Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Paul Bannai Interview I
Narrator: Paul Bannai
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 28, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-bpaul-01-0016

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AI: Well, before we get to that point, I wanted to ask you about this time before you left for camp and in-between when the orders came out and the camp, you had to go. You were working at the bank, and how were you treated at the bank? Did you have any problems, any negative treatment that came your way because you were of Japanese ancestry?

PB: No. Customers and the people who worked at the bank, I remember, let's see, my bank manager was Lindburgh, assistant manager was Victor Holly. I remember them very well. They were very sympathetic with my situation. The customers, we were in Little Tokyo and we would lose customers all the time. They would leave because of the evacuation or whatever reason. But we had very little problem at the bank itself. It was with the individual and what shall I do with the money? I told them, "Leave it," because we would watch over it.

Now subsequently when I went into Manzanar, because I knew that there was a lot of people still outside of camp that had money in different banks, I asked for permission for a bank to come in to Manzanar. In Lone Pine there was a bank, Bank of America, and the manager was MacArthur, I remember him. And I asked the director of our camp, I said, "Would you give him permission to come in once a week so that they can do business as a bank, and I can take the people that are in camp, and they will have access to banking services?" So once a week I started a little bank in Manzanar. They would drive in with their money and records. And then every, once a week I could take care of the people in camp, their concern with their money. So at least I was thinking in terms of the, not the bank but the residents so that they would be adequately taken care of. It worked out very well. The people that didn't even bank at the Bank of America came to me and wanted help. So my experience with the bank was very valuable. So I think that's something that I learned. And later on when I came back and many years later, I started a bank because I had the experience. [Laughs] So I can say banking is something that I'm familiar with. But until I went to camp, I was loyal to the bank, the bank was loyal to me, and we did service the Japanese community as well as we could. So I was very happy with that.

AI: You must have seen some very sad situations among the Issei...

PB: Very sad.

AI: ...and some of the older Nisei.

PB: Now, it wasn't that time, but one of the first people that were evacuated were two islands. Bainbridge Island up here in the Seattle area and Terminal Island, for whatever reason. It wasn't even a military necessity 'cause they were mostly fishermen. But I was working at the bank at that time, and I heard that Terminal Island was going to be evacuated. Well, I didn't know a lot of people there, but when I used to associate with the Slav people, they were fishermen so I would go to San Pedro High, like I say, and play at the dances there. So I got to know some of the Japanese there. And I remember there was one little pretty Nisei girl at the high school, so maybe that was what attracted me. But anyway, when they got their order to evacuate, and they only had a couple days to get all their possessions off Terminal Island, my concern was, somebody's got to help 'em. So I went to the produce houses 'cause I knew lot of produce companies with my connection with the bank, and I asked them to donate as many big trucks as they could. And I would get the trucks and the driver, and we would go to Terminal Island, and these people were being deluged with people that knew, and they were being offered $5 for a refrigerator, $100 for all their furniture. Most of them had nowhere to evacuate to. They had to leave the island. So I had to find churches, private residences they could temporarily go to. So I was busy for, oh, weeks on end trying to get these people resettled. But that again is something that I say personally you think in terms of what my father told me, if you do something for people, that it will remain, and that's what life is all about. So I always felt good about the fact that I was able to help all these people at Terminal Island evacuate out of their island and get pretty safe. Now, eventually where they settled determined what camp they would go to. But most of the Terminal Island people ended up in Manzanar, so I was very happy with that. I got to know some of them very well, and they were very happy with the fact that I had helped them right along.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.