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3-To Heart Mountain, Wyoming
Did you have any knowledge of what was going on in the outside world while in the camps?
No, not in the Assembly Center because I think we were not allowed to have radios. We could have, by the time we went to Wyoming. I said in Wyoming all we got was cowboy music and whatever news we could get on the radio, which wasn't much.
While you were at the camps did you feel that FDR was responsible for everything that was occurring? Did you have knowledge of General Dewitt or any other people who played a role in the internment?
I don't think so. All I remember is we were brought up where we did not question authority. Someone would ask us, "Why didn't you protest?" We said we didn't know that word in those days. This is what my Caucasian friends will say too, "We didn't know that word." That word came into existence in the 60's, not in our time.
FDR had been an idol of mine because we grew up Depression days. Then for him to have ordered this, well alright it must be for our own good. On our quilt there are a couple of words, one saying that it's something that couldn't be helped, it's something we just have to bear, and if you bear with it, it will come out ok. This was our attitude. I think, my brother might have felt differently, and my husband today would say he would have been the first one protesting. But, the times were different in our days. As my daughter today will say we were too complacent, let it happen to us. I said, "We grew up in an era where we were not politically active. The only group was the JACL, the Japanese-American Citizen League. I was too young to be a member of that, so it's just I was protected from all that."
How do you say that one phrase you were talking about earlier on your quilt in Japanese?
Yes. The one is the Shikataganai, which means it can't be helped. That's the way it is. The other one is Gaman, is you bear with it; you just go along with it. Those two words are words we grew up with.
Was there any difference between your outward behavior and reaction, and what was really going on in your head? Or were they the same?
My daughter will say it must have been different because the way I talk, she says. Because, I don't have friends from camp days. She says, "I think you isolated yourself." I think that must have been what I did because I could write letters to my friends outside and not make too many friends in camp so that I don't have friends from camp days.
What was the name of your camp?
It was Heart Mountain, in Wyoming.
How long were you there for?
I was there one year.
How was it different from Pomona?
This, weather first of all because we were in Wyoming way up North where it could have snowed in August and may continue, even now maybe. I think they do have snow flurries there now. There are blizzards, and we're from California, not prepared for that kind of weather. So we learned to wear boots or, and someone said, "How did you get money for that?" I became a teacher's aide and taught English—eighth grade—or helped teach. I had some money and we were given a clothing allowance, I think of three dollars a month. In those days the times were different; money went a little further. We could order boots, order heavier clothing through the camp, through the catalogs.
Were there many people around your age, or just mainly younger kids?
All kinds because there are just families. I find as I talk with people, they laugh now, but when you see another Nisei you ask, "Which camp were you in?" You either know which camp or, "If you weren't, how come you weren't?" So, all ages because there were families.
If I were to walk into the barrack that your family stayed in, could you explain to me exactly what it looked like?
One room? Like our room. When we went to stay at Heart Mountain there were just the three of us, my mother, my sister, and I. We had the end room which had three windows, which meant if there's a sand storm, we really got it. It was just the wood with just the tarpaper on the outside. No insulation, no insulation for the windows. For awhile, there was not even a ceiling, so you could hear everything going on next door. Then, that room had, would have three cots. This is what was furnished: three cots and an army blanket. They must have given us a mattress of some kind, too. Then, there was a potbelly stove, and that was it. Anything else, if you wanted a table or a chair, you made it. You'd go out to what they had a pile of wood, maybe there were crates, wood for crates. I learned how to use a saw and a hammer and made a little bench so we could sit on, maybe a corner book shelf, a little table. That could keep us busy.
In the potbelly stove we burned coal. We would have half a bucket and go down to where the mess hall was, there'd be a pile of coal, and you'd get that and bring that back and burn that. It would have just those things: the three beds, and the table, whatever table or chairs. That's all we needed because we ate our meals at the dining hall, which they called the mess hall. There's the laundry, there's the bathroom, so that's it.
How often did you have sand storms?
Frequently I would say.
Can you describe a sand storm?
I think on our video she tells about they say, "It's coming! It's coming!" You just try to get home so you can close the windows. It's just, it's sand so it's blinding. You'd have to get your head down and run so you don't really know where you're, can see where you're running. Hopefully, there's some kind of a path so you can get from one place to the other. Well it was the same thing in the snow with the blizzards that you had to be, know where you're going.
Did you ever have any confrontations with the guards at the camps?
They were out of the picture, except in the assembly centers at night. I remember searchlights coming down and so that if you had to go to the bathroom at night the searchlight followed you all the way. They had what they call bed counts. Somebody would be assigned within a block. A block would be how many barracks, a section of barracks and then there'd be the mess hall, the dining hall, the laundry, and the bathrooms. That would be one whole unit. Then, there would be within that a block manager, and it would be his job, or her job, to see that everybody's in their place when they're supposed to be.
How did you get around the fact that there was almost no privacy?
To go to the shower at night. Here we are, our neighbors were a big family from Washington, it was fellows, young men in there. Across the way were also families and young boys. Here we are, my sister and I, wanting to go take, get our shower in our bathrobes. You don't want to be seen by these young men in your bathrobes. So, we would wait until late at night, and as I said, and by then not much hot water. That's what we did. Lack of privacy, we just felt, we needed some. I think that was what bothered us most. We just, we don't want them to see us like this.
Can you think of other examples of how you dealt with the lack of privacy?
By the time we went to Heart Mountain, and they got the ceilings. Then we didn't hear the neighbors so much so that we felt we had privacy. There were just the three of us, my mother, my sister, and I, so we had privacy. Whereas, other families where there, like the little diorama that I had, where there were the girls in the family, and the boys, then that's where they really felt they needed the privacy. Other than the fact that we couldn't go shower whenever we wanted to, or in the beginning the toilet areas were not partitioned. There were partitions, but no doors, the same thing with the showers It was an open shower, and that kind of thing bothered us. But, then again we learned you go at a certain time.
Did you keep in contact with your brother?
Oh yes, yes, yes. It's interesting, he had gone to Japan and knew some Japanese, so he ends up teaching at the MIS, the Military Intelligent School, in Minnesota. He was one of those who went around to the camps to recruit fellows, volunteer, and go to his school. He had a dear friend, who was with the 442nd, and he wanted him to really switch over to the MIS. This fellow by then was a sergeant. He said, "I can't leave the fellows". It turned out he was killed in action. I think my brother always felt very badly about that, "If only he had come with me."
Family & Life in Heart Mountain
What did you think about the cases with Korematsu and Hirabayashi?
At that time I think I thought they're kind of dumb. All they had to do was go to camp. But now, I think, I think the world of them. I think it was something, had I been older, I think I might have supported them.
Did your family live by the motto: "Do not be the nail sticking up"?
I'm trying to think now what my mother would have said, if we're trying to be too different. When I was going to college I was taking chemistry, I was a chemistry major. She thought, "What are you doing that for?" I should be taking a business class. In fact, in camp I did take bookkeeping, and maybe short hand, because she thought I should be a stenographer. I took bookkeeping, and after one session or so, I told my mother, "This isn't what I want to do." So, she allowed me to stop and if I wanted to go with chemistry, "Well, that's what you want to do, you can."
So where was the rest of your family?
My brother was my own brother, who was in the service, and then my younger sister and I. I had an older sister who had married, and she had gone to Japan.
So where was your stepfather?
Stepfather was with his family.
Can you tell us about that moment when you split from him and his family?
Well, my sister and I had left the house and we were, what we called, "school girls live-in". She was with an American family, and I was too. So, for us to go back and then have to live with his family was something we just didn't want to do. I think we could have been, we were kind of nasty about it. This is something we just don't want to do. I think back on it now, we just pulled my mother away. Yet, I think all during camp that Stepfather came to see my mother everyday.
I just want to go back to the camps for a second, where was the rest of your family?
You mean the step family?
Your brother is a step?
No. My brother was my own brother who was in the service, and then my younger sister and I. And then I had an older sister who had married and she had gone to Japan.
So where was your step father?
Stepfather was with his family. Duplication from above
Can you tell us a little more about that moment when you split from him and his family? Sounds like an interesting story
My sister and I had left the house, and we were what we call "school girls live in." She was with an American family and I was, too. For us to go back and then have to live with his family was something we just didn't want to do. And we were I think kind of nasty about it. This is something we just don't want to do. I think back on it now, we just pull my mother away. And yet, I think, all during camp that Stepfather came to see my mother everyday. Duplication from above
Were you close with your stepfather?
Did you like him?
What was your relationship with him like?
No confrontations if that's what you mean.
I have a step mother also.
He was good to us, I must say. He was the one who took my sister and I into San Jose to get our clothes or whatever we needed. I had a tonsillectomy and he was the one who sat beside me, I think. So, he was very kind. It was just his kids we couldn't stand.
Did you have a tonsillectomy as an older adolescent, or as a young woman?
As an adolescent. I must have been thirteen—fourteen because we came back from Japan when I was thirteen, yes.
I remember when you came and talked about waiting in line and that was what you did a lot of the day. What was that like? Did you say you liked knitting?
Yes. My friend who was outside sent me a box of fabrics because she thought maybe I'd be interested in quilting. Unfortunately, the first pattern I picked was a difficult one. I never did anything with quilting in camp. It's too bad I couldn't tell you what I did with that box of fabrics that her mother sent me. But, I wasn't interested in that after picking too difficult a pattern.
Lines were for everything, and when I made the image for the quilt, I wanted to do one on lines because it was such a thing in our lives. But it was too hard trying to get all the figures in. So, I opted for something else. But, there were lines. To get our meals, we had to stand just like you do in a cafeteria line. But these are longer because there were 300 to a mess hall. So that would be one. If you went to the laundry, you had to wait before a laundry tub was empty. If you go to the shower, you had to wait until they were through. If you went to the movies—even to get into the building—we had to wait. If you got paid, there was a line before you ever got your check. The post office, same thing, because there's only the one post office for how many people was it? 10,000 in the camp? And so, this was it. Whatever you did or wherever you went, there was always a line. So, this is where I learned to crochet.
In the mess halls, did you eat with your sister and your mother?
Yes, or, my mother had to have special food so she didn't always...she did go for company. I think they had special food set aside for her because she was diabetic.
What kind of foods did they have at the mess hall?
I talk about the bread pudding. We're not used to eating that much bread, so there was a lot of that left over. There was a lot of, if you ate eggs at all it was scrambled eggs, which would be made from powdered eggs. Potatoes? I think we got potatoes directly, so we didn't have to eat the dehydrated potatoes. I can't remember what kind of meat we had, but we must have. The mess halls, what happened is, as they found out that some of the restaurant owners could cook. They became the cooks in the mess hall. That food would get better when they were the cooks. I'm trying to think what else.
How long do you think an average line would take?
I would say, twenty, twenty minutes, half an hour. You know, I'd said to crochet one of those took like an hour. Maybe I could get three quarters of it done.
Were there any other things besides crocheting that you learned to do in the camps?
I learned to dance. Social dancing. And for someone who didn't have friends there, they did have, my younger sister was more social than I and she had joined a social club. They would have dances, and they would clear a mess hall. They also had a recreation building perhaps, and there was social dancing. That's where I learned to dance. I had never learned to jitter-bug. When the music got fast, I said, "I don't jitter-bug" and I just sat down. But, I did learn to dance there. I learned to ice-skate because it's cold, and they somehow were able to make a skating pond and I remember ordering skates from Sears or somewhere. So, that I did. What else? Social life? Oh, I went to church. They had Christians, Catholic, Seventh-day Adventist, and the Buddhist Temples. So, there was always something like that going on. I think one of the most beautiful services was the Sunrise Service at Easter because you're way out there where the sky is beautiful.
Do you still have some of the things you crocheted in camp?
Just that bedspread. My mother crocheted, and so she crocheted an afghan that we still have.
What was it like not having a lot of friends at camp?
Again, I'm reading and I'm writing letters...
Were you unhappy, or were you just fine?
No, it was fine. I'm fine.
Were there places in the camp that you could go and reflect and be alone, or was it too crowded and overpopulated?
I think one could have found a place to go. I didn't feel the need because there were only three of us and my sister's out all the time. There's plenty of room for me.