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4-Leaving Camp During & After War
While you were at camp, did you ever see anyone leave the camp and come back?
I was one who did because I was a teacher's aid and the young teacher that I was the aid to was just fresh out of University of Wyoming. This was her first job, I think, teaching. Her in-laws to be, her father in-law to be was the hospital director. So, I was invited out with them to have dinner. I guess, it was in Powell. So, I could go out. The others, if they went out though, went out to sugar beet harvest. I don't know if they went out to do anything else other than that to help with the harvest because all the caucasian men were either drafted, and so there weren't any farm laborers to work to harvest the crops, so then they would have the young men go out from the camps.
Were you closely guarded when you left the camps?
When I went out to dinner? No. Not at all.
Did you have to get a permit signed?
I must have. Well he's the hospital director so he could get it for me.
Was the outside world different than when you were at home? What was it like leaving this camp?
Leaving the camp, I went out to St. Louis. I think that was the scariest time for me because we're supposed to be in there for our protection and here I am this young girl going out all by myself. I left camp and went to Billings, Montana. Spent the night there, and then went to—took the train to—Lincoln, Nebraska. Then from there to Kansas City, and then on to St. Louis. And did I tell you in the class about my experience on the train? In those days, the trains were very, very crowded. And, a lot of soldiers. Anyway, it was crowded so I sat on my suitcase, didn't have a seat. And, a young soldier got up and gave me his seat. What was I afraid of then after that? So, everything was fine.
How were you able to leave camp and go to St. Louis?
You get special permission.
Was there someone there?
There was a girl that I had known in Japan—was born and raised in Indiana—who had gone to Japan because her father was the eldest and he would inherit property so he took his family back to Japan. And so, she was there and she came back to this country on the very last boat before war broke out. And, she had a relative in St. Louis so that's where she was. So, we had been corresponding all this time. She wrote and said, "If you can, come on out and come stay with me". We exchanged letters, and those letters are in the National Archives and I've got a copy of it. A copy of my letter from the archives. But anyway, that's how I was able to get out and go over to St. Louis. She was there, I had a friend there. War Relocation Authority needed to know that I was going someplace where I would be cared for. I didn't have a job, but there was a place where I could go.
Did you leave behind your family?
Yes. My sister was still in high school so she stayed with my mother.
In the camps?
Yes, until she finished. Until it was time almost, I guess, the end of the war, and they left camp then and came out to St. Louis.
Did you ever visit them when they were in the camps?
Yes I did. I can't imagine doing that now, but, my first Christmas away I was terribly homesick. I thought, "How could anyone be homesick for camp life?" But, it's family that counts, and I did go back and visit them. I think, "Why would I want to do that?" But then, it was family that mattered.
Did you know others that were able to go in and out?
I don't know. I don't know.
What did you do when you got out to St. Louis?
I was able to find work at the medical school as a technician in the bacteriology department. So, I could do that and take classes at Washington U. Washington U. being a private school at that time, I could take classes there. There were schools, especially the state colleges—state universities—where there were army and navy programs. And so, there would be these people in uniform going to classes so that the Nisei then were not allowed to go to those schools. However, Washington U. did have that program but it was a private school, so that I could go there. And, there were a number of Nisei there in the medical school, dental school, on the main campus, also. It was one of the few schools, I guess, where that was allowed.
Did you find any obstacles finding jobs after camp?
Not in St. Louis. There was, however, one issue. I wanted to work in a lab and there was a paying company, and I was to be interviewed. The chauffeur came to get me, and the chauffeur was Japanese. He said to me, "If I were you I wouldn't take this job." He said, "They really don't want you in the lab, they want you going to the house, take care of the children." That to me was quite an experience. The guy never expected to see a Japanese working in St. Louis. He was not one who had been interned, he was someone who had lived there. But, this is what he said to me, "Don't take that job." So, I didn't. And I'm told, you know, "Eventually there will be an opening in the lab, and in the meantime you can work in my house."
Do you feel that the false depictions of Japanese Americans in the media during World War II ever made you question yourself as a person or citizen?
I think it made me angry. But, this is war time again. What could we do? What could we do about it?
When did you discover your anger?
I think as soon as I saw those cartoons, or, Life magazine had that, "How to tell the difference between the Jap and the Chinese." Things like that would be—are upsetting. And then yet now, I've married a Chinese man who came from China. It's interesting to me that, that ever came about because in my generation that didn't happen very often. There was still this enmity because of the Japanese-Chinese wars.
How did your family feel about you marrying a Chinese man?
Oh, I tell the story of, I was thirty when I got married and that's late in that time. My mother thought I was going to be an old maid for sure. I always said, "Well, she didn't care who I married just as long as I got married." And so, it was acceptable for me to marry Chinese. Whereas, it would not have been in most situations. And the other way around, I had dated a Chinese-American fellow, and his mother objected.
Whereas, my husband who was born and raised in China, didn't come to this country until he was almost through college. The only reason we ever got together was because it was in San Francisco. He had lived in St. Louis. We were practically neighbors but never saw each other. When we did meet I said, "You're the first person I've met around here who knew that Washington U. was in St. Louis and not Seattle". So anyway, we got married and he was the only one in his family here. And, it was how would his family react to us? His mother said, "She's not Japanese, she's American." And they're the ones who had spent their lives fleeing the Japanese in China.
How did you feel about the United States government once you left the camps? Did you not trust it as much? What were your thoughts?
I don't think I even thought much about it. I think this is something that we just kind of brushed aside, hid, didn't want to think about. I think it's the next generation that really came out with this reparations. Some people in my generation thought, "Forget it, keep quiet", and where I was delighted that somebody voiced their opinions. Because my generation, especially women as I always say, didn't talk much.
You said earlier how when you went to the camps you were "naive." Do you think that there was a point in your life when you thought more about it and decided to share your story?
I think that's more in recent times. Somebody said to me that for a while we just didn't want to think about it and so just kept it hidden. And now, we're able to express our anger, or express our emotions, our feelings about it. So that we want others to be aware that things are going on that shouldn't be going on. I think that this is where we're learning to express ourselves. But, it took a long time and there's still, I think, women in my class who wouldn't talk about it.
Do you know what triggered your ability to express yourself?
Oh, well that was my neighbor. She was a school teacher who taught fifth grade, very much interested in Social Studies. As we got to talking, she would say, "You need to talk about this." And so, I started by talking to her class. And that's been about fifteen years ago, and I've been talking ever since.
Did you keep anything from the camp besides the bed sheet?
Oh that thing? I don't think I've kept anything, I can't remember any particular item.
Pictures. When I went back and visited I think there was a picture, that's about it.
Have you told your grandchildren about your experience?
I've gone to their school, yes. I need to tell it more, and so this is why my children now want me to write my story. I've written about my great-grandmother that I had heard about through my siblings, and now I'm just starting to tell my part of it. I want them to know the story, too.
Were they surprised when they found out about the camps?
I must have been hinting about it for a long time that I don't think they were ever surprised.
Did you keep in touch with your friends from your childhood after camp?
My high school friend is still one of my dearest friends. I've rekindled friendship with my old neighbors in Alameda because I found out they're still around here. And the one who made the diorama is someone I knew as a child. So, there's still that connection. I'm finding out when I go out and talk, that there's somebody knew someone that I knew, and it could be somebody up in Eugene, Oregon. It's been an experience for me just to go around talking as I hear from others their experiences.
Do you still see among other Nisei who were in the camps a resistance to talk about it?
Oh yes. And then I can tell why because as they tell me their story. Did I tell the story about the little girl who lost her father? She lived here in Berkeley and her father was sick. An ambulance came to get him the day they were to evacuate. She says, he just waved goodbye to her, told her to be a good girl, and that was the last she saw of him because he died here at the county hospital. In recent times then, she's asked her mother—her mother came to visit him when she was in the assembly center in Tanforan—"And how was that possible?" we asked because you had to be guarded to go out? Somehow, the home they lived in, the lady there invited her to come back and stay with her. Then, she had to take public transportation to go out to the county hospital and she did that. This person then asked her mother, "How were you able to do that?" And the mother says, "Everybody thought I was Chinese because all the Japanese were gone."
How did your father die?
You didn't tell little children what your father was sick of. He just died. Whatever illness he had. The reason I said I knew there were guards, one of the women who worked on the quilt was a nurse. To get her certificate for nursing, she left Manzanar to go to Los Angeles to take the exam. An MP escorted her.
Do you have any memories of your father?
My father. Other than he made us a doll house, I remember one thing. I think it was a very indulgent one. I remember riding on a mop while he mopped the floor. I have a picture of me, real little, writing things that you know I thought most kids had or have today, but I don't think they had in those days. My mother says he was not very sociable, he never went to church, didn't have friends come by and all that. But, as far as we were concerned, he did a lot for the children. He loved his garden, he had a lovely garden, and his fish, and plants, and his birds.
How did he die?
How do you feel your experience in the camps has impacted your life now?
I was there only one year. How could it have affected me today? I guess, all I can say is enough so that I can go out and talk about it. That I think it was unjust. I'm trying to think of what else. Or, it's given me the ability to speak that I never had before. Because, when I was growing up, girls aren't supposed to talk. And especially when you're Japanese, you only talk about good things. So, this has certainly changed my way of dealing with things. Because I just feel it's important to go out and speak about it.
Do you wish now that you had fought against what the government was making you do? By going to the camps?
I think now I would have objected. I think I wouldn't have gone so readily. But, that's today. And, that's how the young people feel, our children certainly, and my husband would say for sure he wouldn't go.
Do you have any final message about your experience to folks that will see your story? Or a part of your story.
Yeah. Well, I tell the young people that this is your grandparent's story. Talk to them about it, ask them questions about it, how they felt about it. Because, so often in the Japanese community they don't want to talk about it. And so, I tell little ones, "Go ask your grandparents, what did you eat? what did you do?" You can't ask general questions because they'll not answer. But ask specific ones and then maybe you'll get them to talk. I've heard too often where if somebody will come up to me and say, "My grandmother had that experience but she won't talk about it."I want people to be able to talk about it and tell their story because each one has a different story to tell.
What's so important about this story?
That we don't want this to happen again. To anybody.