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-01-0016

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TI: So let's talk about Heart Mountain then.

FS: Okay.

BT: Before we go to Heart Mountain, you had described earlier, when you were in Santa Anita, that you were collecting gambling debts?

FS: That's how I started. I was a, according to the yakuza boss, he said I was the best collector.

BT: So these were gambling debts from before the war?

FS: No, current, inside the camp. When I was running it, we had certain people that charged, and we can give 'em so much credit, five bucks or three bucks or eight bucks, okay. And when they ran out of that, they had to sign an IOU. I put that in for my daily take. So then when that gets pretty big, somebody had to go collect that money. So when they, man hired me first, he told me to go collect the money, "I'll give you the address, barrack number." So I went to the barrack. Well, I'm pretty smart up here. I got me a softball bat, which is short, and made it shorter. The handle part was skinny, I just cut the big end. And I put that in, somehow, into my shirt, under my coat, and then I went and knocked on the door with a baseball bat. And answered and I said, "Your name," well, like Tanaka. The guy said, "Yeah." I said, "Well, you know you owe my boss so much. You owe him five bucks. Do you want to pay it?" "I ain't got no money." I said, "Well, you better have some money, because this is the day you're supposed to pay. Or I'm going to have to come and get something from you, collateral." So he said, "Kuso namaiki na," you know, "fresh kid." So I'd take the bat out and go hit the table. I could do -- I told him, "Easy way or hard way? Dochi?" Then I go like this with the bat. He knew what I was gonna do, so he'd come out and pay. See how smart I was? The other collectors used to come back to the boss saying, "He didn't give me no money." No money. Everyplace I went, I got the money. I didn't hit nobody, but I made sure. And you look at that person in the eye. Don't look at what, look him straight in the eye and say, "You're gonna pay today?" All right, now. Then, "Chotto matte." "Wait." So he'd go there in the corner someplace, here comes three bucks, four bucks. I take that and give them a receipt. Next guy, I used to collect maybe about twenty, thirty dollars a day. I'm not kidding you. They were small money, three dollar, five dollar, you know, four dollar. Some are two dollar. Today, you laugh at that kind of money.

TI: Now, were you ever turned in or anything for doing this?

FS: Huh?

TI: Did anyone try to turn you in for doing this kind of thing?

FS: They better not. I had the bat. And besides, the gambling, they're guilty as much as me. So I did that collecting for about two or three weeks, and every place he sent me, I got the money somehow. So he gave me a job being the House, running the beans, you know. So now I ran the table and all the debt, and paid it off. And then when the day ended, I collect all the, put it in a brown bag, and give to the boss with the receipts, all the IOUs.

TI: Now, what did you do with the money you made? You said you got a couple bucks a day or something. What would you --

FS: When I went to Santa Fe, I had so much money, but most of it was dollar bill and five dollar bill. Yeah. You know, I had to make a belt underneath my coat. That was the only way I could put it. I went to Japan like that.

TI: So you would just always carry the money around with you.

FS: Yeah. I can't, I can't bury it. Somebody watching me, "Ah, there it is." [Laughs] So I had to carry it. So I tried to change the money as much as possible, but I couldn't find twenty dollar bill in those days. God, ten dollars was hard to get by. Five dollars was most, mostly.

TI: Now, if you wanted to, was there anything you could buy with this money?

FS: Nothing. Can't buy nothing. Got everything, cigarettes. When I was in Santa Fe, oh, when I was in Heart Mountain, you couldn't buy cigarettes. It was rationed. They were hard to get. And the only kind of cigarette you got, the cheap off brand like Domino cigarettes. You know what I mean. Wings, for instance, there's a brand called Wings. There's no Lucky Strike, no Chesterfield Camel. But when I went into Santa Fe, then we got, it was a different camp. Department of Justice, not WRA.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.