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6-Reflections & The Quilt

Did you tell your children and your grandchildren about your camp experience?

Not very much. But, I know when—we tried to tell the grandchild and they talked about it in his class so then we talked to him about it. The teacher was sure he was going to cry; so then we didn't say anything. Then one day he said to me, "When they stuck you in that thing, Grandma, did anybody ever hurt you?" I said, "You mean physically?" and I said, "No." That satisfied him quite a bit. It just made him feel better. He had to know it. I think that, sometimes they get the German camps and some of these other camps maybe confused a little bit. So you have to be very careful, I think, with young kids.

Do you feel that the subject of the Japanese-American Internment is taught in enough depth in American schools?

You know, that's really a good question and I don't know what the answer is. But when you see pictures of black men hanging from trees, and I don't know how we can do things like that to each other. Sometimes I think if I were on the other side of the fence, would I go to Tanforan with a whole bunch of buckets and soap? Do I have that kind of something inside of me—that I would do something like that for other people? It's a big question mark. I can't say that I would, because I think it's more comfortable to write a check or even worse, just do nothing.

If bars of soap or brooms are going to help somebody, I'll really help them. Then you would like to think that you would at least share a little bit of your money and do that. But I think that we get overwhelmed sometimes with the news and all the people that are dying in Africa or getting this or that or other thing and we gloss over some of things that we could do.

I think it would be very helpful if we could at least not do something negative to them. So I don't know what the answer is. I have a great deal of admiration for people like the Quakers. Even when it's an unpopular cause, they'll go in and stick by their principles.

Do you fear something like this could happen again in the US?

Yes, easily.

Which group do you think would be targeted?

I think the targets change.

Why don't you think that America can learn from what they have done?

I don't know how much we've learned from it. I don't know how much we've learned from a lot of our past mistakes. We seem to keep making them.

Looking back on your camp experience, can you think of anything that is missing right now and would be important to share?

I think that with all those things that were going on, that there were quite a few people, who in their own way, helped. I think of not the people who get a lot of publicity, but like, say, a gentleman that will keep a farm or an orchard from going down. I mean you can't leave an orchard unattended for three to four years. But they'll keep somebody's orchard going. I know a Chinese man who kept a Japanese person's flower business going while he was gone. A white man that kept somebody's cleaning business going or somebody else who had helped with the rent or something like that. I think that, hopefully that we could all be more that way. I think that would be the best lesson that anybody could learn.

You mentioned that you met your husband in camp? Can you tell me a little more about that?

Yes, I met him in camp. He left camp and he went to Detroit because they made good money in Detroit. He knew that once he was out—see, when you were in camp you were a 3C, which was alien registration for the draft. But if you left camp you'd be 1A, which meant you were now healthy and able to be drafted. Eventually you were a 1A whether you left camp or not. So he became 1A and was he was drafted. He went back to Topaz so he could visit with his mom and his family.

Then he went down into Louisiana or someplace for basic training. There he was asked to read a few Japanese characters, which he knew very well. Then he went to a language school in Minneapolis—Fort Snelling. There he took language day and night—Japanese language, and went to Japan and served in MacArthur's occupation of Japan. He was there the whole year of 1946 and he came back and we got married. He went to school at JC San Francisco. He came back and we raised three kids in Berkeley. Now I have two grandchildren.

I would like to know if you have any words that you would want to pass down through the generations, something that we can keep of value that you got out of your experience.

That's a good question. Maybe something that I'll have to think of and work on for a while.

We have time, you can think.

It's interesting because we tell each other stories, and I was in a writing class here —not very long —but I was in a writing. The stories we told each other, we wrote about, the things that we told each other were probably more interesting than the things we actually wrote.

You know, when you think about it, a small room, and you try to raise babies or whatever it is and you don't even have a refrigerator. When you build a fire you have to keep the fire going all night for heat. So it was a hardship for them. I think the people like myself, when we were in high school, we probably had it easier than most people, most everybody else. Because you had something to do during the day.

This is just going back to your camp experience, but was privacy a big issue for you?

It didn't seem so. But, I think that it depends on where you are in life. When you're a just a bunch of kids I don't think it matters that much. But I think that if you're a young married couple that you might feel it more.

Again, like Sono writes in her book—no not Sono—Mini Okubo writes in her book that when she went to camp she lived with her brother and a man that they didn't even know. Because you had to have three people in this Apartment F. So what they did was that they put her next to the stove, and they blocked with some blankets. They blocked her off so she would have a little privacy. For her to live with a man she doesn't even know would be more of a thing then for us. We were just a bunch of kids and you can kind of dress, undress under the covers or something.

So you've essentially invited us to come here and film you, so you can tell your story for our project. You obviously think that this story is important—but what is so important? What is so important about this story being seen and read by students or other people?

You should probably censor this, but I have sort of a "Put up or Shut up" theory. And it goes like: we asked the Berkeley Board of Education to look in their libraries and note that there are very few stories about Asians in their libraries. We looked at their course of studies and had very few things about Asians in their course of studies. So we said, "Hey, let's do something about this!"

Anyway, to make a long story short, the Superintendent of Schools gave us a goal. He says, "You will be the Asian task force in Berkeley and you will tell us what's needed." We looked at the curriculum. Alright, "This guy has a half-hour here," "fourth grade has," or "fifth grade has," or whatever it is. So we said, "Tell these things." For instance, Koreans have movable types press way before Gutenberg. So just don't tell us about Gutenberg, tell us about Koreans. You know, this sort of thing. We don't have to make a big deal of any of this. Just a little here, a little there and start putting some of these things in.

One of the people at the library at the University said, "Ok." He agreed that we didn't have things about Asians in the library. So he worked really hard and squeezed every penny he could. He said, "Ok I've got X number of books and I'm going to order all of these books that you want. Give me your list." So who had the list? It comes up, "Put up or Shut up."

Piecing Memories Quilt

Sponsoring Organization: Japanese American Serivices of the East Bay (JASEB) Bess Kawachi Chin, Organizer and Quilting Teacher Noreen Rei Fukumori, Graphic Designer

Can you please tell us about the quilt that you made?

The background here is called, "Road to California." And we used desert—colored squares here and we have rosy—colored squares down there because life has become rosier for us, although we do have some dark spots there. This Japanese Kimono represents kimonos that many of our families sent to us from Japan. Many of us took pictures—formal pictures—and sent to them back to our relatives back in Japan.

This is called "Broken Dishes" and that's the name of the pattern. Also she's breaking her dishes because the people came around after we received the evacuation notice and bought our things up at a very little cost and she would rather break her dishes then sell them. These are the locations. The red is the location of the relocation centers. This purple is for the Penal Justice Department. There were different kinds of camps: some where families were and some were considered higher security camps.

This one is a young girl waiting to be evacuated; she's sitting on her luggage. This one is the guard tower with a guard and his rifle and beautiful skies that we had in Topaz. This is a picture of how we bought our clothes from Sears. All of these people of different ages, different sizes are wearing the same blouse.

This is the privacy one. So to get a little privacy sheets and blankets were hung up around the apartment to give a little bit of privacy. This little girl is lost and she's crying. She's lost because all of the barracks look the same. But also she's representative of how most of us felt. This mother is guarding her child and keeping her from the sand storm that's going on around her.

This is a barrack window. The Gold Star shows that the son in this family has been killed overseas fighting for the United States. In this picture is a picture of Heart Mountain and two youngsters

[adult couple] looking out through the barbed wire at the horizon

[contemplating what the future holds for them]. This is sort of a picture of us now, that we wear denims and we all enjoy wearing clothes with a little Japanese motif.

These words were words that were all important to us. The words up on top are Japanese words like Issei, Nisei, Kibei, Sansei and they're all words that describe us. The words in caps are like "December 7th", the Executive Order number. And here's one of my favorite, "Non-Alien." Non-Alien is us, the Japanese-Americans, the ones who have citizenship in the United States.

What is this that we're looking at? What is this project?

This is a quilt with pictures and words and patterns that we felt were important in our relocation story. It has gone to many classrooms and it serves as a starting point for communicating about the Japanese American experience and going to camps.

Who created it?

Let's see. Bess Chin is the teacher. A lot of these pictures come from various sources.

I don't need specific names, I'm just curious, what's the group that put this together?

It's the quilting group that meets here, at the JCEB Center.

[The quilt named Piecing Memories: Recollections of Internment, was a project funded by the California Civil Liberties Public Education Program administered by the State Library in Sacramento.]

Thank you.

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