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2-Parents & Family Impact
You said that your parents where in their mid-thirties.
[To the interviewers]: Think about how old your parents are now? Significantly older. Your parents are like old-geezers compared to her parents in the camps. So her parents were very young.
Fairly young, they might have been towards forty, but it was pretty young. I was the oldest at five, they had a five year old, a three year old, a one year old, and then a little boy who was born in camp. They were still at that very young parenting stage.
[To the interviewers]: Keep in mind that the parents we are talking about are significantly younger than your parents right now. Does that help to generate some questions about that immediate time period?
Where your parents still farming when you were relocated?
Yes. My father was like a foreman on a farm—it was sugar pee farming—and he rented land and he leased that land he rented to other people who were not citizens who could not rent land, the same ancestry, Japanese who were not citizens at that point. He leased the land so that it allowed them to make a livelihood, to make a living in Pescadero.
How stable was your family before it was uprooted because farming has its motions of ups and downs?
I think that they had done that for—he had been a farmer for probably ten years or so. The Japanese were really good farmers, they had that skill and most of the people who emigrated from Japan were farmers because there they had the law of primogenitor and the oldest son was the only one who inherited the land. All these other sons basically could work for their brother. There wasn't basically enough land to sustain a large family. That's one reason why a lot of Japanese farmers came over here looking for land to farm. They farmed an incredible amount of California's arable land—I think it was something like 10%, but it was a large piece of the land in California—farming land. They were just very skilled at growing crops—vegetables. They where in charge of a lot of orchards in the Central Valley and around, for instance, Lodi in the California foothills, and around Pescadero the crop that grew in the fog was sugar peas, so that's what they grew in that part in the coastal region. A lot of Japanese farmers came from that Fresno–Modesto area. Hot country.
Lets see if we can pull out any memories from that time period when her parents were so young with these little kids in camp. How did the stock market crash affect you? I don't know at all about that. I think that was before because I was born in 37. I know it affected them, on my mothers family, were farming in Sacramento and it just got really hard. They raised food so they could eat. They lived through that.
How many siblings did you have while you were interned in Topaz?
There ended up being four of us.
I imagine it was cramped. How did your parents cope with four little children running around?
In the beginning, we were in a room that was probably this big. As big as this, with a coal burning stove off in one corner.
How big is this room?
This room? How big would you say? 20 feet maybe, 12 by 20, maybe. I'm sure it wasn't any bigger. I remember on one wall there were cots lined up where we slept. And I remember going into other people's houses and there would be fabric hung from wires to divide the space. I don't remember that in my house. I remember it being extremely hot in the desert and crawling under the cot in order to suck my fingers, which I was not supposed to be doing anymore.
My father taught biology. In fact, one of the people you interviewed, she said "which camp were you in?" when we were at the lunch. And I said "Topaz." And she said, "What was your name?"—that is a little litany that happens—and I said, "Muneno," Janet Muneno was my name. She said, "Was your father a biology teacher?" I said, "Yes, they conscripted him to do that." She said, "I took sophomore biology from him, from Saiki Muneno. And we had no textbooks so we had to write down everything he said."
What contact did you have with your father after he left?
That was afterwards. My father after, probably, half way through camp experience left the family to go and teach Japanese to the United States Navy in Stillwater, Oklahoma. And so he left. I remember he would send us little gifts from the outside. There was a piggy bank—I think my brother has his.—Or little boxes of candy, which were precious things. It was big excitement when we got a box from Papa because he would do that. I think my mother did the real work of keeping us together and keeping us clothed and clean. We also had some relatives that were in the same camp so I imagine that they "hung out" together and supported us. Because I know my younger aunties would help her out, I'm sure. But I don't have a clear memory. I just remember my mother chasing my naughty brother around, the one that's two years younger than I am.
When did your father leave?
It feels to me about half way through [internment] so I would say a year to a year and a half and then he was gone, doing his thing. Just before the war was over the rest of us went to Oklahoma, to Stillwater, and we lived in a house made of stone.
What was it like for your mother without your father around?
I remember the washing room, latrine area. I remember her with her washboard, which I still have somewhere, washing. Can you imagine that? Four sets of children's clothing in the desert, on this washboard with a bar of brown soap, and scrub, scrub, scrubbing? But I never, ever heard her complain about it. I just thought that's the way it was. We'd all go to the mess hall together and we'd all sit at a table—the long tables—and we'd eat together. And I think it was much easier for her to do that than people who were slightly older and had children, say, the age that you are now. Because those people would go, instead of being a family, they would just go hang out with their friends, as you probably would do, too. It would be like going to a camp and that's who you would be drawn to. I think those families had a harder time. Because we were just little kids yet and we were dependant on my mother. We weren't rebellious or out of control.
Was there a change in your family's dynamic?
No. But, I think that was a function of our age. We were young. If we were twelve, thirteen, fourteen, in that area, it would have been much harder to do.
Can you remember what the mess hall looked like?
Yeah. I can remember the first time that we went into the mess hall. This was in Topaz. It was a large area with wood floors, just like our barracks were, with long wooden tables like picnic tables, maybe. I think the trays might have been metal. You stood in line and you received your food, three times a day. It was like in a cafeteria. You'd put your tray there and they would just splonk your food on and splonk your food on. I think later on the food became more decent, but I remember we had rice and sometimes Japanese pickles like pickled cabbage. I remember my brother picking up a piece and spreading it out like that, and everybody laughing at his long piece of pickle. I don't remember it being unpleasant except when they gave us liver and brains and stuff like that for one month. Then everybody stopped eating because the Japanese don't eat that. They don't do liver and brains and heart and things like that. So I think they did that, my mother said, for thirty days. Probably we just ate the rice and vegetables then. I hate liver. I don't think we were ever required to choke it down. I think there was enough other stuff to eat.
Do you remember the day your father left?
No, I don't think—in those days, they did a very good job of preparing you. I just remember one day my father was gone. And my mother carried on. But in truth, in this family, my mother was very much the dominant parental figure. She's the one who talked. My father was kind of the silent, wise, the one who you went to if you had an intellectual or conceptual question. But I don't remember that. I just remember those passages coming as the connecting thing. He just disappeared one day.