Creative Nonfiction

The Desert Was His Home

ERIC L. MULLER has been studying and writing about the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans for more than two decades. He is a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

WE DON’T KNOW MUCH about Mr. Otomatsu Wada of Unit B in Barrack 14 in Block 63 of the Gila River Relocation Center in southern Arizona beyond the fact that on May 1, 1943, eight months to the day after he arrived at the concentration camp for Japanese Americans, he went missing.

Census records and ship manifests do little more than sketch a picture of a typical member of the generation of Japanese that came to the United States around the turn of the twentieth century. We know that he was born in Japan in 1873, that he had a high school education, and that he arrived in the United States for the first time in 1901, when he was about twenty-eight and

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