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3-Father Arrested & Preparing to Leave
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They came to pick up my father. They had about three different times when the F.B.I. came out. They already had the list of names of people who were active in the Japanese community. My father was a member of the Japanese Association. He was also, at one time, the president of the Japanese Association, which is where the Issei came who could not vote. They were ineligible for citizenship, so they had to work out their own ways of dealing with crises in the Japanese community. When somebody got sick, for example, the Japanese community would help this family so they would not feel—nobody went onto welfare. Nobody knew how to go into welfare. The Japanese community took care of its own. The Japanese association was one of the ways in which they did this. My father was active in this group. The F.B.I. came and my father went off. We didn’t know where he was for a while.
When did this happen?
They came in January, the end of January. The first group was picked up right after Pearl Harbor and these were people who were very prominent-they were businessmen-who had interactions with Japan, people like that were picked up. The school teachers who taught Japanese and the people who taught Judo—Japanese Martial Arts teachers were picked up. My father was kind of in the third group that was picked up at that time. He was ready. He knew that he was going to be picked up. All these people kept getting picked up by the F.B.I.
What do you remember about the day your father was picked up?
I was at Cal. I was living with my sister. My sister got married. She lived in Berkeley. I stayed there because we didn’t want to keep commuting from San Francisco. I was commuting, but they didn’t want me to commute. My sisters kept saying, “you have to stay in school.” Actually the college president, Bob Sprawl and Martin Deutch, especially, who was the Vice Chancellor got a group of Japanese-Americans together. I’m trying to figure out when he got us all together, because I didn’t write it down. But he got us all together before, in December. After December seventh, he got us together, and then he got us together again in January, when people came back. But he kept saying, “stay at school as long as you can because it’s going to be helpful to you.” That advice was so important to people like me because I was a senior at that time. I had just turned twenty years old. I was a senior, and my sister said, “stay at school. Graduate! Because then, you will be able to get a job with a degree or go on to graduate work.” I wanted to go on to graduate work, so I stayed in school in Berkeley.
I wasn’t there when my father was picked up, but they said they came at night to pick up my father. They looked through the whole house. I asked my sister, “did they have a search warrant?” She really didn’t remember. Either they had a search warrant or not, but they caped in and they looked at everything and they found, of course, sharp knives. I mean, who doesn’t? What family doesn’t have sharp knives? They found a camera. He has a camera. And flashlights, these things that all houses have. I do remember that there was a big flash on somewhere about all these Japanese who where picked up with all what they call these “terrible things” in their houses. There was one guy – we don’t know him – but he had a sports store. He had ammunition and he had guns because they were part of the sports thing, and that became a big headline. So there was this Japanese with all this ammunition, all these guns, and things like that, but that was the sports shop! Anyway, we began to really feel that pressure. Now, the groups like the Sons and Daughters of the Golden West and some of the very conservative groups began saying “Get rid of them. Get rid of the Japs. They’re all spies! They all live close to the important centers of war, etc.”, never realizing that the Japanese farms were there first, before these things came in. It was such hysteria that it was there every time you opened the Chronicle, Herb Caan, who we really enjoyed later on, had a little thing about the Japs must go. And Walt Lipman, who was one of the big writers in Times—The New York Times—had a whole thing about the Japanese and how they are dangerous and we need to get rid of them. We knew something was going to happen.
My sister couldn’t find my father. They looked all over but couldn’t find him. They called around. Then they said about three weeks, three or four weeks later they got a call from my father, and he was in one of the local jails. He said he was going to be sent some place where it’s very cold. He told us to be sure to pack up whatever he had that might be warm so that he would have warm clothes. In those days, they didn’t have these wonderful jackets and things that we have today. My mother really looked around. My sister went to the jail and saw him. She said he looked fine. My father is a very cheerful man. He was sent to different places, but ended up in North Dakota, where it was very, very cold. My father never complained. He never told us. We asked him, “what was it like in North Dakota? What was it like when you were there?” My father could only talk about things that were positive. He said, “you know I was the ping-pong champion. Papa did okay.”He also said they had a radio they were not suppose to have– an overseas radio. The Japanese from Japan would say they were winning the war. That they were here or they were there. Everybody lived in different barracks. He would go from one barrack and say, “well the news is Japan is winning the war.” They were totally out of touch with reality. They really didn’t know. My father never talked about his experience in the camps. But all the prisoners were covered by the Geneva Convention, which was again very important. They were covered by that. There was not the kind of treatment that people are getting today in Guantanamo or anything like that. They were not treated kindly, but they were not treated badly.
Under those circumstances and the fact that there was such an anti-Japanese sentiment, especially in the media. In college we didn’t feel it like that. Kids going to high school or grammar school talked about the fact that their friends didn’t talk to them anymore, and their friends’ parents told them do not have anything to do with them, because they’re Japs. Some of the kids, the really younger kids, really felt it more than we did. I remember having mixed feelings about this war. First of all, I learned at Cal about the treatment of the Jewish people, about what happened to them under Hitler. They didn’t have the death camps at that time , but they were really treated miserably. They were hounded, all kinds of things. So we knew that there were terrible things going on in Germany against the Jews. Eventually, some of those things came to me while I was in the camp. I thought about these things. Why were we in camp? We're American citizens- lots of discussion in our family and everywhere else- but why is it that American citizens? Yet, if they took my mother and father away, we could probably deal with ourselves. But, what about my parents being someplace away? My mother, she would just die if she were separated from this big family that she had. Two of my sisters were married. By that time, one was in Berkeley and the other was in Japantown. My third sister was engaged to a guy who was an American soldier—a Japanese-American in the army. She was engaged to him. She was thinking of getting married to him. It was just a terrible situation for us.
The thing really fell on February 19th, 1942, when President Roosevelt signed the executive order 9066. Which made it very final that we had to leave our area. Then, we had a big discussion. My brother-in-law had become the head of the family. My oldest sister had gotten married to Frank, and he was really a wonderful guy and he became like family. They decided, “let’s all go together! We are going to go together as a family from San Francisco.” We were the ones to go first. They sent us to Santa Anita. Santa Anita is the racetrack. We were given horse stalls in which to live, because they didn’t have enough housing. 18,000 people ended up living in Santa Anita. It's the big assembly center. We first went in because the barracks were still in process of being built. They put us into the horse stalls. And we stayed there, in the horse stalls, for that period of time. My mother cried. She was sad and cried for a couple of days. She really cried. She was saying, “Why were we living like this?” We were poor. We didn’t live well, but we didn’t live like they did in the horse stalls.
Was your father back with you?
My father was still away. By that time, we knew he was in North Dakota. My mother wrote to him. We wrote him letters, but it took a long time before his letters came.
Life Just Before Internment
Who did you live with when you were in the camp?
We lived together in a family. We had two horse stalls. We couldn’t live where the horses were, because that was really terrible. So we lived where the jockey must be in the front part. We lived there, because there was my sister, there were three girls and two boys, and my mother. So we got two of them. The two boys lived in one and then the women lived in another. It was terrible. To live in a horse stall! They hadn't cleaned it out too well—and the smell, and the bugs, and everything else that even we were not use to. Santa Anita gets very hot. It gets to be about 90 degrees in April. I remember it was April 7. It was my sister’s birthday. The journey- the trip itself was lousy. We didn’t know where we were going. They never told us where we were going. They never told us—again, we didn’t know what the charges were! Why were we going? We’re American citizens! Why were we going into this place? The other thing we saw- I was twenty, I kind of knew my way around, and certainly had self-confidence. But you saw these people with babies in their arms and maybe another little kid holding on, another kid holding on. You saw these families going in and it really made you cry because they were having such a hard time. We could only take what we could carry. So, what could you carry?
I have a story to tell about my brother. My brother was a real jazz fiend. He loved jazz, he had a trombone. He used to play that trombone till he drove us crazy. During the periods where they had the blackouts, we had to put black sheets over, so that there would be no lights. During that time, we had my sister who had more money because she was working for a period of time. She would go to the Chinese bakery and buy some nice Chinese food. Well, we used to enjoy the blackouts because my brother would put on the Tommy Dorse records which he just loved. He used to play Tommy Dorse records because he was a trombonist. He and my mother had a little fight before we went into camp because you could only take what you could carry, and my brother had his trombone! And so, he could only take whatever it was that he had to take in one suitcase. We were so poor we didn't have suitcases. My mother went to a five-and-ten and got cardboard suitcases for us, which were not too big, and that's what we carried. That and, you know, whatever. I had two of those. I was sure I was going to go onto graduate school at some point- I had such faith in the American government. I knew that they wouldn't throw us out totally. I had books in there, because I thought that maybe I was going to go to graduate school. But we went into camp like that. My mother and brother really had a big discussion before. My mother thought that my brother agreed, but on the morning that we were leaving, I saw my brother go running in and take his trombone and sneak into a car, and then we went into the train. But he brought it, and that trombone really was helpful to him. It really helped.
When they were in camp, enough kids like my brother brought their instruments, and I was in charge of recreation. The only reason I was in charge of recreation was because I was a college graduate. The college graduated me, they were so nice: they graduated me even though I left in April and I had about a month and a half of work still to do. They asked me to write back, and I took some notes, and sent it to them and things like that.When I went into camp, they said, "Well, you're a college graduate. Okay, you can have a job." They wanted me to be in charge of education/recreation. I don't know how you are, but when you're twenty years old and you don't know a damn thing! I said, “I know Greeks literature and I know American literature and I know the Psych, and this kind of thing, but I don’t know anything about organizing things!” Fortunately, my coworker was a businessman who had put together a Boy Scout troop at one time. So we said, "oh, well, we've got somebody who's an organizer!" We organized all kinds of things in the Assembly Center. This is called an Assembly Center, the Santa Anita Assembly Center. We organized. We even had clubs, we had Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. We got in contact with Boy Scout leaders outside, so we got material from them. We had campfire girls, we had arts and crafts, people bought junctures, we had a reading club, some of the libraries donated books to us and all. Really, we were able to deal with everyday life for people in the camp by the kind of activities that we had. Lots of dances! The median age of the Nisei, my generation, was seventeen or 18. They were at the age where what's more interesting than anything else was either girls or boys. It was that sexual period, so it was really something that we were able to put together dances, and people like my brother who brought his trombone were able to play in these dances.
It was, for us, another experience. There were people jumping in from Los Angeles who came in from the Barrios, who were very much like the Chicano, they were close to the Chicano community. They wore the zoot-suit kind of thing. I don't know if you've ever seen the zoot-suits, but they're very funny-looking pants that the kids used to wear. They were very distinctive and different from the rest of us. They used to come into the dances and we used to be a little bit afraid of them, but they were fine. One day, somebody donated an old piano. One of the zoot suitors that we thought was so ferocious comes in wearing the Japanese Geta. He makes that sound, since these wooden slippers make a sound. He comes in and sits down and he's playing Rachmaninoff. I said, "my god, this was a guy that we all thought was one of these, we called them butch people!" He was playing all kinds of classical music. We never found out what happened to him or why he was with this group. We called them something, "The Dirty Twenties," but they said that's not their name. Each gang had a name. There were gangs from Los Angeles and all, and they were tough, but you wish the gangs today were as tough as those kids. The girls wore short skirts, really short skirts, at a time when the rest of us didn't wear short skirts and all. The boys had to be very careful that they didn't cut in on the girls that had short skirts, because they belonged to the guys who were in their zoot suits! But anyway, it was a strange experience for me to see a different part of the Japanese population, and the way they did things. It was a learning experience.
The one thing I remember from the camp, that I think of Santa Anita was that I had, as part of my duty, to make sure that classes were going on and that things were going on as they should. When I would go there, there would be these little kindergarten, first grade, second grade kids, and they'd all sing "God Bless America." Every morning, the "Pledge of Allegiance" and "God Bless America." I knew it was our government that put us in there. We're citizens – what are we doing in here? But you know how kids are; they'd sing and smile. After 9-11 whenever I heard "God Bless America"—it was on all the time, every time there was a ballgame or everytime there was some kind of event—everybody would get up and sing "God Bless America", always, I get this bittersweet feeling, because I remember those little kids singing so lustily and looking so beautiful, and I think of where we were and why our government put us into those camps.
I think for people like us, there were a lot of times when we sat around thinking, "why are we in camp? What's the reason? What did we do that made the American government feel like we might be spies? Etc." We really couldn't come up with an answer, we just couldn't understand it. We didn't know enough about racism to know. I went to Cal for four years; I took history, sociology, etc, but never once touched on what happened to black people in the South! I knew nothing about the racial problems in the South and all. It was not until I went to Topaz that I met my husband- my husband and the Young Democrats. They were political, and they knew about the fact that, in the South, black people were treated really miserably. They could not vote, and if they voted they were really hand-strung in many ways. I learned from the group of Nisei Demos. He’ll talk about that, because that really was part of his contribution to our learning. There was a group of us that went and got together.
I was very interested in the American political scene—[the Nisei Demos] were obviously very left in their opinions, and talked about racism. That was when it occurred to me that it was certainly part of it, because the Italians and the Germans didn't have to go into the camps like this. And the fact that I remembered all those editorials, all those newspaper articles, and that was when it began occurring to me that racism had a very important part to play in that. But I still knew very little about the history of the Japanese-Americans. There were only a couple of books. I think it was a Bradford Smith book that I read while I was in camp. Somebody had sent that to the library and I picked it out and I read it. That was when I thought, "Oh wow!" Then you began to realize the whole American scene, and what it was like for other minorities, not just Japanese. I think that was when it occurred to me that there were other reasons, other than the fact that they thought we were potential spies or something.
Why didn't you know much about racism when you were growing up?
Because we were protected by the Japanese community. We were really protected, our parents really looked out for us to make sure that we found an alternative lifestyle, so that we were very busy with our Japanese activities and all. We didn't really have time to ponder. I know when I was in high school, I realized class differences, that there were kids who were always on top. In the little newspapers that we had, those kids and their social activities were always written up. They were the people who were the student body heads and things like that. I knew there was a class difference, and I knew that we were not part of that group. But it didn't bother us, because at that time we were happy with what we had. It did take a while for me to think through and actually come to the realization that there were other very strong reasons why they put us in.
What was most interesting—this is going way ahead now—in 1980, when the congress authorized a commission to look into the reasons why the Japanese were put into the camps. The reason they had was war necessity. It was necessary because they were unsure about us. All the material that they dug into found that it was not true. What they came into was the fact that it was war hysteria—which we saw—a history of discrimination, which we did not know too much about, and also the lack of political leadership. They came up with three; I think there's a fourth reason. There was the economic reason, too. There were people who were trying to get the farms. The Japanese farming group had developed a very strong market in California, and I think they controlled some of the strawberries- some of the crops- that came up very quickly: strawberries, artichokes, and things like that. They had a large share of it, and there were farmers who wanted some of that stuff for their farming interest. Then we had the very conservative groups—the Sons and Daughters of the Golden West as it was, I remember!