page 3 of 11
April 6, 2006 - Part 3 of 6
Section below transcribed by Joseph Werhan (intern).
What events led to your evacuation?
When we got the order 9066—we more or less expected it to come—because by that time there was a lot of talk about the government going to send us into camps and stuff like that. There was a lot of this kind of talk already. We more or less expected it but one thing that may surprise a lot of people is that the police didn't come and pick up everybody and bring us into camp. This order came out and they posted them on the telephone poles. We had to read it and then they would say, "On a certain day you assemble at a certain spot. You can only bring what you can carry." The police didn't come and force us to come in—we just voluntarily went there! This is amazing when you think of it. Because the police didn't come and knock on your door and say, "We're going to take you in today, c'mon." They didn't do that. They just posted these orders that came out on the telephone poles and they were expecting us to read them. Supposing somebody didn't read that letter? He wouldn't be there. But everybody read it and everybody obeyed it. That's the amazing part, and I guess that's one of the reasons why the camps were orderly too. Nobody tried to break out of the camps or anything.
There were no problems at all?
Only one person. He had a girlfriend in another camp and he wanted to go over there so he left the camp. We knew he was missing because the manager usually sees that everybody is in camp. If somebody in your room doesn't come back you can report it. But this guy was reported missing and so the next day practically the whole camp went out looking for him. That's another amazing thing. We went up there on the hill and I saw tracks going to a certain point and then missing. I just reported that. I said, "It looks like he went down there into that canyon." But we couldn't go too far off so we didn't go in there. They sent rangers down in there and they found him lying in a creek. He was all dried out. He was just trying to get some water out of the creek and he fell down near there. Anyway we got him and brought him back. That was the only case that I know of where a guy got out of camp. There was one time in our camp where a man got shot. At the beginning we couldn't bring in pets and things. Later on they allowed us to bring in pets and this guy had a little puppy.
Which camp was this?
In the camp Topaz—at all the camps—they didn't allow pets at first. Then later on they allowed pets in. But this man—he was an old man—and he had a pet and this little puppy started to run towards the fence and this guy ran after it. The guard said he told him to stop—but he didn't stop—so he shot him. It shows the mentality of the guards, too. Even if the guy was running toward the fence, how could he get out? He'd climb up the fence and go over? But he shot him and killed the guy. Even the camps were pretty orderly. The people were kind of orderly—I guess it's the cultural background—you sort of obey orders. It's something that you learn and that's what happened.
How did the rest of the camp feel about the man who was shot?
Of course the people at the camp didn't feel good about being in camp, but on the other hand they had this attitude of what you call shikataganai. It means, "What can you do?” Since they can't do anything they make the best of what they have. That's what happened in the camps. They would make the best of what they had and try to improve things that they could improve on—and that's what they did. That's why things got better as time went on, because they automatically improved things—like mess halls. This was the first time that anybody cooked for 250 people at one time. The cooking wasn't very good at the beginning. Of course the material wasn't very good either because they figured they would feed us “army-style.” Even the food wasn't very good at the beginning but as time went on the cooking got better. We also improved on the food because the camps started—wherever they could—to raise produce. Where it was a desert they raised pork, pigs and chicken. So they began to get eggs and chicken meat, pork meat. Then they would get cows in and they had milk. Little by little they improved the food. The food got better as time went on.
Tell us about the day that you were evacuated.
The day I was evacuated I was working. As I said I took a civil service exam when I was working for the county. I got the order to leave in May and that was five months that I would have been working there. I had to work six months to become a permanent worker. I got a letter from the county clerk—he was a good guy—he said that if my work was satisfactory and if it hadn't been for evacuation that I would continue to be employed there. So he gave me this letter. After evacuation we started a fight for our rights. I produced the letter and we presented it to the county and I got $5,000 dollars—paid. We finally got that for the county—that was the beginning—and we also got it for the state. We tried to get as many people involved as possible in the civil rights fight. We always had in mind that we were going to move more people whenever we did anything.
How did you travel to Tanforan?
We went on a bus, because Tanforan was close by. We gathered at the courthouse—that's where I worked.
What was the date?
May the 10th. I remember that date. I told the people who were working that that was when I was going to leave—on May the 10th. When I was leaving all my workers were lined up on the window waving goodbye to me—which was kind of nice. We went on the bus because it was close. When we went to Topaz from Tanforan we went on the train. They said that we had to keep the shade down—which was stupid—because they said they didn't want people to see us. They didn't want any action to be taken against us or anything.
What do you mean by that? What were you afraid that they would do if the shade was open?
Their claim was that people might throw rocks at us or something if they knew that we were Japanese-Americans on the train. They said to keep the shade down during the day and also at night. You couldn't see where you were going!
How did you personally feel the day you were evacuated? Were you angry about the order?
Of course we were more or less resigned by that time. I guess a lot of people felt the same way. They didn't like the idea of being sent away.
What about you?
As I said we talked about this a lot among ourselves—so I knew that we would have to go and do this and there wasn't anything we could do about fighting it. My feeling was that we would just go along. I didn't have any good or bad feelings about it. I was more or less resigned that we were going to go. I don't know if others felt differently but I guess a lot of them didn't like the idea. I know that afterwards a lot of them said that they resented it. As far as I was concerned—my personal feeling was that I didn't have any hard feelings or anything against it. We figured it was a thing that was coming anyway and we couldn't do anything about it.
Did your feelings change once you arrived?
Of course we didn't like the idea of being in a horse stall!
Can you describe the conditions?
You know what a horse stall looks like—it's just got a wooden floor. But these were old horse stalls—Tanforan was an old horse racetrack—so the floor was all broken up. A lot of urine was underneath there so it was smelly. That's why it was kind of bad. I don't know—it wasn't a good feeling—but I wouldn't say it was resentment or anything. We didn't like the idea of being put in there. You had to keep the front door open all the time because there were no windows. The back was all closed in and the front door was the only place that was open. If you wanted any fresh air you had to leave the door open. That's what we all did. Later on—as some of us accumulated enough money—we bought linoleum and put it on the floor. That sort of kept some of the smell down—but it was still smelly.
What did you bring with you to the camp?
I brought my clothing and we had to bring our own plates—aluminum plates and stuff. It was like going camping. You had to bring your own dishes and cups and everything—knives and forks. Most of us brought these camping utensils.
You left everything else at home?
You were only allowed to bring what you could carry. Of course some people brought more. They didn't know how much you were taking because we dumped everything out in a certain place and then they put those on a truck and took them. Some people took more than they could carry. If you did take more you couldn't take a truckload or anything like that. Maybe you took another suitcase or something. Chizu's brother brought his trombone because he wanted to play the trombone. Maybe she told the story already but he brought the trombone. There may have been others who brought something like that along. You were young at that time so you didn't think of the inconvenience that you might go through otherwise.
Do you remember your most significant item that you brought?
No, I can't. I brought some civil rights books but outside of that I can't remember what I brought. I guess it was books mostly.
Was it hard for you to decide what to take?
No, it wasn't that hard because it's just a matter of convenience.
After the internment were you able to get any of your items back that you left behind?
Not most people. Some people could. Some people had friends who would keep it for them or who took over their place. They had a small room where they kept all their stuff in there so when they came back they had it. But most of them didn't have any friends like that. In fact some left things locked up—but these places were broken into and their things were stolen.
How about you?
I lost my stuff too—they were stolen. Of course I was a single person and I didn't have too much to lose. But most of the things that I lost that were important to me were my photos. Albums—I don't know what they did with the pictures—but they were gone. They probably took them and just threw them away someplace.
Pictures of your family in Japan?
Yeah. Those pictures are gone because we don't have the negatives.
Had somebody taken everything when you went home?
Well—they didn't take everything—but what they didn't take they scattered around. You could see that they just took things and scattered around looking to see if there was anything good and then just took the things that they wanted. The people that lost the most I think were the farmers. Most farmers borrow money at the beginning. They buy seed and they have to hire people and things of that sort at the beginning. They borrow money and then—when they get the crop—they sell it and then they pay off all their debts. These farmers—they planted their things—but they were evacuated before the crops came out. So they had to leave it. Some of them were so mad. I know some lettuce farmers said that they just poured kerosene on the lettuce and just burnt them because they were so mad that they didn't want to leave it for anybody. So things of that sort happened.
Councilman in Tanforan
Did you feel racism before you were evacuated?
I didn't feel it but I think farmers probably felt it more than in the city. Some places had shots fired into their house and things like that. They couldn't sell their crop—nobody would buy. They knew that they were going to leave anyway. So the crops just rotted out there.
Did you feel like the government itself was being very racist against you and the other Japanese or did you feel that this was more justified?
We knew that racism was involved as far as we were concerned. When Congress set up this commission and published this book they even said so in there. They said that the reason was not based on military necessity. It was based on racial prejudice and war hysteria and a lack of leadership from our government. Even they said that racial prejudice was one of the reasons.
How did you feel about Roosevelt at the time?
Just like any other leader—we thought that he was prejudiced. He had prejudices. I think sometime before the war he said something too about the Japanese which showed that he was prejudiced. So we knew that—but it's just like General DeWitt—he was prejudiced too. We knew that but I couldn't do much about it.
Do you believe our society will ever reach a point where there is no more prejudice?
That's hard to say. I wouldn't say that you could get to the point were there is no more prejudice—but there would be less prejudice though. I think there is less prejudice today then there was before the war.
But this is something you're fighting for by being an activist?
We fought for this and the reason that we were fighting for civil rights was because we didn't want this to happen again—but we know that it is happening today. We have people in the Near East being put into prison without any charges, and in some cases the families don't know where they are. So it still happens, but not as blatantly as it was before. Before they just did it anyway—but today at least—they try to hide it.