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2-Pearl Harbor & Reactions
Where were you and what did you feel when you heard about the bombings of Pearl Harbor?
Oh! That really frightened me. I thought "What are we going to do?" "What's going to happen to us?" Then a lot of families came to our house, Japanese families. They got together and said "I wonder what's going to happen to us?" "What are we going to do?" The FBI was there that night, so they must have had some inkling where we lived and had kept tabs. They must have had a database, even during those days, because they were there that evening.
What did they do?
They just went through the house. But by that time, my mother had destroyed a lot of the emperor's pictures and Japanese items.
Can you tell us as much as you remember from that day and night?
Well, it was unbelievable. I just couldn't believe that this happened. Although I did hear rumors from a Russian fellow. He said, "No, don't invest any money because there is going to be a war between Japan and the United States." This was about six months before. Also my mother's cousin was a Japanese rep for a silk company in New York. He left about six months before the war broke out. He said, "There is going to be a war. They are calling him back to Japan." I guess it was brewing and we as youngsters just didn't think anything about it until it happened.
What can you remember about the FBI coming into you home?
Telephone system. They said, "Well, they're around. They're coming." We were warned by other families.
Did they take anything from your house?
No. I can see why they came to our house because my mother's family in Japan are naval people. The training ship used to come once or twice a year and someone, a relative, would be on the training vessel and we used to go visit the vessel. Do they still do that? They have training vessels come? The naval?
Did you actually see them when they came into the house?
How did that make you feel?
I don't know, I was just frightened. I thought, "What's going happen to us?" "What are they going to do? Take us away?"
How old were you?
I think at that time I was eighteen or close to nineteen.
Were you planning on going to college?
I was going to go to the University of Washington, but we put everything on hold because I think my parents thought that something was brewing. I skipped twice so I was out of high school early and so I was socially not fit. I don't know what year I graduated even so I don't have a class reunion even because socially you are not up to your classmates.
Can you tell us more about you mother destroying pictures?
I think we had an emperor's picture up on the wall. I think she took that down and destroyed it. I think that's about the only thing we had. Of course, later on we had to turn in all dangerous items like cameras and short-wave radios. I had a 22 rifle—I had to turn that in. I never reclaimed them because after all these years, there was a little slip—one inch by half an inch—and I don't know where it went. It ended up in Washington D.C. CPC, which is Civilian Property Custodian, but I never retrieved my items.
What did you have the gun for?
I loved to shoot cans. We were out in the country. Not for hunting.
Not for protective reasons?
No, I thought it was kind of cool to shoot a 22. I was sort of a tom-boy. My father—my adopted parents—always wanted a boy, and so he kind of trained me in sawing wood and hitting nails. I can do anything. I can climb a tree, saw branches. I can change tires.
When did you hear you were going to be evacuated?
I don't know. I think it was in late December or so, or maybe January. It was getting serious, because they had all the Iseis register as enemy aliens. I was one of the people that did that because I was an American citizen. I didn't think that I would be evacuated, but that's the way it went. I also protested the evacuation, but it didn't do any good. And the Japanese American Citizens league said to cooperate, so we all cooperated.
Can you talk about the protest?
I said "I'm going to refuse to go." Then Gordon Hirabayashi, he objected. In Gordon's case his parents were for it. Someone has to stand up for their rights. But for Korematsu's case, I know the family. My mother-in-law used to say, "He's not a good son; he gave his mother heartache for not going to camp." So you get two perspectives.
What did you mean by protest?
I just said, "I'm not going." That's it.
To the government officials. "I'm not going to sign up." But my parents couldn't get US citizenship. So my parents said, "You are the head of the family now, so it's your responsibility as a US citizen." You have to stay and you have to protect them. So I stayed on. I was going to take off for school, to Walla Walla, Washington. A group of us were going to leave and he came after me. I couldn't leave with him because my parents said, "You can't go. You're our only child, you're our caretaker."
Did you ever consider leaving even though your parents didn't want you to?
No. I give talks in high school and they say, "Why didn't you say, 'No I'm not going. Run over me, I don't care?'" In those days we just didn't do that.
I don't know. We were so afraid and fearful. After a while, it was Japan that attacked the United States. It was a sneak attack, they called it, and then the papers were playing it up—the "Yellow Peril" and all that bit. We were afraid for our lives; we didn't know what our neighbors were going to do to us. And people would say, "It's for your own protection that we should send you to camp." Which, I thought, that's true too because they would throw rocks in the windows and you don't know how people would react. It's a crisis and I'm sure when they struck the World Trade Center a lot of people felt that way about Muslims, or whoever was responsible. I think they figured we were one of those. I thought, "Well this is funny because the Chinese and Koreans and other Asians don't have to go. How can they tell the difference?" The difference was that they were able to wear "I am Chinese" button or "I am Korean" button. Of course, we were proud, so I wasn't going to wear one of those buttons, because that's deception.
Did any of your Japanese friends wear "I am Chinese buttons?"
No, no one that I know of. Besides, we were really, really, really frightened.
Did you have any strong reaction to the media?
Of course. Wasn't it the Hearst paper that ran all that? I went to Portland, Oregon and Portland, Oregon, at that time, was very redneck country. I picked up some food, a hamburger, and they put it in a bag and said,"Go outside and eat it." I said, "Why should I go outside and eat it? I want to eat it in here!" She said, "Don't you see our sign? We have the right to refuse service." I was one of them and I realized this is what's going on here, there's racism here. In Seattle, I was never refused service in a restaurant. I was kind of shocked when I went to Oregon and this happened to me. Yet, when I went down south, after the war, I realized what the blacks were going through, because they had fountains that said "Black only" and "White only". It was all segregated. Also against the Jews. It said "Gentiles only" for swimming in Detroit, Michigan. I said, "What does that mean?" Also, I went to get a driver's license, and it said "race, color". I said, "Wait a minute. What am I supposed to put down?" He said, "What? You're either black or white!". I said," Oh, I don't think so."
What did you end up putting down?
He said, "Put down white." I thought, "That's strange."
Does your drives license still say that you're white?
No, not anymore. But in those days, you either put black or white, evidently, in Detroit, Michigan. And yet all the blacks—I don't know whether you call them African-Americans, my grandson keeps correcting me—they were working in the factories, putting out those tanks. I didn't understand the whole concept. I was caught up in the race riot also, that big one in Detroit. People were running up and down the street cars with chains. I didn't know what was going on.
Around what time of your life was this?
It was after I was sent to Detroit.
In the 40's? After internment?
After I was relocated. They told me to stay off the streets because it's dangerous. Where I was working the guy said, "We're going to get some of those people!" and he was shaking that chain. I thought, "What in the world is he talking about?". It was that bad. It was scary. I thought back, maybe that's what would have happened if I stayed in Washington. Times have changed, hopefully.
What happened to all your belongings?
We had loyal workers. One guy, he started working for us when he was fourteen, I guess. He was a little boy. He came from the Philippines. We taught him Japanese and I always thought he was my brother. Anyway, he stayed with us for fifteen years or so. We left everything. We didn't want to sell anything, because my father was very proud. He wasn't going to sell the truck for five dollars. By that time we had a big nursery and he wasn't going to sell any of the vegetables for minimal fees. He said, " OK, we'll leave it to Saneko," was his name. We left it to him. We left everything, the house intact. Only what we could carry we took with us. What you reap comes around, because after the war, I understand that he helped all the Japanese relocate.
What belongings did you take?
We were allowed only two suitcases. Clothing you need, a cup and saucer—only tin, because we had to stand in line for food—essential silverware, and that's it. We had to take our own utensils.
What was the day like when you found out that you had to be relocated?
I'm very adaptive in a way, so I thought, "Oh well, this is a new adventure."
Did you see the sign or did you hear about it?
Oh no. We were just all told to register and get a family number. We did that and then they told us where to meet and gather and get on the train—what time, what day.
Was it scary going through that?
No, no. By that time I had adjusted. One adjusts to adversity, really. What can you do?
Can you describe getting to the train?
I think one of the neighbors, who happened to be Caucasian, took us to the train. The trains, in those days, were really rickety, because they had taken a lot of storage for this transportation. It took us about three days to get to Fresno. It was blackout all the way and we couldn't sleep; we had to sit up.
Why weren't you allowed to sleep?
We could sleep, but we had to sit up and we were all crowded and we didn't know what was up—"Are they going to gather us up and kill us? Or what?" We were just frightened. But it didn't turn out that way, so I'm thankful for that. But to be uprooted like that... As time goes by, one adjusts and remembers the good things.
Tell us more about the train ride to Fresno. What did you do for three days?
What did I do? We just sat. I don't know, what can you do? I don't think they even fed us. But from coming from Seattle and I saw all these palm trees and I thought, "Oh look we're in another world." In California right? Because you don't have palm trees at that time in Seattle.
Had you ever traveled by train before?
I used to go to Portland all the time. But the coming way down south... My father always said, "California is a strange place," like it was another world. We were only able to go in driving distance, with a car. I was amazed because a lot of those older Niseis went to MIT, to Harvard, Yale. They never could get a job. They were always being produce men, or gardeners. or something like that. One of them had a nervous breakdown. And then one of them, from MIT, my mother's friend, couldn't get a job here, so he went to Japan. And then, what do you know, after the war, they invited him back as a visiting professor! There's a turn around there. It was good that they had an emphasis on education, education, education, even though you knew you weren't going to get a job. One Jewish refugee told me, "What you have here, [points to her head] you have always. Material things, you lose it." So this is very important, what you have.