Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Chizuko Omori Interview I
Narrator: Chizuko Omori
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 14, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-ochizuko-01-0005

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MN: Now, Poston, which Poston camp were you in?

CO: Poston I, the biggest one, 10,000.

MN: And were you folks one of the first to arrive there?

CO: I guess so. Not the first, because there were already people there, but the camp was still not finished. They were still building barracks, so I guess they must have brought all the San Diego County people as a big group into that camp. But then it was a lot of Los Angeles people who were there, lot of Orange County people, I mean, I'm talking about the whole camp, yeah. So I guess we knew a lot of -- not a lot, but we knew people in L.A. and Orange County, so they weren't total strangers.

MN: Now, you folks arrived in May. Was there a school already established?

CO: Uh-uh, not at that time. Well, for one thing, the camp wasn't finished yet, so things were pretty... well, I must hand it to our culture. They train us to be organized and patient and all those things, so in spite of the circumstances, they were being very orderly and everything. They volunteered to do this and that, and so all this assigning of spaces and everything went on fairly smoothly. It's interesting about this, we're so orderly. [Laughs] Even putting ourselves in concentration camps, we did a lot of the volunteer work to do it, you know. Yeah.

MN: Tell me about your first summer there.

CO: Oh, man. That was really the most miserable time because it was so hot, and so just trying to survive in that heat was kind of the most important thing. And you know, they did things like give us typhoid shots. I understand that they were worried that disease might be a real threat to "concentrated peoples," concentration camps. So they started this business of immunizing everybody, and those shots were just awful. God, I was sick after each one. In that heat and everything, that was really terrible. And well, there was a lot of idleness for kids that first summer because we didn't have school since our society had been so disrupted and all. And life was so discontinuous from what we had been living, like three meals a day standing in line at the mess halls, going to a communal latrine, communal showers, and standing in line for everything, and not really having a good network of information. So I imagine people spent a lot of time just trying to figure out things. But then, being the organized people that we are, they started a lot of little social activities and sports, church got organized, Christian churches and Buddhist churches. Well, I think they really started a sort of semi-political life like organizing the blocks. Because of the setup, the blocks had block managers and that's where we went to get information about what was going on or what we were supposed to do and things like that. And then there were terrible storms from time to time. I remember that first summer, with all that dust and stuff, and so there were a couple of storms where it turned so black that it just blocked out the sun and it just was like nighttime practically. And roofs were blown off, frightening dust storms. And just dirt, dirt and dust everywhere. So everybody was really busy trying to, trying to cope with that, they were trying to start gardens and everything to keep the dust from being such a mess. And so that's what everybody was doing was just trying to cope. And I guess that's when, like Hisaye says about the Sears-Roebuck catalogs and all those things, and people started ordering things in so that there was some minimal niceties like curtains, people were building furniture, just trying to make the barracks more homey the best way they could. So that's what the first summer was spent doing. You know, there were these games. We used to play Monopoly, it went on and on and on. Jacks, card games of various sorts, and then the sports leagues did get organized so we used to go to see people play basketball, baseball. There was a library. I spent a lot of time at the library because there's nothing else to do. Hisaye was part of our block, Block 22. So since we knew a bunch of people that were immediately in our block, we had friends. So anyway...

MN: What kind of books did they have at the library?

CO: All kinds of stuff. I mean, they had a lot of children's books and stuff. I got myself, personally, there was a whole series of books on American Indians that were written for children by somebody, the author was Schultz, S-C-H-U-L-T-Z. And I got addicted to Indian books, and so I read all of those, and I knew about all the different tribes in the United States. That's what I spent that summer doing. [Laughs]

MN: Did you have any interaction with the tribe on that land?

CO: Now, I personally did not, although they did come in to the camps. But I know of other people who went out and made friends with the Indians that were within walking distance of the camps, I guess, and who made friends with some of the Indians around there. And actually, when they set up the co-op canteens, and they were selling the sundries and little items and stuff, I think the Indians came to shop at the canteens because they didn't have anything like that. And I had heard that there were black people in Arkansas and such who were envious of those camps like Jerome and Rohwer because they had three meals a day and they had a roof over their heads, and the government was taking care of these people. I imagine the Indians must have felt the same way about us because we were being fed and cared for and had medical care and schools and all these things that they had very little of, you know. I mean, now that I think about it.

MN: Plus it was their land, too, that the camp was on.

CO: It was their land and they did take the barracks and stuff afterwards and move in.

MN: Now, early on, were you able to go out of the camp and explore the surrounding area at all?

CO: Our camp, as I remember, at least on the sides where we were, on the edges, were not, didn't have barbed wire fences all around. And I don't even remember a guard tower. Maybe there was one, but I don't remember in our camp. But we could just go out. I mean, nobody stopped us because there was nowhere to go. It's out in the middle of the desert. So we all went hiking out as far as we could and back. That was done by everybody all the time. And the Colorado River was a mile and a half or so away, so we used to walk to the river.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.