Yoshiko Uchida

Yoshiko Uchida (1921-1995)

Yoshi Uchida as a Willard student in 1936.

Yoshiko “Yoshi” Uchida was an award-winning writer of children’s books, all of them drawing on her experience as a Japanese American who lived through the prejudice directed at Asians during World War II. Her best-known books include Journey to Topaz, the story of a young girl whose family is forcibly evacuated to the Topaz internment camp in Utah, and the 1982 autobiography Desert Exile.

Yoshi and her sister, Keiko, were born in California and attended Berkeley schools, including Willard. Their parents, immigrants who were prominent in the Bay Area Japanese community, became targets of suspicion during the war. Uchida’s father was arrested on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, and sent to an internment camp in Montana. The rest of the family was forced out of their Berkeley home by an exclusion order on April 21, 1942, and eventually sent to a relocation camp in Topaz, Utah, where they were reunited with Uchida’s father.

After the war, Uchida and her sister went on to attend graduate schools in Massachusetts. Uchida then returned to the Bay Area and remained there for the rest of her life. In 1951, she published New Friends for Susan, a children’s book about Japanese Americans living in prewar Berkeley. “I wanted to write stories about human beings, not the stereotypic Asian,” she said in an interview. “There weren’t any books like that in the early ’50s when I started writing for children.” While many of her books take place against a backdrop of difficulties and discrimination, “I try to stress the positive aspects of life that I want children to value and cherish,” she said. “I hope they can be caring human beings who don’t think in terms of labels—foreigners or Asians or whatever—but think of people as human beings. If that comes across, then I’ve accomplished my purpose.”