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5-Topaz Lifestyle & End of War
Do you remember what kind of clothes that you would wear?
There is somebody who is doing a, I don't know if it's a video or not, on the camps, and doing it with the people who lived in places like Half-Moon Bay, the fishermen, and some of the flower growers in that area. They've taken a lot of these pictures, a lot were taken of us going into camp, and they were taken by very good photographers. Interestingly enough, we couldn't have cameras, but they have all these pictures in the national archives that show us going into camp. I forgot what I was going to say.
Yes, clothes. They have a montage of all the pictures, and somebody says, "Well, everybody looks dressed up." I asked one of the girls, "Do you remember any child going to school in ragged clothes?" The answer is no. My Dad earned $16 a month while he was in Topaz. I know that he was more than $500 in debt when he got out. He hired himself out to a farmer so that he could make a little bit more money, but still, when he got back to Berkeley, he was $500 in debt. None of us ever showed up at school in less than clean clothes-and you never saw anybody in anything ragged. The girls would say, "Gee look at those kids, they're all dressed up". I asked my friends "Do you remember seeing somebody in ragged clothes?" She says, "No, nobody remembers any such thing".
Do you remember where the clothes came from?
Sears, mostly. Sears and Montgomery Ward. Some from the Co-op (unclear phrase) ...some of those people were given and able to go out and buy—go on buying trips, and they sold stuff at the Co-op. But I think most people went through Montgomery Ward and Sears.
What did you miss the most about having fewer restrictions in the outside world?
I used to think about Berkeley High a lot. I wondered what happened to this person or that person, what were they doing. My homeroom teacher, I didn't know her well. She was never one of my instructing teachers. We only had homeroom half an hour a week or something like that. She gave out report cards, notices and things like that. But she was either a Quaker or she worked with the Quakers. As soon as the war thing started, even before we went to camp, the Quakers were already gathering and writing letters to various people and trying to get those who were in college to be able to stay there, to see if they could get scholarships for them. Many Quaker families opened up their homes to Japanese kids.
She used to send me copies of the school newspaper and she sent me the yearbook every year that I was in camp. So that I kind of knew what was going on. At least—Berkeley High is such a big high school. I didn't even go for a year—I only went for part of a year. I just knew my Junior High School friends from there, but I would remember them and look for them and try to figure out what they were doing. So I did miss them.
I think the thing though that really just sort of hangs over your head is, "Why did they put us in here? Why are we here? And do they really think we're going to do something terrible to them? Or what is it that they think that we're going to do?" Or as somebody said very recently, "Why do they hate us so much?" You know, it just nags at you.
Did your camp experience affect your view on the US?
I like to think it doesn't but I think it does. Very recently, the state of California decided they would give diplomas to everybody who didn't get a high school diploma because of serving in the armed forces or being sent to camp. So a lot of people applied for and got a high school diploma. I never tried for it. I thought that at this age, what am I going to do with a high school diploma? But, because some of the people did—about three from Berkeley High got their diplomas, my class of '44 invited them to the class reunion, would be the sixtieth reunion I think—I might not be right. So they went to the reunion and people were very nice and, you know, spoke to them and everything.
I never felt like I could go to a reunion and I keep thinking, "Well, maybe next year," but I've never been able to do it. For my Topaz people I always go. I not only always go, I always work on the committee and help with the reunion and we get together. A lot of people are starting to bring their children—their grown children—to the reunions.
It sounds like in Topaz there was a really healthy social scene.
I think that—it feels that way to me at any rate. I think Topaz was a little bit different from the other camps in that we were all from either San Francisco, maybe all the way out to Hayward, Castro Valley. Whereas in some of the other camps they came from, one part of Los Angeles, and one part of something else and one part something else. They might've had a little bit more conflict. You kind of never realize how much power somebody has to do something to you.
By that do you mean the US or something else?
Well, yeah! I can just take you and put you someplace.
Moving to St. Louis
When you got out of camp and went to St. Louis did the Quakers help you?
They gave us twenty-five dollars and a train ticket. Then after I finished in St. Louis, of course I had to come back, to get back, to Berkeley. I did that on my own. A lot of people that went out, they didn't know what to do. I would say most of them went on to school. If not to college, to some kind of commercial schools.
Did you go to college in St. Louis?
Well, you know for secretarial training or something like that. But most people went on to college and quite a few people went on for professional training. Usually doctors or physicians or professors. At one time there were a great many Japanese-American professors at the universities.
Did you go on to college?
No, I went to a specialized school for lab technicians.
What did you study there? What did you do there?
Then, when I came back to Berkeley I tried for a job at Cutter Laboratories, and I couldn't get past the personnel department. My friend said to Dr. Cutter, he said, "You let me and my dad come in to take care of your camellias but you don't let anybody work in your lab!" So the next day I got a phone call and I got a job in the lab.
What is it hard for you to blend in with the outside world?
I don't think it was hard but I never—even if I saw somebody from before—I didn't talk to them. It just—I don't know what it is. It was very hard for me.
Even your friends?
It's hard to define what exactly what feelings are involved.
Do you think a reason why you didn't want to talk to friends from before you were interned is because you felt like you were a different person then from when you knew them?
Well, I think we all change a lot. But I never felt close to them again.
Anything else about the leaving of Topaz? I'm confused about when you left and why your parents didn't leave with you?
Well, my parents couldn't leave. You had to have a job in order to leave. Or you had to go to school and have some money to back it. So, when I left Topaz, I knew I was going to go to school. I hired myself out as a live-in maid, so I had room and board. And then I went to school my tuition was a scholarship. My dad hired himself out to a farmer and my mother had to stay in camp with my two younger brother and sister. And because we never knew when we would get together again as a family, my mother had my second sister right under me go to St. Louis with me.
She was thirteen and she had two kids to take care of. So she would give them breakfast, make the lunch and send them off to school and then go to high school herself. She had a tough row to hoe. Then, she came back. My dad earned enough money and he wanted to pay back the scholarship, so he went back—he came to St. Louis, paid back the scholarship and took my sister home to Berkeley. By then my mother and two younger siblings came back, and when I was finished I came back.
Your little sister had kids in Topaz?
No, she had to take care of kids when she was in St. Louis. So she was in St. Louis, but not in the city itself, in the suburb—but we're in different suburbs. I have two sisters, one stayed behind in Topaz with my mother and the one just under me went with me to St. Louis. That's because we had no way of knowing when we'd get together. At that time, we couldn't come back to California. You couldn't live in California or come back to California. So that's why I went out to St. Louis.
My mother didn't want me just sitting around camp after I graduated high school doing nothing. She wanted me to go on to school, and so I did. My sister came with me but she was a high school freshman. She had to work, to take these two kids, so she could earn her room and board while she was going to high school.
You weren't living together at that point?
No, in fact we were quite a ways from each other.
How long were you apart from your parents?
I guess, maybe about a year and a half. And then my mom and dad—I guess my dad did go back Topaz and then he went back—came back to Berkeley with them.
During that year and a half you never saw them?
No. And you can't telephone because they don't have a phone.
Were you able to write to them?
You could write—I could write, yeah. But my Japanese is terrible.
You communicated with your parents only in Japanese?
So they didn't know English, just Japanese?
They knew enough English, but it was not—but they didn't express themselves well in English.
What was it like seeing your parents after a year and a half? Do you remember that moment?
Not really. I just remember Berkeley as being so cold after being in St. Louis.
Moving Back to Berkeley
When were you able to move back to Berkeley from St. Louis?
1946. We left Berkeley in early '42.
What had become of your house?
There was a Caucasian minister at the Free Methodist Church, and he kind of kept track of our houses for us. It was very run down because whoever rented the house rented each bedroom out to somebody, because there were war workers and he could rent for very high sums of money. We came back to the house. But there were a lot of other Japanese families that didn't have any place to stay. So there was a whole family living in our garage and there was a man living in our living room. We lived in our house. As one of my friends says "There were eleven of you using one bathroom!" I said, "Yeah."
More lines. And there's a friend of mine here at this church and when they got back they didn't have a house to come back to. She had to work as a live-in maid in Piedmont. She was a junior high school girl and she to work for her room and board. Quite a few people did that.
Were you able to get all of your belongings back?
My Dad had taken some of his tools and put them under the house and boarded them up, but then the renters found them and took them all. So we didn't have anything when we came back.
You said that your father was $500 in debt. That was upon coming back and bank accounts were also gone? He had no other money?
No other money.
How did he recoup?
He worked really, really hard. In those days we sent a lot of packages to Japan because they were so hungry and poor back then.
Did he still have an affiliation with the Salvation Army?
No. My Dad's been gone about fifteen or twenty years or so. I don't know what happened with the Salvation Army but they were not very good to the Japanese-Americans.
Did your parents still have the money that they put into your Bank of America account?
Oh yeah. That money I always had. In fact, when I came back from St. Louis a few—most of it was there. I didn't know how long it would have to last so I was very, very careful.