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3-Assembly Center & Tule Lake
How long did you and your family spend in the internment camp?
Actually almost four years. Three years and I don't know how many months, almost four years, very close to four.
What was your original impression when you first got to Tule Lake?
We were sent to an assembly center, which was kind of a temporary camp, and things were rather primitive. It had been a pasture and they leveled it off and they very hastily built these barracks. There were no facilities, there were no bathroom facilities; there was an outhouse. We were glad to move to a more permanent camp. We heard rumors all the time that we were going to be moved. Finally it came, after about three months. We took a train, an all-night train, an old milk train. It took us the whole night to get there from Marysville where we were to Tule Lake, overnight in the dark, the shades were drawn, the seats were very hard wood. We got there and we were really happy to be in better facilities. There were flush toilets, for one, and no partitions, but that came later.
The room arrangement was pretty similar; there was nothing there, just cots. At least we had mattresses. We didn't have to fill bags as some people had to. We had our army cots and blankets for the four of us in this one room that we had. Slowly we kind of furnished the place, we made things, little tables, and used one of the cots, an extra cot. I guess we got, and made a little couch thing. And that's how it was. We happened to be located right in front of the latrines, as we called them, so that we could rush out and go. But for others they had to walk quite a distance in some cases.
There was a large mess hall. We were placed in a block of, I don't know how many barracks, about twenty maybe. This was called a block. There were about 200 people, sometimes a little more, 250. There was a mess hall for each block and we would go and get our meals there. The mess hall was double the size of a barrack, two barracks kind of placed together. The meals were prepared for us. They were all people who had gotten jobs as cooks and waiters and dishwashers and so forth. So that's how it was. It was a routine, same thing every day. Same time the mess bell would ring and we would get up and go and have our breakfast and lunch and dinner.
Who were the cooks?
The same as us, the evacuees, as we were called, inmates, but they just happened to get jobs in the mess hall, and that was one of the easiest places to find work. So I worked as a waiter and also as a dishwasher later. I know my brother worked as one of the cooks. At the beginning the cooks were, of course, they were not cooks at all, they had never cooked before, and these were mostly men and so the food was not very good at the beginning. They got better as they experienced more. They were able to adapt the menu so that it fitted our taste. They became very resourceful to make food a little more palatable. But the kids, I think, existed on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which recently I found to be quite good.
Earlier you mentioned that you wanted to get an acting troupe together in camp. Did that ever come to be? In the camp?
Oh yes, in the camp, yes. My interest was in acting and in theatre as well as writing so I explored all that and in about a month or so there was a notice. We had a recreation department and these were people hired there to provide organizations and games and things like that. So they decided they would form a theatre group and see if they could find enough people interested and there were quite a few of us interested so that's where I spent most of my time. I was working in the mess hall so I would only have to work a few hours before meals. Then the rest of the time I would be at the theatre and we would be working on plays. Since there was no entertainment, we were put into plays immediately so that we were getting a chance to act in front of an audience so I became part of that and I learned to act by actually acting. So that's what I did for the first few months and it was a great time.
Did you write and/or direct any of the plays?
No, no one was writing at the time. I did a story. I belonged to a writers' group which met once a week, and for that we were all supposed to write a story. There were all these people sitting there but they were not writers. They were observers, as I learned later. But I was kind of intimidated because I had not been to college. I had just gone to high school and these were all college folks who thought they were interested in writing. Actually, it turned out only a few did any kind of writing. They were not very good, as I learned later.
I wrote a story based on something that happened to me just before going into camp. I read it to the group and there was no reaction and I thought, "What happened?" It was of course about the evacuation. The story is called "The Zenith Radio" and it was about a young kid wanting a radio that really worked well because we lived on a ranch where the train passed by and whenever this freight train went by, of course we couldn't hear. The radio we had which was given to us, I guess, by the boss, was so weak that we could hardly get any kind of programs. So he always wanted a radio and so he took a bus and bought a radio and it was a nice Zenith radio, pre-war, and had this circular speaker, very distinctive radio. So I took, the character took that to camp. People say that we were not allowed radios but I don't think that's true in every case because I remember that I took my radio and the character, of course, took his radio.
The story, the way I wrote it, I couldn't reproduce it afterwards but the radio didn't continue to work or something. Anyway, after I read the story and there was no reaction I thought "Oh gee, not a good story", so I set it aside, and eventually lost it. Months later the head of the group came around to me asking for the story and by that time it was too late. He produced a magazine called The Tulian Interlude and it was a collection of writings that were done in camp. So my story would have been in there and it became a kind of primary document and it's placed in the Bancroft Library in Berkeley. That was my story as a writer in camp.
Loyalty Oath & Resistance
Did all of your family members go to Tule Lake?
So all of them were resisters?
Yes, we did it as a family. Although my brother, younger brother, and sister were able to come out. We came out together but actually because they were underage.
Tell us the story of the loyalty oath and your decision as a family to be resisting.
We decided we would not comply with this registration and one night, in order to force everyone to comply and register, they came around to the next block and there were about thirty young men who had refused to register. They were, of course, scheduled to register on that day and they had refused. So this army truck came and soldiers with bayonets, guns and bayonets, and forced these young kids on to the trucks and drove them off and we were all gathered around.
All of you in the neighborhood?
Yes, it was the next block.
Did you watch this?
Yes, I watched it. Of course it was a method on the part of the administration to get everyone to comply by fear, and so forth. We were all ready. We had our suitcases packed and ready so that we felt that we would be taken in next. But the resistance became stronger after that incident. But as it turned out, they were not held, they were taken to the county jail and then released after a few days, because as I said, the army could not, army or the administration could not force us to do this and yet they were doing it. Our decision to resist and not comply was firmly set by that time. But people gave up and did register and slowly there were fewer and fewer of us but some of them were drafted or they had come for volunteers for the army and some volunteered. Others who had complied and answered "Yes" were slowly released to go outside. Being confined, one would do anything drastic just to be free so it took a lot of resolve to resist that too.
So this was you, your mother and family and the neighborhood that had decided to resist initially?
Yes, initially everyone felt outraged about this whole thing. There were those who were pro-America, who work within the community to convince everyone that it was the best thing to do because we didn't know what the future held and if we were going to put ourself at a disadvantage and so forth. Of course we were making a bad record that would reflect on our future. So slowly people agreed to register. More and more people left, and to leave the camp was something, to be out of that confining environment. So there were few of us left but those who were left, we were not released. Then there were others in camp who also resisted and were moved into our camp because Tule Lake became what was called a segregation camp, and it was for those of us who refused to register, or those who said "No" to the loyalty questions. The one camp that was open until the very end was Tule Lake and we were held there.