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5-Santa Anita to Topaz
Could you talk about the transition from Santa Anita to Topaz?
It was a very difficult time, because we made friends in Santa Anita. Friends from Los Angeles, which I am still in contact with. I had a boyfriend at that time, and he wanted to get married but I didn't. I often wondered what had happened to him, or whatever—we didn't keep in contact with each other. I could see people crying when they were leaving, because they were leaving their boyfriends behind or their girlfriends behind. They were just good friends, but they were not going to get married.
What were you told as to why you were leaving?
We were leaving because that was the permanent camp that we were supposed to be going to, but they had not been ready for us, at the time in April. By June, all of these camps were ready, and so we were told we had to leave. We all went to different places from Santa Anita. We were returning to Topaz, which had some positive things for us because we were meeting my sister. All of San Francisco, all of the East Bay, went to Topaz, so we were meeting some of our East Bay friends and everything else. We looked forward in a sense to it though; I had missed the friends I made in Santa Anita. It was sad for some people, I remember seeing girls crying when they were leaving. We went on a train, and it took us a long time because we had to go with the blackout and everything else. If I remember correctly, on that train trip some people got sick, and things were hard. We were fine, we were young, and looking forward to meeting with my sisters and their family.
You said there was a blackout. What was that? What did they tell you?
Basically they didn't tell us anything, just to pull the shades down. We peeked! You know, we peeked! I'm trying to remember what it was like. It was difficult for some people, but not so much for us. I could remember some of the girls, my friends flirting with the soldiers! There were soldiers who were guarding us or whatever. Young people talk to each other, and there was some flirtation going on. I remember one of our girls did. We said "Why is she flirting with the white soldier?" She was talking with him and enjoying his company. It was a strange feeling. We weren't quite American and we weren't quite Japanese. We were really in between.
When we got to camp, that was where I did meet my husband at Topaz. As I said before, the atmosphere in Topaz one of permanence. It wasn't pretty, there was nothing green, it was grey all over. It looked miserable, and when we first went there, we really missed the sunshine. This was in August or September that we went. My sisters were already there. My father came with us to the camp in Topaz. It was a different arrangement. We did have a house, a room, which must have been about as big as this room. We had a bedroom, and at least the bedroom had cots. We had one light that came out down from the ceiling, and we had no chairs. My brothers were very inept at carpentry; this was not their thing. My father was very inept, but he had friends in the kitchen. Those fruit boxes that they had, they took the top off, and that was our chair. We had fruit box chairs. Some of the people who stayed there made beautiful furniture! We have some of that stuff at the Historical Society, and really marvel.
Did they make them there?
They made them. What they did was, when the people made the camps, they left some of the wood and stuff that they were going to use just out there. People would go out at night and take those wood pieces, and then make stuff from it. So we had desks people made, and then while they were there longer they began to order different things to come. I was making something like twenty-one dollars a month which was the top pay for doctors, nurses, professionals got twenty-one dollars a month. I think eighteen dollars a month and sixteen dollars a month was the wage scale. It was better when we got a raise because it was twelve dollars, fourteen dollars, and eighteen dollars. We got a raise. We saved everything. I gave it all to my mother because I didn't need that money. We did have some times where my mother would give us money. I did get a couple of dresses from Sear's Roebuck, ordered a few things. We had a co-op in our camp, and they had things like candy and cookies—things you could buy.
One of the funny things that happened was, because it was cold and it was winter—and none of us had winter clothes—we complained, but so did the the Issei. People in there forties and fifties were pretty cold. The government gave us these navy melton coats that the sailors wear when they're on watch. They only had size forty-two, so you could imagine what it was like. I would see people like my mother, and she was four feet eight or so. They would wear these things, it would cover them pretty well, but it was dragging! I could see them scurrying around going to the kitchen—my mother worked in the kitchen—or going to stand in line for something. It was just really funny. We used to laugh, because we would see all of them weighted down. We did finally locate one of these melton coats we have in our historical society, and when I go to speak, I bring that with me, as the kids love to put that on. They just sag down to the floor, because they were so heavy. It gives the feeling of what it was like to be there in the cold without the proper clothing. It was funny.