Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: May Y. Namba Interview
Narrator: May Y. Namba
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 21, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-nmay-01

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Today is October 21, 2004. We're here at Densho in Seattle with May Namba. I'm Alice Ito with Densho, and Dana Hoshide's on the camera. And May, I wanted to ask you when and where were you born?

MN: I was born in Seattle many, many years ago. It was May 12, 1922.

AI: And I thought we would just start out by asking about your father, a little bit about his family background, and where he came from in Japan.

MN: He came from Yonago, and that's in Tottori-ken. And that's where my mother came from, too. And I think he came in (1905), but I'm not sure when he came to the United States, and why he came to United States. Probably, like all the others, make a better life for himself.

AI: Do you know much about what he and his family had done in Japan?

MN: I visited the place, but I can't recall what it was that he was involved in, or what my mother's parents were doing, either.

AI: About when was your father born, or maybe about how old was he when he came to the U.S.?

MN: Ooh, that's a hard question.

AI: Do you know if he was maybe a teenager or older than that when he...

MN: Probably was a little older. (Narr. note: Father was born June 14, 1885, and came to the U.S. when he was twenty years old.)

AI: So, a young man.

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: And what was his name, your father's name?

MN: Noboru. And it was Date, and he got tired of everybody calling it "Mr. Date," so he changed it to Daty, D-A-T-Y.

AI: Because the original English spelling would have been D-A-T-E?

MN: T-E, uh-huh, and so D-A-T-Y is not a Japanese name, but he changed it, 'cause that's what's on my birth certificate, too.

AI: So he changed the spelling of his name before you were born, then?

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: And what about your mother, what was her name?

MN: Sakaguchi. Masuyo Sakaguchi. And she came from a big family.

AI: Do you have any idea about when she came to the U.S. or about how old she was?

MN: No, I don't know much about their backgrounds of when she got married or anything like that. (Narr. note: Mother was born September 19, 1898, and was thirteen years younger than my father.)

AI: Any knowledge of what your father or either one of your parents did in the U.S. before settling down here in Seattle and having you and...

MN: I know when he first came, I think he worked for the railroad, and I think he was a cook at that time. I don't know how he learned anything about cooking, but that's what he was doing. And then soon after that, I guess he started a grocery store.

AI: And whereabouts was that, the grocery store?

MN: Oh, about Eighteenth or Nineteenth on East Union, somewhere in that neighborhood. And that's where I was born, in the back, back rooms of the store.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: And what name were you given when you were born, your name at birth?

MN: I was born in May, so it was easy; it was May. And then Yoneko, I don't know where they got that.

AI: And you were not the first child, though.

MN: I was the second. Henry was the first, and then I came second.

AI: And Henry was born in 1921?

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: You were born in 1922, and then you had two more sisters?

MN: Two sisters, Carol and Anne.

AI: And Carol was born in 1924, is that right? And Anne in 1926.

MN: Carol's middle name is Tokuko, and that means, "To" is "ten," and "ku" is "nine," and she was born October 9th. [Laughs] So that's how they come up with her middle name.

AI: And that's easy to remember.

MN: Uh-huh, and Anne was born in the spring, so "Haru" is "spring," so that's how they came about her name, but I don't know how they came about my name.

AI: Well, and tell me now about your very earliest years.

MN: How early?

AI: As early as you can remember. The very earliest you can remember.

MN: I can't remember much about my early days.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AI: Well, in fact, I think in our earlier conversation, you mentioned that something that you don't remember yourself is that you were taken to Japan as a very young child.

MN: We were, went for a visit, and they took the whole family, and I think Anne was still in my mother's arms when we went for the first time, but then that was a short visit. And then, I don't know what year it was, but my mother got... was it typhoid fever? And she was very sick, and when she recovered, they decided to go back to Japan, and that was for good. Well, fortunately, we came back, but we were there about ten months, and I went to school for a while there.

AI: Was that the first school you can remember going to?

MN: Yes.

AI: And you would have been, then, maybe about five years old?

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: So that might have been about 1927 or so.

MN: Well, if your math is right. [Laughs]

AI: And tell me, do you remember much about that school in Japan?

MN: No, I don't remember much about the school. Probably we were a misfit because we didn't know how to speak Japanese that well, and I could remember we were so spoiled, we said we didn't want cold rice for lunch, and so we had a maid, and she would come every day with a hot lunch for us. But that's about all I can remember.

AI: Tell me about where you were living then.

MN: We were living with the relatives first, but then soon after, we had a home and were living in a house. The only thing I remember was when the man came to empty the toilets, they emptied it and carried it on their backs and went out.

AI: Tell a little bit about that kind of toilet.

MN: Oh. I guess it's just this, I can't recall too well, but I've seen pictures of it, just a hole in the ground, and you just sat and did your thing.

AI: And then the man would come and cart that away.

MN: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Well, so then you were saying that your parents had originally planned that they were going to stay there permanently.

MN: Stay in Japan, and I guess my brother had come back much earlier than we did, and was staying with friends in Seattle, and then I think it was about ten months we were there, and we came back to the United States.

AI: Did you come back to the same house and the grocery store?

MN: No. No, no, 'cause even before we left for Japan, we were living in a different place.

AI: So then when you returned to the United States, then where did you live?

MN: I think it's Twentieth off of Main Street in a big house.

AI: And --

MN: Oh, that was before, before we went to Japan, and then when we came back, we had, they found another place, and that was on Seventeenth off of Jackson, right across from Congregational church now.

AI: The current Congregational church.

MN: Uh-huh. It wasn't there when we were growing up.

AI: What, what was around you at that time, up on Seventeenth and Jackson? What was near your house?

MN: Mostly residence, and there were quite a few Japanese families living around us. And I could remember Clara Mosher was the owner of the houses that we were renting, and so we used to go there in the summertime and play cards, 'cause she was home all the time. And there were some Chinese, and there was an Italian family we used to visit in the neighborhood. But other than that, most of 'em were Japanese.

AI: And so then you started going to school soon after that, after you came back?

MN: When we came back, I started at Washington grade school, and since I didn't know how to speak English, they put me in kindergarten, and I was the biggest kid in class. But soon after, they moved me on.

AI: How was that, starting school and being the biggest kid in kindergarten?

MN: Kind of felt stupid. [Laughs]

AI: And learning English, how was that?

MN: I guess it just came naturally.

AI: So you don't recall that being too difficult.

MN: Uh-uh.

AI: And what was your father doing at about that time, when you were starting school at Washington?

MN: He was in the import/export business in steel.

AI: And so when, as far as the steel business, that meant that he was exporting steel to Japan?

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: And then would he import other goods to the U.S.?

MN: I don't know what he imported, if anything, because, and he used to take many trips to Japan. And our Sunday outing was to go these empty, the lots where they had all those broken-up cars stacked up. You don't see that so much, but we used to see them on Airport Way. There were lots of those, and that was our Sunday outing.

AI: Tell about that. Why was that? Why would he go, be going out there?

MN: It was for his own interest. [Laughs] Not for our interest.

AI: So he was scouting out junk metal and...

MN: Uh-huh. He was. [Laughs]

AI: And he'd take you along with him.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: So what other kind of memories do you have from your grade school years?

MN: We had fun. It was a very ordinary life, you know. And the kids were, let's see. There were quite a few Japanese, Chinese, very few whites, lot of Jewish kids. And in my class we only had two black people, so there weren't that many blacks in that, in Seattle at that time.

AI: Where would you play, and what kinds of things did you play as kids?

MN: Oh, we used to play right in the middle of the street. Play baseball, and hide-and-go-seek, and things like that. But spent a lot of time at Collins playfield, which is right across from Buddhist Church now, and it's not the Collins playfield anymore. Spent all summer playing.

AI: What about chores or responsibilities as a child?

MN: I don't remember too much about chores, but I remember I was the downstairs maid and Carol was the upstairs. And she had to clean the upstairs and I had to clean the downstairs, but that's about all I could recall.

AI: You were the oldest sister in your family, and in some Japanese American families it's called Oneesan, and you're, there are other expectations. Did that happen with you?

MN: Not that I recall.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: So in your case, you didn't have a lot of...

MN: No, I was pretty carefree. [Laughs]

AI: Well, tell me a little bit more about, in school, did you have any special subjects that you enjoyed? Any particular activities in school or teachers that you recall?

MN: Just recess. No, I can't recall anything that I enjoyed more than anything, any other subjects.

AI: And at that time, while you were, when you were kids, young kids, was your mom mainly a homemaker, or did she work outside the home?

MN: She was mainly, when we were in grade school, she was mainly at home. And later on, she'd work out, but I know my father had an apartment for a while, and she used to go and clean apartments then. But that wasn't very long. And then he owned a restaurant, but... she did work a little bit, but not that much.

AI: So, and tell a little bit about your mother. What kinds of things did she emphasize to you kids as you were growing up, or what do you recall? Were there lessons that she wanted you to learn, or things that she wanted you to know about, or ways of behavior?

MN: I don't know whether she definitely said, "You gotta behave this way or that way," it was just, you, this is the way you're supposed to behave. And I remember my father used to say, "We're Japanese, and we have to speak only Japanese in the house." And it was tough on us; we had already gotten, started school, and we're starting to learn English, and then all of a sudden, that's the language we had to speak in the home. But soon, we just gradually changed over to English.

AI: And so among yourselves, especially, I imagine with Henry, Carol and Anne, you would be speaking English to each other.

MN: Definitely.

AI: What about Japanese school? Did you attend?

MN: We went, I went... when did I go? About twelve years. I didn't enjoy it, but it was our duty to go every day after school, and we, and school wasn't very far from us, so we used to walk about four blocks away and then go right after our regular schooling. And if I skipped, somebody would tattle on my mother, so we couldn't do that very often. [Laughs]

AI: Well, you mentioned earlier that your father had said that you're Japanese, and so you need to speak Japanese in the home, he was insisting on that. Did he say very much about what that meant, being Japanese, being Nihonjin? Or did he talk much about you being American?

MN: No, not that I recall.

AI: Now, what about religion in your family?

MN: My parents were Buddhists, but I don't know why, but they sent us to the Japanese Congregational Church, so we attended every Sunday. But we didn't participate that much. Only on special occasions my parents would come, Christmas plays or something like that.

AI: So while they were sending you to the Congregational church, did they also want you to know something about Buddhism, or did they...

MN: No, they never mentioned about their religion, and I remember they were into, what's the other offshoot of Buddhists? I can't remember the name.

AI: There's a, the other main religion in Japan, I believe, is Shinto.

MN: Yeah, one of those branches, and they were involved in that for a while.

AI: But for you, you didn't --

MN: It didn't have any meaning to me.

AI: And so you didn't feel any conflict --

MN: Connections or anything, no.

AI: Well, I'm wondering also, since your father had, at one time had the import/export business, and he had a restaurant, so he was a businessperson. I was wondering, was he very active with the Japanese businessmen's associations, or...

MN: He was quite active in the community.

AI: Tell me some of his activities.

MN: I don't know anything about what he was involved in.

AI: But he would attend meetings.

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: Did you have a sense that he was among the leaders of some of these associations?

MN: I kind of feel he was, but I don't know for sure.

AI: And what about the kenjinkai? Was that something that he or your family was involved in?

MN: What was that?

AI: The kenjinkai? The ken associations?

MN: Oh, Tottori-ken? It was a very small group. There weren't that many, like Hiroshima, they had, hundreds of people had come from Hiroshima. Well, maybe there were twenty, twenty-five from Tottori-ken, and so when we had a gathering, it would be very small.

AI: What about other kinds of community activities? Did your family participate in picnics or, during the summer, Bon Odori?

MN: Well, I know we, the Japanese school had a picnic every summer, and that was one of our big events, at Jefferson Park.

AI: So it seemed like since you were living in an area with lots of Japanese American families...

MN: Right, surrounded. Like I say, lived in a very protective area, so you didn't go out of that community, 'cause there was no need to go.

AI: Well then, as you were getting older, there also, of course, the Depression had been going on in the 1930s, and I was wondering, did that affect your father's business, do you know? Or did you feel any effect on your family of the Depression?

MN: Not really.

AI: So that didn't really affect you.

MN: No. I think maybe we were probably more fortunate than others.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: Now, then, also getting into the '30s, you started high school and attended Garfield High School here in Seattle, and I wonder if you could just give a little sense of, of the high school years.

MN: High school years? I know we used to walk to school every day, and that was quite a hike every day. And only when it rained we'd take a streetcar on Yesler, but, and you still had to walk quite a bit to get to Garfield High School. But that was fine with us, because that was the only way we knew. And as far as mingling with people, I guess we stuck pretty close to the Japanese people, even in school, because we felt more comfortable with the Japanese.

AI: What was the general ethnic composition of Garfield, the student, the student body?

MN: There were Chinese, Japanese, mostly white, and very few, and there were some black students.

AI: And then what about the teachers?

MN: They were all white.

AI: Well, I was wondering, during the high school years, did you also work while you were going to school, or did you have...

MN: In the summertime, I guess, 'cause I remember going to Puyallup for berry picking during the summer, strawberry picking. And then a couple times, I went to do housework, which I hated. And, but that's about all I did as far as work during high school.

AI: Tell me about, were there any people who had a particular influence on you while you were growing up, as a child, or during your high school years?

MN: I can't recall anybody that had any influence on me.

AI: High school is also kind of a time when a lot of kids want to fit in, want to belong, and I was wondering, where did you feel that you fit?

MN: I must have been a misfit, 'cause I don't know whether I fit anywhere. [Laughs] But I remember graduation, we weren't allowed to go to the prom, because they went to a club that we, Japanese weren't allowed. And so I remember forming and doing our own dance, getting it all set up and doing our own thing.

AI: When you realized that you wouldn't be allowed to attend the main prom, how did you find out about that, and how did that feel?

MN: It was taken for granted, because we knew about it, so it didn't affect you that much, because we understood that's where the line was drawn.

AI: So at that time, that kind of different treatment was...

MN: Didn't affect me, or it was acceptable, because that's the way it was.

AI: So, then were you involved in putting together your alternate prom event?

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: Tell me a little bit about that.

MN: I don't know much about it, but I know it was well-attended and we all had a good time.

AI: So then, as part of a, you mentioned earlier that you felt more comfortable with some of the other Japanese American kids. I was wondering what kind of activities you had, or did you, did you date while you were in high school?

MN: Yeah, not that much, but, and they were all Japanese anyway. And got to be friends with quite a few Jewish kids while in high school. In fact, about two or three years ago, we still got together with some of the Jewish friends that I had during high school. And I still get a letter from one of 'em that lives in San Diego.

AI: Well, from what I understand, what I've heard from others and some reading, it sounds like there was an amount of anti-Semitism at that time, also, that not only that Japanese Americans weren't allowed to go to certain places such as the prom, the country club, but the same with Jewish people. Was that something that you were aware of at the time?

MN: No, I wasn't aware of it. Like I say, I was in a very protective environment, and you don't grow living under those circumstances, so you didn't know what was going on in the outside world.

AI: Well, you were mentioning how a certain amount of this discrimination was just accepted at the time. Were there places in Seattle that you simply didn't go to because you knew that you would not be served, or you would not be allowed?

MN: Well, first of all, we didn't have transportation, so we didn't wander around that far. I think the only, furthest place we went was, took a bus to, it was like... it's where Bitter Lake is now, and it was a playground. And maybe once a year or something, we would venture out that far, but that's about as far as we ever went.

AI: So it sounds like you pretty much had a little world that you stayed within, and that was comfortable.

MN: It was comfortable, and so you don't feel that discrimination because you grew up in that little world.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: Well, now, while you were at high school, what kinds of thoughts did you have about your future for after graduation from high school? What were some of the things you were thinking about?

MN: Not that much. I know at one time, I thought I wanted to be a social worker, but other than that, nothing big.

AI: What were some other hopes, or did you have other dreams that... even maybe that you didn't share with others, but you thought, well, if you could, you might be interested in?

MN: No, I wasn't that ambitious, so I didn't have kind of dream so much. A lot of people, they say, "I want to be a movie star," or something big, but I didn't have that kind of...

AI: But being a social worker was something that you kind of had...

MN: That was in the back of my mind all the time.

AI: Your brother Henry was a year older than you were, and did I understand right that he went to college?

MN: He started University of Washington just before the war.

AI: And so he was already at the University of Washington.

MN: Uh-huh, when the war broke out.

AI: And then, but before the war broke out, you graduated high school from Garfield, also, and was that 1941 that you graduated?

MN: Yes. Henry was different, too, though. He was very active in Garfield, and he was, I think, vice-president of the senior class, and so he took a different path than I did.

AI: When you were graduating from Garfield, what were your plans? What did you think you would be doing next?

MN: I didn't really have any plans, and then all of a sudden I realized that I didn't have the background to go to college, and so I went back to school to pick up on algebra and some of the requirements that I needed for college, rather than going to college and pay for all that. I went back and did post-graduate classes.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: So that would have been in the fall of 1941, you started taking some classes at Garfield. And then was, was it about the same time that you had applied for a job?

MN: Yeah, applied for the Seattle School District job as a clerk, and that was a part-time job, and I got it, and it was at Stevens grade school. And it was only four hours a day. The reason we were able to get into the school was because all the white clerks left the school district because they got better-paying jobs that we couldn't get into, like Boeing and all the war movements that they were able to get into.

AI: So even though the United States had not officially entered World War II yet, there were still a buildup of industry in the area, like at Boeing. It's interesting to hear about that, because I think before that time, would there have been any chance that you would have been hired for something like a clerk position?

MN: No. There is, one of the clerks had her teacher's certificate, and she would never find a job as a teacher, so she was working as a clerk.

AI: So you started as a part-time clerk at the Stevens grade school in the fall of '41, and you must have been one of the first non-white clerks there, is that right?

MN: Probably. But the principal was real nice, and very understanding. And since I only worked four hours a day, didn't have that much contact with the other teachers in the building.

AI: So generally your, your early experience there was all right, and did you face any kind of prejudice or discrimination?

MN: Not that I know of.

AI: Not at that point.

MN: I was so dumb, I wouldn't have known if they were prejudiced against me. [Laughs]

AI: Well, was it something that you were worried about when you had applied for the job?

MN: Not that I recall.

AI: So then --

MN: I was just thrilled to get a job. And even if it paid only thirty cents an hour, that's four hours every day, that amounts to $1.20 a day, and for one week, $1.20 will be... what is it? Five times... six, six dollars a month -- a week. But I was happy.

AI: And at that time, it was a regular job, steady income that you had?

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: Well, tell me, after you had started working there at Stevens, but before December, before December 7th, were you very aware of the war in Europe, or the war in the Pacific, Japan's military?

MN: No, I was not.

AI: And, because at about that time, there were, there were some headlines about the war, and also there were some headlines about worsening relations with Japan. I was wondering if you or anyone in your family had followed the news, or discussed that.

MN: Followed the news, but then there was no discussion or anything that I recall about it. There probably was, but I can't recall.

AI: And also in this period, this short period of the end of 1941 but before December 7th, anything else that comes to mind about that period when you were going to school part-time and working part-time?

MN: No, I can't recall anything that happened.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: Well, then, of course, we have Sunday, December 7, 1941, and can you tell what happened on that day?

MN: Yeah, the whole world changed then. Well, my life changed. My father and mother were entertaining friends at the house, and I remember my mother sent me to the store to pick up something, and it was only about three blocks away from the house, and that's where I heard that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. And so I come running home and telling them about the news, and so we listened to the radio and then found out that that was true. And since it was too late to cancel the dinner party, they went ahead with it. And at that time, all his dinner that he used to have at home were for men only. I could never figure that out today. No women were invited, and my mother was a good cook, and she cooked a big meal, and they were enjoying their sake and everything, when suddenly the FBI entered the house unannounced. And they had a long list of names of the Japanese that they were supposed to be picking up, and it was amazing that every man in the, at the party was on the list except for one man, and so they were all arrested right then and there and taken into custody. We never knew where my father was taken, because we didn't have the connections that people have today, but, so we kept the porch light on every night hoping that he would come home, but he never did come home. So it was years later that we got reunited with my father.

AI: That must have been shocking.

MN: Yeah, it must have been hard on my mother, 'cause then she had to call all the people that were in attendance, to tell them where their husbands were. So it was quite an experience.

AI: What was going through your mind?

MN: I wasn't home at that time, so when I came home, I was shocked to see only one man left, and then they told me what had happened.

AI: So how did your mother manage after your father was taken away?

MN: She must have been a strong person, 'cause she was able to cope with it. But that would be so difficult to cope with all that, and I remember he was at Dearborn, that detention center for a while, and then he got shipped to Missoula Montana. And my mother and her friend went to Missoula, 'cause they wanted power of attorney for my father to get rid of the furnishings and automobile and things that we had to do before we were, left for camp. (Narr. note: My father was moved from Missoula, Montana to Ft. Stanton, Texas on 5/17/42, then transferred to Lordsburg, New Mexico on 6/18/42. He was eventually released in May of 1945.)

AI: Well, before he was removed to Montana, were you or your mother or anybody able to visit him at the detention center here in Seattle?

MN: Not that I know of, we never did visit him.

AI: So when that, that night of December 7th, all this had gone on, what was going through your mind as far as what might happen, your work, school?

MN: Well, then you really realize that the war was on, and we were caught right in-between, I would say. As far as what was going through my mind, I don't recall, but it was a frightening experience.

AI: Some families whose fathers were taken like yours had mentioned that they felt embarrassed, that somehow that it seemed like their father had done something wrong because he had been arrested. Was that anything that affected you?

MN: No, I didn't feel embarrassed about it, because he wasn't the only man that got picked up.

AI: And did you have any communication with your father, then, for the rest of that year, after he was picked up to the end of the year?

MN: Not that I recall.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: Well, now, in the meantime, that was a Sunday, December 7th, and the next day was a Monday. Normally you would then go to classes in the morning and go to work. Tell me about that day, December 8th.

MN: Well, felt real subdued about going to school, but nobody discussed anything about it, so we went to all our classes, and only one teacher came up to me and said that she felt badly for us, and that she would be of any help to us if we needed it. But she was the only one.

AI: So you didn't get any direct negative treatment, but also...

MN: No positive or negative.

AI: What about when you reported for work that afternoon?

MN: I didn't feel anything.

AI: So again, you didn't get any immediate negative...

MN: No, no vibes. The kids were too young to understand, anyway, and like I say, the principal was very kind and understanding, so it made it a lot easier.

AI: Well, as December continued on, do you recall anything about the end of that year, the holiday season or New Year's?

MN: It's a blank. We went through the motions, I would imagine, but that's about it.

AI: And were there any rumors going around that you had heard about what might happen?

MN: Oh, yeah. There was rumors every day.

AI: Tell, tell me about what kind of things you were hearing.

MN: That we were going to be put in camps and we thought, well, we're citizens. We don't have to go. But that was our firm belief at that time, but things changed, and we were soon rounded up and left for camp.

AI: Well, before that happened, there were some other restrictions: curfew and travel.

MN: Yeah, we couldn't travel, and I don't know what the radius was where we couldn't go from one place to another, and there was a curfew, we had to be in by eight o'clock and not leave the house 'til six. And the Chinese wore "I'm Chinese" buttons. Well, my brother borrowed a Chinese button, and he used to go out at night, but I don't know whether my mother knew he snuck out, but he always came home safely. [Laughs]

AI: What about, some people got worried about things that they had from Japan. Did your family get rid of anything, or destroy any things?

MN: My sister was saying that my mother was getting rid of some of the books, and burned it in the furnace, but other than that, we didn't do, we didn't destroy most of the things.

AI: So then, as time went on and as I understand it, newspaper coverage became, started becoming more negative toward Japanese and even Japanese Americans. Did you notice any increasing negative feeling toward you in January/February?

MN: No, I don't recall.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: And then it was in February, I believe, that there, some parents of schoolchildren made some kind of protest about the employment of Japanese Americans like yourself. Can you tell about that?

MN: Yeah, it was amazing, 'cause it came out in the newspaper, reading about it, and I go, "Wow. If they only knew how dumb and innocent I was, they wouldn't even bother." But they even went as far to say that we may poison the food, the lunch food. But I didn't get there 'til after lunch, so there was no way I could get to the lunchroom, and it was ridiculous, the whole thing. But then we were the targets.

AI: I understand that one of the leaders of this parent movement was a Mrs. Sekor, Esther Sekor, that she had a child at one of the grammar schools in Seattle, and that she was one of the main organizers pushing to have you and the other employees fired.

MN: Yeah, she was pretty dynamic to start this protest, and she said they never had a Japanese clerk working at that school, I think it was Gatewood. And they had no Japanese in the school, "so they shouldn't have a Japanese clerk working in their school."

AI: And what other kinds of complaints did you hear? Other charges or accusations?

MN: Those are the only two main complaints I heard, but it's all what I read in the paper.

AI: What did you think was going to happen when you saw this kind of complaint come up?

MN: We had no idea what was going to happen, and finally, James Sakamoto got all these clerks together, there were (twenty-seven) of us, and I guess the superintendent contacted him and asked him to talk to us. And to this day, I know I went to the meeting, but it's a blank. I blocked it out entirely, and it was after the war, when we were getting a redress against the school district that I, "Oh, I was there. There's my signature on the resignation sheet." So I guess, I says, "I must have been there." But to this day, I've blocked it out of my mind, and I don't know what happened at the meeting, but I know I attended.

AI: Well, for people who don't know, tell a little bit about James Sakamoto, and what the significance was that he was the one who called you together.

MN: Jim was a community leader, and he was blind, but he was a dynamic person. And so from what I hear, he was very instrumental in getting all of us to sign our resignation.

AI: He was the, of course, the editor, the founder and the editor of the...

MN: Courier League.

AI: Japanese American Courier newspaper, he sponsored a lot of activities, including the Courier League sports, and he was also very active with the Japanese American Citizens League.

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: So those were all things that you knew about him. I'm wondering --

MN: So we all looked up to him, and says, oh, when he called us all to office, we all attended.

AI: Was there anything else that you recall about that period of when you were being asked to resign, who else was involved? For example, did your principal get involved in this discussion at all?

MN: No, he didn't get involved. The only person that I know was... can't recall her name now, but she was working at the administration building, and then the superintendent called her in, and said he knew about the meeting, because he's the one that had Jim set up the meeting for us. And he told her that, "You should persuade all the girls to resign, because otherwise, you're gonna lose your job anyway."

AI: And so you, there was this sense that you could either resign voluntarily, or if you didn't do that...

MN: We'd have been fired anyway. And so I remember the article that came out right after we signed our resignation, Mrs. Sekor said it was "very 'white' of those girls to resign." Yeah. That's blatant discrimination. I wonder if we were black, whether she would have said it was "black" of them to resign? [Laughs]

AI: It's, it made it very clear what her thinking was.

MN: Uh-huh. It was just discrimination.

AI: I, as you mentioned, later during the redress era, some information was brought out about what happened regarding your forced resignation. And we'll come back to the redress part of it later on in our interview, but before that, in this book, here is a copy of the letter that you all signed, and I wonder if you could just read it for us. It starts right there and continues to the next page.

MN: Okay. "To the school board: We, the undersigned American citizens of Japanese ancestry have learned that our presence as employees in Seattle School District system has been protested by certain person and organizations. Most of us have received our education in local schools, and have been proud of the fact as we have been proud of our positions as employees. We do not take this action in any spirit of defeat, but believe we can by our resignations demonstrate beyond dispute that we have the best interest of the school system at heart. We take this step to prove our loyalty to the school system and the United States by not becoming a contributing factor to dissension and disunity when national unity in spirit and deed is vitally necessary to the defense of and complete victory for America. We bear no ill will toward those who have protested our employment in the school system. We feel that is their privilege. We only hope that the welfare of the schools will be served by our action in resigning the positions we now occupy. Finally, we wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to the School Board, the superintendents, the principals, and teachers for the kind treatment accorded us."

I read somewhere where they said it was for the good of the war effort, but I still don't understand how it could be, help the war effort if we had resigned.

AI: Yeah, it doesn't really make sense.

MN: No.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: Well, so then after you resigned from your position, what happened next after that? What did you do?

MN: Well, like a good daughter that I should have been, I should have been home helping my mother pack, but I was off volunteering at the JACL office. And at that time, the JACL office had set up information center for people that needed help in filling out any forms or answering any questions that they needed in order to, for their departure to camp.

AI: So at this point, it had already become well-known that you, the Nisei, the U.S. citizens, everybody of Japanese ancestry was going to be forced to leave. And, of course, it was the end of March 1942 when the Bainbridge Island people were first removed. So was it about that time, about March or so that you were volunteering in the JACL office?

MN: I think so. So there were quite a few of the women that had been fired from the Seattle School District that were volunteering their time at the JACL office.

AI: Had you been involved with JACL before then?

MN: Never.

AI: And what was your impression of JACL at the time?

MN: No impression.

AI: So as you --

MN: I didn't know anything about, too much about them.

AI: And so as you were, and the other women were volunteering, what kinds of information were you providing, or what kind of information did you have available about what was happening?

MN: I don't recall too much about what information we were dispensing, but I know at one time, they had to fill some forms up, so we used to type out the information for them.

AI: And so this was also the period where each Japanese American family was supposed to have their head of household or representative come and register, fill out information on themselves, and they, is that where then they would receive their family numbers and instructions?

MN: I don't remember whether they received the family numbers there or, I know they received their luggage tags, but other than that, I don't know where we got our identification numbers.

AI: What kind of impression did you get about what was gonna happen to you?

MN: Everything was moving so fast, I can't recall too much about my own impression.

AI: And as you say, your mother was very busy at home.

MN: Oh, she had the brunt of the whole household. She had to get rid of all the household goods, and we had a car, she had to get rid of the car, and we had a dog, and she had to find a home for the dog. So it was a great undertaking for her to do it by herself, and not knowing what to take, how long we were going to be gone, was more difficult.

AI: And what about your brother, Henry? Had he then stopped attending classes at...

MN: No, he was still going to school then.

AI: And then there was you, and also your two sisters also at home. What about your own preparation? Were there things that you got together for yourself to take?

MN: I remember my mother said that we could, what we treasured most, we could put it in a little box, and she'll get it stored somewhere. And so we put our precious belongings, what we thought was precious at the time, into the little box. And after the war when I came back and found the box, I was disgusted. Here were all these love letters that I had tied in a pink ribbon, and I go, "Why did I save all this?" [Laughs] So that's how immature I was at that time. There was nothing worth saving in that box.

AI: You were a teenager, and you had some teenage kinds of things that you had saved, it sounds like.

MN: Well, I, we were teenagers, but I think we were very immature teenagers.


AI: May, just before our break, you were telling about preparations before being forced out of Seattle. And I was wondering if there was anything else you remember about the, kind of the last minute before you were leaving.

MN: No, everything is pretty vague. Everything moved so fast that I don't have any incident that I recall, except when the dog left for his home. That's another interesting story; and the dog, he was in Lake City when my mother was in Idaho, she got shipped to Lake City -- I mean, from Lake City to camp, and she was one of the few dogs in camp. And then when my mother moved to Chicago, she came to Chicago with her, and then when my mother moved to Seattle, the dog moved back to Seattle. A well-traveled dog.

AI: That's funny.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AI: Well, did I have the date right, that you left Seattle on May 8, 1942? Does that sound right?

MN: That's right.

AI: What happened that morning, that day?

MN: I think we walked to Collins Playfield, because that's where we departed from, and it was only a block away. And a truck must have come after our baggage, I don't remember much about it. And we boarded the bus, and there were a few people out to wave us goodbye, but not very many.

AI: And then you took the bus...

MN: To Puyallup.

AI: And you knew that you were going to Puyallup.

MN: I don't know whether I knew. And we were not in the Puyallup Fairgrounds, we were kitty-corner from the fairgrounds, and so it was a parking lot at that time that they transformed into barracks. And when we got there, all the barbed wire fences were up and the four towers on the four corners were up with the soldiers manning the guns.

AI: What was your feeling as you...

MN: Well, then you knew you were prisoners, and we had lost our freedom, and we were stuck there. But then we had many friends there, so a lot of times it was more like a picnic.

AI: Well, the area you were describing, where you were put with your family, became known as Area A, is that right?

MN: Area A, uh-huh.

AI: Tell me about your living condition there.

MN: It wasn't good. Since my brother was the only boy in the family, and my father was gone, and so he stayed with another family, and their two girls came and lived so that it'd be easier, all girls and all boys in one, different rooms, because you only had one room for the whole family.

AI: So in other words, you and your sisters shared a room with...

MN: Two other friends.

AI: And your brother went...

MN: Went to their family, 'cause they had more boys. They had four or five boys. It fit, it really fit better for them.

AI: And what was your daily life like?

MN: Well, it was getting adjusted to living like that. When all of a sudden, when you used to have own room, all of a sudden you're in one room with everybody, and there was no privacy whatsoever. You couldn't, if you got mad at your mother or your sister, we used to run up to our room and close the door. In camp, there was nowhere, absolutely nowhere. Even in the bathroom there was no privacy, so you couldn't run to the bathroom, either, to hide. So I think that's one of the hardest things to get used to, losing your privacy.

AI: And what about meals there in Puyallup?

MN: Like somebody said, your food was as good as the cook. So it depended on the cook you had, so I can't remember, all I remember is how they sloshed the food on your plate, and you sat anywhere and ate with the general public.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: Now, you were born in May, and so you were going to have your twentieth birthday right there in Puyallup.

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: Tell me about that.

MN: Oh, when I was volunteering at the JACL office, there was a young soldier there, and he was a (driver), his lieutenant was assigned to the office to help us with evacuation. And so this young soldier had nothing else to do except drive the lieutenant wherever he wanted to go. And so he had lots of time on his hands, so he sat around and talked to us all the time we were there, so we got pretty well-acquainted with him. And just before we were leaving for camp, I says, "My birthday's coming and I won't have a birthday cake for the first time in my life." And that was all I said, and I go, "How immature could I be when I'm worrying about a birthday that's coming up?" Well, we had bigger things that were happening all around us, but when we got to Puyallup, May 12th came and somebody came running to find me, and said I had a visitor. Well, the visitors weren't allowed into camp, and we weren't allowed to go outside, so we had to talk between barbed wire fence. And then when I got to the gate, I was surprised to see this young soldier there, and then he shoved the cake through the barbed wire fence and said, "Happy birthday, May." And I was just shocked and speechless to think that he would take the time to go out and buy a cake and bring it over. And I thought, "Well, there's still some good people out on the other side of the fence." But that was the last time I ever saw him, and to this date, I don't even know his name, and so I'm sorry that I lost contact with him.

AI: What an interesting memory. It must have been very positive to have that happen.

MN: 'Cause that was one of the good things that happened in camp.

AI: Well, you also mentioned, just talking about this as evacuation, I was wondering, when you were talking about it yourselves at that time, being evacuated, did that seem strange to you, that it was called "evacuation"?

MN: No, 'cause that was the word that was used most.

AI: I was wondering because people are evacuated for hurricanes or whatever, but, so it just seemed normal at that time.

MN: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: Well, then there at Puyallup, did you have activities, or some people had jobs, and other activities, what about yourself?

MN: Yeah, worked... well, I wouldn't say worked, we played over there. We went, reported in to the office, and we didn't do much of anything, but it was somewhere to go every day, and we reported in. And I can't remember what we did.

AI: Was this the administration office?

MN: It was the administration office for that area.

AI: For Area A?

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: And what about your mother and sisters?

MN: They played. [Laughs]

AI: Well, then at some point, were you told what was going to happen next, where you were going to go next?

MN: Well, then rumors started to fly again, and nothing was sure.

AI: You were still in Puyallup, I think, in July.

MN: July, August, and then we left in September.

AI: While you were in Puyallup, was there anything that kind of stands out in your mind?

MN: You know, the people from Alaska were sent to Puyallup, and I felt sorry for this one group of people from Alaska, they had one-eighth or one-sixteenth blood of Japanese, they didn't, they didn't look Japanese. And they were the misfit; I felt sorry for them because they didn't fit in, but they were shipped into our camp.

AI: Well, so then you had...

MN: In fact, they were on the same street as we were, so that's why we knew the people from Alaska.

AI: I had heard that also from other folks who had been there, and it really seems like it emphasized that it was really a racial discrimination.

MN: Yeah, because they didn't look Japanese, you know?

AI: So just the very idea that they had some part...

MN: Japanese blood in them, and so they got shipped out.

AI: Well, of course, one of the accusations that were being made at the time was that so many Japanese American -- [coughs] -- excuse me -- families had relatives in Japan who may have even been serving in the Japanese military. That the accusation was, "Well, so then Japanese American families must have some loyalty to Japan." Was that something that you were aware of at the time, or that you felt affected you or your family? Of course, you did have relatives over there, most people, everybody did.

MN: We had relatives in Japan, but then it didn't affect me personally. Probably affected my mother and father. But as far as myself, I wasn't affected because we didn't know them that well anyway.

AI: While you were in Puyallup -- speaking of your father -- did you receive any communication from him?

MN: I can't remember too much about communication in Puyallup, but I know in Idaho, he was communicating with my mother, and all the letters were censored. And so when we got the letters, there would be great big holes in the letter. And since I didn't read Japanese, I had no idea what he said in the letter, or what he was trying to tell us when the holes were made, when they were censored. But I didn't know that... my sister said she got information from the FBI about my father's background and her own background, and she said they had copies of letters that we had written to my father. And she said all the medical information, she said it was very detailed. I haven't got mine, but she told me to get mine and read it.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: Well, so you mentioned that it was in the fall, late September or sometime in October of 1942 that you left Puyallup, and you were taken to Idaho, to Minidoka.

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: Tell me about that, moving to Minidoka.

MN: Well, I remember the train ride; it was dirty and old and all the blinds were pulled down all the time. And the seats weren't very comfortable. I don't know where they found these old trains, but it was running, and so they made us pull all our blinds down because this way the people on the outside couldn't see what kind of cargo they were taking. And we couldn't, then they didn't want us to see where we were going, but we had no idea where we were going. And I can't remember how long it took us to get to Idaho.

AI: Tell me about when you got there.

MN: It was a very dismal feeling, because as soon as you got to the grounds, all you saw was sagebrushes, and there were no trees or nothing. And then rows and rows of barracks, and then the wind was whipping up and the dust was flowing. It wasn't a pleasant atmosphere when we got there.

AI: What was your living condition?

MN: When we got to our room, every family was assigned to one room, depending on the size of the family. And so since there was five of us, all we had in the rooms was five cots and one potbelly stove, and that was it. No furnishing, no chairs, no nothing.

AI: Just a bare room with those items.

MN: Just a room. They did furnish the bed and the mattress. And then you lined them all up in the room, and there wasn't, there wasn't much room to move around, either.

AI: So tell me about daily life there in Minidoka.

MN: The winters were frigid, and the summers were real hot, because we only had one room, one window, and that's not much of a ventilation to cool off your room. And since there were no shades, it was impossible to cool it off. And then in the wintertime, we weren't used to those cold weathers, and we had to keep the stove burning all night in order to keep us warm. And I guess my mother took care of that. 'Cause I says, when we had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night in that freezing weather, you had to put on your jacket, boots and pants, and hat and gloves, and then march out into that cold weather. And then it just depended where your barrack was, how far the bathroom was from your room. And I would say my, our room, where we were situated, would be about three doors from my neighbor's house. So it's just like me going down three doors away to borrow their bathroom.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AI: So that first winter of 1942 in Minidoka, tell me about that. You were saying that it was really cold. Were you also working at that time in camp?

MN: Yes. I was working in... oh, I know, when I first got into camp, I was working as a teacher's assistant, and that was not a good fit for me, 'cause I'm not used to little kids. And one day, one of the little girls dropped her mittens in the toilet. At that time, they only had outhouses, 'cause the camp (bathroom) wasn't finished. And so she dropped her mittens, and the teacher ordered me to go in there and pull that mitten out of the hole. [Laughs] Well, I got it out, and I don't know what I did, I must have had to wash it and everything, and I quit soon after that. That was enough of that job. [Laughs]

AI: Well, then after that, what did you find as far as work?

MN: I worked in the administration building, but I still don't know what we did there. Probably just shuffled some papers, but I reported every day. It was something to do.

AI: What about the rest of your family?

MN: My mother, it took a while. She didn't work, do anything for a long time, and then we were located in Block 6, and that was close to the hospital, so she worked as a nurse's aide, which is something she'd never done before.

AI: How was your mother's English? Was she able to communicate fairly well?

MN: Yeah, hers was much better than my father's. My father's was hopeless, but my mother was able to communicate with half-English, half-Japanese.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AI: I had heard that some parents in camp would say things to their Nisei children about, that perhaps the future of the United States was not so good for them. That here you were, U.S. citizens, but still treated the same as they, the immigrants, the non-citizens. Did your mother say anything like that to you, or did you hear any of that kind of conversation?

MN: Not that I recall, but I remember at one time, my father wrote to my mother and said he had enough of this, and he was going back to Japan. And he asked if we would go with him, and I says, "No way would we go." We don't know that country. Even if we are mistreated here, we still don't know anything about Japan. And so we said, no way would we go back. And so he decided to go on his own, and he got shipped from, I guess he was in Crystal City, Texas, to New York. And he got as far as New York to disembark, and somehow, he didn't, he got cut off and he didn't make it on the ship, which I think was real fortunate. And he came back, he was sent back to Crystal City, Texas, again.

AI: So what was your thinking about that when you heard that your father was determined that he was going to go back to Japan?

MN: I think his thinking and my thinking was quite different, but he was a very determined man, and this is what he was going to do, that's what he did.

AI: But in the end, he was turned back.

MN: Yeah, so it was fortunate that he was turned back.

AI: Well, another thing that happened, of course, in early 1943, was the so-called "loyalty questionnaire" came out. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

MN: I knew the questions were floating around, but as far as how I felt or thought about it, it's very vague at this time.

AI: Did you have any conversation with your brother or sisters about it?

MN: I don't think my brother was in camp, and my sister was in, younger, so no, we didn't have that much conversation about it.

AI: So Henry had gone out to work earlier, out, out from camp.

MN: Then he was later going to school in Pocatello.

AI: Well, of course, he was also a year older than you, and so he was draftable age. Was your mother worried about that at all? Or were any of you thinking or discussing about that?

MN: Well, we weren't worried about the draft too much, because they weren't drafting the Japanese at that time anyway. But I remember when he came back from Pocatello for a visit one day, he announced to my mother that he was going into the service, and my mother got really shook up, because, after all, he was the only son in the family. And I remember she used to wear dark glasses 'cause she was crying all the time.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AI: Well, and that was, that was in 1943 when the government decided to allow Japanese Americans to volunteer.

MN: Uh-huh. So he had volunteered. So he entered, I read where he entered in 1943, and since... I don't know what his background was, why he knew any Japanese, but he went to (...) in Minnesota.

AI: The MIS?

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: Military Intelligence Service. Lots of people were talking about going out of camp at that point, in 1943. What were you thinking about it?

MN: Well, my sister had already, she first went... she was younger than I, but she went out sugar-beeting, and then soon after that she went to Salt Lake City. But I was still in camp, and then soon after that, I left for Spokane, Washington.

AI: How did you manage that, how did that happen?

MN: I don't know how it happened. I guess I had a, you had to have a sponsor to get you over there, so my girlfriend was there, so she sponsored me, and I worked in a home as a housegirl. And I hated the job, 'cause she treated me like a maid, and she was out every single night 'cause her husband was in the service, and I had the sole care of the little child. Put her to bed, fed her and everything else, 'cause she slept 'til noon every day. And then one day, I decided, "Well, this is no fun. I'm not going to stay in this position all the rest of my life," and so I decided, "Well, maybe I'll go to school." So I had applied for a part-time position in another home. Well, the woman called this woman -- the woman I was working for, for referral on me. Well, I hadn't talked to the woman that I was gonna leave. She was so upset she called me in, and I had to leave right then and there. [Laughs] She says, "You don't know what you're doing to me." She says, "Here I, here it is wartime, my husband's overseas," but she's having a good time, she was out every single night, and it was such a sacrifice on her part. And so she told me to leave, so I left.

AI: So then what, after you left that position?

MN: I stayed with my girlfriend for a few, a week or two, then I went back to camp, because that was my only home. I didn't know any other, where else to go, so I went back into camp again.

AI: Tell me about that trip, returning from Spokane back to Minidoka.

MN: Norio Wakamatsu was going back, and there were a couple other people going back into camp. I don't know whether it was for a visit or just... but I was going back for good. And so we drove from Spokane to Idaho, and in one of the restaurants, I can't remember whether it was in Washington or Idaho, we sat there and they gave us a menu and the water, and we waited and waited. And Norio says, "I don't think they're gonna serve us." And I'm so innocent, I go, "Well, how do you know?" And he says, "Look around you, May." He says, "Everybody that came after us is eating already, and here we are sitting, and they haven't even come after our order." And I go, "Oh." So we left the restaurant, because Norio says, "They're not gonna serve us."

AI: So this whole time that you had been out to Spokane, had there been any other incidents of that sort?

MN: Yes, I was in downtown Spokane, and it was right in the middle of town, and at an intersection, and when we started to cross the, 'cause the light was green, there was an old lady that was coming toward us, and she spit at me and said, "Dirty old Jap." And I was flabbergasted, 'cause I have never come across anything like that before. I thought it was a very hurtful feeling, action on her part. How did she know we were Japanese or Chinese?

AI: Well, 'course, Spokane had a small Japanese American community from before World War II, but then they were not forced into camp, because they were east of the dividing line.

MN: Yeah, they were east of the mountains. So I don't have very many good feelings about Spokane.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AI: So then when you returned into Minidoka, that was still 1943, and you had mentioned that you had kind of started thinking about going back to school. Were you thinking of applying for college, possibly?

MN: No, because we couldn't afford to do that. And so after being bored in camp for a while, then I applied to go to Chicago, 'cause I had friends in Chicago, and they were willing to (support me). And you apply through Washington, D.C., and it takes months for the clearance to come through. And so when the clearance finally came through, I left for Chicago. They gave us twenty-five dollars and a train ticket. That was big money then.

AI: Before I ask you about the trip and about Chicago, I wanted to ask you one other thing about Minidoka, was about the social life there. I understand that some people had a very active social life in camp; dating, dances, meeting people and so forth.

MN: Yeah, we met a lot of people, and we had dances all the time. And finally, they used to show a little movie, and I could remember the first movie we went to see. It was in the mess hall, and it was Abbott & Costello. And we never laughed so much in my life, that it was one of the highlights that brought us out of the doldrums of everyday life in camp.

AI: Well, and I think you mentioned another thing that happened while you were at Minidoka, is that you met your future husband.

MN: Yeah, it's... one person interviewed me about that, and she wanted to make a romantic story out of it, and so she asked me how I met him. And I says, "Oh, when we first got to camp, the Portland people had not come in, and so I knew a few people from Portland, so we were standing at the bus watching the people embark from the busses. And that's where I met him, but he was waiting for his girlfriend at that time." [Laughs] She says, "Oh, that's not a very romantic story to tell."

AI: Well, so while you were in camp, did you get to know him?

MN: Not that well, but it was later on, after he volunteered for the services that we started to correspond.

AI: And what was his name?

MN: Tom. In fact, it's Tomomi, that's shortened to Tom.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

AI: Well, so then you were just starting to say about how you then got out of Minidoka, your friend sponsored you to go to Chicago. At that time, that was quite a long train ride.

MN: It was a long train ride, and I go, "Gee, you have to be brave to go on your own all the way to Chicago at that young age."

AI: Did you have other friends that were going out at the same time?

MN: No, I went by myself, and there were, I had friends over there, so it was nice. And when I left camp, since we ate all those starchy foods -- in those days, we used to wear this pleated skirt that used to hang straight. Well, by the time I left camp and wore that skirt, all the pleats were turning out -- [laughs] -- 'cause I had gained so much weight. But as soon as I got into the big city, unknown city and hustle and bustle, which was scary, I lost my weight. I didn't know how, but it just fell off of me, and I never gained it back.

AI: That must have been the, was that the biggest city you'd ever been to?

MN: Biggest city I'd ever lived in. Still is. [Laughs]

AI: What was your first impression there? What did you see first and do first when you got to Chicago?

MN: I don't recall what I did first or my impression, but it was a busy city, and nobody paid attention to you, because there were so many other ethnic groups there, Mexicans and stuff, that they didn't bother you. And I remember my girlfriend said, we were getting on the streetcar, and in Seattle you learn how to wait your turn to get in. And she pushed me in and said, "You'll never make the train, I mean, get on the bus if you don't get in." So she pushed me in, so that's... I learned how to push like the rest of 'em later on.

AI: Tell me about where you first lived after you got to town.

MN: I lived with my girlfriends for a while, and since it was getting crowded, I moved out and I had another girlfriend that was looking for a place, so we moved together and found an apartment.

AI: What was that, what area was that, or what...

MN: It was in the north end, and I can't exactly recall just exactly where it was. And at that time, I went to business school, and then working part-time at Stevens grade school -- I mean, Stevens Hotel in the evenings. And at that time, the FBI had come and had investigated me. I didn't know anything about it until they told me. Had gone to the place where I had lived, they went to my school, they went to my employee, they talked to my friends, everybody knew about it except me, and they even went to the apartment where I was living, and the woman got so scared she evicted me right then and there.

AI: What was that about? Did you find out?

MN: The FBI investigating? 'Cause my sister says, "How come they investigated you and didn't touch any of us?" And I recall that Seattle School District, when we got hired, and when there was all this ruckus, I read where all our names were given to the FBI (...) for clearance. And so I figured that's where the FBI had my name and did their search.

AI: So after you, you were evicted, what happened then?

MN: Then we had to find another place, and maybe it was better because we found a better place.

AI: What was that like, looking for housing in Chicago at that time?

MN: Sometimes it was difficult, and other times they didn't care who they (rented the rooms to).

AI: Well, something else that I understand or that other people have mentioned is that the racial composition of Chicago is quite different from Seattle. Can you tell me about that?

MN: There were a lot of foreigners, it seemed like, so when you, when we got there, they didn't bother you. Like in Seattle, if you went downtown, you stuck out. But over there, you didn't stick out at all. And jobs were easier to find in Chicago.

AI: And I understand that Chicago had, at that time, a much larger black population than there was in Seattle.

MN: Had larger what?

AI: A larger black population, African American population.

MN: Oh, that, they're, most of 'em lived in the south end, so we didn't have too much contact with the black people.

AI: So it wasn't as noticeable to you.

MN: No, no.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

AI: So, and now tell me a little bit about your business school experience.

MN: It was uneventful; I had to go every day.

AI: And was this something that you thought would lead to another position?

MN: Yeah, to advance myself so I could find a position, because I needed to work. And then, soon after that, I worked for the Boy Scouts of America, and that was right in the heart of downtown Chicago.

AI: Oh, tell me about that.

MN: It was, it was a good place, and yet, it wasn't a good place because at lunchtime, you went to shopping -- [laughs] -- in the big stores, 'cause all you had to do was cross the street and get there. But people were pretty nice, and we didn't have any difficulty except for this one woman. She worked in the addressograph department, and in those days, they didn't have the computers or anything, and so she had to use this old machine to get addresses and labels made from her old... it was really antique system. And she would never speak to me, and if I had to get her to do something for me, she would just nod, yeah, and was very cool to me. So one day I asked Bernice, a good friend there, I says, "Why is she, Sibyl so cold to me? I didn't do anything to her." And then she told me that her nephew was fighting in the Pacific, and that's why she had no use for me. And I said, "Well, what do you think, where do you think my brother is?" And so she went to tell her that, and then she started to get a little warmer, but she was never a warm... yeah. But that helped when Bernice went to tell her that.

AI: That your brother was also in the service.

MN: Uh-huh, fighting the same war.

AI: So other than that, it sounds like your treatment at the Boy Scouts organization was all right.

MN: Yeah, it was very good. 'Cause I worked for four men, and the man I worked under, he was a real gruff man, and nobody could understand why I got along with him. No problem.

AI: What kind of work did you do there?

MN: I was secretary for the four men.

AI: And then as you were saying, at lunchtime, if you went out shopping, it sounds like even in the downtown stores, that you would be served the same as anyone else.

MN: Uh-huh. We had no problem.

AI: That sounds like that would be quite different than some of the treatment that you might have gotten out on the West Coast.

MN: Right.

AI: Well, so then, about how long did you stay at the Boy Scouts, then?

MN: Maybe about three years.

AI: And during this time, then, in the meantime, your sister Carol left Salt Lake City...

MN: And joined me, and later on, Anne came and joined me. She, she went to beauty school, 'cause she had to make a living and she had just graduated from Hunt High School, and so she went to beauty school and she became a beautician there.

AI: And Hunt High School was, of course, the high school in Minidoka.

MN: Right.

AI: So then after Anne had come out of camp, then your mother stayed in Minidoka?

MN: By herself, with the dog. And then she soon came -- and then I don't know when it was that she joined us, but she joined us.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

AI: So I think you had said that about late in 1944, it might have been, because by the end of '44, let's see... or no, I'm sorry, by the end of '44 that Anne had been, joined you already. But then in 1945 then, of course, in August, that was the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the ending of the war. Around that time, do you recall much about hearing anything about the atom bomb?

MN: We read about it and thought it was dreadful, but didn't think too deeply in those days, I didn't anyway.

AI: Well, and, of course, your family was not from that area, either.

MN: No.

AI: So then with the ending of the war, did you -- and your mother had then come out to Chicago, but your father was still being held.

MN: Uh-huh, and my sister recalls that he joined us in Chicago after the war (on May 26, 1945).

AI: So he wasn't released until after that.

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: You had mentioned that your parents were thinking that they would like to return to Seattle, but what was your thought on this?

MN: Oh, I wasn't going back to Seattle. They kicked us out once, and why should I go back to Seattle? And that was my feeling, that I didn't want to go back to Seattle. But my sister was saying, after they came back to Seattle, they bought a house, and so they thought it was ridiculous for us to be paying rent in Chicago, and then, and when we could live there for free. And so they insisted that we come back, and so we finally came back.

AI: Well, before you moved back to Seattle permanently, you visited?

MN: Yeah. Before my parents were even in Seattle, I went back to Seattle for a visit, and we drove from Chicago, and on the way to Chicago, we stopped in Salt Lake City 'cause one of the fellows had a sister there, so we stayed overnight. And then they decided to go to the camp site to look it over. So we went to the camp site, and there was, the gate was shut closed, and there was a big padlock on it, and there were no barracks; it was all barren, nothing there. And we just stood there, 'cause we couldn't get in. And I go, "How did we survive this barren grounds?" And you marvel at the way we had survived our camp days. And it's, it's irony that two years before, we were in camp, we couldn't get out, and then two years later, we couldn't get back in.

AI: So it was all completely...

MN: It was desolate then, and there was nothing there. And just recently, last year, when I went for the first time to Minidoka, there were, it was all green and trees were growing, and, "Oh, this isn't what it was like in camp when we were there."

AI: So these days, it's much nicer.

MN: It's much nicer-looking, 'cause couple of my kids went with me, and I go, "This isn't what I wanted 'em to see."

AI: But at that time, it was still very barren.

MN: Yeah, it was very barren, and we could see the dust moving around yet.

AI: So then from there, after you stopped off there, then you continued to Seattle to visit?

MN: To visit friends, then they, the two men went on down to California and I took the train back to Chicago.

AI: Oh, was that, did you also visit in Oregon at that time, or was that a separate visit?

MN: Oh, during that time, yeah, when I came to Seattle for a visit, I did go down to Portland and saw Tom for a short time.

AI: So by that time, was he out of the service?

MN: He was out of the service, and he was working on the farm.

AI: Back at his family's farm.

MN: I don't know whether it was a family farm at that time, because they lost everything.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

AI: So then after you went back to Chicago, at the time of your visit, had you been thinking that you would move back to Seattle permanently, or you were still not...

MN: No. I had no thoughts of returning to Seattle.

AI: What was it that finally changed your mind?

MN: Well, my parents persuaded us to come back.

AI: So tell me about that then, returning to Seattle.

MN: It was late in '47 we came back to Seattle, and I know Carol and I were the only ones left in Chicago, 'cause Annie had already come back to Seattle, and she had registered to go to the University of Washington, so she was attending school at that time. So I said, "We gotta see a little more of the world," so we stopped in, took a long trip to L.A., and then back up to Seattle.

AI: How was it, going down to L.A. and coming up the coast?

MN: It was an interesting, you know, it was a fun trip.

AI: Had you ever been to L.A. before?

MN: No.

AI: Well, now, this was still only a... well, maybe two years after the war. What kind of treatment did you get as you were coming up the coastline?

MN: Didn't feel anything, no repercussion or anything.

AI: So you were served in restaurants...

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: ...and you were treated all right.

MN: Well, on the train, you don't get off, anyway.

AI: Oh, I'm sorry. You were on the train, you weren't driving?

MN: [Shakes head]

AI: So then after you returned to Seattle, what did you do at that time?

MN: Jobs were scarce, and the treatment wasn't nice, you know. And it was very difficult to find a job.

AI: So even though you had had a good, steady job in Chicago, good work experience, you had been to business school, it was still difficult for you.

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: Were you able to find something?

MN: I finally found some work for the government, I guess it was. But then it wasn't for very long, 'cause I soon got married and left Seattle and went to Portland.

AI: So that was in...

MN: 1948.

AI: 1948, in the fall. So tell me about your wedding. Did you get married in Seattle?

MN: We got married in Seattle, and we were going to go to Vancouver, Washington, for our honeymoon, and because of the restrictions, we weren't able to cross the border, so our plans were changed, and we went to San Juan Islands. And as soon as we got there, he got accepted to dental school, (...) you had to come back and put your money down to hold your place. So we came back to Portland and that's where I lived for four years while he went to dental school.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

AI: So where were you living in Portland?

MN: It's not there anymore, the house we rented. The Coliseum had been built in that area. But the house we were renting was close to the dental school, so he could, he was able to walk to school every day.

AI: And then what did, what were you doing then?

MN: I worked for the, the army, the reserve, in Vancouver, Washington, so I commuted every day to Vancouver, Washington.

AI: How did you get that job, and how...

MN: I have no idea how I got the job, but I was able to get a job.

AI: I think that's so interesting, because still, that's only a few years after the war, and to be in the Army Reserve office, how was that, that situation for you?

MN: It was fine, but it was a difficult job because the captain or the person, head of the, your section, would be transferred all the time, and you were adjusting to new bosses all the time. So it wasn't an easy place to work with, because most of the people that were assigned there weren't stationary.

AI: Lots of turnover.

MN: Uh-huh. So I worked there for four years until he finished school.

AI: And then what did you decide to do after that?

MN: Then we came up to Seattle and he started his practice in Seattle.

AI: So let's see... that would have been '49...

MN: '52.

AI: '52.

MN: Interesting, we were looking for a place to open a shop and -- not a shop, but a dental office, and this fellow was taking us around, and he took us to Ballard, and he says, "I don't think that's such a good fit for a Japanese dentist to be among the Swedes and the Norwegians." [Laughs] We never stayed in Ballard but we went further to Eighty-fifth and Greenwood. And at that time, it was outside the city limits, too.

AI: And so that's where Tom set up his practice?

MN: Uh-huh, and stayed there for thirty-three years.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

AI: Well, now, so in the meantime, though, your first son had been born.

MN: He was born in Portland while he was in dental school.

AI: In 1950 was it?

MN: Yeah, I worried, "How am I gonna raise this child when we're barely making it?" And then I looked around and I said, "Oh, the dogs and cats get fed, so I guess he'll get fed, too." [Laughs]

AI: And that was Ralph?

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: And then after you moved to Seattle, then you had the rest of your children.

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: And so next was Jim?

MN: Jim was next, four years later.

AI: And then you had twins?

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: And then your last son was...

MN: Dean.

AI: ...born in 1960?

MN: Yeah. I wanted a girl real badly from the very first. First girl was going to be Nancy, and the last one was going to be April. He made April because he was born on April 30th, but (he) was a boy. [Laughs]

AI: Well, and tell me about the naming of your, of your kids. Did you and Tom talk about the names, or did you consider any Japanese names at all?

MN: No, we didn't consider Japanese names. And all their middle names are from the uncles, and that's how we chose the middle name. But I think the hardest one was picking names for the twins, and Gary and Larry is a big mistake. They're too, too alike. So you should name your twins differently.

AI: Well, what were some of the mix-ups that you had with those names?

MN: Well, they're too close. You don't know... and one is, Gary is with one "r," Larry with two "r's," for one.

AI: So you raised your boys in that same house there in the Greenwood area for all that period? Well, tell me, do you think that the boys faced any experiences of prejudice themselves as they were growing up?

MN: I don't know. I don't think they knew prejudice at all, because they were always living among the white people and went to school with the white children. And they'd bring them home all the time, and we had no difficulty with them.

AI: So it seemed like they had good childhood friends and they were accepted by their friends.

MN: Yeah, we didn't have any difficulties, except one time I was trying to explain to Ralph that -- he was a teenager in high school, and they used to go up to Dick's Drive-In, that's still there, and after football games, it was a hang-out for all of them and so they, I always called him a "Rah-Rah Boy." Anyway, they used to hang out there. And then after a Ballard or Ingraham game, they would ensue, a big fight would ensue. And so one day I said to Ralph, "You know, if you're in that group and you're running away and the police are after you, they'll spot you right away because they'll recognize you right away." And he goes, "Why? Why am I so different?" He thought he was just like the white boys, and he didn't know that he was any different, which shocked me.

AI: Were you able to make him understand?

MN: I don't know, because he was well-accepted, and all he had was all these boys, white friends.

AI: So as far as he was concerned, he was the same.

MN: He was just the same. He didn't see, he didn't think he was any different than the, than they were.

AI: And why was it shocking for you?

MN: Well, that he didn't realize that he was different, 'cause I didn't ever emphasize that he was different.

AI: And so you and Tom didn't really talk to the boys about being Japanese American or...

MN: No, they just accepted it.

AI: And had they, did they know about your camp experience, or did that come up at all?

MN: Very little. It's funny how we never discussed it. I remember one time we were having dinner, and one of the boys had brought a girl for dinner, and we were discussing a little bit about camp life. And she thought, "Oh boy, this is a good family to get married to. They go camping." [Laughs] How little she knew that that isn't what we were talking about.


AI: So we're continuing our interview with May Namba, and May, just as we were finishing before the break, you were telling that funny story about one of the girls that one of your sons knew, misunderstood and thought that when you talked about camp, that you were talking about summer camp.

MN: There's another thing about discrimination. My boys all played football at Ingraham High School, and he was in the backfield, and one lineman on the other team said, "I'm gonna get you, Chinaman," and pointed at Larry. And the rest of the team felt real offended about that, and they pounced on him and pounced on him, and they said it was brutal the way they attacked him after that remark.

AI: Wow. So, so his teammates really stood up for him.

MN: Uh-huh. He was one of them.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

AI: Well, so then tell me, I think you had mentioned earlier that after your youngest had started school, that you also started thinking that you would go back and complete your education.

MN: Yeah. When he started kindergarten, I'd been home for sixteen years, 'cause my husband said, "You have to stay home with the kids." Huh. Anyway, so I stayed home, and when Dean started kindergarten, I go, "What in the world am I going to do with my time?" And a girlfriend of mine asked, said she was gonna register for community college, so she said, "Why don't you join me?" So I did, and we didn't get accepted at Shoreline Community College, so she dropped out thinking any further about it. But I continued and applied at Seattle Central Community College when they first opened, and I attended Seattle Community College.

AI: So that would have been, let's see. If Dean was in kindergarten, that would have been about 1965 or 1966 or so?

MN: Yeah, that's when they were having the riots and everything at Seattle Community College. It was exciting, I thought. [Laughs]

AI: What was that about? Tell about that.

MN: I don't really recall what the whole conflict was about, but I remember one day we were, we weren't in the classroom, we were up on a hill on the grass, and the teacher was talking to us, and then all of a sudden you see the police marching down in full force, and I go, "Wow." And another time, they'll have a sign, "classes cancelled." And then one day, we were in class, and the teacher said, "Oh, the people (on) the other campus is marching down to our school." And so she immediately closed her book and she was the first one out of the building. And I go, "Wow. They can't frighten me out, out of my..." so I stayed in the building. And I was standing, watching to see what was going on, and then they started to throw rocks into the window. And one of the professors pulled me aside and said, "You're gonna get hurt." And so they marched into the building, and all they did was march all around the building and then walked out, and that was it. So it was exciting, because we never knew from day to day what was going to happen.

AI: Well, there was so many things going on at that time, in the 1960s, that there was, of course, the Civil Rights movement was going on, a lot of students were becoming active, either for civil rights issues, or the anti-Vietnam War protesting, and demonstrating was starting to happen. And then, of course, the women's movement was happening at that time. What was that like for you... let's see, in 1966, you would have been forty-four.

MN: I was young yet.

AI: And here you were returning back to school in this environment. Tell me about what, some of the things that were going on, what it was like.

MN: I remember one class, I don't know what kind of class it was, but we were supposed to tell us a story, write a story and tell us what happened, and I asked the professor, "Do you think I should write about our evacuation?" And he says, "By all means." So I, that was the first time I ever talked about it, and it was interesting, half of the people never heard of it. And some of the questions they asked was mind-boggling, because they really were ignorant and innocent about the whole situation at that time. They were probably never born then, either, when it happened. They wanted to know if it happened in the United States.

AI: And so your thinking was, were you surprised that they hadn't heard about this at all?

MN: Well, I was surprised at the amount of kids that didn't know anything about it.

AI: And so most of the students there at the community college would have been in their twenties, probably?

MN: Yeah, eighteen, nineteen, twenties.

AI: And they might have been born shortly after the war.

MN: Uh-huh.

AI: Or about time of the war. So what was that like for you? You said this was the first time that you had said anything about it.

MN: Well, I found it very interesting to be talking about my life and what happened in camp. And who was the attorney general? Warren, at that time, and how I read how he was for the evacuation and all this, and he was promoting it, and I said it was because he had bigger fish to fry and he was going to move up in the political lines. And afterwards, the professor put me aside and he says, "You were kind of tough on Warren."

AI: But it's true that when he was in --

MN: It was true.

AI: -- when he was in California, he was very pro-removing all the Japanese Americans.

MN: Yeah, he thought I was kind of tough on him, but I thought, "No, I wasn't." So that was a real interesting experience.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

AI: What, what were some of your thoughts about college? Here you were returning after having been out of school for so long.

MN: I loved it. [Laughs] In fact, when I went to Seattle Community College, I think I was the oldest student there. But they accepted me, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. And then I moved on to University of Washington, but since I had the five boys at home yet, I only took ten hours a quarter, no more, 'cause I couldn't do my homework and still keep up the household. So eventually, I was in PTA and active in other things, I dropped everything 'cause school was taking too much of my time. But it took me eight years. That's the wrong way to do it, because it's an expensive way, when you're only going ten hours a quarter. But then when my boys started to go to college, and I go, "Wow." One day I saw somebody walking on the campus, I go, "Oh, he sure looks familiar." [Laughs] And when he got closer, it was my son. Anyway, so regretfully, I had to leave in the spring, I guess it was eight years later, I don't know what year it was, and I graduated. And it was a very satisfying experience.

AI: Well, you must have been among the early women who, after having kids, decided to go to college.

MN: Yeah, there weren't too many senior citizens. There are a lot now, I understand, but no, not at that time.

AI: So as one of the older women who kind of stuck out, you must have been kind of a curiosity, a unique student among the student body. Did, were people making cracks about it?

MN: No, no, they accepted. Like I can remember when I went to a lecture hall, in Kane Hall, and you know how big that is, I decided to tape the lecture, and I put on the tape, and all of a sudden, a blast of loud music came out of their tape. [Laughs] I was mortified. So some of those adventures.

AI: What about your kids and your husband? What was their reaction to your going to school?

MN: He never complained. My husband never complained about me going to school or how I kept at it and, you know, kept going all those years, because I did put him through four years of school. So he never complained about me going to school. And my kids, I was going so long, they just took it for granted.

AI: Or did your husband ever make any comment about, "Oh, you're turning into a women's libber, here you're going to school or not at home as much, not doing as much in the PTA," or whatever?

MN: No, he never complained about that. But then, you do change your way of thinking.

AI: Tell me about that. Change in what way?

MN: Well, just like even for the redress for the Seattle School District, all the Nisei women who were there at the twenty-seven, I don't know, there were about -- I don't know how many were at the first meeting, but nobody spoke up. Nobody would offer to do anything. And I go, "Oh, this is typical Nisei women." And then finally I spoke up and I said, "Yeah, I'll do it." And so the others followed in. But I think the schooling had a lot to do with that.

AI: In what way?

MN: Gave you more confidence, and I didn't used to argue with my husband about little subjects, but I used to... you're more in tune with what's going on.

AI: And so as a result of being in class and debating ideas...

MN: And being with the young people, I loved it.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

AI: Well, you mentioned the redress work, and I wanted to, before we get to that point in the redress, wanted to ask you a little bit of what happened before that, because it was in the '70s that there were first some discussion of redress among, at JACL. And I was wondering, were you involved with JACL at all?

MN: No, I had nothing to do with them, and I didn't know hardly what they were doing or anything.

AI: And then it wasn't until -- oh, I think also in the '70s, I think there was that exhibit called the "Pride and Shame" that was put up here in Seattle and toured around the state. Do you recall seeing that?

MN: I saw it, I think, one time at Nippon Kan hall, and that was the only time I saw it.

AI: Because I think, I'm not sure, but I think that was one of the first big public displays about the World War II and camp experience. Was, did your husband go also, or your kids? Do you recall?

MN: I don't remember whether I went alone or who went with me.

AI: Was it strange to see those pictures and the stories of that time coming back?

MN: Not strange, but I thought, "Well, it's about time that it was coming out." 'Cause all this experience, you just put it on the other side of your head.

AI: And then it was 1981 that the redress, the national redress commission was having the hearings around the country, and, of course, they were going to have a hearing here in Seattle. Before that hearing happened, had you been thinking very much about redress or...

MN: No. Until I went to the commission hearing, and I was just fascinated by the whole process.

AI: Tell me about -- I wasn't here then, so tell me about that.

MN: It was at the Seattle Community College and I went by myself, and all these people with their stories. Especially there were a lot of Isseis left yet. And I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I did drag my husband to one of them on his day off.

AI: I heard that some of the --

MN: It was many days.

AI: I think it was three days.

MN: I don't know what it was, but I know I went every day.

AI: It sounded like some of that testimony was very emotional.

MN: It was.

AI: In fact, when I read about some of it, I'm surprised that it sounds like some of the Issei and even some of the Nisei were speaking about the experience in a really personal way.

MN: Well, I can't remember too much about the stories, but it was the first time I've heard other people talk about it.

AI: At that time, did you think that there was a chance that you would actually receive any kind of...

MN: No, no, not... but then all we thought, "Well, if they're gonna ask for money, they should ask for at least fifty thousand dollars." That was my only thinking.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

AI: Well, and then as this national redress movement was going on, here in Washington state there was also something called the Washington Coalition on Redress. Of course, Cherry Kinoshita and a number of the other people were involved in that, and one of their goals was they knew that there were some Washington State employees who had been dismissed.

MN: Uh-huh, and they worked on that, and they were successful.

AI: Right. And then I, I believe it was in 1983 that Cherry and Mako Nakagawa and a couple other people --

MN: May Sasaki.

AI: May Sasaki, they were thinking about what happened to you and the other school district clerks. Tell me about what they discussed with you and what they were suggesting.

MN: They really had a hard time persuading us that this is the way to go. 'Cause like I say, Nisei women were still in the old ages. I mean... and I didn't think anything like this was possible, so I wasn't gung-ho at first. I go, "This is ridiculous. Why does it have to go through all this?" you know. But then after they kept persuading and talking to us, I thought, well, this is the way to go. So I was the first one to say, "Okay, we'll do it. I'll do it." And the others followed.

AI: What did you think you were gonna be, when you said you would do it?

MN: I didn't know what I was getting involved in.

AI: And they had done, it sounded like they had done quite a bit of research.

MN: Oh, they did a lot of groundwork. They did a tremendous amount of groundwork, and I hand it to them for doing all that work.

AI: Apparently they found some old newspaper articles, they found that copy of the letter that you all...

MN: We all signed, yes. And that's when I realized that I was at that meeting, because I had signed that letter. Because up to now I still blocked that whole incident out about the meeting with Jim Sakamoto. So I don't know what happened at that time, but I did sign it.

AI: So then tell me about, as your efforts moved forward to try and get the redress from the Seattle School District.

MN: Well, Mako and Cherry and May did, they did all the work for us, and they just told us what we had to do. And then we had to go before the school board and tell 'em why it was necessary for the redress.

AI: Tell me about that, about going before the school board.

MN: It was a scary thing to do, because I never spoke in front of anybody, and I was the first one on the program. But I think we all did a very good job to convince them. And it followed with another session after that, too. And the second session, there were three others that talked, and this one woman was agitated by the whole thing, and she was protesting, and every two minutes she would stand up and make a remark. And she had pictures of camp, and she had pictures of kids playing marbles on the ground. Well, that's a happy atmosphere. That's not what the whole camp life was about. Anyway, so she had that kind of stuff, and she happened to be sitting next to me, and she would get up and protest anything somebody said. And so finally, the attorney said, "If you get up and say any more remarks, you will be forced to leave the room." And so she didn't stand up, but then I could see her getting agitated and wanting to stand up, and she forced herself to keep sitting down.

AI: So what kind of reception did you get, or reaction did you get from the school board members?

MN: Well, it must have been good because they passed the measure, and we were able to get our compensation from them.

AI: And as I understand, reading about it afterwards, that the, that although the Seattle School Board did pass that measure, they in turn had to get some, another approval.

MN: From Olympia, and Cherry Kinoshita, I think, went down there and pleaded the case and was able to get it.

AI: And so ultimately, I think, I read that it was Governor Gardner who then ultimately signed a bill in 1986 that then, finally, you and the other clerks received your school district...

MN: We had a celebration at that time, at Nippon Kan Hall, and Governor Gardner came and he signed it in front of all of us.

AI: What an experience that must have been.

MN: Yeah, that was a triumphant day.

AI: My goodness. Well, so in fact, 1986, that is well before what happened with the national redress, even.

MN: It is?

AI: Yes, because the national redress bill was signed by President Reagan in 1988.

MN: Oh. I thought this all came about later.

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<Begin Segment 32>

AI: Well, a lot happened at about the same time, but the, your bill was signed by Governor Gardner in '86, so two years before. So did you get any kind of reactions from your family members or other people when this was going on or when it came about?

MN: Not really. Well, the family came out, but as far as my friends in the white community, never told them anything about it. They didn't know what was going on unless they saw the... oh, it didn't come out in the Times, but it was in the community papers.

AI: And then later on when the national redress became such big news, did you get any kind of reaction from white friends or neighbors at that point?

MN: No, nothing that that I recall.

AI: What about your own reactions or thoughts when you finally received your national redress in the mail?

MN: Well, people ask, "Was that compensation satisfactory, $20,000?" But (when we) think about it and say, "What if you lost a leg or something? Is $20,000 enough?" So what you lost in your life, is $20,000 enough? It's difficult to put a number on that. And I remember, one of my sons, we were getting petitions out about getting the redress, I think, at one time, and he remarked, "Look how much money we lost already. Grandma's gone, Grandpa's gone, Dad's gone." He says, "That's a lot of money we lost already."

AI: And as you say, there's really no way of putting an amount.

MN: Yeah. There's, there is no amount that is, that would cover all our suffering.

AI: What about that letter of apology that came?

MN: I had no reaction on that one. In fact, at the last, one of the... oh, I know at Bellevue Community College, I went to talk to the students, and then I just happened to find that apology. It was tucked away in a file, and I pulled it out, and I passed it around.

AI: So by that time, you had been starting to speak to classes. Tell me about that. How did that get started and what, what was that experience like?

MN: Oh, I guess Mako asked me to address these schools, teachers' workshop, but I (said), "Okay, I'll do it," but gee, (I) wasn't that well-prepared, and I learned a lot from it.

AI: So as you were getting ready to go out, you...

MN: Yeah, you keep changing things and you learned more what people would like to know. I don't know, really, what they want to know.

AI: But you would tell them about your own experience.

MN: Uh-huh.

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<Begin Segment 33>

AI: Well, so then I wanted to kind of bring some things up more to the present, and well, it's past information, but you had mentioned in an earlier conversation that it was only after your husband had passed away that you learned about some of the things in his past that you hadn't known, that he had never talked about either when he was in the service and with this... when, related to a concentration camp that he was, his unit was near, in Dachau?

MN: Uh-huh. He was part of the 442nd, but he was attached to the 522 Field Artillery, which was attached to the 442nd. And one of the later moves was they released the prisoners from Dachau. But while he was alive, he never mentioned that, and we'd have vets get together, but nothing ever was, did come out from it. And one of the... what was it, the vets' reunion in Hawaii, they mentioned it and they made 522, gave 'em citations and told them what a wonderful thing they had done. And one of the, his buddies says, "Hey, we're heroes now." So, and then some of the fellows told me how bad it was when they went to Dachau, and the stench, he said, was just unbearable with all the dead bodies and things. And he says they were all in tattered clothing, and they were gaunt, they were just skin and bones, and they're barely moving, you know. And some of 'em gave 'em their C-ration, and that was the wrong thing to do because all of a sudden, they got something to eat and they gobbled it down, and they died from it. And so one of the fellows told me (when) they were leaving Dachau, and he saw a group of the prisoners, they found a dead bull or something, and they were pawing at it and trying to get some food out of that, but that probably would have made them sick, too.

AI: It's hard to imagine.

MN: Yeah. And so now, when I reflect back on it, and I go, "What if he came back to Minidoka and released the prisoners in camp because his brothers, sisters, father, mother were still in camp at that time, what would have happened to him?" I said, "He would have been shot," even if he was in the same uniform.

AI: He wouldn't have been a hero.

MN: No.

AI: That's so ironic.

MN: Yeah, well, that's life.

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<Begin Segment 34>

AI: Well, more recently, of course, we had September 11, 2001, and I just wanted to ask you about that day. Some folks I've talked to had said that when the terrorist attacks happened that day, that it reminded them of the past.

MN: I don't know whether it reminded me of the past, but I was glued to the TV all day watching the whole thing, and it was frightening that something like that could happen.

AI: And then, of course, after that, there was so much, so much media coverage and the commentary, and some of the commentators started comparing it to Pearl Harbor. Did you happen to hear that or did...

MN: No, I didn't hear that, no.

AI: Did you think there was any comparison?

MN: No, but I think it was worse than Pearl Harbor, 'cause it took a lot more people, innocent people.

AI: And then, of course, after that there was quite a backlash against people who appeared to be Middle Eastern or Muslim.

MN: Yeah, I thought that was real unfair, because none of them had committed any crime, but just because they looked different like we looked different during the '40s that we were prosecuted. So I don't think it was fair to them that they would get the same treatment that we got. But I could remember one of 'em said that they were taken, hauled in, and they were taken to the immigration office on Dearborn Street. Well, that's where my father was, that was sixty years ago. And I go, "What have we learned? The same thing is happening again." And just Saturday I was at a workshop, teachers' workshop, and I was amazed at how the Arabs and the Muslims are still being prosecuted. She said, "It never ends." So I don't know whether we learned anything from our experiences. But I didn't realize how bad it was still.

AI: And so when people say, "Well, what happened to Japanese Americans can never happen again," what are you thinking about that now?

MN: It could happen again, but I think there's enough people that will protest against it, that chances of happening again would be very slim.

AI: But it is disturbing to see what kind of treatment people are getting now.

MN: When they even talk about putting 'em in camp, that was distressing, this day and age. So what have they learned since World War II?

AI: Well, is, is there anything else that you'd like to mention, or anything else you'd like to tell?

MN: Not really, but it's been a good life. Learned a lot, and as long as I'm healthy and able to speak, I think I'll speak out because our story has to be told.

AI: Well, thanks very much for telling it to us today.

MN: Well, my pleasure.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.