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4-Typical Day in Tanforan
What was your day like?
Well, you woke up in the dust, ha, no. You woke up, had to go outside to go to the bathroom. If it was cold, it was cold. Because the desert, it freezes; it's really, really cold in the wintertime. Then we would go to the mess hall, ah it was called the mess hall, where you ate the mess, I guess. You were served on metal trays, and you just ate what they served. Suffice it to say, there was nothing memorable about the eating experience there, except my brother’s cabbage.
Then when it was time for me to go to school, I learned to walk to school. It was on the other edge. We had blocks, and the school was not in my block, so I went to another block. I went to school, and my school-teacher in the first grade was named Ms. Light. She was a Quaker, and very loving. She taught me to read, so she was always my hero after that. She put a picture of mine on the wall. So, I just felt very proud. I think she was a very good teacher and very kind, because she was about the only one I remember.
We pledged allegiance to the American flag every morning, because that's what we did. It was in the corner, above, near the door. Then we did what little kids do. We learned to read, we drew pictures, we had recess time. I think we went home for lunch, and then returned to school. To me it felt like miles, but I was little then.
I remember, however; once, after school was dismissed, a dust storm came up. Dust storms, if you've ever been in the desert, dust storms can become blinding, and that's what happened. For a little while, this dust storm came, and there was just dust everywhere, and I could not see. For some reason I was alone, or at least I thought I was alone. I was terrified because all the buildings started to look the same. I got disoriented, and I was so scared that I peed in my pants. I just was screaming and crying. I just remember looking down and being so ashamed, as you would if you were six and you had wet your pants, my legs were just dusty and this urine was trickling down my legs, and thinking in the middle of this dust storm, "I don't know how I'm going to get home, but when I do my mother is going to just be, you know, whatever," of course she wasn't. Those are the thoughts that a little kid has. The shame of that. Apparently the dust storm stopped, because here I am.
Did you have many friends in the camp?
Yes, I think I did. I think I was a regular kid. I went out and played, trying to stay away from my brother. I remember playing marbles, the boys mainly played marbles, but I had a few of my own—when my brother didn't steal them. We played jacks. Inside the laundry rooms it was very cool, because the concrete floors were very thick and very smooth. You could sit down and play a game of jacks in the coolness of that. I remember doing that with friends and playing simple games with little bean bags and jumping rope. Old-fashioned things, that were probably good for you.
I did have friends, and my parents had friends because I remember being in bed and listening to the click of mahjong. They are these little ivory—do you know that game? Mahjong? Hearing them laugh was kind of—a nice way to go to sleep is to hear the older people chuckling and having a good time. And these little things, I think you knock them over, I don't know, I need to learn to play someday. It just always felt like they were falling with this very typical sound. So, I did have friends.
When I went to Berkeley, I was in the ladies bathroom one day. I was talking to a friend, we were laughing about something, and this other women came over to me and said, "Is you're name Janet Wunano?" Which it used to be. And I said, "yes." And she said, "I baby sat for you, when we were in camp. I was a little older, I was five years older than you or something." And she said, "I would remember your laugh anywhere." Isn't that funny? She remembered the name just because of the voice. It's strange.
Are you still in touch with any of the people from the camp that you met?
None, none, because we all went these different places. When we were in the housing in Richmond after the war, there was one girl that was in my camp named Lily, Lily Mayaita and she said, "shhh", and we recognized each other. But I have no contact, that’s an interesting question, with anybody. I stayed in contact with Ms. Light my first grade teacher. I was still writing her when I went to Berkeley, to school. She died, afterwards, sometime afterwards, but she would have been my only contact after—aside from my family—because we all, we are people that just scattered to the winds after that. No migration to one place.
Were you sad when you left to the internment camp?
I don't think I had any particular feeling, except that we were—I knew my parents were anxious because now the war was over, what were they going to do? They had to make a new life. I was with them; I was eight by then. I just remember what it was like to move to Oklahoma, after being in this dessert. We come to this very luscious, is Oklahoma considered south? If felt south to me. People with this, with this, accent, like "What?" "What did you say?" Also, I was aware immediately of the segregation. Where there were signs, there was a sign that said, the black hand pointed to this fountain and the white hand pointed to this fountain, I remember running back to my father and saying, "Where am I supposed to drink water? What am I? Am I black or am I white?"
The strangeness of that, the strangeness of being, this third, not black and not white, but being Asian or Yellow. I'm not sure what they called us then. Realizing again I was, that we were, in between these two places. The black community lived on one side of the town and the white lived on the other side. My father was teaching at that time, at Oklahoma A&M, he was teaching Japanese to the navy and personnel so that they could translate documents and act and be, they conquered this country, now they had to speak its language. My father was one of the people who was helping with that. We lived in the white community, or that’s where our house was anyway. Again, just being frightened. The pavement literally stopped where the black community began. And the pecan trees, I remember, there were pecan trees there, on that side of town and we were not allowed to go there.