirious and largely unable to recognize his own children.
“[I]t was the same ward where they placed seamen who had come back from the Pacific,” Yuri recalled. “My father’s bed was the only one in the ward that had a sheet around it with a sign: ‘Prisoner of War.’ Naturally, we were concerned for Pop’s safety and afraid the merchant marines might beat him up.” Tsuyako managed to advocate for her husband once again and got him moved to another area.
On Jan. 20, he was released back to his family. “When he came home, he couldn’t talk at all,” Yuri said. “He only made guttural sounds. There was no way to communicate with him.” On Jan. 21, he died.
Over the following weeks, the FBI performed warrant-less raids on California fishing and Nisei communities, arresting people and ransacking homes. On Feb. 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. This order “authorized military commanders to exclude civilians from military areas. Although the language of the order did not specify any ethnic group, Lieutenant General John L. DeWitt of the Western Defense Command proceeded to announce curfews that included only Japanese Americans,” according to the National Archives. Order 9066 passed the Senate and House of Representatives without a single dissenting vote and was later upheld by the Supreme Court in 1944. Across the nation, over 110,000 people would be arrested solely for being Japanese.
Yuri and her family, like Japanese Americans all over the country, began to see evacuation notices posted on shop windows and telephone poles. They watched neighborhoods cleared and knew their day was coming. “We got our evacuation notices at the end of March ,” Yuri said. “After seeing the Terminal Island people leave, we figured we’d have to leave at some point. But it was hard when it actually happened.”
The Nakahara family was relocated to a horse stable in Santa Anita Park, over 40 miles away. Melissa for the East Bay Express wrote, “Yuri considers her family lucky because they had more than a month to prepare, while some only had forty-eight hours. After being forced to live for six months in a horse stall at the Santa Anita racetrack, Yuri, her mother, and oldest brother were tagged, numbered, and loaded onto cattle trains. No one knew where they were going. The Nakaharas ended up in a concentration camp in Jerome, Arkansas.” Arkansas was chosen to isolate Japanese Americans from the West Coast.
Kept in these camps with no ability to leave and no idea when or if they may be permitted to return home, Yuri and the other prisoners tried to make the best of their lives there. The women sewed curtains for the toilet stalls. Yuri returned to teaching her Sunday school lessons, here in this new place with these new students.
Nisei soldiers serving in the U.S. military would sometimes visit. On one such weekend, the Jerome camp welcomed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all-Japanese-American unit, including Manhattan-born Bill Kochiyama. Bill and Yuri fell for each other quickly. Yuri told East Bay Press, “He was very good-looking and he had a different kind of personality because he was brought up in New York and he never knew the kind of racism West-Coast Asians did. He was so confident and outgoing. I was crazy in love.”
With Bill (and twin brother Peter) off at war, Yuri wrote letters from the camp. When Bill began to feel guilty to receive so many letters when others had none, Yuri coordinated a letter-writing campaign within the camp, sending letters to the soldiers of 442nd Regiment.
Yuri was released from the Jerome camp in May of 1944 and returned to San Pedro. “We were filled with hope, excitement, relief as well as apprehension and fear as we made the long journey home,” Yuri said. “We had heard stories of Americans treating returning Japanese poorly, both on the West Coast and throughout their travels. We knew that anti-Japanese feelings ran high. Yet we were thrilled to leave the camps and to return to our beloved hometown.” Fortunately, the Nakaharas returned to a warm welcome from their neighbors who had even watched over their house during their absence.
Bill was discharged from the military on Dec. 31, 1945, and returned to New York City. Yuri moved across the country to join him. The couple married on Feb. 9, 1946. They would go on to have six children: Billy, Audee, Aichi, Eddie, Jimmy, and Tommy. The bustling family settled in Harlem in 1960 into public housing. Yuri and Bill joined Harlem Parents Committee, which supported a 1964 boycott of segregated city schools, and the Harlem chapter of Congress of Racial Equality, an African American civil rights group. During one summer, the family vacationed to Birmingham, Ala., to see the damage left by the protests and learn more about the Civil Rights Movement.
In Oct. 16, 1963, Yuri waited at a Brooklyn courthouse. She and her oldest son Billy, along with hundreds of others, had been arrested during a CORE protest against discriminatory hiring practices. Yuri told Democracy Now! in 2006: