Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Irene Najima Interview
Narrator: Irene Najima
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: August 4, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-nirene-01-0013

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MA: So let's talk about, then, when your father was actually picked up by the FBI. And can you tell me your memories of that day?

IN: Well, because there were rumors that the leaders of the community would be taken to a concentration camp. My father expected that because he had heard rumors that certain people from Los Angeles area were being taken, leaders of the community. So we expected it. And then there were one or two members from our community that were taken. So my father expected that. And the day did come when our driveway -- we had a very long driveway -- a black limousine drove up and some men got off. And they were from the sheriff, the FBI, and the Petaluma police. And I went out and he says, "Where's your father?" And I knew that they had come to take him. So my father was, of course, working on the ranch, and I went to get him. And he knew that this was it, that they were going to take him away. Came back and they handcuffed him, without any words saying why. But before, he says, "Would you permit me to change my clothes?" So they took off the handcuffs and they followed him into the house and he was able to change his clothes. And he came back out, they put the handcuffs, and he, they took him away without any kind of explanation or anything, they just took him away. And later on, we were able to visit him and I think, I'm not sure, it was in San Francisco, at that Presidio? I guess it's at the Presidio, I'm not sure. But we went to visit him for the last time. And he came out and he told us, very poignantly, that we may never see each other again. Because he said, "This is war." It was very sad.

MA: And what happened to the ranch and the business after your father was taken away?

IN: Yeah, then it was our turn. My father was taken to a real concentration camp, Crystal City. So then, my eldest son came back and we got ready. Announcements came over the radio that we were to turn in all of our radio, radios that had long... what do you call it?

MA: The shortwave radios?

IN: Shortwave, right. All our cameras, all our binoculars. And that we were prepared to leave, I believe, with one suitcase, I think. I can't remember, but I'm sure it was one that we should prepare, that we would not have much time. So of course, we took in all of the binoculars and the shortwave radios into the police station in Petaluma. And as far as our furniture was concerned, we had to sell it very cheaply. But our heart broke when, I think, for twenty-five dollars or less, I don't remember, we had to sell our spinet piano. So cheap. It was a beautiful piano. But what would do, the people from the community would come and buy whatever we had that was worth buying.

MA: And were you able to find someone to lease your house or property?

IN: Uh-huh. We were very fortunate, compared to other farmers. We leased the place for twenty-five dollars a month. And when we got back, we were happy and amazed to see that he had kept the ranch in reasonable condition. And he did pay his rent, so we were one of the fortunate ones. Because I hear that some farmers came back to a disastrous situation.

MA: And you had a story about your brothers, a funny story kind of about their camera?

IN: Oh, you want me to tell you that? [Laughs]

MA: Yeah, I love that story.

IN: Well, I have two brothers that were right above me. They were probably about, oh, '41, very young teen boys. And they had this one camera that my father had bought that was one of the most superb cameras. So they, without knowing, unbeknownst to us, they wrapped it up real tightly, and we had an outhouse, and they put the camera and its wrappings on a hook, fishing hook. [Laughs] And they lowered it down the outhouse toilet and they said, cause they just couldn't take that to the police station. And they left it there. And we never knew about it 'til they pulled it up when we came back.

MA: And it was still there.

IN: Yeah, it was still there.

MA: And so you also had a car that you ended up storing.

IN: That's right. We had bought, we had a 1939 -- isn't that funny, I remember the year -- Plymouth. It was blue. And the fellows said, "Hey, if we sell this we're going to get nothing for it." So what they did was they put it in the garage and jacked it up. I think they took off the tires, and did everything to it, hoping that when we got back it would be intact. And sure enough, when we got back, they put back the tires, they put the oil in, the water, started it, and believe it or not, it started. So we had a car.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.