Labeled a four-letter word: 'NO JAPS ALLOWED'

Dee Goto in 1943, and at 4 years of age, in Idaho. Photo Courtesy of Dee Goto.

Dee Goto in 1943, and at 4 years of age, in Idaho. Photo Courtesy of Dee Goto.


“NO JAPS ALLOWED” it said on the sign.

Dad took my hand, walking elsewhere to dine. No words were spoken but it was understood, “To be treated second class didn’t feel very good."

This was 1944 in Caldwell, Idaho. I was five years old. The United States was in the middle of the war with Japan. Those with 1/16th Japanese heritage had been removed and imprisoned from most of Washington, Oregon and California with the signing of Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942.

Dad promised me a Banana Split Sundae for my 5th birthday. My birthday is in January, but it was six months later before we went to town to get some farm equipment parts and celebrate. It was a big deal. I could hardly wait. We never had desserts or ice cream at home. It was also 1944 with sugar rationing and we were poor.

Not all of us were imprisoned. We lived on a farm in Sand Hollow, twelve miles from town, Caldwell. Our family had moved there in 1937 before the war. White business owners worried about Japanese migrating to Idaho. The governor of Idaho, as was written in the Idaho Statesman, was against the building of Minidoka in Southern Idaho to house all those Japanese removed from the west coast. There were also articles against hiring Japanese.

Leaving the farm, we drove south on Highway 30, passing Pearl Harbor gas station/restaurant on the mesa. It was run by old man Pearl and his wife, but that’s where I thought they were talking about when they talked about the war.

Dad then drove our 1940 tan Chevrolet Coupe down across the Boise river into town. We passed CC Anderson department store and parked. Then we saw the sign: NO JAPS ALLOWED! Dad kept the celebratory mood by making jokes and we walked down to the next block to another place. We sat at the counter and Dad ordered my banana split. Not everyone was so flagrantly prejudice.

It was bigger than I expected with three scoops of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate on the long slices of banana. My eyes got big, I could hardly wait to begin. The chocolate syrup with the cherry on top was great. By the time I got through the vanilla and tasted the strawberry, but I was full. It wasn’t something we could take home, which was kind of a let down, adding to the events of the day.