The heat beats down on his small frame. The barracks he lives in are made of wood and tar paper, exacerbating the temperature in the 100-foot-long building.
A bead of sweat rolls down his face. He looks down and eyes a scorpion crawling through the floor.
Unable to take it anymore, he gets out of his bed and runs outside to join his siblings and friends.
It’s 1944, and he’s just 4 years old.
He’s living in a Japanese internment camp in Arizona. This is the second camp he’s lived in.
The door swings open and his body is hit with a rush of air.
He experiences relief for a split second before his skin adjusts and the air around him quickly settles into its original hot form.
It’s triple-digit degree heat in Poston, Arizona, where more than 18,000 Japanese Americans were placed by their government at internment camps on an Indian reservation.
““They wanted us to go there and turn that reservation into a farm. So, when you go there today, you wouldn’t know there was a prison there. It’s all green from the vegetation that the Japanese fixed.”-Setsuo Iwashita
“They wanted us to go there and turn that reservation into a farm. So, when you go there today, you wouldn’t know there was a prison there. It’s all green from the vegetation that the Japanese fixed,” Iwashita says.
“It’s a prison camp”
Iwashita was born on Coronado, and his family was one of 20 Japanese American families who called the island home before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt about two months later issued an executive order that resulted in the imprisonment of roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans in makeshift camps in desolate areas in the West.
The Iwashitas initially were taken to at an internment camp in Santa Anita at a racetrack, where the entire family of six lived in a horse stall. It was there that Setsuo’s brother was born.
They waited for six months like other Japanese Americans who toiled as so-called camps and barracks were built along the West. What came next was a train ride to the scorching heat of southwestern Arizona for the Iwashitas.
It has been decades since then and Iwashita is back in Coronado, far, far away from his days living in the internment camps. His family was just one of three who returned to the island.
At 82, his salt and pepper hair sits neatly on top a pair of glasses. The corners of his eyes crinkle when he talks, the light bouncing off his glistening eyes.
He talks quietly of the past, as if to not wake a sleeping child.
Jan Iwashita, his wife of 49 years, sits beside him.
Setsu describes how his father worked in the camp’s mess hall for $6 a month while his mother raised him and his three siblings.
As a child, all he knew was play, he says with a dry chuckle.
“Kids always have fun. The parents are agonizing, but the kids don’t know.” he says.
But, even as a 4-year-old, way of life in the camp didn’t go unnoticed.
“It’s a prison camp, like barbed wire. If you got too close to the barbed wire, you were shot…Can you imagine doing that to a person?”-Coronado’s Setsuo Iwashita on his internment during World War II.
“It’s a prison camp, like barbed wire. If you got too close to the barbed wire, you were shot,” Iwashita recalls. “Can you imagine doing that to a person?”
Bus tickets and $25
“Can you imagine?” Iwashita says this multiple times throughout the conversation about different aspects of his life.
His soft voice strains at these words as he shakes his head.
And it is hard to imagine.
“They took all your money, radios, cameras, cars, everything. Everything was gone,” Setsuo says.
After four years of being incarcerated, the government gave the family $25 and bus tickets back to California, Jan says.
Setsuo jumps in: “Imagine, after four years.”
Return to Coronado
When the Iwashitas arrived back in Coronado, they managed to secure a one bedroom apartment above a garage on Isabella Avenue.
A one bedroom for all six members of the family, and a child they took in for the next year or so because that boy’s father was ill. He was Setsuo’s friend, Tetsuden.
By 1951, the Iwashitas had made enough money to buy their own house.
“Most people, when they found out you were Asian, they wouldn’t sell you a house,” Setsuo says, remarking that it was fortunate they were able to find someone who would sell to them.
They settled in and a year went by.
Coronado Little League born
And in 1952, Coronado’s Little League was born.
“There was a doctor in town. Dr. Vernetti,” Jan starts.
“He’s the guy that started Little League in Coronado,” Setsuo adds.
Little League ends when you’re 12, and Little League in Coronado started when Setsuo was the same age. So, he was only able to play one season.
“But I was a good baseball player,” he says. “My batting average was .882.”
He flips through an old picture book his sister made decades ago, gingerly turning the pages. Some of them fall out.
He points to a photo of him in his backyard, dressed in his baseball uniform. It’s an action shot of him taking a swing.
“His catcher, to this day, his catcher talks about him all the time,” Jan says. His catcher was Robin Crenshaw, who still resides in Coronado.
Iwashita flips the pages. He comes to a page filled with newspaper clippings.
“Iwashita Hurls One-Hit Game.”
“Iwashita Pitches No-Hitter.”
“All the people that played baseball, it’s the first thing they’d say,” Setsuo Iwashita says.
“Even today, even today! ‘We never got a hit off of you,’” Jan continues.
The clippings, however, refer to him as Melton, his middle name.
Setsuo said a teacher called him Melton and it stuck as well as the nickname “Charlie,” which some kids called him because of Charlie Chan movies at the time.
“They got the nationality wrong,” Setsuo says with a chuckle.
Following in the footsteps
Setsuo was the beginning of the Iwashita Little League legacy.
In 1979, his second son, David, was born.
David went through Little League, just as his father did.
““It’s always tough following in someone’s footsteps. It either makes you work harder or it makes you feel like you’ll never be able to match up…it was a driver for me.”-David Iwashita
“You would hear dad’s friends talk about his Little League past,” David says. “It’s always tough following in someone’s footsteps. It either makes you work harder or it makes you feel like you’ll never be able to match up…it was a driver for me.”
He says his dad never pressured him to play Little League.
“I was probably the last of all my friends to start playing baseball. I had to work a little harder,” David says.
But when he did start playing, he had a role model in his father.
“You want to be the pitcher and emulate your favorite hero, which was my dad.”-David Iwashita
“You want to be the pitcher and emulate your favorite hero, which was my dad,” David says.
David has his own children now, and the legacy of baseball in the Iwashita family continues.
His son, Mark, is the same age his grandfather was when he started playing in Little League.
David coaches Mark’s Little League team.
He instills in his son the same principles his dad taught him.
“I remember one kid on the team saying [to Mark], ‘Your dad played at USC! You have to be good!’” David says.
But David makes sure his son understands just because his father and his grandfather played baseball, doesn’t mean he needs to as well.
“I tell him, ‘You need to want this on your own. You need to have your own desire for this,’” David says.
And Mark does seem to enjoy being the third generation Iwashita to play Little League on Coronado.
After a recent playoff game in which Mark pitched, David coached and Setsuo watched with his wife just behind home plate, the youngest Iwashita said having his grandfather at the games “makes me try harder.”
Mark has been playing since he was 4, and is poised to make the All Star team.
“He has more opportunities in baseball than I ever had,” David says.
But Iwashita’s baseball heritage is not the only history that carries through the family.
Having Iwashita as a father, David grew up learning a lot about what it means to be Japanese American.
“Being Japanese American and having the family go through the internment camps, it was a huge part of our upbringing…it’s shaped us and made us who we are.”-David Iwashita
“All of the hardships and name calling, and all of the things thrown at him, it made him that much stronger. He truly is my hero,” David says. “Being Japanese American and having the family go through the internment camps, it was a huge part of our upbringing…it’s shaped us and made us who we are.”