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3-Impact on Family
Were any other parts of your culture that were lost during the internment?
I wouldn't be able to really comment on that. I think the breakdown of the family for certain families was a major issue. The breakdown of the authority because in the Japanese family, what the father said was what you kind of did. And then just the women were more educated; my mother for instance had gone to college. What happened is they became more westernized and educated and they no longer thought it was such a great idea for the man to run the house maybe, and make all the major decisions. So I wouldn't say that that part would be a breakdown but kind of an augmentation of what family life grew to be, it was so strange, because we were in America. Then this other thing was happening, we were in prison, in America.
There was also the values of the American culture that filtered down to us, that impacted our family. Oh, I know one thing that did breakdown was, as we emerged from the camps, because we had been displaced in a way, we had been displaced; we had been taken from wherever our home was, in my case Pescadero. We didn't go back to Pescadero. There were the Japanese American, we went into the mainstream culture more after the war, maybe say more than the Chinese-American did who stayed in their Chinatowns, or whatever their community was. We no longer had a community; this was our community. When we left everybody was fending for themselves.
You got the jobs where the jobs were. We went to those places, so it varied, but my experience was that I became Americanized more so than many of the friends who, like my cousins, who gravitated back to the cities. They were in Japanese-American communities in the cities, like they went to Lowell High, Washington High. They were out in the avenues. They even spoke a slightly different English than I spoke. Which was an interesting story in itself, how I found out later in college that I was identified as an outsider because of my experience. I was not an L.A. girl, and I was not a San Francisco Girl and they could tell by the way I spoke. But nobody told me that. All I knew is that it was really hard for me to get friends.
When I went to Berkeley my mother said, "You will not be dating white boys anymore, you're going to date your own kind. And you will have a Japanese husband." I said, "Okay" and off I went to Berkeley, and it didn't work for me. I remember breaking down and crying one day, because I couldn't, I could not relate. I couldn't get inside this circle of what was supposed to be my people, because of my background. Years later I was with a friend, John Korty, who made movies, and he in fact made a movie called Farewell to Manzanar. I'm digressing, but anyway—or I'm leaping forward, but I was on location with him, and this woman said to me—the little girl's name was, she was the lead girl in my child, had a little bit part. So did I, but I got cut. She said, "I know you weren't born in the city. Or, you didn't—you're not a San Francisco Japanese." And I said, "How do you know that?" And she said, "Because you talk white."
And it is the first time in my life that I "got" that my speech was accented in a different way. Then I started to notice that other people, the Japanese from L. A. spoke a slightly different accented way and so did the kids who lived in the city, the Japanese-Americans who lived in the city. They immediately—my people—could identify that I was not right. So I did what was logical. I just said to myself, "You will now find you friends where your friends are. And they will be your friends, and none of this 'my people thing.'" Because I did not understand. I mean, they are my people in a way, but in a funny way. I still feel part of a tribe, in a way, when I see people who look like me. You know, I see my mother, my father and my brothers and sisters. But I know better than to think that they would just welcome me, just because I look like them. Weird isn't it? Life?
Japanese Life in Camp
Can you explain the experience of being in an entirely Japanese environment?
Well, just that it was different, because everybody looked like us. Except for the people who were guarding us were Caucasian—mainly Caucasian soldiers. Outside they had they had these lighthouses, these things, that were high, that were built up and posts that they could look down on us with the rifles and things, and make sure that we were inside the barbed wire.
I think I've forgotten your question, but anyway, one day there was a big—it was very upsetting because some old man had a dog—I don't know where he got the dog. The dog went out of the barbed wire and he went to chase the barbed wire. You know, chase, underneath, to get the dog and he was shot and killed. He was an old man. These were also young soldiers. My mother said, "They were not very educated," which they probably weren't, in that way. It was another scary thing. So, it just—it reinforced my fear of barbed wire fences, which I never went near anyway, because of my Tanforan experience and my very active imagination.
Do you have specific memories of that moment or the follow up of that moment?
Yes, just the rage of the community, that somebody who was in his seventy’s would be shot in the middle of the desert trying to chase a dog. There was nowhere for him to go. He obviously—the doggy was running ahead of him. It was obvious to everyone. So that was just one of the incidents where I remember, just disgust and rage of the elder—of the people who were our parents.
The other people that were not, that didn't look like us were many of our teachers. They tried to recruit a lot of teachers from the population, like my mother. My mother said, basically, "Are they kidding? I've got four kids under the age of six! I'm not going to teach somebody for nineteen dollars a month." I think that was the pay. But my father went and taught zoology for a year until he got out of camp, to do something else. What was the rest of your question?
I was just asking about the experience of being in a Japanese community.
Right, so I think I felt—I mean we were in this together. But I don't have a sense of bonding, of that. It just was a sense of this was where I belonged, because I was in this place. Not any sense that this was the wrong place to be, or anything. But I was with these people who looked like me. It was assumed that I would live with these people outside, someday. Marry and raise my children among them. None of which happened.
Well, I did marry a Japanese American. But my kids did not. I think that's the way it's going to have to be, when we start to marry each other and break down the cultures. My son-in-law thinks that someday the people of the earth will have beautiful latté skin and slightly wavy, dark hair. And we will be one people finally, and it will happen in 150 years. Because I guess opposites attract now, I don't know.
When did you realize that what you were experiencing was unjust?
I was a sophomore at the University of California. I thought people went to camp. My friends would say, "I went to camp in Tahoe". I say, "I went to camp in Topaz," because I didn't for a long time, realize what that meant. It was an experience for me; I was still with people who loved me. Aside from these nightmarish things that happened, I still was a loved child, and secure.
I was in the University of California, in the Doe Library, with a book, a small book, called Prejudice In The Constitution by Jacobus tenBroek [correct title is: Prejudice, War, and the Constitution] who was a political scientist at Cal. I was taking a course called American Studies, and it was a part of my reading. I remember reading this little, tiny book, and "getting it" for the first time. Camp, this thing that happened, and also the political ramifications of that finally lined up for me, because I was not a child who went to Urban. I was not a curious, question asking person. I had to learn to do that later.
I remember sitting there, shaking, just shaking, because it all came together in this moment, and weeping. Then going back to my parents and saying, "Why didn't you tell me that this was unjust, and that this was an outrage?” My mother said to me, "Because it does no good to carry bitterness from one generation to another." That would be a very Japanese way of dealing with something. "You are a good citizen; you'll go to camp if they tell you to go to camp," instead of resisting.
There were some people who resisted. I'm sure you've read about Fred Korematsu. They were the ones who were really the heroes, in a way. Then there were other people who went, like there was a family of doctors, women doctors, the Togasaki girls. I think out of that family there were two doctors. They talked and my father and people in the Japanese American Citizens League, the JACL, that was what they decided that they would do. There was a group of them that said, "We would be safer, we will serve our country better, if we just do what they're going to do. This won't be forever." Doctor Togasaki said, "I can do more good. I'm going. I'm a doctor. They’re going to need doctors." She was actually the doctor that delivered me. She practiced in San Francisco, until she retired. She practiced for fifty years.