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3-Observations of Life in Camp
As a young child, where did you go to play?
One of the things I remember clearly doing is they had cots, which were mattresses on wire. And you could get a wire that was shaped like a Y and if you put rubber bands on the two little things you made yourself a slingshot. The boys were awesome! We also tried to make our slingshots. They would go around whamming everything. My little brother was two years younger and he could just shoot these little rocks everywhere. It was quite an empowering thing to have your slingshot. You'd take it out in your pocket and load up—"pth!"—and do that. Another game that they played was marbles. The boys, mainly, played marbles. Marbles became a great commodity. You traded your marbles and stuff. They played for keeps. You could decide to play for keeps. My brother was an excellent marble player. He was very focused, very mean, and he won a lot of marbles. Sometimes I would try to get a couple of his marbles because I wasn't any good at it. And he would always know if somebody had snatched a couple of his marbles and I'd give them back. They'd dig holes, sometimes, into the very hard ground, and they played this game where you went from one hole to another hole. They'd do another game where they'd gather the marbles together in a "pot" and then somebody with a big marble would shoot the pot and make the marbles scatter. Then they would shoot or "pop" one at time and they had some rule, I guess, if you got it out of the circle you got to keep it. It was one of those tough, little, hard games that those little boys had to play.
I remember when it got really hot we would go into the washroom area where the people did their laundry. The concrete floors were incredibly smooth and cool and we would, these would be girls, we would be playing jacks. Do you even know what that game is? And we got really good at playing jacks. Those were the things we had: the jacks and the marbles and the slingshots. The boys and girls both did slingshots, as I remember. There must have been balls and stuff but I don't remember about those. In school, the older kids played baseball. The boys did. They had baseball games out away from the barracks.
What do you remember about bathroom facilities?
The bathrooms were located with the laundry area. So that meant if you had to go to the bathroom you had to get up and go out of your little barracks and go and walk a distance to the latrine, which was what it was called. There were toilets. For a while the toilets were open; there was no door for privacy, but I think that there was a wooden door and that's where you did your business. If you were little I think there was a little potty inside of your barracks that your parents, somebody, had to empty the next morning. When you got to be kind of old you didn't want to go in the potty and even if it was very cold or very hot you would rather walk to the latrine and have that little privacy and go to the bathroom there.
Did you walk by yourself?
Yeah. I remember walking by myself to that, and I imagine you did it a lot.
Did you go by yourself even when you were five years old?
Probably not when you were five. When you ask that question it is kind of interesting because I never had a fear of being harmed by anybody, because those were "our people." It was a community, like the village, where people looked after you. Everybody knew who my brother was because he was such a devil and a rascal. They would tell my mother where he was or where they had seen him running off to. So, I never had the fear that anybody was going to hurt me from the inside.
Did you ever feel any fear towards the military police?
Yes. You were scared. I was scared of, even if you say the word "barbed wire" to me now there's a jolt, because that, to me, represents the fear of what could happen to me on the outside and that was the barrier that defined my community. I felt safer inside than I would have outside, because there were military police—If you have seen the pictures you know they were in guardhouses above us. There was an incident, and I think I might have said this before, where an old man was shot because they thought—because these people who were guarding us were probably nineteen years old. They were young.
How high were the guards?
I would say they were—it was two stories high, maybe three.
How high did it seem as a five year old?
It was so high. It was so high that I thought I couldn't see the people up in the top. My mother said, "clearly you could see the people on the top with their guns." But I think that's the five year old seeing something that was extremely tall. And being on a desert where everything was flat, including your barracks, which were all one stories. It was a barrack: a hut. It was tarpaper and there was no construction that was higher than those guard towers.
You are standing next to this guard tower. What does it look like?
It has big poles that hold up this little house-like thing. There's a ladder that you could climb up. There were windows on the guard towers and a little walkway, because you could see the person walking around doing his lookout. I just mainly didn't want to look up there because it scared me. I just remember staying away from them. So whenever I walked I would try to keep them out of my vision so that. I didn't look at them. I'm sure the boys have a different thing...
What did you think they were guarding?
I knew they were guarding us because I knew that we were not supposed to escape. We were not supposed to go outside, and that we had to be really good. That was my interpretation. Or else they would come after us, possibly, and so I had a lot of fear that I carried with me for a long time.
You were relatively unaware of what was going on in camp, but you were really aware of the threat of these...?
Yes. In retrospect, I think if I had to say one word that would encompass or describe the experience it would be "fearful." It was a time of fear, more than anything else, for me. Other people had funny experiences and they remember those, but I don't. I remember once... my father was on the council, because it was supposed to run itself, the camp. But there were people from the Department of the Interior that were the people really in charge of the camps. Halfway through, you could go out of the camps for a shopping expedition, but you were taken in a truck, with a guard, with a rifle. And we rode in the back of these open little trucks and we went to Delta. I just remember a little bit and I remember being so scared of going outside.
Did the police ever threaten you with the rifles?
Oh, they were just resting. They didn't point them at us but they were holding the rifles. It was part of their equipment. I think we were supposed to go out and then come back. I remember just not being able to wait to come home, back to the camp again. Once, I remember, this really nice man, who was friends with my father, took us out to some sort of park or somewhere where there was water and greenery. I just remember the whole time being terrified that we wouldn't be able to go back to camp. Somehow it was more dangerous out there than it was inside.
Can you describe a moment when you had a confrontation with the military police?
No. Because I never did. I stayed away. There was a controversy within the camp, but our particular camp I don't think had the kind of riots that they did at Manzanar and other camps where their military police had to come in. I don't have any memories of that except being in this open truck with this young man with the rifle. "We're going outside but you're going to take a rifle with you." And just being very scared and almost immobilized by, for me, the unpredictability of the situation.
How many people are there in the truck?
It felt like about, maybe, 15 or 20 people and they were mostly, at that time, the women. I'm not sure what they went to do. They didn't need groceries because the mess halls fed us. I don't even know. I remember sitting. It was bumpy on the back of the truck and the dust was blowing all around. There was canvas awning that covered the truck, and we just went. But I don't have any memory of what we did when we got there. And my mother can't answer that now. She's ninety-eight and she's still alive, but she has dementia and she won't remember certain things.
Where did you get water?
From the mess hall and there was plumbing. There was running water in that area—the latrines. And I think she probably kept water in the house—in the barracks.
What was the water like? Warm?
Yeah, I think it was warmish water. I remember when we went to the park, that man took us to the park, that the water was really cold. It was surprising when you stuck your hand in this stream how cold it was. Even though it's very cold on the desert, so it must have been cold. But I don't remember that. I don't remember the difference in water temperature.
I remember there was ice once. There would be thunderstorms and big rainstorms and then the water would collect in puddles. In the summertime the puddles would dry up so that the ground became like curly little things and you'd lift them up. We used to have a game of how big a piece of clay you could lift up without it breaking. There were certain parts if you went over with your feet it would crackle like leaves. But of course there were no leaves. I remember the crunch of them on my feet still. And sometimes it would ice over, apparently, and my mother said, she told me to look at the icicles once. I have no memory of that. She said, "of course it was cold, don't you remember the icicles?" And I don't remember. I just remember the heat. And the dust. The dust storms would come and your legs as you were walking, and sting your eyes and your face because it was blowing so hard.
Do you remember anything about the shower facilities?
No I don't, because my mother—they had big cement laundry tubs like that, they were probably about that big [gestures size]—she would put us into the laundry tubs, one at a time, and wash us off and towel us dry. Then she'd grab the next kid and do that to the next kid. And at the same time try to whack the mosquitoes off of us, because there were gigantic mosquitoes that were wanting to eat us. So I don't remember taking a shower. I just remember being washed in these tubs.