Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Joe Yasutake Interview
Narrator: Joe Yasutake
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 9, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-yjoe-01-0001

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AI: Today is October 9th, 2002, and this morning we finished a group interview with the Yasutake Yamada family. And I'm Alice Ito with Densho. Mr. Yasutake, maybe you could start off -- at the point of the group interview ending, you and your mother were in Minidoka camp in Idaho and got the news that you would be able to transfer to the so-called "family camp" at Crystal City, Texas.

JY: Uh-huh.

AI: That was in 1944.

JY: That's correct.

AI: And so I just wanted to start in at that point and whatever you recall about that time, leaving Minidoka and going to Crystal City.

JY: Yeah. I don't remember from a day-to-day basis. I sort of have snapshots of when things happened. I do recall saying goodbye to our friends in Minidoka, and by that time my, my older brothers and sisters were all gone, or sister was all gone. And I remember they came out to wave goodbye to us and things like that. And I had a, a very close friend, a guy named Teddy Nakamura, who was our neighbor, and so we said goodbye and all that. It was kind of a tearful scene. But I knew at that point that we were going to, you know, join my dad, so that was good.

And I can't tell you anything about the trip or how we got there or anything else, but I do remember when we got to Crystal City and we were going through the gates, the whole camp looked much more foreboding. Somehow it seems like the fences were heavier or higher. There were more guards, it seems like, around. I don't remember any guard towers, but it just seems like there were more guards around. And, and I can remember the, my feeling that, "Gee, you know, I feel like I'm goin' to a prison." As opposed to Minidoka, everything was just kinda open. And then there were rumors. After a few days I -- that, after I got there, that the, the fences were electrified so if you touched it you would get electrocuted kind of, kind of. I don't know if that was true or not. Probably not. So that was my first impression of, of Crystal City. And the rest of it is just, again, just snapshots. Swimming in the reservoir that they had there where I guess they stored the water, but they let us swim in it. And losing a, a close friend of mine who drowned there. Going to school. And the environment was quite a little bit different because I think, as I mentioned just before we broke, that the kids of my age from Peru spoke Spanish like we spoke English, but their Japanese was much, much better than the, than the kids from the, from the mainland, and they were much more Japanesey -- you know, their mannerisms and, and the way they greeted people and talked to each other and so forth. So there was that division in the sense that I did get to know a couple of kids pretty well, Peruvian kids, but in the main, we didn't mix that much. It was just sorta the kids from the U.S., you know, in one group and the Peruvian kids in another group kind of thing. Played a lot of baseball. Went to school. I --

AI: Speaking of school, you, after you arrived there at Crystal City with your mother, you arrived in time to start the sixth grade.

JY: Uh-huh.

AI: That fall of '44.

JY: I did. And our teacher, I -- you know, it's really interesting. I remember the two teachers I had in camp. This one was named Mrs. Lunz, who I later, later found out, who is alive to this day, and she was a very, very warm, wonderful teacher. And I can remember things going on in class, like one of our classmates was a tremendous artist. I mean, he could just sketch things on the fly that were really impressive. And I remember as a school, for like Parents Night we were preparing to do something, and what the teacher decided was that this artist kid would draw on the board as we sang "Bicycle Built for Two," and so we rehearsed that many, many times to get ready for, for the parents to come in and so forth. And she really, you know, this Mrs. Lunz, really sort of sparked my interest in the fact that learning could be a lot of fun, so I think she had that kind of influence on me in later, later years.

We also went to Japanese school, which was kind of traumatic because the little Japanese I learned in Seattle before, before the war for some reason was pretty well gone, and when I got to Crystal City they made me go back into the first grade again, and I was a, you know, like a sixth grader. And I was mortified because I was with these little kids, and so I probably studied more during that time -- [laughs] -- to catch up and get moved up than I, probably I ever did in my life, I don't know. But finally, after several weeks I was moved up gradually, and I finally got to the same grade that most of my, my peers were.

AI: During this time, when you communicated with your mother, would you say it was a mix of Japanese and English? Or maybe she spoke mostly in Japanese and you replied mostly in English?

JY: Yeah, yeah, yeah. She, she knew a lot of English phrases, but of course her primary language was Japanese so we conversed -- I mean, she spoke to me in, in Japanese except for like, except for words like "socks" or "pants" or something, you know, she would insert English words like that. But most of our conversations were in Japanese. With my father they were pretty much all in English. I don't recall ever talking with my father in Japanese. It just, it just seemed like it was a natural thing to speak in English.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.