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The Duality of Life in Seabrook Farms by Hangrui Wan

In the aftermath of internment, many Japanese Americans who came to Seabrook Farms found themselves in a complex living situation. The open attitude Seabrook Farms promoted towards laborers' entertainment and cultural activities assisted in healing the trauma of the wartime internment camps. Nonetheless, some prison-like details of Seabrook's infrastructure and accommodations, such as an enclosed green bus and cramped living spaces, reflect poor treatment that casts doubts upon the image of generosity projected by Seabrook.

The bus shown in the photograph was an important means of transportation at Seabrook Farms. The famous green bus would often be the first thing outsiders saw when they visited, and the last thing they used before they departed. The bus system was also the only way to enter or exit Seabrook Farms, and was used by laborers who could not afford automobiles and were instead reliant on the company-provided transportation. Bus stations connected every corner of the company town. Residents used buses to get to and from nearby train stations; to participate in social activities, games, school, and their jobs in the factories; and to get to the nearest city - Bridgeton, which was located in five miles away. The bus appears claustrophobic, and is symbolic of the control the company exercised. On one occasion, it even posed a health hazard, leaking asphyxiating gasses on a trip back from Philadelphia.

Many Issei, Nisei, and Japanese Peruvians who relocated to Seabrook from internment camps felt living quarters at Seabrook mirrored the camps they had left. The prefabricated and tarpaper roof houses shown in the second picture were constructed by Seabrook Farms hastily. Each barrack was 16 by 48 feet. Three units were divided into small rooms. Long corridors connected different units. A number of families shared bath and toilet facilities, as well as a furnace for getting heat and hot water. Residents described the cold wind and snow that blew into rooms through the cracks on the walls in winter, and the raindrops that fell into the room through the imperfectly sealed roof in the summer. Still, refugees from Europe and relocated Japanese Americans and immigrants became compatible with each other. They built their communities, communicated in broken English, made friends, and worked and rested in these cramped barracks.

Seabrook Farms included a recreational building on the west side of the Hoover Village. Taniguchi Asada recalled that it was "a white building situated near the foot bridge which crossed over the open sewer, the only access from the apartments and the Community House." The recreation building was used not only for religious services, weddings, and funerals, but also for club meetings, games, and dance parties. With the arrival of Buddhists, the recreation center even held Buddhist weddings. Workers also constructed a Buddhist temple for cultural rituals and ceremonies. The third photograph depicts the scene of a dance party at the recreation center in Hoover Village. The dancers show a different aspect of life at Seabrook: open and full of life. Their stylish clothes, casual suits, and printed dresses contrast with the stiff uniforms workers had to the wear while on the job.

This photograph shows the famous green bus at Seabrook Farms. The bus was used for transporting people to and from train stations, activities, off-site housing, and to social events.
Credit: "Seabrook Transportation bus," c. 1920-1960, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection.
"Wooden barracks in Hoover Village," c. 1949, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection.
"Hoover Village dances," c. 1920-1960, Seabrook Educational and Cultural Center, Rutgers University Community Repository Collection.