<Begin Segment 1>
MA: So today is Wednesday, June 18, 2008, and I'm here with Helen Harano Christ. I'm Megan Asaka, the interviewer, and our cameraperson today is Dana Hoshide, and we're at the Densho office in Seattle. So Helen, thanks so much for coming to do the interview.
HC: Good to be here, thank you, and good to meet you at last.
MA: Yeah, you, too.
HC: After our conversations on the telephone.
MA: So I wanted to ask just some basic questions first. When were you born?
HC: I was born in Berkeley, California, on August 26, 1933, so that makes me seventy-four years old.
MA: And what was the name given to you when you were born?
HC: My name that was given to me by my parents was Helen, and my grandmother gave me the name Tayeko. Not Taiko, Tayeko. Tayeko and Harano. So I grew up at home being called Ty-Ty, or Ty, and so it was very strange when I started school and I was "Helen."
HC: Although my parents are Nisei, but to, to help the grandparents, the Isseis, we were almost always called by our Japanese names at home, shortened Japanese names.
<End Segment 1> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 2>
MA: So let's talk a little bit about your parents, because as you said, they were Nisei so they were born in the U.S.
HC: Uh-huh. My father was born in Berkeley, California, my mother was born in Oakland, California, my grandparents came over in 1898, and in 1908, on my father's side, and I don't remember when my grandparents on the other side came over, but my grandfather came over -- on my mother's side -- as a pacifist in regard to the Russo-Japanese war, so that would be the end of the, the Japanese, or the end of the 1900s, 1800s.
MA: Oh, interesting. You, can you talk a little bit about...
HC: Being a pacifist?
MA: ...his pacifism and how that brought him to the U.S.?
HC: Well, he, I said to, in the hearing of my mother, that he was a, he was a draft-dodger, but Mom said, "No, he was a pacifist. He was not wanting to have any kind of thing to do with war and with killing people. He was a gentle, kind, loving man, and he didn't want to have to do anything to hurt other people." And so he came to this country early, earlier than my grandmother did. She came as a "picture bride," but she told me that she went to his village and lived with his family for several months before she came to this country, and so she knew him quite well because his sisters loved to tell stories on him. And she, she fell in love with him on the basis of what she learned about him as she lived in his family at home. And so she, she was quite confident when she came as a "picture bride" to this country that she was going to marry a very fine gentleman who was loving and kind and wanted peace.
MA: Wow, that's a great story.
HC: Good story, isn't it?
<End Segment 2> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 3>
MA: So were your grandparents, then, did they settle in California when they first came over?
HC: My grandfather on my father's side started in Hawaii. He worked in the Hawaii sugar cane fields. And then, but he and his brother both came at the same time to Hawaii, but the family paid their way, so they were not indentured servants to the, the sugar company, and so they could leave whenever they wanted to. And so I don't know how long they worked in the sugar cane fields, but first my grandfather's brother came to the United States and settled in what is now the Walnut Grove area of California, and then my grandfather came in 1898, according to the records here in Seattle. He came to Seattle, and then my aunties told me that he rode a train south to California and got a job in California. And his first job, my aunties said, was as a houseboy, (there) he, he learned to cook and he learned to make fires for his family when they went on picnics and things like that, and he worked very hard. And when, when he had some time off, he went to see his (brother) in Walnut Grove and brought back fresh vegetables and fruit. Sometimes his brother sent him fresh vegetables and fruit, which he enjoyed, too. But, so my grandfather was a cook, he knew how to filet the fish, he knew to take care of the vegetables, and he knew how to, to cook all kinds of foods. And my aunties tell me that the family that he worked for may well have been Irish, because he knew how to make Irish stew, he knew how to make Irish potatoes in various ways, he knew how to use sauerkraut, and he knew how to make, make lots of foods that are considered Irish.
MA: That's interesting. So he incorporated some of that into his own cooking later on?
HC: Well, actually, after he married my grandmother, and she came over as a pure "picture bride."
MA: And this is your father's parents?
HC: My father's parents, uh-huh. My father's mother was a, had a stepmother, and she was not very nice to Grandma, my aunties tell me. And so she was very happy to take the opportunity to get away from her stepmother, and she came to the United States and was determined that she was gonna make a much better life than you could ever have in Japan. Because as a stepdaughter and as -- I think she was a farmer's daughter as well, she would not have had very many opportunities and I'm sure she knew that. And so she came over and Grandpa taught her to cook, so she knew how to cook all these Irish things that Grandpa knew how to cook. And they started their family in Berkeley, California, and Grandpa was, went from being a houseboy to being a, after he married, he became an entrepreneur, he bought into a pool, pool hall. He said, "everybody likes to have fun and recreation," so, but not, but in those days, the pool hall also served liquor, and so he drank up much of the profits. And once the family started, then my grandmother said, "This is not a good thing for the children to go to the, to the pool hall and drag their father half-drunk out of the pool hall to come home and take care of his family." So Grandpa gave up the pool hall and went into barbering. And they had a house on Dwight Way that was actually not a house-house, it was more like a storefront. And Grandma had a laundry next door, and Grandpa's barber shop was next door to that, or... yeah. So that they, and then the storefront was where the family lived. And, and Grandma hung her laundry out in the back, and did her washing, heating of the water in the back, and had quite a laundry business.
MA: Was this in, sort of, the Japanese area of Berkeley? Was there a Japantown?
HC: I don't know that there was necessarily a whole Japanese area of Berkeley, it seems to me they were quite dispersed. But then, see, I was a kid, I didn't know very much. Because we moved from Berkeley when I was eight-and-a-half years old, but there were, I wouldn't say that there were a lot of Japanese neighbors. I guess I can't actually say who the neighbors were, 'cause when we went to Grandma's house, we had to stay in the house, Dwight Way was very busy, and we couldn't play, they didn't want us playing outdoors. They didn't want us playing too much in the backyard, either, 'cause that's where Grandma's laundry was. [Laughs] And they didn't want us messing up her laundry.
MA: So you stayed in the house?
HC: So we stayed in the house and played. [Laughs]
<End Segment 3> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 4>
MA: So how did your parents meet, then?
HC: My parents met in high school. They were both at Berkeley High School, my grandfather Katayama, my mother's father, had contracted tuberculosis. And when he died from that, when he was sick with that, then his friend said, "Come move over to Berkeley." And so he moved the family to Berkeley and they actually lived across the street from where my, my father's family lived, I'm told. And it's an interesting thing, the Katayama family had lived in a place that is not far from... is in Oakland, and not far from the bay, and it's now where their house was, my uncle pointed out, is now part of the parking lot of the Oakland Raiders. So, so they could, so my uncle kind of laughs and says, "Well, that's where we used to live," when we drive, when we drove by there.
MA: And what type of work was your father doing, I guess when you were, around the time when you were born, what was he doing?
HC: Around the time I was born, I don't know. But at the time that we were evacuated, he was an independent gardener. That meant that he had his own pickup truck, that was his business, and we, I especially liked it when Dad took Sunday afternoons off -- or Sunday afternoons and had to work, because he would take us to the Oakland airport. He let us sit in the back of his truck, not allowed nowadays, but that was alright in those days. And we'd sit on the, the handle of the rakes and the hoes and the, cuddle around the bundles of trees that he was using in his landscaping, and he would stop at the airport and we'd watch airplanes come out of the airport to get ready to fly, and sometimes we saw 'em come in and sometimes we saw 'em going off, flying off. Then the place that I especially liked him to work on Sundays was at the place where we had -- we had the opportunity to play in the sand along a canal. And the canal was right by the place where the bridge opened up so that the cars could go by -- no, so that the boats could go through, and the cars had to stop and the train had to stop. So it was always fun to go on Sunday to that job.
MA: Was your dad in general pretty busy with work during the week?
HC: I don't know, I assume so. I was at school, so I, and I don't know in the summer, I assume so. We, my mother -- when I say that we were poor just like everybody else, my mom said, "We weren't either." [Laughs] Because evidently, he had enough income that he, well, we had a, he eventually, we moved from an ice box to a refrigerator, and we moved from a wood burning stove to a gas stove. And we had, we got a telephone, I remember when the telephone was installed and I remember that telephone number, even. [Laughs] And we, you know, so things were improving. And I was assuming everybody else was like that, too, which I don't know if it was true or not. But it just seemed like it was the normal, natural thing, and that we were moving out of being poor. But I can understand why we didn't have a whole lot of stuff, because my parents had six children right in a row, just about, within, what, thirteen years. And I'm number three, so I'm in the middle. So my father, my father kept busy enough that my mother didn't feel like they were impoverished.
MA: Right, he was, it sounds like he was doing pretty well.
HC: Yeah, must have been.
<End Segment 4> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 5>
MA: So let's talk about your siblings. There's six children in your family.
HC: Who went into internment. One was, another one was born in camp, in Topaz, and two were born in North Platte, Nebraska, after the war, so there's nine of us all together.
MA: Okay. And you said you were third oldest.
HC: Uh-huh, I'm the third oldest.
HC: And my oldest sister now is, is a nurse, she lives in the Boston area -- Baltimore area. My older brother -- and she's retired. My older brother is also now retired, he was an arborist for the city of, city of Colorado Springs. And then I was a teacher, and my sister Kay went to Japan on a, on a scholarship to learn art, an art scholarship, and she married a Japanese-Japanese, and she's retired now from being a secretary for the military in Japan. Let's see. My brother after her is Roger, he was a military chaplain, but he died at age, about fifty-eight, fifty-nine. My next brother is Ronald, and he was a computer fixer, in the computer business way back at the beginning of computers, and he's still a computer whiz. And then my sister Gail, who was born in camp, is retired, and she was a writer for Hallmark, Hallmark cards, and then my brother Randy, who was after her, is in Idaho, and he is in the, does computers for the State of Idaho's... I want to say mental health system, but I don't think that's right. Anyway, he works for the State of Idaho with computers. And then my youngest brother is an engineer for a private company in Houston, he does pipes, and knows all about heat and stress and all that stuff, which when he talks about it, I don't understand.
MA: Wow, quite a family you have.
HC: And all of us have been to college except Randy and Ronald, and they both have technical college experience. 'Cause my mother always said, "Well, if you want to improve yourself, you've got to go to school."
MA: That's great.
<End Segment 5> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 6>
MA: So, I wanted to talk a little bit about December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor. You were around eight years old at that time?
MA: What are your memories of that day, or what can you tell me about when you heard about Pearl Harbor and what that was like?
HC: Okay. My memories of Pearl Harbor -- and my sister tells me that I'm wrong, but she's, she's my oldest sister, and she's always been the boss, so of course, she's always right. And so, but my memory is that we first heard about the bombs falling on Pearl Harbor as we were driving, my Uncle Hiro was driving us in his coupe from Berkeley to Oakland to the Sycamore Street Congregational Church where we attended for worship and Sunday School. He took us every Sunday to Sunday school, and my recollection is that the news came over the radio that, that the bombs, or that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. And we usually sang or Uncle Hiro told us jokes or pointed out things along the way, things that had been happening in Berkeley that we heard about on the news maybe, or maybe not. He was a college student at the time, at the University of California in Berkeley. And so he had fun kind of keeping us informed. And we, but when he was quiet and listening to the radio, that was something quite unusual. And so when we asked where Pearl Harbor was, then he had to explain that it was in Hawaii, and "Where is Hawaii?" and, "Of what importance is that to us in America?" And then when, when he said that they were Japanese people bombing Pearl Harbor, I thought, "Japanese people are bombing us?" And it was kind of nervous, made me nervous, and made me think, "Now, what's going to happen?" My sister says that she, she says that, that we heard about, first heard about Pearl Harbor in Sunday school, after we got to church. That would be about ten o'clock, and that we, and that somebody came rushing into the Sunday School classroom and said Pearl Harbor had been bombed. And I remember that happening as well. She was in a different class from me, but then it happened in our class as well, as the younger children. And we were quite stunned, of course, but not to the point where we were incapacitated. And then when we got home from church, my mother was crying. She doesn't usually show her emotions, but she was crying. And so we had lunch later than usual because the adults had to talk, and we were shooed outside to play while they discussed things, I guess.
MA: What about your father? What was his, did you notice his reaction?
HC: Well, I didn't notice my father's reactions right away, but I did understand that the Japanese people were restricted not long after that to stay within a certain area. And in California, that meant that they couldn't go across the bridges, and they couldn't go out -- I remember it being five miles away, but I don't know if that's true. And so my father, since he worked as an independent gardener, had to get to his jobs, and I'm sure that restricted his getting to his jobs. But he, he managed somehow, but the thing that I enjoyed was that the, my uncles would tell stories about how as teenagers, they would get in, go with their Caucasian friends to places, and if it was past curfew time, then they'd lay down on the bottom of the car so that, on the floor of the car, and their friends would tell them when the coast was clear and they could get up and sit in the car. And when they got home, they hurried into the house without making too much noise so that they could still enjoy being teenagers even though they were supposed to be restricted. So it was, it was difficult in many ways.
<End Segment 6> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 7>
MA: At that point, what grade were you in, or what school were you attending?
HC: I was in third grade, and there were two others, two other Japanese children were in third grade. They were both Niseis, however, I was the only Sansei. And in fact, I think I was the only Sansei all the way through, through school in Topaz, in my class. And we went to Berkeley, Lincoln elementary school in Berkeley.
MA: After Pearl Harbor, did you notice a change in the way that people treated you at school?
HC: Yeah, yeah, I did. I was told that I couldn't be first in line, even though I was standing in line almost all recess to be first in line, and I was, people, other kids, threw rocks at me on the way home from school. I was a target for rocks. I didn't retaliate because I figured that they were always bigger than me, and usually boys, and so what could I do? And we went to Japanese school after school, and it wasn't long before Obasan said, or Sensei said, that there would be no more school. And I heard conversations that she had burned all her books, that she wasn't going to be found to be any kind of a subversive person. I really don't know what ever happened to her, but we didn't have Japanese school after a while. Whatever, whatever else happened? On May Day, the school had a real nice celebration for May 1st.
MA: And this was May 1, 1942?
HC: Correct. And the, it was very European, I found out. I thought it was American, but it was quite European, and the maypole, you know, it stands in the middle of the place, and the people twist the ribbons around so that they make designs or they go in and out so that it gets woven, and it was really quite fun to do the maypole dance. And I was selected to be one of the persons to be in the maypole dance, and I thought it was an honor and a privilege, and my mother would fix my hair and I would wear a cute little dress, and all these things. And, but then on, the day before May Day, then I was told that I couldn't be in the maypole dance, that somebody else would take my place. And I wasn't told why, so I, as I was watching the other people practice the maypole dance, I tried to keep back my tears and try not to be sad. And I thought, "Well, I could do the other things. There'll be the booths, there'll be the games, there'll be the big group of people, all around, milling around, that I could be part of." But I didn't have to be in the maypole dance 'cause there was other things that'll be going on in regard to May Day. But then when, but that night, my parents were busy wrapping up boxes, I could hear the, the ropes going around boxes.
MA: Preparing for evacuation?
HC: Uh-huh, because, our bedroom was right next door to, right next to the living room, and so I could hear that. And I, I didn't know what was going on. Maybe my older sister did, but I -- and if they said anything, it just didn't, didn't sink into my head. So I, I didn't know, and when my parents woke us up and told us to put on all this extra clothing, it was kind of nice to put on extra clothes 'cause it was very cold. It was still dark when we were awakened to get dressed.
MA: And this was the day that you were leaving California?
HC: And so after breakfast, the house was very, the breakfast, the kitchen was, was, didn't have any curtains on the windows, and no pictures on the walls, it was quite echoey in the kitchen. And then a lady came by as the sun was beginning to come up, in a station wagon, and we were told to go out to the station wagon. And so we went out to the station wagon, and I thought I looked pretty elegant. I had on my Sunday shoes and my, my Easter hat and my Easter coat and all the extra clothings on. Kid, I was a kid. Little bit vain, still am. But then when we all got out there, there were eleven of us, 'cause there were six children, my parents, my grandmother and two of her sons, her two younger sons.
MA: And this is your...
HC: This was our family group.
MA: And your maternal grandparents or...
HC: My mother's (mother), yeah.
HC: Yeah, she was a widow by then.
MA: And she had two younger sons.
HC: Two sons, yeah.
HC: Uncle Hiro was in college, and Uncle Harry was graduated from college -- or graduated from high school, I mean, and not attending college. And so they lived upstairs and we lived downstairs in a duplex, so we were very much... my father was very much the family head for all eleven of us. And we, of course, didn't fit into the station wagon, so my dad and grandma and three of us kids went in the first load, and we waited at a school -- in a church, church gymnasium I think it was. I don't think it was a school gymnasium, I think it was a church gymnasium, until it became, until the rest of our family came, and then it became filled with Japanese people. And I didn't recognize any of 'em, none of 'em were related to us. And when we got onto the bus, then, and went down Ashby Avenue, there was Lincoln School, and there was the maypole. And I couldn't do the dance and I couldn't do the games and things, and I was devastated, I just felt awful. The shades were drawn down on the bus, but I could see through the, about a one-inch crack, since I was little and I could slouch down and see out the windows. And yeah, so it had an effect.
MA: As your parents were preparing to leave and everything, did they ever kind of sit you down and explain what was going on?
HC: Not me. They may have said something to my older sister, but I don't recall it being said to me, the rest of us.
<End Segment 7> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 8>
MA: So when you were on the bus, did you know what was happening, or were you aware of what was going on?
HC: When we were on the bus, nobody knew where we were going, as I recall. And the bus, the person who was the leader for the bus said, "Well, we don't know where we're going, but pull down the shades and we're gonna go. And everybody be quiet, there's to be no extra noises, and we'll get through this." And when we get there, then we could, we could be, visit in a, we could talk, talk out loud. So there was a lot of whispering going on on the bus. And my little brother was crying a little bit. He had the measles and he wasn't very comfortable. So it was really, relatively a quiet bus ride from Berkeley. We went down Ashby Avenue and then across the bridge, Golden Gate Bridge, I remember all these places 'cause we had done all these things as, my parents had taken us to all these places. And we went through San Francisco and we ended up at Tanforan racetrack. And we had to wait, the bus had to wait until the gates were open, and then we inched through and then when the bus got all the way through, then the gates went clank shut. I thought, "Oh, here we are, inside an enclosure, just like at the, inside of a zoo. Yeah, it was, it was... I wasn't very old, but I was aware a little bit about what was going on, but nobody said anything in so many words. Then the person, then somebody got onto the bus and said, "We're here now, and you'll have to take your things with you and get into the line and get, get your, get your shots and get your, make sure you have all your shots and make sure you've done all your, all your ID stuff. And make sure you have, they'll make sure that you have no contraband in your luggage, no radios, no..." what else? No cameras, no, I can't remember what else, contraband, especially shortwave radios. And so, so we had to find our stuff and wait in line.
<End Segment 8> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 9>
MA: And what were your living conditions like when you...
HC: In Tanforan?
MA: Yeah, in Tanforan.
HC: In Tanforan we lived in a barracks, we had two end rooms. And as I recall, they were about, maybe... well, five cots could, could go side by side with a, just a bit of an aisle in between. So they'd be that wide, I don't know what that would be, maybe 15 x 15 size rooms. And so my mom and dad and (five) of us kids were in one room, and then my grandmother and her two (sons) and my older sister were in the next room. And then there were three or four families in the other rooms down the, down the barracks. And there, there were no ceilings, so we could hear all the sounds all the way down, so my parents had to keep telling us to be quiet. "Don't talk so loud, be quiet, don't play so loud." And so we, so we could hear snoring, and we could hear babies crying, and we could hear people shouting at each other, and we could hear people, people being unhappy and all these kind of things, just because there were no ceilings. There were just the partitions.
HC: And there were two windows on each side of the room, and we had one door in the middle of the room. And in my grandmother's apartment there was the two windows, and then one door. And they fixed it so that one uncle was on this side and the other uncle was on this side, Grandma was in the middle and Betty Ann was over there, so that everybody had a spot, and then that left kind of the middle opened. We basically lived out of our suitcases, I think, and we slept on, at first we slept on ticking of straw that we stuffed, had to stuff into the mattress, mattresses. After a while we got real mattresses, cotton mattresses, but we slept on ticking for a long time. We had one lightbulb hanging down the middle, and no heat. We were on the south side of the track, as I recall, and the people who lived on the inside of the track were also in barracks, and some of them did things like made gardens and a bridge, a lake with a bridge over it and some Japanese, very Japanese artist. My grandparents lived in horse stalls over on the, over in the north, north side of the, of the Tanforan racetrack. And we went to visit them and I saw a bubble, a little bubble on the side of the, side of the door as we were going in. And I went like this to straighten it out, and when I looked at it, it was manure under that paint, so it wasn't very deep paint. And my grandparents had fixed it so that the two, Roy and John were in the front part of the horse stall, and then Grandma and Grandpa were sleeping in the back part of the horse stall. And I heard that the horse stalls weren't very quiet because people could hear each other a lot, even though there were partitions all the way down. And they weren't very big, probably altogether maybe the size of this room, although deeper than wide. And so, and since there was no, there was only one window, maybe, then they were very stuffy. And since they had been whitewashed so recently, they would smell bad. I don't know what was on the floor. It may be that they would, there was nothing on the floor, maybe that there had just been straw strewn on the floor, I just don't recall it being hardwood or anything like that. But it was not as pleasant, and I remember thinking, "Boy, I'm sure glad I live in a barracks instead of in a horse stall." And I suspect it's because we were small children, and my parents, and my brother was sick and they needed to have someplace where, where he could get well.
<End Segment 9> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 10>
MA: So in Tanforan, how did you spend your, your days? What occupied your time?
HC: We weren't in Tanforan for a very long time, because we were there from the first of May to the middle of September, I think. And so of course we had to finish school, and so I finished third grade in, in a class of -- I think maybe twelve, thirteen, fourteen boys and girls. And we were on one end of a, of a dining room, I think, and then there was another class at the other end of the dining room, and I don't know if they were second-graders or fourth graders. Didn't matter, we didn't pay attention to them 'cause we looked one way and they looked the other way and we didn't holler at each other. [Laughs]
MA: And who were your teachers?
HC: Internees. And not all of us were at the same place because we all came from different schools. And so, and then one of the girls in my class was epileptic, and during that time we were having a class, then twice she had seizures, so we learned about how to take care of epileptics, and we learned about how to be compassionate as well as nouns and pronouns and verbs and adverbs. It was very interesting, very interesting. And so then when school was out, during the summertime, we played games. I learned about Japanese games of using those little pretty rocks and hitting them with your fingers. We played jacks and we played jump rope and kick the can and things like that that kids play. We walked -- had to walk to our dining room all the time, so it was walking, and there was a, all, all the Protestant pastors got together and so all the, all the Protestants had a Sunday school and a church service. And I'm sure the Buddhists did, too, because I heard about Buddhist Sunday school, that they had never had that before, but since the Christian kids were having such a good time at Sunday school, the Buddhist kids wanted to do that, too. And we, and so then I can't remember that school was started by the time we left camp, by the time we left Tanforan, but, but we learned to cope. Part of the reason I think was that I got a spider bite on my foot, and it got infected, and so I had to stay in, I couldn't get out and about on it, I had to get it soaked and all that stuff. And another thing that happened to me was that I got tonsillitis, and so I had to stay home, too, for that. And it was, I remember it being very hot and very, and perspiring a lot because there was no, we had no fans, we had no insulation on the, on the sides of the barracks.
MA: And your tonsillitis was treated in Tanforan?
HC: Uh-huh, yeah. One of the lady doctors, I can't remember her name, came by to tell me what to do and talked to my mother, what she needed to do for me. And she brought whatever it was that they put on my, my spider bite, too. So maybe that's how I spent my summer in Tanforan. [Laughs]
<End Segment 10> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 11>
MA: So then you left for Topaz September, it was 1942. What do you remember about the journey to Topaz and leaving Tanforan?
HC: Well, leaving Tanforan was a bit of an adventure, because the train pulled, was in the back, came to the back part of the camp, and it was puffing and puffing and making steam engine, coal sounds and all that, smoke. And we had to wait 'til we were called, and then we carried only the things that we had. And again, I carried my box of... I always carried the chamber pot. My parents knew that that would be an important thing for our family. [Laughs] And I don't know what my other brothers and sisters carried, but I know what my box was. And so we were to line up and wait for the train, it was still warm when we were gathering, and my grandmother disappeared. And we were so worried that she wouldn't get there in time to get on the train, but the reason that we had to wait was that, again, everything had to go through, be gone through to make sure that there was no contraband and that we were not taking anything that was not permitted. And so I could tell that my box had been gone through because it certainly didn't look like the very tidy kind of tying that my dad always did. And so when we got onto the train, it was evening, the sun was beginning to go down, and by the time we got to where we could see the San Francisco Bay, the lights of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge were on, which were gorgeous. And as the lights were appearing for San Francisco and Oakland, then I kept saying to myself, "This might be the last time I see this Golden Gate Bridge." And I, and other people were very quiet on the train, 'cause we were supposed to have the windows down, but since it was dark, we thought, "Well, why not put 'em up a little bit?" And so we, so I kept remembering all the things, trying to remember all the things, different things we did, 'cause I thought, "I may never be able to, to be here to do all these things again," going to Fleishhacker Zoo, or to Golden Gate Park, or to Merritt Park, or to Lake Temescal, or to, going to church at Sycamore Street in Oakland. And the lights were still going for the World's Fair and Treasure Island, so I could see those lights, too, and remembering going to Treasure Island for the World's Fair, which was a big, a big event.
And so as we moved away from San Francisco it got darker and darker, of course, and it was more rural, and so then we could, I could sleep on the train. And then as the morning came, then the food was being served, and there were people lined up in the train. My impression of the train was that it was dark and dingy rather than the beautiful light and new appearance of trains that always were in the pictures. But it even seemed like the fixtures were for gaslights rather than for electricity, which made me feel like we were not, we were totally underprivileged, being not treated in any kind of privileged fashion. And then when we got, my grandmother had, when she got lost there for a while before we got on the train, had gone to get some fruit. And so for our breakfast, instead of waiting in line, she gave us kids fruit, and I had, I had an apple that I ate all the way down to the seeds, because there wasn't any breakfast, but they did have, somebody did bring us toast, so I had, so I did have toast. But we didn't have to get out of our seats to go eat. And the same thing happened with lunchtime, then, we were brought sandwiches although we stayed in our seats, we didn't go anyplace. We ate, I remember eating a, my grandmother giving us an orange that she had purchased, and so we stuck a finger in and squeezed the oranges and sucked on the oranges and made that last a long time, which was interesting. And then later on in the day, we did stop in the desert someplace, and evidently it had been cordoned off so that only a certain amount of space was available for folks to be able to walk in, but it was so hot. And my sister was sitting by the window, and I wanted to sit by the window, so I didn't go. I stayed so I could sit next to the window. She tried to get her window seat back, but I said, "But I'm here first," and I got to stay at the window.
And one of the things, one of the impressions that I got as we were riding in the train in the afternoon then, and I was by the window, was that we had the window shades down, but I still had a little bit open so I could look out. And as I looked out, I saw, as we were slowing down through a town, a Caucasian blond boy. And by then I was missing seeing Caucasians 'cause I was only seeing these black-haired Asians, and that's not life as I understood it. Because almost, well, we lived on a block that had black people, had a couple of black families and a Chinese family and another Japanese family and the rest were white. And our neighbors were, one side was Caucasian and the other side was black. But you know, it's, not everybody was Japanese. So to me, being on the train with all Japanese people and in Tanforan with all Japanese people was not normal. And so I waved and smiled to this Caucasian person out, out on the street as we were going by, he just looked with such disdain and hate in his eyes at me, I thought, "Oh my, what have I done to deserve that?" And to this day, I could still remember that, and it's kind of frightful to think about how, how hatred is such a indwelling thing, and it takes its, and it shows itself in so many ways. It has to be taught while you're young.
MA: Right, right.
HC: And then, then we went through Salt Lake City when it was night, and there were some Japanese people there waving, 'cause evidently, they knew that that the train was going to be coming through, and they knew some of the folks, probably, on the train. And then the train went south, we could tell that 'cause, I could tell that 'cause the shadows of the moon, by the shadows of the moon that we were going south, and when we stopped it was in Delta. So the train ride was, was quite eventful.
MA: Right, right.
<End Segment 11> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 12>
MA: And so you arrived in Delta and then took trucks to Topaz, is that how it worked?
HC: Yeah, uh-huh.
MA: And then when you arrived in Topaz, what were your impressions and what were you thinking at that point?
HC: Well, I, it must have been a bus that we rode on because -- and I told you a truck earlier, but... because I'm thinking that the, when we got on, when we got off, before we got off, a soldier came onto the bus with, along with a Japanese man. And he said, "Well, ya'll are here now," or something to that effect. And he said, "And I'm going to read ya'll's names." And he started making, saying the names, and it was, he had such a bad southern accent we couldn't understand anything he was saying. And so finally he said, "Well, buddy, ya'll have to do this for me 'cause I can't, can't say ya'll's names." And so then he read off the names of all the people that were supposed to be on the bus. And, and I don't remember if this happened before or after, but some, after all the names were read... but somebody said, "Well, we're in Topaz, Utah, we are wards of the government, and we are to be, to stay inside the, the barbed wire fence, wear your IDs with you all the time, don't take them off, and, and don't consort with any of the, any of the Caucasian people. There are soldiers here, and they're instructed to shoot if you go outside the, the fence. And we are to, to... we are to be, be model citizens while we're here in this, in this place, under these circumstances, so we'll just have to make the best of it." And then somebody got up and interpreted it in Japanese, and of course there were some people who didn't want to agree with it, but that was the situation. And then we could get off the bus and had to show our IDs before we could get off, to make sure that we were who we were. When we got off the bus, we were... well, we were, we stopped at Block 28, and a dust storm had come up. And so we, first thing we faced in Topaz was the dust. We had to make, make our way to our barracks, which weren't quite finished yet. In fact, we were told that the windows had just been put in that morning. And I stuck my finger in the putty and it was still soft. I managed to leave my mark, didn't I? [Laughs]
MA: And at that point it was still the eleven of you?
HC: Still eleven.
MA: And you remained in the, in the same barrack or close?
HC: We had, we had two, the two middle rooms of a, of a six-room barrack. And my grandmother and her two boys were on the end barrack, that end room, which was intended for two or three people, one, two or three people. Then the next one was intended for five people, and then the two middles were intended for four people each, and then five again, and then two. So each barrack was quite full. And we ate in the mess hall and did our laundry in the laundry room, and the latrine was in the area where the laundry room was. That was also where the hot water was made, and the boys and the girls were separated by sex for using the latrine. The block manager lived in the, or had his office in the dining room area.
<End Segment 12> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 13>
MA: And did they have a school set up at that point for you to attend, an elementary school?
HC: Uh-huh. In Topaz there were four blocks in the middle of the, of the project that were, that were empty, that was intended to be the high school, junior high school. Block 21 was empty, it was also intended to be a school, elementary school. Half of Block 8 was an elementary school, and half of Block 41 was an elementary school. All of Block 32 was high school/junior high, so when it came down to it, seven of the blocks were for "civic," "civic" things, whether they had, they were (not occupied) so that Topaz was made up of seven, fourteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight, thirty-five... forty-two blocks, seven of which were set aside for other things.
MA: And your school was the Desert View elementary?
HC: Desert View, uh-huh. We were on the, the east side, so that we saw the desert. The other elementary school was closer to the mountains so they were Mountain View school, of course.
MA: And who were the teachers that you had in this Desert View elementary? Were they also internees or a combination of internees and others?
HC: The first teachers we had, first teachers we had were all internees. Fourth grade was Ms. Nakamizo, fifth grade was an interesting thing, 'cause we started out with a Caucasian teacher who wasn't treated well by the class, especially the boys. Now, I'm Sansei, so I don't know any Japanese. I'm learning as I'm living among all these folks, but I'm not conversant in Japanese. But all my, all my contemporaries were Nisei, so they of course were very conversant in Japanese. And they conversed in Japanese with the Caucasian teacher, and she didn't like that at all, and she put up with it for a little while. And when it got really bad, then she put on her hat and stalked out of the room and said, "My father said, 'Don't deal with the scum,' and I won't," and she didn't ever come back again. The principal came in and said, "What are you guys doing?" And somebody else came and taught us for a while and then we had another teacher, I don't remember her name, but she was very much of a hillbilly.
MA: And this was another Caucasian teacher?
HC: Another Caucasian teacher. And she was a very poor speller, and her grammar wasn't very good, and she would write sentences on the blackboard and these same boys would correct her grammar and correct her spelling and talk to her in Japanese. And she gave up on us, too. We were not very respectful in that manner.
MA: Do you think it was because --
HC: And finally we had Miss Nakamizo, and she took us, finished us, the fifth grade, and she also took us -- no, Miss Matsutani, I mean. Miss Matsutani took us through fifth grade, finished us with fifth grade and took us into sixth grade as well.
MA: And did the students seem more comfortable with Miss Matsutani because she was Japanese, do you think?
HC: Well, they were used to being rebellious by this point. [Laughs] And so the... and so Miss Matsutani said, in response to when the boys said, "Well, we're supposed to be Japanese so why don't we study Japan?" She said, "Okay, we'll study Japan." But there weren't books that taught about Japan, and so she said, "Okay, we'll have, we'll have some of your parents tell you things for you to tell the class, so that the class can learn about Japan. And one of the girls came with her mother and put on a Japanese, her mother put a Japanese dress on her, it was very pretty and very interesting and I thought, "Ooh, that's something I've never seen before." [Laughs] And another person got up and had a report about her town that her parents had come from. But the, almost the rest of, all of the rest of them said, "Well, my parents said, 'You're American, you learn American, you learn about American history. So you go to school and behave and be, be an American.'" And so I don't know if that's what controlled the class eventually, but she certainly gave the class an opportunity to vent, which evidently they wanted to do, because fifth graders are a bit rebellious.
<End Segment 13> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 14>
MA: Was there ever any point where the students -- I think you had mentioned earlier that they expressed some sort of, not anger, but just kind of resentment about the whole internment situation?
HC: Yeah, uh-huh. Yeah, there were people who, some of the students who said, "I'm Japanese so why should I pledge the American flag? Why should I sing the American national anthem? 'Cause they're not, they don't respect me, so why should I respect them?" And so we, I think the teacher worked it out so that we pledged the flag only on certain days and not every single day of the week. And I may be mistaken on this, but I think she told some of the students that if they thought that they couldn't pledge the flag, that they could just stand and not pledge the flag, but they were to be respectful anyway. Yeah, there were those who did not want to be respectful of being Americans and were resentful of being in the camp because of, of their ancestry.
MA: What about your parents? I mean, as American citizens themselves, did they have certain views that they expressed about, about the internment in general?
HC: Actually, not in front of me. I don't know if they did in front of any of my other brothers and sisters, and if they did it in front of me and I wasn't getting it, that may be true, too. But later on in life, when I was, oh, in my fifties and my parents were (visiting), maybe I was in my forties and my parents were in their fifties and sixties... sixties, must have been in (their) sixties, after my dad retired, I asked my dad, "Why was there no... why weren't the, why didn't the Nisei do something about not being in, not having to go to camp?" And he said, "Well, what could we do? 'Cause if it were only the aliens who would be interned, that would be like just Grandma in our family group, and what would, what would happen to her all by herself?" And then with my grandma, with his parents (going), it would be just the two boys (left), the two teenage boys, and what's gonna happen to them? What'll they do? They'll go wild without their parents. So he said there was nothing we could do, and it was either all of us or none of us. And I said, "Oh, okay." And so it wasn't resignation necessarily, but understanding that it could be a whole lot worse if, if there was a revolt by the Japanese people about being interned.
MA: Yeah, that's an interesting perspective.
HC: And they had no... they had no choice, as long as the government was bound and determined to do it, then they had no choice.
<End Segment 14> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 15>
MA: So about your father in camp, did he have, did he work, did he have jobs in camp?
HC: In Tanforan, he did things like whittling and, 'cause he made our little nameplates for each one of us kids, at least the girls, and put on a, put a safety pin on the back, you know, could wear it. I wore that (proudly) for quite a while. I don't know whatever happened to it. And he taught landscaping because he had been taking night classes in landscaping before we moved from Berkeley. He taught bridge because the guys, there was a big group of people who played, played bridge. He, and when, and then when we were in Topaz, he... I don't know that he had a job, steady job until he decided to go outside of the camp, to move from the camp, and he went, moved to Delta where they needed some people to work in the alfalfa mills, a new industry that was developing, pellets to feed animals, alfalfa pellets.
MA: So he actually moved out of Topaz and kind of lived temporarily in Delta?
HC: Yeah, he was given temporary leave first, to live in Delta and come back to camp. But then, even then, when he came back to camp, he had to pay rent because he was no longer living in camp. He had to, I think he had to pay for his meals, too.
MA: Oh, so he had to pay Topaz to come back and stay with his family?
HC: And, and then, and this was especially true when he decided to go out on permanent leave, and he went to someplace in Utah, I think it was American Fork, to, to pick apples and peaches and other kind of fruit. And then he... I don't know where else he went to, to work, but eventually he did go to North Platte, Nebraska, to visit his brother. And that, and then he, that's where he found, he found out that there was a, must have been about 1945 by then, or maybe '44, '45 by then, and he found out that there was a florist that wanted some help with his business as he was just buying a business. And my dad was offered a job with the florist. 'Cause with the florist there was also a house that was next to a greenhouse, and my father was supposed to help to revive that greenhouse business, 'cause the greenhouse was really in bad shape. But as it turned out, my father basically just did the florist part and didn't have much time for doing the greenhouse business because, of course, it takes a lot of time.
MA: So your father then left sort of permanently. Was it to find work or to find a place for his family, for you all to move after the war?
HC: Actually, I think he was hoping that we could move before the war was over, but the bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki before, I think it was about the fifteenth of August when we moved, so the camps were being declared that they were going to be closing about that time. So, so it wasn't that we were out of the camp any, any much... at all before the end of the war.
<End Segment 15> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 16>
MA: Okay, so I wanted to know if there's any other thoughts or memories you wanted to share about your time in Topaz at all.
HC: Well, I was a kid, so although some people here in Seattle have said, "Oh, I was a kid so I had a good time," I thought, "Yeah, I did, too, I had a good time." But then one of the things that I remember and left an impression on me was when we were in Tanforan, we had this chain link fence all around the camp. And we lived maybe quarter of a block away from the fence, and the fence was guarded by soldiers who walked back and forth with their guns on their shoulders. And I was feeling wistful one day and went up to the fence, and I heard a rustling in the grass. I really was kind of wistful for what was outside the fence, and thinking, "You know, I used to be able to do that," and what's going on in the world now. And watching the cars go by and people going by and all. Then there was a snake that rustling around in the grass, and I, I saw it and I put my foot out like this to kind of, or away, and when I moved my foot, and it must have frightened him 'cause it wiggled right underneath the fence, and I thought, "Oh, that garter snake has a lot more freedom than I have, it can go under the fence and go away, and I can't do that." And I kind of felt awful sorry for myself for a long time after that, realizing that freedom was, is a very important thing, and that we are not to take it for granted. Freedom is not, not just being able to do whatever you want to, but freedom is able to, to think outside of the box, being able to do things that are creative and things, and go places and see things that are new and learn more, more of what there is to do in this world, and explore other venues of life. There's a lot to freedom that we, we need to appreciate. And perhaps that's what being in camp was all about in the long run, that we were more free after that as Japanese people to live outside of Japanese communities and to appreciate the world and to explore other opportunities. I'm not sure if my dad would have wanted to do anything other than what he was doing, but he certainly made it possible for all of us children to explore the world and to do things other than what he was doing. And I suspect that having had the experience of the evacuation, that we probably, this Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei generation, probably have opportunities that may not have been open to us otherwise.
Even as a Sansei, I was a college graduate, I want to Hastings College and earned a degree to teach in the elementary schools, 'cause I knew that teachers were not Japanese, 'cause I didn't see any Japanese teachers except in camp. So I figured that I would probably teach in a private school, or definitely not in college 'cause I'm just not smart enough to teach in college. Or maybe, maybe do a business, have a business of teaching. But, and as we lived, as Frank and I lived in the Midwest, the opportunities for me to teach were not nearly as open as they were, I understand, here in Seattle. So I probably... well, I very much did integrate every school system that I worked in after the... what's it called? When the civil rights...
MA: Brown vs. Board?
HC: There you go. When the civil rights movement made it possible for, made it imperative that schools are integrated, that also meant the teaching staffs were integrated. And so I'm not sure that there was ever a time when I was discriminated against as a teacher. I... and so, so I think that opportunity became more of an opportunity with the Brown vs. Board of Education, plus the evacuation, that dispersed the Asian, the Japanese people all over the country, and outside of the Japanese ghettos.
<End Segment 16> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 17>
MA: So let's go back a little bit and talk about, about North Platte, Nebraska. What was that town like? Can you describe that a little bit, maybe a little about the history?
HC: Okay. North Platte, Nebraska, at one time, was the end of the railroad. And so, of course, it had all the bad things that the end of the railroad had, gambling and prostitution and lots of drinking and lots of "cowboys," railroad, railroad workers. And it became the end of the line for a number of Japanese folks who were working on the railroad. And so there were maybe ten, twelve, maybe fifteen, I don't know exactly how many Japanese families there were in North Platte when we arrived there. By the time we were there, then they were farmers, and if you had seen the story of Ben Kuroki, which was on TV, yeah, his family lived in Hershey, Nebraska, which is thirteen miles from North Platte, and they very likely -- I don't know for sure -- got to North Platte by way of the railroad.
And so North Platte was, had a population of 12,000 when we arrived, and I remember my dad saying that very recently it had been cleaned up of, of the brothels, and that the, the most famous thing about North Platte was its canteen. Maybe you've seen on television that story about the North Platte canteen where one lady decided that she wanted to see that the soldiers who came through on the, on the train, Union Pacific railroad went through North Platte, and it was about halfway between Omaha and Denver. And so she brought sandwiches and made coffee, started out with sandwiches and coffee for the troop trains that came through. And pretty soon others joined her, so that there were, every day, there were thousands of troops who got off the train and had coffee and sandwiches or whatever, whatever the folks brought. I understand there were cakes and cakes and cakes that were brought, and people had "happy birthday" on a cake, and tried to find somebody who had a birthday to give the cake to. And so there, and so that North Platte became quite famous as the place where the troops were entertained and had, had food and a rest, and a time for enjoying their, a break from their, the train trek from wherever they were going to wherever they were going. Because surely in the middle of the country they were going either north or west or east to participate in the war. But they were going both ways, and both ways, the troops were met by folks from North Platte and vicinity. People from about a hundred miles around came to, to bring entertainment and food. My classmates in junior high when I got there told me that they used to go to the canteen as children and they would talk to the soldiers and they would sing at the piano while somebody played the piano and things like that, or served lemonade that, that children could do, and they thought that was so much fun.
MA: Yeah, that's great.
HC: And I missed out on all of that because we got there about the time that the North Platte canteen was winding down because the war was winding down.
<End Segment 17> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 18>
MA: So in general, how was your family received by the community, I mean, I guess, by the Caucasian community in North Platte, and also by the Japanese American community that was already there?
HC: Well, I think we had not had a bad time getting incorporated because my uncle was there first. Uncle Earl was a photographer and had the Brown-Harano Studio, and his wife was Kim Motooka, whose family lived in North Platte. And they were, they had been an integral part of the North Platte community for, forever. And so, so that he became incorporated into the Japanese community by way of her family. And so then since we were related to Earl, Earl would have been my, my father's, one of my father's younger brothers, then we became integrated into the community as well. And my father as a florist, then, had ways of reaching them by way of taking flowers, taking plants. I remember that Christmas and Easters, my dad would take plants that were left at the, the shop, to the Japanese people because they would bring in their extra vegetables and potatoes and things like that. So my, and soon after we arrived, even, the young men of the Japanese community played basketball in Hershey against each other, the Japanese guys were playing against each other. There were a few Caucasian friends who were a part of it, too, but they were mostly almost all Japanese guys. And we were invited as kids, I would be in junior high then, were invited to, to go along and watch the basketball games, and which was fun. That way, then, we became incorporated into the community as well as the fact that since we were Christians, my grandmother immediately became part of the Episcopal church, which was already there, and which had been served by Father Kano for years and years and years and years.
MA: So it was a Japanese Episcopal church?
HC: So she became -- uh-huh, it was a -- well, it was a Japanese Episcopal church, but then it became incorporated into the wider Episcopal church after, after Father Kano was no longer able to serve the Japanese community. But so then she became easily incorporated into the Japanese community, and we... and as far as school was concerned, I was just a new kid. And there were a couple of other new kids, in fact, there were, by junior high, the rural kids started high school, junior high and high school in town, and so there were always new kids in junior high.
MA: So did you ever feel like you were singled out or anything because you were Japanese or because of your race?
HC: I didn't, no, I didn't. I don't know if any of my brothers and sisters did, but I didn't. I felt very much a part of the, the school community. I took sandwiches to lunch, my mother says she took rice balls, and that made her a little different, because the other kids took sandwiches when she was little and going to school. But I took sandwiches to school, and so I wasn't any different from anybody else. And I don't remember feeling that because I was Japanese I needed to do anything different, except my parents always said, "Do good in school, do your best." And the expectations were high for us, but we weren't forced. We weren't, we weren't told that if we didn't do well, there would be any consequences.
<End Segment 18> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 19>
MA: What about your neighborhood and where you lived? Were you the only Japanese American family on that block?
HC: Actually, my, we lived in a very quiet neighborhood; we lived across the street from the cemetery. [Laughs] Very quiet. And, and Highway (30) went right by our house, so there was no crossing the street, of course. Actually, on the other side, on the west side of the house was an empty lot, and then on the north side of -- and all around the house was the greenhouse, and then all the area where there were to be, where trees and bushes and things like that were cultivated to grow to sell.
HC: Okay, and so then North Platte, so we lived on the north side, which was the not, not the best side of town, which is okay, because we had, 'cause that's where my dad's business had to be. Had to have space enough to grow all these things. Mrs. Grosh lived on the corner house, and then I don't know the names of the neighbors who lived over, across the street from Curtis Street, so we lived in a very isolated area. Aunt Kim and Uncle Earl lived two blocks away, and then the Fujimotos lived a block away. And Mr. and Mrs. Honda lived maybe three blocks away. I think those were all of the families. Kawaguchi, like that, lived over by the, over by the roundhouse, and I understand that the Isseis worked on the railroad, that's why they lived in town. And of course Uncle Earl and my dad were both businesspeople, and they worked downtown. And the rest of the Japanese people lived on farms, mostly west of North Platte, and then there were a couple of families that, one of them was in the hotel business and I don't know where they lived, guys. And I don't know where the (lady) lived, who was in the hair styling business lived. And I don't know where the people who were in the, where my auntie's brother and sisters lived, but I think they lived over on the, the south side someplace. So North Platte, the Japanese people in North Platte were kind of spread around, it's not like they were all in a big community. And about the only time they really got together that I can remember was when the church had picnics, Episcopal church had picnics, Japanese tradition it must be, 'cause I remember Japanese picnics, church picnics in California before we moved, they were fun. That's the only time I ate Japanese food.
And so we had Japanese picnics in North Platte, and we had, there was basketball games that us kids could go and watch, and we had... my parents were aware of the fact that there was, even though there was a dance hall in North Platte, the Japanese kids didn't feel like they could go there, I think. One, because they didn't dance very much, I suspect, and two, because it was, I don't know if they were not allowed to enter, I just don't know. My guess is they may not have been allowed in, my guess is that, 'cause I suspect even the black people in North Platte would not have been acceptable in the dance hall. So my parents, since we had a big house with a big living room, would push the furniture all back and have pop and chips and sandwich-makings and things like that, and invite all the Japanese people, young people, to come and dance. And this was especially on New Year's Eve, and so on New Year's Eve, then they all came over and danced and had the radio turned up to hear the music, and it was the same music that folks were dancing to in Chicago or wherever that music was coming from, which was fun. And of course, then when it came time, us kids went to bed upstairs, so it was no big problem then, that there was a lot of noise going on downstairs. And sometimes I even stayed up late enough, I was old enough by then to be able to stay up late for some of the goings-on, but I didn't, I don't remember staying up 'til the bitter end, ever.
MA: So it sounds like, although there was some, residentially Japanese American families were sort of scattered, there was still a little bit of that, you know, separation, I guess. Like what you described with the dance hall.
HC: Yeah, right, because, see, there was no, Brown vs. Education hadn't happened yet, so there was still some prejudice, I'm sure, around town. Not, not terribly overt, but still there. And for, and I remember my parents having a time when somebody came through town with Japanese movies, and since again we had the big house, big living room, then I don't know where the benches came from, but there were benches lined up in our living room, and opened up the big window on the front porch, and people sit outside where it was cooler. [Laughs] 'Cause we didn't have any air conditioning, of course, and it was too hot with all those folks. And there were Japanese movies. There were always the samurai with the guns and the things going on, and very, very active kind of movies that the Isseis enjoyed and the Niseis could understand it, I guess, 'cause they came, too, 'cause it was a social occasion.
<End Segment 19> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 20>
MA: So what high school did you attend in North Platte?
HC: I graduated from North Platte High School, class of '51, and we had, let's see. I was the only one who graduated from North Platte High School who was of Japanese ancestry in that class. I don't know what happened to Yoshio, I think he moved away sometime when we were freshmen or sophomores, 'cause his, by that time, his sisters would have had jobs someplace in the east and would have moved the whole family away.
MA: So your, most of your friends were, were they Caucasian in high school?
HC: Uh-huh. I belonged to a 4-H club that was all Caucasian, and I belonged to the Y-teens at school, which was all Caucasians. I belonged to the Presbyterian church, which was all Caucasians except for us. I guess there was a Mexican family or two in North Platte Presbyterian church. I was active in the Westminster Fellowship, which was the youth group, and I was the only non-white in most all those activities, no big deal. The high school... I did walk home from school with Nettie Okamoto a lot. She lived out on the farm, and she was a year ahead of me. And so I would, she would walk home with me and stay at my house until her brother came to pick her up, and we talked and we just did girl things. Couldn't do too much harm just walking home from school because school was about a mile away from where we lived, and we had to go over the tracks, sometimes between the trains, the couplings of the freight trains to get home. But it was quite safe to walk home from school and no, nothing would happen. Hardly even any car traffic to think about or be concerned about.
MA: So then you graduated in 1951 and went on to, you said Hastings?
HC: I worked for a year at a, at the Mars shop in North Platte to save money, and to help out my family. And then I went to Hastings College and I lived with the Buzza family and worked cleaning the house and taking care of the kids, washing dishes, too, for my room and board. I graduated in 1956.
MA: And what was, what did you study?
HC: I was a sociology, secondary education major. My minor was history, English.
<End Segment 20> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 21>
MA: And how did you meet your husband, Frank?
HC: [Laughs] Okay, I worked for a year in the Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, Nebraska, in education, and I learned then that I needed to go to seminary. So I went to McCormick Seminary and started there in 19-, let's see. I graduated from college in '56, so I started McCormick in '58. And one of the few people that I knew at McCormick Seminary, was acquainted with, was the person who sat next to me, we had required chapel at Hastings college, and we had to sit in required seats so they could take attendance to make sure that we were there. And the one next to me was Mark Hartsock. "Hanson, Harano, Hartsock," I mean, alphabetical. And Mark went to McCormick Seminary, and so I was acquainted with Mark, and it turned out that Mark was Frank's roommate, and so I met, so Mark pointed out Frank to me after, after, while we were at McCormick. But it wasn't until my second year at McCormick that we started dating.
MA: And how did your parents feel about, about Frank and, I guess, interracial...
HC: Interracial marriage.
HC: Uh-huh. Well, I knew that in North Platte, the Japanese kids who married non-Japanese went to Kansas to get married. 'Cause there was that misogyny law in Nebraska. I intentionally went with my sister and her fiance at the time when they went to get their marriage license, 'cause she married Frank Akiyama, whom she met when she was in nursing school in Colorado, and he was going to Colorado School of Mines in Golden. So I went with them when they got their license to find out what this law said. And it said something to the effect of, that Americans could not marry "Indians or blacks or coolies or other undesirables." And I... it was interesting, the wording. And so I, I thought, well, yeah, there it is, that's the law. Because they had to sign that this was not the situation for them so that they could be married.
MA: I see.
HC: And so my sister was married in the North Platte Presbyterian church, so then my brother, meanwhile, was stationed in Europe. Bob is older than I by a year, and he met Solange there, and he wrote home that he was going to marry Solange, and that brought up a lot of upheaval.
MA: Who was of what...
MA: She was French, okay.
HC: French descent, Caucasian. And so, actually, she lived in Luxembourg, but she called herself French. And so she, then my parents were -- or my mother, especially, was not at all happy about that. My grandmother was a bit upset. I can't say that my father was all that happy, but he was, did not express -- as far as I could see -- that much disappointment in Bob's choice. But when he, but of course then they were married in Europe, and when he brought her home, then all they could do was accept her. But I'm sure by then they were saying, "Okay, he's married to her so we're going to have to love her and take care of," and see that they have a happy marriage and help them get settled. 'Cause he would have then been discharged from the army, and he would have had to have all the adjustments that came from, came from not only being discharged from the army, but also being married and starting a family. 'Cause by then she was in the early stages of being pregnant. And so, so they accepted her, and they lived in our house in North Platte with my parents, 'cause by then my, my sister Betty Ann was married and I was off to college, and so there was room for them. And so by the time I came home with Frank -- and meanwhile I had been writing letters, I knew what had happened with Bob, so I was, been writing letters telling about these different people that I'd been dating. And so they knew by then that I was not going to be... although I did date a Japanese young man there at McComick, but I did get proposed to by, by Frank, so that's who I took home to North Platte. And Frank is a gentleman, a gentle gentleman, kind and loving and caring. And my family accepted him right away, and my grandmother told me he was yasashii, a gentle, kind person. And I, so I knew there was immediate approval. And Frank told me right away that he could talk to my grandmother even though they didn't speak the same language, because they could talk with their eyes, and he knew that he could communicate with her and with the rest of the family, and therefore then it was going to be all right, that he married into the family.
<End Segment 21> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 22>
MA: So when it came time for you to get married, you and Frank, did you go to Kansas then, or did you go out of state?
HC: We planned our wedding to be at McCormick Seminary in Chicago, because Illinois did not have that law. And so we were married in Chicago in July of 1959, and went right to North Dakota, where Frank had his first church. 'Cause I told Frank I wouldn't marry him until he had a job. [Laughs] I figured I could work until he had a job. And so after he was called to the church in Crosby, North Dakota, then we planned our wedding and were married in Chicago at McCormick Seminary, at the old McCormick Seminary, the new McCormick Seminary is in a different place. So my memories are at the old place, not with the new one.
MA: And then you went back to living in North Dakota at that time?
HC: Yeah, we, so in a way, we're still on our honeymoon because we moved, we went right from our wedding right to, our honeymoon was to go to North Dakota, and in a way, we've, we're continuing to be on our honeymoon all our life long, which has been fun.
MA: And you were teaching at that point, you said?
HC: Actually not. I didn't have a job yet, but I did ask in North Dakota about the possibility of substitute teaching because I belonged to a, I was invited to join a Federated Women's Club. The Presbyterian women, Presbyterian minister's wife always belonged to the, to this one particular Federated Women's Club, although there were others in town. And so I was kind of automatically invited. And I asked at the Federated Women's Club, the woman who was the principal of a grade school about substitute teaching, and she said, "Oh yes, we always need substitutes, and it's really nice to know that we have substitutes available." And so I went home and asked Frank, "What do you think about my substituting in school?" and he said that would be okay. So the next time I saw her I said, "Ida, what's the possibilities of my signing up to be a substitute teacher?" She says, "Oh, we don't need substitute teachers." So I thought, "Okay, I know what's going on here," so I, I just never even tried to go into teaching while we lived in North Dakota. We lived there for five years, and by then I had two children, too, by the time we left North Dakota. So Mary Kay and Steve were both born in North Dakota. Steve was just an infant when we left.
And so then when we moved to Illinois, then the superintendent of schools just lived a little ways down from us, and we started playing bridge together, which was fun, a nice way to get away from the children for an evening, for me. And so then I asked him about substitute teaching, and he just kind of didn't say too much, but then later on he told Frank that, "the preacher's wife shouldn't have to substitute teach." And I said, "Well, how come his wife is substitute teaching? His wife is teaching, and she's the superintendent's wife, isn't that keeping jobs in the family?" What's that called? There's a special name there, word. But... and so I didn't do that, but by then I was having Alan, our third child, so it wasn't a necessity for me to, to have something outside of the home to be doing.
MA: So why, why didn't the superintendent, do you think, want you to work?
HC: Race. He thought that the pastor's wife should be busy doing church work, I guess, but then I couldn't -- like his wife was busy doing teaching, but I thought it was race. And I didn't pursue it, it wasn't a big issue, 'cause I had plenty, I had enough to do with, with taking care of three children by now. And so when we moved to the other end of Illinois, in Madison, Illinois, then I, the principal of the grade school, elementary school, which was just two blocks away, lived, or came to church there. And one time I asked him about -- no, I thought, well, my experience has been that I am not acceptable as a public school teacher, so maybe I, so I could, maybe I could start a, have a nursery school, and have it at the church, so that people who, of the neighborhood can bring their children to the nursery school while they go to work. And so I, before getting into, looking into the legal things and financial things and all that, in regard to doing that, I asked the principal of the grade school, "Would there be any big problems with my starting a -- as far as the school system was concerned -- with my having a preschool at the church?" And he said, "Do you have, do you have credentials to teach?" I said, "Yes, I have credentials to teach secondary school." He said, "Oh, you should be teaching in school," because by then the baby boomers were coming to school. And so I, so he invited me to come to school and to interview, and he sent me a contract to teach. So I taught first grade there in Madison for five years. Although my credentials were in secondary education, that meant I had to eventually take classes to teach elementary, for which I did, I have all the credentials for teaching elementary school after five years, except practice teaching. So, so I really don't have, I don't have my degree to teach elementary school.
MA: But that was the first school that you actually taught?
HC: Correct. So that's where I get some of my pension, comes from the state of Illinois, the Teachers Pension Fund.
<End Segment 22> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 23>
MA: And then you moved around after that as well, right? You moved...
HC: Well, it was an interesting thing, though, because, see, that, I was the first non-white to be teaching in that school. But part of that system had, had a black school on the other side of the tracks, and so because of Brown vs. Board of Education, then the schools had to be integrated. And it was interesting that by my teaching over in the white school, I think that helped to make it easier for the black teachers to come in. Because I heard some people saying, behind my back, "Well, we have Mrs. Christ," I was assuming that was to verify that they were already integrated. But, but then, but then that also meant that the housing, the... what do you call it? Public housing project that was two blocks away from us, and therefore about four blocks away from the school, would be sending their black kids. Or would be integrated, which meant that black kids would be coming to the white school as well.
MA: And so were you there at the school when everything became...
HC: Uh-huh, integrated.
MA: Integrated. And what was that like?
HC: And so eventually -- it was, it was no big deal, it was fine. But the teachers were striking for higher pay, and so I, after that, then I was sent to, to the black school to teach, which meant it was all black children and no white children, because there were no white children living in that area. It was not surprising there were no white children in the school. And it was interesting that one of the first classes I had, one of the little girls, one of the little girls said, "Well, I don't have to mind you 'cause you don't even look like my mother." And I thought, yeah, I said, "Well, but I'm your teacher, so that's what, that's why you have to mind me." And evidently her mother verified that because she never said that again, and none of the other kids did, either. And so, so that the black school was integrated with white teachers and me, and the white school was integrated with black teachers, and that seemed to work out all right.
MA: I see. So that's how they, they did that.
HC: Uh-huh. Yeah, they had very fine teachers in the black school, wonderful teachers, and I think it was a good thing for the Madison school system to integrate.
MA: Was there resistance by the people in either, either town?
HC: Oh, sure. Oh sure, both sides, both sides, yeah. And it's, it's not surprising, because it was all over, all over, although we didn't have any riots or didn't have any bad... what do I want to say? Folks saying bad things in the newspapers and things like that. Although when there, there was an upheaval at the high school, the news showed a young person that had blood on herself, but then it was later revealed that she had bloodied herself just to be put on the news. And it wasn't a, wasn't nearly as big a riot, riot as the news wanted to make it, and was no, and you know, so that the high school did have some commotion, and evidently there were police who were at the high school helping. But then that was all over, wherever there were integrated high schools that was happening, so it was no big deal for Madison. Eventually, there was a call to have more, more places for junior high school students, and integrating the junior high school, because the building was too small and there were more kids coming up because of the baby boomers. And so eventually they did have to build another junior high school, which was then integrated. And it was, it may have, there may have been difficulties, but it wasn't difficulties that were mayhem, it was difficulties that were eventually worked out to the point where folks would try to be understanding and try to be willing to be forgiving and try to learn to live together, which has to happen anyway.
MA: Right, so it sounds like in that case, people learned to work together and sort of, yeah, work through that.
HC: Yeah, and the teachers -- at least I didn't experience any teachers who were partial to one race or the other, and you had to prove yourself in the classroom. It wasn't like, "Just because I'm here, I'm to get good grades." Everybody had to earn their way in school, as far as I was concerned. And if you didn't, didn't do your work, you didn't get the grades. And I felt that was pretty important in first grade, in fact, the first class I taught I said, "The test to me would be when you finish high school as a twelfth grader, that you finish, and that you're able, you feel like you could contribute to the school as well as to your community after high school." I don't know, I couldn't follow that through because we moved, and I had hoped to do some graduate work in that area, but that never came through. So I don't know whatever happened to that group of kids; they had a lot of potential, lot of potential.
<End Segment 23> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.
<Begin Segment 24>
MA: Great, so before we wrap up, is there anything, anything you would like to share? Anything else, any other memories or any thoughts?
HC: Well, I think maybe just say that I'm proud to be of Japanese ancestry, and I'm not one to be, at this point, be shirking and saying Japanese-ness is not a good thing. It seems to me that we all have something to contribute to the world no matter what we look like, and we all have an important role in this world to make it a better place and to make things better for our children, and to see to it that the older people are taken care of properly, and maintain our own health and our own dignity so that we are contributing members to the society in which we live. And I would say that I don't think -- for me, I don't think that the evacuation experience was a bad experience, it was one of growing and understanding, and one of growing to appreciate my Japanese-ness. What Japanese I've learned, I've learned in camp, and I think my, I could talk to my grandmother in English and she could respond in Japanese ad I could understand it, which I wouldn't have been able to do without that, I suspect. And so I think that the evacuation experience helped us as a Japanese community to be more broad-minded, to be more understanding, to hopefully be compassionate about what happens to other people, especially if they're in something of a same situation. And I think that the evacuation experience made it possible for to achieve way beyond what we possibly would have otherwise been able to achieve in the way of vocations. I suspect there will always have been good Japanese university teachers, 'cause they were always acceptable there. But when it comes to medicine and the law and public education, public health, these were possibly not available to Japanese without having had the experience of the time, of the evacuation. So let's be proud of being Japanese.
MA: Great, I think that's a great note to end on.
HC: Oh, well, thank you.
MA: So thank you so much for coming down here, and it was just a wonderful interview.
HC: Thank you, I appreciate your, your experience to make this an interesting time to talk about, talk about myself and our Japanese-ness.
MA: Yeah, so thank you.
HC: Yeah, my pleasure.
<End Segment 24> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.