Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Sumida Interview
Narrator: Frank Sumida
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Barbara Takei (secondary)
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 23, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-sfrank-01-0015

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So let's talk about that. So eventually you had to leave Los Angeles.

FS: Yeah.

TI: So where did you go after...

FS: Santa Anita.

TI: And what was that like? Describe Santa Anita and what you...

FS: I was at the front entrance, and a Jewish man and a son came. And they used to... (they were) vegetable peddler that supplied my dad with all the vegetables, so he came to see us off. He was the only one that came to see us. And I was, we'd talk on this side of the fence, then the guard said, "All right, you guys, all you guys that are tagged, go inside," nametags on, all that. And I says, went on the other side and I started talking, you know, continued talking. Anyway, you know what the man told me? He said, "This is what they're doing in Germany right now, to the Jews. Don't forget it. And you know, I didn't know what he meant. When I went into Santa Fe, he knew it. Because we didn't have no story about holy cause in America. If they knew, they didn't tell us. But I found out in Santa Fe, I heard something about the holy cause from Life magazine. Just a little print, little picture. Then I said, "That's what he's talking." Being imprisoned, see. But it took me four years to find out what he meant. This is what they're doing in Germany right now. Never forget it.

TI: That's, yeah, that's so...

FS: So that's my, before I went into camp, I wasn't that innocent when I went in, but I couldn't figure that out. I wish I knew what he meant. Then I would have been a redneck, huh? I would have been, I would have started the Hoshidan in Santa Anita.

TI: Oh, if you understood all that.

FS: If I knew that meaning, because that was prejudice.

TI: Right. You mentioned the guards kind of ordering you around. In general, how did the guards treat Japanese?

FS: They want nothing to do with us. Even, we called them policemen inside the camp, and we don't call them police, we called them wardens, like game wardens.

TI: Or like prison wardens.

FS: Yeah, something like that. They were the guards, and they were dressed in just ordinary clothes, and they carried guns, .38. And you heard about the riot in Santa Anita?

TI: I have in the past, but describe, tell me what you know about it.

FS: The riot started, we only did about four months in the camp, so it was very close. And something else happened, too, I got sent to the jail in Arcadia. I got picked up for gambling. Remember I was telling about the number one man? He told me, he said, "Oh, Sumida, what are you doing?" Said, "I got work for you, come on." So people were staying in stables. But people didn't like the stable because they put asphalt on top the dirt. So they didn't take the stink out, all they did was just took all the straw and leveled that, and pour asphalt. The smell was still there, so nobody liked it, but it was a good place to have gambling because they didn't, people that lived there were living somewhere else with some friends. So there was an empty place. So that's where we had the gambling, Japanese, they called it shiko. And then I was working there, and I think I was the second month. You know, my dad didn't know what I was doing. We got raided by the wardens, and I got sent to Arcadia police station. I was big time. [Laughs] And then I got, that was late in the afternoon, so there was nobody to book us, so they wanted, they book us the next morning. So we went again to the booking place, and they asked me my name and all that. They asked me how old I was, and I told 'em... let me see. How old...

TI: You'd be fifteen or sixteen years old.

FS: Yeah, okay. So he said, "You're a goddamn kid. Get the hell out of here." So they didn't book me, they sent me out. They told me to go back to camp. And the warden said, "Well, there's no car, you're going to have to walk." So I walked way down, about a mile, and all through the... should have kept going. [Laughs] But that's my... and then the riot started.

TI: Well, before that, so what happened to the men that were booked at Arcadia? Did they have to stay there, or what happened to them?

FS: I don't know. I was the only one booked; I was the only one gambling there, I was the House.

TI: Oh, so you were the only one picked up, I see.

FS: As far as the, all the rest of the customers. So I don't know what happened to the customers, but they couldn't book me because I was a minor. They couldn't book my boss because he was outside somewhere else. He showed me how to do it, and then I just took over. And then when it closed, I took the proceeds and gave it to him. Then he used to give me two bucks, three bucks a day. A lot of money. [Laughs] That was my money.

TI: And were there other, sort of, gambling games going on in the same area?

FS: No, that's the only one I know, yeah. And nobody wanted to infringe, because he's, he was a yakuza man. They know that (...).

TI: And you said he was the number one man, so he was...

FS: Next to the boss.

TI: Next to the boss, and the boss left for Japan.

FS: So his job mainly was to escort the boss's wife around, bodyguard. So he was a trusted man.

TI: And so then you returned, and you said the riots happened.

FS: Yeah, the riot started, it was caused by the white mess hall superintendent, mess hall, white people running the mess. And then my, like my dad was the head Japanese boss, foreman there. So they had a mess supervisor or whatever you want to call it. They were chiseling the food, sugar. And they were selling it. And when the truck leaves, they put all that stuff on the truck, and the truck would just take it someplace and sell it. And my dad caught 'em many a time. He recorded it. And then not only that, some other mess hall, too. My dad was telling them to watch out. So they had recording, all the coffee and sugar and good stuff, molasses, hard to get stuff. And there were black market. That was one cause, and then the biggest cause was we had a lot of Korean people in camp. See, Santa Anita had twenty thousand people. In that twenty thousand, there were I don't know how many Koreans. They were, they're called inu, "dogs." But they were --

TI: So I want to get clear, so the Koreans were in there. Why did they pick up Koreans also? Because they weren't --

FS: No, 'cause they understood Japanese, and they looked like Japanese. You can't put a black man in there, you can't put an Indian in, you can't put a Chinese, because Chinese stand out. They do. The Koreans, they look like Japanese. You know, you look at 'em. Even the girls, huh? Korean girls.

TI: But still, yet they had to be registered to go in, so they were...

FS: Oh, that's all, that's all taken care of by the big shots. It's easy. Like you, said, "You want a job in being a security? Watch people and see what they do?" You say, "Yeah," I pay you so much, say like you get three hundred bucks a month in those days. Camp people were only making ten dollars, nine dollars a day, a month, big money. So you take it. If you're informed, like me, "Oh, that guy Sumida, he's gambling," so you tell a big shot.

TI: So these were, like, plants inside the population? They weren't workers, per se, but they were just...

FS: No, no, no, they were planted.

TI: They were planted.

FS: Hired by the higher ups. And there were a lot of 'em. And we knew who were there. And then one of 'em ratted on my dad, that my dad was the instigator, reporting white people taking stuff out, so they pointed out my dad. And they were gonna separate my dad, but then the riot started at just that moment. That's according to my dad. And there was a whole mess. I mean, people got in trouble with the inu, like, "He was doing this or he was doing that against the camp regulation." And so they were picked up or questioned. There was going to have a mass movement, all these bad elements, and put into another place. And before this happened, the Japanese were pretty smart. They found out when they were gonna get picked up, so they had a riot before. So the mess hall riot, the inu riot was all compounded into one big mess. The whole camp was in turmoil.

TI: And so during this time, what happened to the Koreans? Were they singled out and...

FS: They got caught. One of 'em got caught and he ran into the recreation room, and a bunch of guys went into the, on top of the tables, where the typewriter, and threw the typewriter at the guy, he was in a corner like this. I seen that happen, and I know who instigated that. The guy just told me not too long ago. He says, "I was the one that threw the typewriter."

TI: Because these informants were, like, turning people in like the gambling or...

FS: Yeah, ratting on people. That's how they taught us. Up to then, the warden, they let us go because we were giving them bribes. I don't know how much we paid, the man was paying them off. There was one guy that came around our area, he was in charge. So, you know, with yakuza, they don't let things go. They give five bucks a day or whatever, so the guy just looked the other way. But you could go so far. When the inu ratted, that's when it became an issue. Until then, it was kept quiet. Everybody was, I was dealing, and a guy was giving a bribe, my boss was making a profit, it was a happy family until the inu incident.

TI: And then what happened after that? So after the riots, how did things change at Santa Anita?

FS: Well, I think internally, I was not too familiar. I don't know if there was any instigators got caught, I don't know what happened to the inus, you know. I really didn't know. I think I was just on the outside too much. I didn't penetrate to the inner circle, so I didn't know. But then, by then, we got sent to Heart Mountain anyway.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.