page 9 of 11
Please report errors to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
3-More about Topaz
I want to know a little bit more about the time in Topaz that you had with your husband, and how you spent time together.
Mostly all you could do was walk around the racetrack.
What about in Topaz?
Topaz was a little bit bigger. But it was one mile square, and it's all fenced in, so you can't get out of that. So it's limited. They set aside some places where the guys could play baseball. We'd go and watch. They had parties, but they were—we used to take grape jelly and take a lot of water and get it ready to make punch or something. I don't think we had lemons, something like yumb. We used to do a lot of things for parties.
So you figured out ways to entertain yourself?
Yes. I know when my husband got drafted for the army, he was in Detroit. He went back to camp and they wanted to have a party for him. They went out to the chicken farm, and not knowing anything about chickens, they finally were able to catch a chicken. They took the feathers off, but they didn't want to leave any feathers in any one place. They had to walk around all the different blocks and use all the different garbage cans. I mean, after all, they weren't supposed to have the chicken. And one of the mothers finally cooked it for them. I think they had more fun grabbing the chicken.
Being there for three years, do you remember specific times or places that you got to spend time with your husband?
See I think girls maybe find things easier that way. There were two guys that were friends of my husband's. They found an army truck that was in the motor pool and hadn't been used for a while because it was not working. They fixed it up, filled it with gas, and they rode around the desert until they ran out of gas. I'm telling you, it made the front page of the papers, the camps papers. Parents got after them. Everybody got after them. My goodness, it was a terrible thing.
I'm glad I didn't have my kids there. They would have been doing terrible things. I know one of the JCL leaders said when he was around nine, they used to get pieces of paper until they got a nice pile. They would put it underneath the guard's tower. They would set fire to it, and see if they could play chicken with him, and make him jump from there. He looks at us and he goes, "Gee, we could have been shot!" I'm going, "Yeah!"
It sounds like you guys had your fun with them and maybe were a little bit disobedient at times.
So what were the repercussions or the punishments for that type of thing?
I don't know. I read a report by somebody who was kind of like a juvenile psychologist—I don't know what his position was. He was supposed to report on the juvenile problems they had. He had nothing to report. The kids were pretty good, you know. There is not a whole lot you can do.
So they were pretty well behaved, so they didn't have to do anything?
Yes. I think they were pretty well behaved. I think parents were pretty protective. If the kids did something that was wrong, the parents would protect them so that the guards—the administration—wouldn't find out.
What happened to the boys whom drove the car?
I don't know, they probably lost some money in their wage or something. But as they said, it was a car that wasn't working and they got it all fixed up.
Was there a curfew at camp?
We had to be in by eight o'clock so the camp manager could count our heads to make sure we were there. I think that was it.
Was that ever broken?
As far I know, it wasn't.
Wow, that's amazing to me, because that many people, to have every single one of them go in by eight o'clock, that seems like an impossible...
Oh well, you didn't have to stay in. You had to be in and he counted you. Then you could go out and do things again.
When you were last asked about your first impressions on Topaz, I remember you saying that you thought you had died.
I did. It was just like alkaline powder, the soil. It was just flying loose all over. I thought, "Oh, we can't live in something like this." It's something we had to live with. It's still like that. What the army did, or what the powers to be did, was they had to take spots that were far away from cities and railroad tracks and things like that. They had to find someplace that nobody wanted. They set up the ten camps. Each camp was about ten thousand or close to ten thousand.
So your first reaction was, I can't believe we're here?
Yes. At least Tanforan had green grass and you could see the mountains. The San Bruno Mountains were right there. It's not different, Topaz. They call that area "whirlwind valley," because these little whirlwinds, dust devils, would be flying around all the time.
Do you remember a time that you were in shock because you couldn't believe you were there?
Not in shock. But I remember a few times feeling like, "Why would anybody put us in a place like this?" Somebody has said that if they took all the money that they spent putting us in those places, they could have bought us each of our families a home somewhere in the United States and scattered us. I mean these things must have cost a fortune. They had to bring water. A lot of the places didn't have water.
What was the heat situation like in the beginning? I remember you saying it was very cold.
Yes. It was very cold. We had potbelly stoves. We had one lamp and we had potbelly stoves. When you think about it—all of our three hundred or more people in the mess hall. They cooked our three meals on a wood stove, coal stove, wood and coal.
Do you remember having to do things about the cold situation when you didn't have enough clothes? What would you do to stay warm?
I don't know. There was a grade school teacher who told me that she could tell when somehow the coal delivery didn't make it. The kids would really be upset. I think by high school maybe we weren't quite so upset. I know that in high school, once we locked the door and threw snowballs at the poor teacher and made her cry. In Berkeley, I would never, never, never do a thing like that.
It snowed over there?
Yes. It snowed in the winter. We were all from California, so we all had California kind of clothes.
Did you have to buy a lot of new clothing?
Yes, because most of us were growing out of stuff. We had to buy things from Sears and Roebuck. Our parent's salary was sixteen dollars a month, so that didn't go very far,.
Teachers in Topaz
What kind of teachers were at the camp? Do you remember any specific people?
Right. In Utah, at that time, you could be a teacher with two years of college. We had teachers like that. Then we had our, "resident teachers," people who had gone to college. Most of them weren't teachers because California wouldn't hire Asian teachers, most of California wouldn't hire Asian teachers, at least, I don't know any districts that would.
Even after the war, if you were a teacher, it would be very difficult to find a position. We had a few conscientious objectors who were sent to the camps, and they were teachers. At least two of them that I know of were PhD's and were very good teachers. Then there was always a group of people who were very unhappy with the stance that the government was taking and would voluntarily come to camp to either teach or help out in some way.
Do you remember any of them?
One of the teachers that came to our camp became the first American invited by the Japanese government back into Japan. She taught in Hiroshima earlier. You could imagine the devastation that she found when she went back to Hiroshima. Towards the end of her career there, the emperor gave her a special medal for the work that she had done to help in that city.
Was she Japanese?
No, she'd been in Japan before the war. Then she went to camp with us because she wanted to be with us. Then she left camp and was invited back to Hiroshima. She worked in a women's college—maybe like the top half of high school and the first two years of college or something like that.
What race was she?
She was white. She was from Florida.
What did she teach?
I think English.
Do you remember having contact with teachers from Berkeley High, or from your grade school?
There was a teacher, my homeroom teacher at Berkeley High, Miss Price. She used to send me copies of the high school newspaper and she sent me the yearbook. The year that I graduated, she sent me the yearbook, and I still have it.
She told me that when the war broke out that she volunteered hours to work with the American Friends Society in San Francisco. What they did was they tried to get college students enrolled in eastern universities and colleges. They would have to get them jobs, someplace to stay, somebody to sponsor them. I think it was a slow, ongoing process. But a lot of people were able to get to college that way.
Do you have memories of her before going to camp?
Oh, you mean the homeroom teacher? Yes. She was my homeroom teacher when I was at Berkeley High.
Were you close to her?
No, because the homeroom teacher at Berkeley High only saw you for about forty minutes a week or half an hour a week maybe. You only went to her to get your grades, or something like that. You never saw her everyday and didn't take classes from her.
Would you say your relationship became closer while you in camp?
Right, because she would write to me and send me the newspapers and things.
Did you ever see her after camp?
I saw her once after. I went to Berkeley High and saw her once after.
What was that like?
It felt very emotional. But, I didn't really know her well. I've always regretted not having gotten to know her better.
What about it was emotional?
I don't know. You're just seeing somebody who has done a lot for you. But I don't really know her well, I don't really remember having a conversation with her. We would go to homeroom class and she would pass out our grades or some things that we had to do in homeroom, but we didn't work with her.
Did you feel that same difficulty that you have?
Yes, with people that didn't go to camp. Yes, I find I still have that.
How did you react to seeing your newspapers and yearbooks, and seeing some of your old friends?
I would wonder what they were doing. I would wonder about them. I'd think about them a lot. I always felt like I should have been there. Yet, I knew that when I graduated from Topaz High School, that I never would have been able to graduate from Berkeley High. At Berkeley High you had to take so many years of English, so many years of math. You had to be able to swim the swimming pool two ways. I couldn't do any of that. The first year I took Latin at Berkeley High, but there were no Latin classes at Topaz. I took French for a year, but there was no second year French class. I never finished any of those things that you would have ordinarily taken. I've never had U.S. history.
Did seeing those newspapers and yearbooks help you, or did they make it worse?
I enjoyed seeing them. There was not a daily newspaper all the time we were in the camp. We had a little thing that told us what was going on in camp. A lot of it had to do with who was born and who wasn't, and who passed away, who went in the army, and things like that. We really didn't know what was going on in the war. When I came back from camp, I went to a movie and saw the newsreel. I was really shocked. Bodies flying around. I thought, "Oh my goodness."