Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Grace Watanabe Kimura Interview
Narrator: Grace Watanabe Kimura
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Torrance, California
Date: July 7, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-kgrace-01-0012

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MA: Okay, so we were talking about kind of that time you were leaving Los Angeles. And can you tell me about that day that you left and your memories of the day that you left for camp, basically, had to leave Los Angeles?

GK: Well, we had to meet at a certain location, and then we were put on these troop trains, these old troop trains. And there were these MPs with rifles guarding us (...). We weren't told where we were going or how long we were going to be gone, so that made it even harder. And then, so I remember we went on the train and then we crossed the border from California into Arizona, and then that's where they dropped us off. And that was a place called Poston, and we went to Poston I. And it was an old Indian reservation in the desert, completely bare and hot, and very dusty. The first thing they told us after we got off of the train was we had to stuff our mattresses. They gave us some cotton ticking materials, bags, and they said, "Okay, there's the pile of straw there, (you are going to) fill that up for your mattress." So we did the best we could, so it was not very comfortable. But I remember my mother saying that was really just the most forlorn feeling to first be taken out of your home and out of the state, and then (having) to stuff our own mattresses. It was very demeaning, but we did it. And then, I mean, do you want me to go ahead and talk about the camp?

MA: Sure, yeah.

GK: So after we stuffed our mattresses, then we were assigned rooms in each of these barracks, like these army barracks, was divided into four rooms or apartments, they called it. And you had to have five in the family to deserve one room. But since there were only four of us, and we told them we expected our father to join us pretty soon, can we still, can we have one room? But they said no. And so we were put in this room, my mother and three daughters, and then with another couple, a man and his wife. Because there were just two of them, so they had to share it, and then there were only four of us, so we had to share. So we put a blanket across the room, and you can imagine six cots in that small area, it was smaller than 20 feet by 20 feet. So six cots in there. And so they had to serve as our bedroom, (and) living room, there was really no privacy.

MA: Well, and you were living with complete strangers, too.

GK: Yes, complete strangers. So I kind (of) felt sorry for the man, he was the only man in that room. But it was very uncomfortable, and no privacy whatever. So in camp, everything was done community-style. We ate in the mess hall, and the latrines and the showers at the time we were there (were without) partitions. So it was awful. And then some of the older women who were very modest, would take showers during the midnight hours so that nobody could see them. And then the laundry had to be done by hand with washboards, I remember, my mother and other ladies in the laundry room doing the wash. And at the time I was there, there were no schools, they had not started up the schools yet. (...) I think I helped in the mess hall peeling vegetables and carrots and potatoes. And so there was really not too much to do at that point. So my father had written from his sickbed to the people at Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas...

MA: Which was where he went, right?

GK: He went to school, correct. So he asked them, could he send his two daughters, two older daughters, on scholarship to the school. So these professors and school people remembered Paul, his name was Paul, they remembered him from many years back. So they said, "Well, if it's Paul's daughters, we welcome them." So we were able to leave camp so that we would not become wards of the government. So we went there, and then we had to leave my mother and youngest sister in camp. So it was kind of a scary time when we left camp. We didn't know how it was going to be on the outside world, and we were just sixteen and seventeen at the time. So, (yes), it was really scary.

MA: I imagine, going out by yourself.

GK: Right, right. So on the way, on the train, we would see signs that read, "black," "white," in front of the drinking fountains and the toilets. So my sister and I looked at each other (and) we thought, "Where do we fit in? We're not black, we're not white." So we thought, "Well, we must in between there somewhere." But it was very uncomfortable because we were kind of unsure of our identity, you know. Because here we've been placed in these camps partly because of our race. So it was kind of an uncertain time for us. But luckily, we made it all right. And then --

MA: Oh, I'm sorry, I was going to say it must have been different for you, too, coming from a background in Boyle Heights where everything was so diverse, right? And so many different ethnic groups, and then going to somewhere like Texas, traveling down there where you see it's all segregated and separate.

GK: Yes, it was. Because we had never seen, you know, that much about segregation. But we made it there all right.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright ©2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.