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3-Pinedale Assembly Center & Tule Lake
What was your first impression of the camp?
It was all army barracks. I don't know whether you know army barracks at all? They're tar-papered houses. Row, after row, after row, after row. It's amazing how this government can get things together so fast when they want to. It was dusty in the dust bowl and we had to stuff newspaper in the windows. Otherwise, it would get all over your clothes and everything. One family was always stuck in one room, maybe half of this size. The partitions were open, so if people started fighting, or something, you could hear it all through the barrack. There were four or five families in one barrack. My father, mother, and I were in the same room. They gave us cots, that was it, and Army blankets. We went to mess hall to eat. We had to stand in line in that heat and I'd pass out. Some camps had wonderful food, as I understand from other evacuees, but in our camp they gave us a lot of mutton. Do you know what mutton is? You do? No? It was mutton, mutton, mutton. For a long time I couldn't eat lamb, because of the distinct smell. But later on it got better.
Can you talk about the assembly center?
It was dusty, also. The first thing they did was, somebody from Stanford gave us all IQ tests. I don't know the outcome of that.
Why did they give you the IQ test?
I think they were testing us, because they had this group. One race just stuck together.
Where exactly was this test?
In Fresno Assembly Center. In Fresno it gets very hot during the summer. It was called Pinedale, that's it, I remember. It comes back to me now. Pinedale Assembly Center in Fresno. That way they graded you, what category to put you in. Because we had three salaries: nineteen dollars a month, sixteen dollars a month, and I think the lowest, fourteen or twelve dollars a month—subsistence fee.
What was that based off of?
I guess the IQ test, because they gave me nineteen dollars right away.
Was this assembly center in a racetrack?
No, it was in the desert in Pinedale. There was nothing around. And we had guard towers and fences around. At that time I felt, "ooh at least we are protected."
What were you protected from?
We were being protected from outside. Also, they didn't want us to escape. One person tried to escape and he got shot.
Did you see that?
No. The rumors went around. They pulled everyone out of sanitariums, mental institutions. We had a whole family of people with MS and wheelchairs. They were all there, the whole family.
How long were you there?
I think about a year, year and a half. I can't remember that far back. I'm sorry.
Did Pinedale have barracks like the camps?
Pinedale, yes. It was barracks. They were about the same—mess halls, common washrooms, no partitions, showers. We had to wash our clothes by hand on a washboard and we would pass a washboard around.
What would you do on a typical day there?
What did you do?
That's what I can't remember, what I did. Oh, I was placing couples into spaces on an available basis. One couple came in and I put them in with their family. They were upset because they were honeymooners, but what can you do? And I was young yet.
Then what happened?
I don't know what happened. I just said, "You have to do what I tell you to do." You know, bossy me. I don't think anybody had much choice in those days because it was limited housing.
Did you make any friends within the assembly center at Pinedale?
No, I didn't. I'm sorry.
What were some of the major differences between your home and the assembly center?
In the first place they were all Japanese, right? And my environment was very few Japanese.
What was that like?
It was a change because their culture is different, their attitudes are different, and they don't speak up. I always used to get into trouble. They'd say, "Do you like my clothes?" and I'd say, "No!" I mean, I couldn't be wishy-washy about it! Other Japanese are not used to that. They're very polite and discreet and I just wasn't that way. So I didn't actually fit in. I'm sorry. I still don't, but that's OK.
What was hard to adjust to in the assembly center?
The heat first, and the food, and generally, the people. They never answered anything directly. They avoided you. I don't know; the Japanese people are very cliquish and, I guess, they just didn't know what to do with this person: me.
Did you have any people that you talked to at the assembly center, or were you completely isolated?
No, I wasn't isolated. I had—no I won't say it—I had a lot of boyfriends. That might help. They weren't quite my style. They were all shorter than I.
How tall were you then?
I was five feet three. There aren't too many of us that tall at that time because they used to call me, udo no tai boku. Do you know what that means? It's the useless part of a food. You know you get so big you can't eat that part. And all your brains are in your feet, kind of deal, because I have big feet. Stuff like that.
They'd tease you?
Well my mother used to tell me. Because Japanese people are very competitive. If you bring home an A, they want to know why you didn't bring home an A+? Or ++. In those days they gave A++ too, you know. Do they still do that? You don't have grades here, do you?
No....At my Japanese school they give us A++.
They do? They do huh. Your parents have emphasis on that don't they? "A+..." Well see it's a different generation. Three, four generations removed its so different now. Even ten years makes a big difference, because I notice that in my children. Five years difference makes a difference. Their way of thinking, their values, different.
What kind of activities did you do in the assembly center?
I read a lot. What did I do? I don't know what I did, I really don't. I can't remember. Stand in line to eat. To this day I look forward to meal to meal, because you have to stand in line. You want to be the first in line. You run for it. You run to the latrine. You run to take a shower. You run to get a washbasin to wash your clothes.
How did you adjust to the privacy issues?
It was kind of interesting. There was social interaction, you might say. In a way it was positive, since I was raised alone, to have all these colleagues with me or peer group. It was kind of interesting, although I didn't get along with them. But it was fun.
Did you eat with your family?
Yes. Yes, yes. Because we had certain sittings. They would ring that bell and you would go.
Moving to Tule Lake
Can you tell us about the day you moved to Tule Lake?
I was the last one to leave, because they left certain corps behind. They separated us. Some went to Tanforan, no, not Tanforan, Gila River, Heart [Mountain], Wyoming. My group—I was—sent to Tule Lake for some reason. Which was a "No, No" camp. It is a notorious camp, as you all know, because they had that "No No" group. You all are aware of it? That's about it.
At what point were you asked to sign a loyalty oath?
I think that was for men only. Wasn't it? Yeah I'm sure it was for men only because I wasn't asked to sign it. Because I think of the draft. I mean they wanted the young men to sign up for the army.
How did you get to Tule Lake?
How long did it take?
It wasn't too long. By that time I was used to long rides on the train. You make the best of it. And I knew they weren't going to harm us. By that time I had adjusted too.
Did your whole family go together?
Yes, we went to Tule Lake. And from Tule Lake they wanted us to disperse, but we couldn't go back to the West Coast yet. And they didn't want all of us. Dispersal was the idea, you know. So, I went out first. I was the first one on my block. We were in blocks to leave.
Going back to why you went Tule Lake, were you still with your father at this point?
Yeah.. Father, mother. Yes.
Do you remember what he did with the loyalty oath?
I don't think he had to fill a loyalty oath. I don't quite remember. I'm sorry. I think it was just eligible young men.
Do you have any other idea why you were sent to Tule Lake?
I don't know whether it was a regional thing, from where you originated or whether it was the last group that left Pinedale assembly center. I really don't know.
Do you think there is a connection between the fact that you were a protester and eventually going to Tule Lake?
No. I don't think so.
How was the camp different than the assembly center?
I kind of adjusted to that type of life. What did I do? There was a professor from Stanford, that was trying to teach English to Japanese and so I taught English in ESL program because, I myself, had difficulty with learning how to speak English so I understood their situation better. She had two methods: Teach them all in English, or Japanese and English both and she had me on the track where you use English only. Unfortunately for me or fortunately for me I attracted all the well-educated Japanese who had learned—I mean, yeah, that knew— English much better than I did. They knew the grammatical structure and everything. They put me on my toes, you might say. I thought "well I can't handle this," because they would bring volumes and volumes of homework they wanted me to review. And I was a young thing then and I thought "Oh I don't want to do this," so I changed over to the Tulean Dispatch which was the camp paper, and I became the social reporter.
Did you write in English or Japanese?
Did you meet more people by doing that?
Did you make any friends in Tule Lake?
No. I don't even remember the people's names, so evidently I didn't make friends. They remember me because we had a Tulean Dispatch reunion in Sacramento and they had it all down what I did, what block I lived in, my house number and everything. Everything was all recorded and I was surprised because I don't even remember my house number or, what do you call it, barrack number.
Was the food any better at the camp?
Yes, yes. There was a chef from a famous restaurant. He used to throw temper tantrums all the way, as chefs will do, and then, fortunately, we had Professor Ichihashi from Stanford University there and he was in our block. We had a lot of well-educated people, you might say, and the top echelon of people in my block. We had nice food. So people would come and visit our—what do you call that where you eat—mess Hall, mess hall.
There were different mess halls for the different blocks?
Yes, but I never went to the other mess halls. I don't know what they had. But ours is wonderful because he used to bake pies and cakes, and all kinds of fancy stuff. But when he was in a bad mood it was awful.
Being around all the people who answered "No, No," was there any difference?
No because, you know what happened to them, they segregated them and they had their own little area in the middle of the camp and they had another fence around them, as far as I remember. We didn't dare go near them because they were so nationalistic, or something. But a lot of my friends were in there saying "No, No."
What did you think about that?
Well, in a way, I was kind of wavering because they're standing up for their rights. They had the courage to do that because that's the way they really felt, that this is not fair. You uproot us and take us and put us in here and then all of a sudden you say, "Go in the army and sign this loyalty oath." It just doesn't jibe, really. You begin to question what the government is up to. And was it economic to remove us? Which I think it had to do a lot with the economy at the time because the Japanese-Americans were buying up a lot of land here in California and Washington and Oregon. And there were other groups that wanted us out because they are such, not me, they are such hard workers, the Japanese people. They work from sunrise to sunset.
Was there anyone who wasn't Japanese in the camps?
Yes. There were a couple that I know of. There were a couple of married couples. One had a Mexican wife—Doctor Okanogi and his Mexican wife came with him. There was another lady that came with her husband and I think none of the males were—I mean, none of the females were—at least there weren't any male Caucasians. They were usually Caucasian women or Mexican or something.
Were they ostracized?
No. No. No. I admire them for their courage to come and that love that existed that they would come to camp. Even though Doctor Okanogi was a practicing physician in Fresno and had a nice practice, he came to camp and worked at nineteen dollars a month. But the dentists at that time, we didn't have many Nisei dentists who had the license to practice. So if you had a toothache they'd pull it out. What other recourse did we have? They're too many, how many, six thousand people in one camp? So I lost a lot of teeth in camp which I had implants done. Fortunately I was able to manage the implants. All the molars started going. The stress, and diet, and everything. Besides I think it is a genetic thing too.