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3-Life in Camp
What bothered you the most while in the camp?
Boredom was one. Although there were a lot of things we could do. At first I did a lot of things. But boredom was one. The same routine, day after day, was another. It was part of boredom. Not knowing what was going to happen to us was another thing that kind of concerned us, Though as long as we were busy, playing or doing whatever.
One of the unpleasant things, I think, was the dust storm. It was in a lake bed, and sand—lots of sand—and wind would come, and we would have these horrendous dust storms. And there was nothing we could do about it. Our apartments would be just gritty with sand and there was no way to keep it out. It would just come. Seep through the windows.
How long would the storms last?
It would last maybe, half an hour or something. But, oh my god! They're putting up a monument because they are making the camp sites a national monument, and they're putting up a plaque, and I was asked to write something, so I wrote about the dust storms. How powerful it was and how we had to endure them and then finally we were able to survive. And so that's what's going on the plaque, I hope.
Enduring the dust storms?
Yes. And the dust storm is a kind of symbol, although it was very real, as a storm, of the kind of experience that we were put through.
The impression that you were receiving?
Yes, and we had to endure it. And so I used the dust storm as a symbol, metaphor. But it was real. And everyone who was in the camp will remember the dust storms, because there was no getting around it. And many people left the camp just because of that.
You could leave the camp?
If you signed away your signed promise to be a loyal American, then you could leave, after a while.
How much freedom did you have in the camps? Did you have the option to just stay in your room all day and do nothing?
Yes, you could do that. But you could go crazy doing that. You could move around—move wherever in the camp. It was a huge camp. And there were 15,000 people—maybe at one point there were 18,000—so there were buildings all over the place. And if you wanted to, you could visit someone at the other end of camp. Or, you join clubs or you could get involved in activities. Yes, there was freedom of all these activities.
Were there schools at the camp?
There were schools, yes. There were a few teachers who came to teach, but most of the teachers were non-professionals.
Could you give us a daily schedule of what a day would be like at the camp?
There was a mess-bell that rang around seven—maybe earlier, maybe later, around seven—and if you wanted to get up for breakfast, that's when you got up. And you went to the mess hall.
No guard would come in and say you have to go?
No, no. There were no guards, until segregation. Then there were some guards. Segregation is when we had our loyalty questionnaire and those who were deemed disloyal were segregated and kept back. And those who were loyal were sent out. So that the camp became a segregation camp, made up of those who answered 'No' to the loyalty questions.
Could we come back to that later?
Yes, we're getting ahead of our story. But as for routine, you go in and have breakfast, and then after that you go to your work—whatever job you had—starting around eight o'clock, most jobs started around eight. I worked in the mess hall so I had my breakfast and then waited until everyone had eaten and then we would start cleaning up. First I was a waiter and then I became a dishwasher so we had a crew of four or five people doing the dishes for about 100 or 200 people. I'm still a good dishwasher. Fast! I think my wife is kind of slow. But that's from the training that I had working in the mess hall. After eight o'clock you would go to work—whatever work you had.
What was your job? Was it carpentry?
Yes. As a carpenter we went around eight o'clock we would do one or two apartments and then we'd have lunch. I think we would come home for lunch—come back to our mess hall. And then maybe go back and work some more. Anyway, the pace was very slow.
Did the slow pace get to you?
I wasn't exactly a carpenter. I had never done it myself, so I thought this is the way you do it. But there was no need to be fast. Except that people were—they had to move all the furniture out, so that we could get in and fix up the room. So they were anxious for us to finish. So we would try to finish in a day or one in half a day and then another maybe in the rest of the day. Or maybe we did a few more. I don't know. I don't think we did. It was very slow paced.
Do you remember any particular incidents of being a carpenter at the camp?
A friend of mine, a classmate, came by, I don't know, just to say hello. I remember that because we had been classmates and sort of friends. Thinking back now, I think she had a thing about me, and that's why she stopped by to say hello, and I didn't pick up on that. I remember that as an incident.
Who was she and where did she come from?
She was from our hometown, and we went to the same high school. She was one of the honor students, and I was an honor student. I knew her, but we were not that close. But the fact that she came by where we were working, to say hello, was, as I look back now, something that she went out of her way to do. I don't know. I wasn't aware of those things.
How did she find you?
How did she find me? I don't know. There are ways, I suppose. You ask around, or maybe she saw me walking by. I don't know. That's the last time I saw her. I hear she never married. So, sometimes I think about her.
We understand that your wife was also at Tule Lake. Can you give us an example of any times that you might have crossed paths with her?
She doesn't remember, because she was a kid. She was about ten or so. I was already twenty and I was working as a block manager, which is a job that you kind of look after the block. As I said, we were divided into blocks, about 200 people. So, you know, being block manager I'd be sitting outside, smoking, and watching the girls go by. You know, people go by. But especially girls. She lived in the neighboring block and she had a friend in our block, so she would come to visit her. I remember watching her and just thinking, "Oh yeah, there she is, coming to visit her friends." I tell her that now, but she of course wasn't even aware that I was doing that. So years later we met.
One of your passions is acting. Did you act at Tule Lake?
Yes. When I learned that they were forming a little theatre, I went to inquire about that right away, because that was my first passion. I got in from the very beginning, and was in little skits and then gradually we worked into one-act plays and I was cast in the first production, which was three one-act plays. I was cast in one play and it was a rather, but it was a rather uninteresting part. In the play, there was a guy who later became an actor in Hollywood, Yuki Shimoda. But he died about fifteen years ago. I acted with him in that play. Then somebody left the camp—in fact they were already leaving, they [U.S. Government] were allowing people to leave, like if they wanted to go to a college outside of camp, they were allowed to leave—so somebody who was cast in another part in another play, left, so they [theater group] thought of me and this was a more interesting part. It was a comedy and I played some kind of minister, with a collar, white collar. I had a lot of fun in that part. There was another play by Eugene O’Neil and that was a very dramatic play. I wasn't in that one. But we had our three plays and we ran it maybe every night for a couple weeks, so that it took care of the whole camp. People came certain nights. We were performing in front of an audience with lights and make-up. It was very exciting. Then the camp newspaper would write about us. It was all very new to everyone; they hadn’t really seen a live show. Maybe at school programs. After we finished our first run of plays, we would start preparing for the next run. I was in a series of about four or five and I was playing good parts. It took the Registration to discontinue the theater.
Who discontinued the theater?
The Registration, when they asked us to declare our loyalty. Some of us felt that we didn't want to comply, and we were being regarded to as "No, No," which was disloyal, being disloyal. These were all plays that we were playing Caucasian parts. We didn't write our own plays, so that we were being white characters, and feeling the way we were, it was kind of hypocritical, portraying white characters. So I kind of lost interest in continuing. And then there was a kind of a split. there were people who were pro-America and others who weren't. Within the theater group there was a split. So we lost interest in it. The whole issue became a whole political thing in camp, so that ruined the theater business for us.
I was also in a writers club, and we would meet once a week or so and people would bring their stuff and read before this group. At the time, I had only been to high school and most of the people in the club were all college students, from Cal mostly, so I felt kind of intimidated. I was a country hick and really had no business there except that I was interested. So people would read their writings and the people sitting there would be impressed and as I found out later, a lot of them were not writers actually, they were there "to observe." That's when I wrote my first story, which I read to the group, and there was no response and I thought, "Well, gee, it might not have been so good." So I was kind of discouraged and I put the story aside. Then a few months later, they were doing a compilation of all the camp writings and the guy who was editing it came and asked me for my piece. By that time I had thrown it somewhere and I couldn't find it. That was my writing experience at camp. I missed my chance.
But as I look back, there were very few people who became writers in the group. They were maybe interested in writing, but they were not very good. Some of them became scholars, academicians, but not writers or artists. Other than that, I did a lot of reading. I caught up on my reading. And I took classes in different things. Public speaking was one of them, and I had a lot of fun doing that.
Did you feel that the plays and the writing pieces were political?
No one was writing plays, so as I said, we were doing Broadway plays or plays that had been done as one act plays. Political? No. The writings that I heard in the writers' club was not political. It was kind of like copying people who were prominent at the time, like Dos Passos [John Dos Passos], Hemingway and people like that. And the hard-boiled detective stories. We thought they were so great. I was very impressed.
What does that mean, a "hard-boiled detective story?"
Like The Maltese Falcon—I can't think of the writer's name [original novel by Dashiell Hammett, adapted to screen by John Huston]. That's the usual description of a detective story, hard-boiled. If I could think of the writer, The Maltese Falcon was his famous work. There was one guy who was trying to imitate that. He was doing a pretty good job. The characters are sort of—the only way to describe it is "hard-boiled"—they were tough and cool, in current terms. Yes, they were detectives.