Densho Digital Archive - Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga Interview (denshovh-haiko-03-0013)
Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga Interview II
Narrator: Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Torrance, California
Date: July 7, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-haiko-03-0013

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TI: Okay. So you joined your husband's family, and you go to Manzanar. So why don't you describe what Manzanar was like for you?

AH: Oh, well, when we got there, as you know, it was such a desolate area so far from civilization, I thought, that I said, "Oh, this is where they're gonna shoot us. Nobody would know the difference." That was my immediate reaction when I got there. But then, there were so many of us, that we just took comfort in the fact that there were a lot of (us) in the same situation. And just seeing the living arrangement was, it was a real bummer. Thinking that, wow, this room has one light bulb. [Laughs] And there were seven of us in one small room. I think it was sixteen by twenty feet: me, my husband, his brother and his wife, newly married, too, Jake's older sister, her husband, and a little baby. So there were six and a half of us in this one tiny room. Of course, they gave us our little separate spaces later on, but it was several months before that took place, maybe, not quite a year. But it was not very comfortable for newlyweds, especially, or any family, to live that close, not have the privacy. Which is the thing... I think liberty and privacy is what I miss the most. Not being able to just walk out to the corner drugstore, get an ice cream soda, or the privacy, not being able to change your clothes when you wanted to. Of course, we all put up little partitions later, as you know. (...) We had three different families in one room. The guys put up slats and then put a blanket, nailed a blanket to separate our living quarters. And since it didn't take me long to get pregnant, it was difficult because the bathroom was in another building, no running water. So it was hard; it was hard. And at that time, I was aware that my mother was not well then, so how was she going to manage and how where they going to manage her food? No cooking facility, how are they going to manage toilet? Yeah, it was a hard life, especially for the ill and the infirm and the old.

TI: Yeah, as you're talking, I'm just trying to imagine how, all the things that were happening. So here you were, you had just left your family, you're a newlywed, you're in these cramped quarters with no privacy, you know you're mother's not doing well but she's at a different camp in Jerome, and you become pregnant with all the things like morning sickness and all that. It really was a difficult time for you to have to cope. I mean, in some ways, I imagine you grew up a lot during that time.

AH: Yeah, I sure did. Here I was still a child myself, and never knew how to change diapers or how to take care of a child. And having been so self-centered all my life, all of a sudden I had to share what little knowledge I have, and this hardship with the whole family. It was a hard time. It was a difficult time under trying circumstances. Under the best of circumstances, it would have been hard.

TI: And so you mentioned being pregnant and delivering. What were the medical facilities like for a woman going through pregnancy and giving birth to a child?

AH: Because we lacked the kind of nutrition that we know about today that would be best for a pregnant woman, I guess, in retrospect, I think we lacked the kinds of foods, particularly, that would have been helpful to produce a healthy child. Not just that, but the fact that if there's no running water, little things like rinsing out diapers, soiled diapers, was a big problem. Washing three dozen diapers a day in a tub with a washboard, like there's no washing machine. For the pregnant woman like me, the food was not the best, I think. So I think most of the children who were born in camps like my daughter, had, at least the first growing up period, they were not really healthy. They didn't have the immune system developed that worked in if we had had better food. The hospital was run by a doctor, who I heard later on, not at that time, but later, from people who worked in the hospital, that the white doctor was an alcoholic. And most of the work was done by Nisei nurses or some Nisei doctors, who, as you know, were paid the highest wage. Was it nineteen dollars a month? Oh, boy. Teachers, doctors, nineteen dollars a month, to do the kind of hard, hard work that was required. And I don't know, not having associated myself with hospital facilities, if they were, had the kind of equipment or supplies that a normal outside hospital would have had. I know in the case of my father, in Jerome, when I went to, transferred to Jerome, there (weren't) enough flashlights. For example, the night before he died, Christmas Eve of 1943, he had an oxygen tank to keep him alive, and we were not permitted to light candles or something because of the danger of explosion, and the electricity was out. There was a... what is the word for it when the electricity was...

TI: A blackout?

AH: Blackout for some reason that night. And so it was very difficult. I was with him that night before he died, Christmas Eve, and there were not enough flashlights to pass around, so he would (ask for), "Water..." and I was looking for the water to try to feed him, to get him into... it was a real tough night. So in terms of that hospital, they didn't have enough equipment, so I suppose most of the hospitals were the same. As for the care, I think when I gave birth to my daughter, it was, we didn't have separate rooms. It was like a regular barrack, we all slept next to each other. And I guess I must have just thought, well, I'm lucky to have a hospital in which the baby was born. Nowadays, I think that women who give birth are asked to leave the hospital two or three days after birth. At that time, it was standard procedure that the new mother stayed in the hospital for a week, and that was what it was. And at that time, I was not aware of a lot of the things that, of course, I became more cognizant of in my later years. So we made do, youth.

TI: And do you have a sense, was there like a, very many other mothers giving birth about the same time? Were there quite a few births happening?

AH: Yeah. As I recall, there were at least half a dozen women. I guess I was about the youngest one there, I was eighteen or something like that, eighteen, nineteen. I think it's just that old Japanese thing. You shikata ga nai, you do the best you can under the circumstances. I think that pulled a lot of us through. That is the kind of thing that is passed on, I think, from our parents to us. Because they tolerated so much hardship, and we sort of grew under the understanding that this is the way it is, and you don't bitch about it, you make do, make do the best you can.

TI: But how was it for you? Because you're seventeen, eighteen years old, you're pregnant and delivering a baby. Most of your friends, same age, didn't have that life. I mean, they were maybe finishing high school or going to the camp dances, things like that. How did you deal with that? Were you frustrated about it or what did you think about that time period?

AH: I think I was more concerned about what I did to my family at the time. I was, yeah, I was sort of miserable thinking about, I didn't do right by my family, and more concerned about the baby. Somehow I didn't miss all the camp dances and stuff, even though I knew that my girlfriends were all going to dances and having a good time. I don't recall really missing that. I was trying to integrate and assimilate into the new family, all the members of whom were just great to me. I really appreciate the fact that they were very good to me.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.