Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Kara Kondo Interview
Narrator: Kara Kondo
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Gail Nomura (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 7 & 8, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-kkara-01-0027

<Begin Segment 27>

GN: When you got to the assembly center -- the gates closing -- what did you think about the future then?

KK: I think you got, you know, you hadn't had much sleep the night before, and I think we were dog-tired. And then you came into this enclosed area. And it was a huge building that covered eleven acres. And you could hear the noise, and I think they had some breakfast for us. I remember... but the noise and the smell and the people around you. You really don't have much time to even think. You want to, then you're assigned to your little small apartment that has a, no ceiling, just walls around you. And no outside windows or anything like that and, and you... and they ask you to get your mattress -- bags and go to the, get some straw to fill it because they didn't, they ran out of mattresses. Then you realized, I think you're in a daze for a while until you get your bearings. But --

GN: How about your parents?

KK: They, they probably took it better than we did. You know, they, shikata ga nai. And they, and their stoic acceptance. And of course they were frightened and, of course, they were unsure, but they had to, they were far more acquiescent than we were, and I think they accepted things that were occurring the best they could. And there was certainly a lot to complain about, but, surprisingly, I guess they seemed to accept the situation. Probably we were much more vocal about it.

GN: What is the, first memories you have of settling in at the assembly center?

KK: Oh. Last year I was asked to write a little, what our memories of the center was, and I stressed the sight, smell, and sounds. And the sound was the gate clicking behind us and the clatter of dishes around us. And smell was the smell of food cooking and, and you could -- because everything was rather open -- and you could smell the food, and you could almost tell what you were going to have for the day or the particular meal. And the sights were many. I can remember they seated about 3,000, and you see the rows of tables set. Rows and rows of, they had a precise way of setting their table. And rows of white bowls, and I, they have a little formula, and you could see rows and rows of tables with the white cutlery and the, the dishes, you know, the very sturdy white dishes. It was very... and they were very proud of the way they were able to do that, and I think that -- it took a great deal of time to make it as neat as they did. And the smell of Pine-Sol. The floors were boarded over, and they would have, they would wash it with Pine-Sol. And you could kind of smell the manure underneath with the Pine-Sol. Things like that. But it's amazing. You get in sort of a rhythm in a place like that. It's inconvenient. You could hear the wail, crying of babies and snoring of people and, and the life that goes on around you. But it was a very hot summer, even for Portland, and I can remember people would go out and take their blankets and sleep outside.

I worked for the, the newsletter, and we had our little office on the balcony. And I would sit in the window and watch the lights of the Jantzen Beach, and I could see the Ferris wheels, the lights, and hear the music and hear... I would sit in the window and listen to that knowing that that's outside. That is outside. And I could hear the, occasionally hear airplanes or the truck, the movement of cars below you. And you knew that you could not, that you were being imprisoned. I can see the, the high wire, the fencing around the place where on Sundays they would -- the visitors, the friends, would come, and they would speak to each other across the fence. I can remember warnings about what would happen if you got too close or to, whatever. There were always some sort of warning to the evacuees to "do this" or "do that." Also, I can remember the dances and the music of those days. And there were, the inside of the... there was, they had boarded up the arena where people played tennis and badminton. That was, and people that were organized and, so much that they could live as normal life as possible. But --

GN: Did anybody visit from the valley?

KK: Not that I recall. But I remember a twelve-year-old Japanese girl named Madora Baker, I think probably it was Midori, and she wanted to be called April. And she was about twelve or thirteen years old. She was adopted by an elderly Caucasian couple from around Salem or somewhere -- small town around Portland. And she was put in the center. And her parents would come to see her and try to assure her. But she was different because she grew up in a Caucasian neighborhood and family, and we all knew that she was different. We called her Madora, Midori, or April. "April Fool." I think that's what she was called. [Laughs] And she was outspoken, and she would follow the director of athletics, I think, around, just like a puppy. And George Azumano. I think he's well-known. And I've often asked him, "Do you know what ever happened to Midori?" And he said, "Oh...." He could hardly remember her. But he would, she would follow him around. And -- [Laughs]

GN: Who did she stay with?

KK: You know, I know that there were young boys, too, who had to stay with, with single men, in the dormitories for single men. And I don't know whether there were dormitories for single women. But, but, you know, there were conditions like that that was just heartbreaking. And I've often wondered what happened to Midori, to April.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.