Temixco, a former WWII concentration camp

Japanese families living in Mexico during WWII were concentrated in Temixco until 1945

Temixco, a former WWII concentration camp for the Japanese in Mexico
Temixco is now a water park - Photo: Tony Rivera/EL UNIVERSAL
English 28/12/2019 17:00 Mexico City Justino Miranda Actualizada 17:00

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Fernando Álvarez was very young when three persons from Japan knocked at his home’s door, in the former Hacienda of Temixco, six km from Cuernavaca. “We want to get in your house,” asked the visitors. “There’s nothing,” answered Fernando, but they said they had lived there many years before and wanted to walk on the fields once again.

They were three Japanese people, two of them identified later as Toyo and Enrique Shibayama, who spent their childhood in that space, which used to be a concentration camp – very different from the extermination camps of Nazi Germany – for Japanese citizens during the World War II.

The isolation history for the Shibayama and other Japanese families began with a Japanese military offensive against the U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor in December 1941. A month later, after the Pan-American reunion of ministers in Río de Janeiro, Brazil, Manuel Ávila Camacho’s government decided to concentrate the “dangerous citizens” of the Axis countries: Germany, Japan, and Italy.

A group of Japanese was concentrated in the former Hacienda of Temixco in whose surface of 14 hectares they built wooden houses, one over the other, planted the fields, and grew rice for their consumption. “Many times a concentration camp is thought to be a place of suffering, but some of the kids that lived there [now seniors] tell us they had certain freedoms, they could go out to schools, to visit the town, and come back… They had schedules they could not violate, but they could go out for shopping.

“Enrique Shibayama [son of the administrator of the former hacienda] went to junior high school in Cuernavaca, perhaps he was the only one with that privilege,” asserts Alfredo Tooru Ebisawa, a Mexican citizen of Japanese descent, who along with Fernando Álvarez, co-owner of the place - looked for the children who lived there and supported the National Nikkei Convention on May 2018 in the former Hacienda of Temixco.

Labor exploitation
Tooru Ebisawa’s vision contrasts with the research made by Selfa A. Chew about the history of exploitation of Japanese people by the same nationality administrators of the hacienda.

“In February 1943, Alberto Yoshida and Takugoro Shibayama [the administrator of the hacienda[ informed the Department of Political and Social Investigation(DIPS) that 80 interns worked in the fields and 30 refused to work. What they didn’t tell the authorities was that they refused to work without receiving a wage. The interns had to pay for soap, food, and other products their families consumed. The leaders of the Mutual Help Committee asked for the intervention of Miguel Alemán, then the Interior Minister and the rebels were arrested and sent to the migratory station in Perote, Veracruz,” wrote Chew.

Kenji Hiromoto, the grandchild of Dr. Manuel S. Hiromoto, has been investigating for 12 years the origin if his grandfather, his stay in the concentration camps and what he had to live there. The Japanese community, says Kenji, was confined from 1942 to 1945 and lived in the plantations, where now are the pools of the water park. There were huts and they slept in the rooms where rice was stored. They had self-production plots and it is thought that Morelos rice has its origins in the Japanese style. They also planted eggplants.

“Men worked and women stayed in the kitchen. A picture of the National General Archives (AGN) reveals two young women and several children in the concentration and I found out that the woman in the right is my grandmother,” says Kenji. With testimonies from relatives, friends and AGN’s documents,” he reconstructed the routine in the camp, as well as the punishment they received for bad behavior. “On the pretext that they had done something wrong and depending on the seriousness and Mr. Shibayama’s criterion, they were taken to the migration center in Perote, Veracruz, where discipline was stronger and Japanese people lived with Germans, and Italians. Several Japanese people from Temixco were relocated because they had allegedly caused problems in the community but they were not serious crimes,” he says.

- Would you say the stay was bitter? - he is asked.
- There are those who say it was nice, especially the children, because that part was really cared for, for them to have entertainment spaces, but for the adults, it wasn’t a nice moment, it was pretty bad; actually, there were suicides, people who died out of sadness… It was, indeed, a bitter moment, because the family that was there didn’t remember it as a happy or peaceful moment either.

Kenji’s grandfather, Manuel S. Hiromoto, appears in the archives of the extinct DIPS with a report in Perote in which he complained about the working conditions and said the authorities of the hacienda took advantage of their power. “Since he was a Christian, he suffered the lack of religious freedom… he also complained from class discrimination which reproduced the hard social structure in Japan; he also said that the administrators threatened to send people to Perote if they didn’t agree to work without payment.”

Selfa A. Chew also mentions that there was no nursing room and Dr. Manuel Hiromoto complained that administrator Shibayama did not allow him to attend those who were sick. “Minerva Yoshino remembers the pain of two deaths that could have been avoided,” Chew wrote.

Testimonies
Rosa Urano was seven years old when she left the Texmico concentration camp and told her family and friends that she had forgotten the detail of the hacienda, but 74 years later, she walked again on the ground where her family lived. “At first, she didn’t want to say much, but she was invited and said that she hadn’t been there since she left and thought it didn’t exist anymore, but when she saw the place, she remembered the kitchens and her games,” remembers Tooru Ebisawa.

Fernando Álvarez asserts that they day they gathered several men and women who spent their childhood in the former hacienda, a friend of his had the idea of writing a story with the testimonies they obtained from the concentrated Japanese. There were harsh stories, like the one of a then-12-years-old girl who had to be a mother and a sister because her mother died giving birth. There were six or seven members in her family.

The exodus
In Mexico, there was the concern about its borders and coasts to be used by agents from Germany, Japan, and Italy as a base to attack the American nations, said Francies Peddie, Master in History by UNAM in his essay “An uncomfortable presence: the Japanese colony in Mexico during World War II.”

Therefore, Manuel Ávila Camacho’s government ordered to gather the immigrants from all throughout Mexico in cities like Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Veracruz, and the Japanese who lived in those cities got organized to receive their co-nationals and constitute the Mutual Help Committee (CAM) recognized by the government as speaker to negotiate everything related to the concentration of migrants, says Sergio Hernández Galindo in Temixco’s Camp: Persecution and organization of the Japanese migration.

All of them registered and reported their addresses to the DIPS, an agency dependant on the Interior Ministry, although they families with enough resources rented homes with the help of CAM.

Tatsugoro and Sanshiro Matsumoto had a gigantic property on the outskirts of Mexico City in the Contreras borough known as El Batán. There, they gave shelter to 569 persons while a commission designated by CAM looked for a permanent place with means for survival, until they found it in the former Hacienda of Temixco, Morelos.

“They used the 14 hectares to grow rice and vegetables. The hacienda was first a sugar camp, then a place to grow rice, then a shelter for the Japanese community, and since 1968, it became one of the main water parks in the state,” says Fernando Álvarez.

The hacienda had a cost of MXN $180,000, collected with funds from the Japanese embassy and money from CAM. In August 1942, the first 42 families arrive at Temixco and the DIPS sent a letter to the Morelos governor Jesús Castillo López so that he granted the necessary facilities to install the persons mentioned in the document.

In that letter, it was informed that Sanshiro Matsumoto and Alberto Yoshida would be the people from CAM in charge of hiring more people to work in the hacienda, according to Sergio Hernández, an expert in Japanese migrants matters. CAM designated Takugoro Shibayama as the administrator. Shibayama had privileges like living in an independent house while the rest lived in a wide space with subdivision, without privacy. “We can imagine the neighbor’s voices could be heard or that they shared the bathrooms,” says Tooru Ebisawa.

In October 1945, the CAM received authorization from the DIPS for the migrants to be able to move with all freedom and to return, if so they wanted, to the places where they used to live. Only the Hiromoto, the Yoshino, and the Tominaga remained in Temixco.

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