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

<Begin Segment 1>

MN: All right, let's get started. Today is March 14, 2011, Monday. We're at the Woodfin Hotel in Emeryville, California. We have Tani Ikeda on video, we will be interviewing Chizu Omori, and I will be interviewing, my name is Martha Nakagawa. Chizu, let's start with your parents' names. What is your father's name?

CO: Isao, I-S-A-O, and they all called him Bob. That was just a nickname he picked up. Omori, O-M-O-R-I.

MN: Did he pick up the name Bob after camp?

CO: No, no, before.

MN: How about your mom's name?

CO: Haruko, H-A-R-U-K-O. Her maiden name is Fujita.

MN: Which prefecture did they both come from?

CO: Kumamoto.

MN: Are your parents both Issei?

CO: My father is Issei, my mother is Kibei... was.

MN: And where was your mother born?

CO: Oxnard, California.

MN: So your maternal grandparents were in Oxnard, California. What were they doing there?

CO: Farming.

MN: So when your mother married your Issei father, did she lose her U.S. citizenship?

CO: I don't know. It was something... I don't know, it never came up, or at least I wasn't aware. I'm assuming that she did, because that was the law at the time. But she was a Kibei, and I don't know that the citizenship issue was terribly important to her at the time. I don't know. She came when she was sixteen back from Japan and married right away.

MN: Well, how many children did your parents have?

CO: Three?

MN: And where are you on the sibling hierarchy?

CO: I'm the oldest. My sister Kinu is the second, and Emiko -- she says hello to you by the way -- Emiko is third, last.

MN: And what year were you born?

CO: 1930.

MN: And what city were you born in?

CO: Oxnard, California.

MN: You were born in Oxnard, but actually your parents did not live in Oxnard, is that right?

CO: No, they did not.

MN: Where did they live?

CO: At that time I think they were living... gee, I'm not sure. They used to sling a lot of names around, but as an infant I wasn't aware. Buena Park perhaps? I don't know, someplace.

MN: But somewhere in Orange County.

CO: Uh-huh.

MN: Where were you born? Were you born in a hospital or someone's house?

CO: No, I was born at home. I was born in my grandparents' home.

MN: And who delivered you?

CO: This white doctor. I should have looked at my birth certificate so I could have given you a name, but anyway... I get that from the certificate, not from what anybody said.

MN: Okay, so what is your birth name?

CO: Chizuko, C-H-I-Z-U-K-O Omori.

MN: But you dropped the "ko."

CO: Well, yeah, I mean, Chizu is just like a nickname or a shortened word. I mean, as a child and younger person, they used to call me Chizzie, and I really didn't like that. I grew to kind of get really irritated with that name, so first chance I got I said, "Okay, I'm dropping that. I'm Chizu from now on." "Chizu" is a more Japanese-sounding name. Just seemed nicer, I liked it better.

MN: And you never thought about picking up an Anglican name?

CO: Well, there is a story in the family that they did give me a middle, white name, but they forgot to put it on my birth certificate. So it's never been my legal name and I've never liked it, so I've never used it. So that's not my name as far as I'm concerned. [Laughs]

MN: Now, when you were growing up, which language was spoken at home?

CO: Japanese. I didn't really speak English until I went into school.

MN: So when you went to school, did you have difficulty communicating with the teachers and the other students?

CO: You know, I have this memory of grabbing the teacher's skirt and dragging her around because I couldn't quite tell her what I wanted. [Laughs] But I must have picked it up really fast because I don't remember that there was any real difficulty, no.

MN: Now, when you were about three years old you were sharing with me that you experienced your first earthquake?

CO: Yeah.

MN: Can you share with me how -- you were living in Orange County, and how did the adults react and how was your reaction?

CO: Well, I was outside playing, the adults were eating dinner inside. So I guess when the building started shaking, I wasn't in it, so I didn't experience the actual, the real rough spot. But everybody, what I remember about that earthquake is just the reaction of all the adults and others around me getting really... well, Japanese are very sensitive to earthquakes, you know. So they came running out, I guess, and anyway, it was scary because they were so scared. The house moved around so much the furniture was shifted all over the place, and they couldn't get the door into the bedroom where my baby sister was sleeping. And so that was a big problem, I guess, and I remember they went to a lot of trouble to get her out. And she must have been fairly newly born at that time. And then because they were so afraid of aftershocks and everything, we slept in the bed of the truck that night, all of us, because they wanted to drive away in a big hurry if they needed to leave. Because I think that was the thing that stuck in my mind, because everybody was so worried about what might happen. And I guess that was a major earthquake because it's in the books.

MN: I think if it's the same earthquake that the Terminal Islanders were talking about, they went, left Terminal Island because they were afraid of the tsunami.

CO: Yeah. I don't remember hearing anything like a tsunami, but I guess, well, possible, certainly.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MN: Now, your family farmed in different places in Orange County while you were growing up. Do you know why they had to move so often?

CO: Well, my understanding is that -- well, first of all, because of the Depression, I know that my immediate family moved in with an aunt and uncle and their children and they kind of farmed together for a while because times were tough, and my father did a lot of truck driving and things for them. And then he went out on his own to establish his own farm after a couple of years. But I think it's pretty much due to the three-year limit on the span of time that they allowed Japanese to lease land at that time, although probably there were other factors, too. I don't know, people managed to evade that because people did stay in one place for a while, I know. Like my grandparents, they always lived in Oxnard as far as I knew, farming, but they may have had some kind of arrangement that I really don't know about.

MN: Yeah, right before going into camp, what area of California did your family live in?

CO: We lived in Oceanside, California, which is between L.A. and San Diego, more or less equidistant. But anyway, so my father had joined a group of fellow farmers and they had formed this cooperative association and had set up what I now think about as something which was akin to a Japanese village where we lived fairly close together and then the outlying areas were the farms. And the cooperative association did things as a group.

MN: Can you share with us some of the projects that the cooperative did?

CO: Well, I think that they pooled their resources and maybe probably did their purchasing and things like that a group to get better prices or keep their costs down and then they also built a schoolhouse, combination community hall and schoolhouse, and hired a couple from Japan to be schoolteachers at the place. And now that I look back on it, I think they built a little house for the schoolteachers which was modern and had plumbing and all that kind of stuff. And they did all this for the schoolteachers, things that they didn't themselves have, but I don't know, they did all. And then the schoolhouse, we went to Japanese school every day after the American school. And in summers, we didn't go every day, but we were certainly -- like the teachers would insist that we keep daily diaries, so we had to recount what we'd done during the day. And the teachers would come around to the farms to see what we were doing and what things were going on. Anyway, he was, the male schoolteacher was stern and very... oh, you know, strict and Japanese-like, and ruled with quite a firm hand. And I think the boys really hated it, but I didn't care. [Laughs] I got along. But they were serious about getting us to learn Japanese.

MN: How strict was the school? Did you have to bow to the emperor every time?

CO: No, we had to bow to the schoolteacher every time, and that probably meant bowing to the emperor.

MN: I meant the picture of the emperor.

CO: Yeah, I can't remember it, but I'm sure it was there on account of the way this couple ran things. And we were indoctrinated in Japanese culture and history and loyalty to the emperor. I mean, we were being given a Japanese education.

MN: This schoolhouse community center, did it have an official name to it?

CO: Probably did, but I don't remember it. They would have kendo classes and Japanese movies, and you know, we would have things like competitions as to who could do the most beautiful calligraphy and things like that. They got the parents involved in a lot of these activities, too.

MN: Did you take any additional classes there other than Japanese language?

CO: No, that's all.

MN: And you mentioned that movies were shown. What kind of movies were shown?

CO: Whatever the current movies were, I guess. You know, lots of old samurai things and very sentimental stories. You know, I mean the one I remember is Shina no Yoru, of course, everybody was so crazy about all that. You know, when we had the opening of the schoolhouse, there was a grand celebration, and there is a picture of us, of the girls, and we're all wearing kimono. The adults weren't, but we were, and it was just a big party. But there is that memento of the photo of me and the other girls in our kimonos.

MN: Now, when you went to see these movies, I'm just curious, did you bring your own chairs?

CO: Well, I don't remember. Seems to me like they just used the school chairs because... maybe we sat on benches. Boy, I have to really rattle my memories and get some images. What were they like? I don't know, I just remember that we ran around and it was a time to have soda pop and things because those were big treats at the time. Not that we were so necessarily interested in the picture, the moving picture, but it was just a social occasion and there would be food and refreshments, the usual Japanese kind of thing. So with all these gatherings, it was a cohesive group. I think they were old friends to start with, but this was sort of an intentional community sort of based on a Japanese village, it seems to me. So that they had their... I mean, they did want their children to be taught, indoctrinated, whatever. And it's funny because at that age, there really was no conflict between going to an American school during the day where we spoke English and did everything that were the standard things in school, and then to switch into this really kind of different culture and different society.


[Ed. Note: Due to a technical problem, a portion of the interview is missing.]

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

CO: You know, I may be all off base. These are just facts that sort of float around way in the back of my mind, that they had attempted to move as a group to Minnesota. And why Minnesota? I don't know. I don't think I was aware of where Minnesota was or anything. I kind of remember my dad maybe mentioning it or something. But we were not welcome anywhere. That's too bad, I suppose, but anyway, some people did manage to move as a group or individual families to move quickly enough. But we did not. So when was that? May 5th, May 6th, that's when we got on the trains, took us directly to Poston, Arizona.

MN: Before we get there, I wanted to ask you, what did your family do with all the pictures or books from Japan?

CO: Oh, yeah. Well, buried everything, you know, or burned, buried or burned.

MN: How did your parents and how did you feel about having to do something like that?

CO: Man, I don't know what kind of kid I was, but why is it that I didn't really wonder about these things? I don't know. I didn't, I wasn't scared, I know that. I can't really say. You know, but we didn't burn everything because we have pictures, I know. There was a very friendly groceryman who let us store some of our things with him. And I know that there was one trunk of family photos and things that we recovered after the war, and so some of these pictures and things were in the trunk, yeah. So we didn't destroy everything... yeah, now that I think about that. But most of our goods, of course, were sold or given away or left.

MN: So a lot of the neighbors came to buy your items?

CO: Yeah. That's a pretty common story that people tell, having to get rid of things for a few dollars. I mean, I know a lot of these stories because I've done a lot of talking to people and things. I don't remember that we had that much of real value, but the car and the farm equipment, that kind of thing.

MN: What happened to your home?

CO: I don't know. It was just left there. So I imagine they bulldozed, they probably just leveled all of that to make into this army base, or marine base, actually, marine base. So we just don't know. I mean, doesn't matter, it's all gone.

MN: But this is a home that your father built with his own hands.

CO: Yeah.

MN: Now, while you were preparing to go to this place called camp, the soldiers who were stationed at the Japanese school house, did they tell you folks where you were being taken to?

CO: If they did, I don't remember. I really don't think they even knew, you know. Maybe they had a name or a word for it or something like that, but I don't... I don't think we knew what to expect. I don't remember anybody ever talking about what it was like or where or anything like that.

MN: So if you didn't know what to expect, how do you remember to know what to pack?

CO: We didn't. I mean, well, they restricted us to what we could carry. But like I don't remember what we packed. I guess some clothing, and some people said they took utensils and dishes and things like that. I don't remember that we took any of that kind of stuff, I don't know. One thing is we were going as a group again, this group. So in that sense, we thought we would be together. So that probably was one of the factors in that there was no real panic or... man, I don't know what we thought except that there wasn't, we weren't scared.

MN: Which I find really interesting about you, that you weren't really scared or anxious. And what contributed for you not to be in that kind of state? A lot of people were anxious.

CO: I don't know. My parents were very calm throughout all this. And I think that as a little kid, I did not really differentiate us from the other white folk, so I guess I must have assumed that they would be benign, you know, that I didn't expect to be... to be punished or whatever. I guess I didn't, 'cause I didn't think of white people as being, that they were going to treat us badly.

MN: Now during this time, did you have any contact with your maternal grandparents in Oxnard?

CO: I guess there must have been letters exchanged because we knew that they were going to a different place than we were. So they ended up in Gila River also in Arizona. I have never gone to Gila River, I don't even know where it is exactly, but anyway, that's where they went. And actually, my father's brother, my uncle and his family were also with our group. So this side of the family were all going to the same place, my father's side of the family.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MN: Now, the day before you left for camp in May was your birthday.

CO: Yeah, I know, I told you all that. Yeah, my twelfth birthday was May 4th, and my father and mother as a birthday present bought me a pretty little dress in the town of Oceanside, and we knew the shop owner and she was very nice. It was dress embroidered with cherries, and I remember that dress because I wore it on the train going to the camps. And here were these ordinary things happening in the middle of this great upheaval. It's little details like that that probably reassured us of a kind of continuity that this is not going to be really awful. I mean, at least in my kid's mind, I don't know. I didn't anticipate that it was going to be something directed against us as a group. Gee, I don't really think about those things. [Laughs] I need to go into analysis or something, but anyway, I don't know. I guess I really look back on it, I was an unusual child.

MN: Okay, so on the day you have to leave your house from Oceanside, where did you gather to go to whatever camp you were going to go to?

CO: I think... I'm kind of thinking about probability. What actually happened I'm not really sure of, but I think that friends, white friends drove us to the train station, and they gave us some food and stuff, too. We just said our goodbyes, like this very friendly grocer and all that, I think he helped us out. There were other people, too. So... man. Maybe we were just fortunate that we didn't feel that somehow this terrible thing was happening. As it turned out to be, it was a terrible thing, but at the time, it didn't feel like it.

MN: Now, can you share some of your memories of the train ride?

CO: Yeah, my second train ride in my life. Well, they were beat up old trains. But again, we were surrounded by family and friends within this group, this contingent that was going. So it was not... I guess it wasn't really burning hot yet at that time of year. So I don't remember it as being really unpleasant. And when people say that they forced us to turn down the shades and everything, I don't remember any of that. 'Cause I remember just watching the scenery the whole time getting there. And they would bring boxed food, like boxed lunch type things periodically, and the soldiers were very polite and nice to us. It's just... were we just extremely lucky? I don't know. But we all got there in fairly decent spirits without having felt suffering or deprivation or anything. Or maybe I was just thinking about the adventure of it all. I'm sure that my parents didn't think that anything really terrible would befall us, my particular parents. I understand that's not the case with other families whose parents thought that they were taking us off to kill us all. That would have been very different if that's the way everybody felt in our contingent, but that was not the case.

MN: Now, how many days was this train ride?

CO: I think just a couple of days. It wasn't too long.

MN: But during that time there was, were there any showers?

CO: The landscape... no, no. I think they would stop the train periodically and let us get off and stretch. Oh, I imagine we must have gone finding toilets, places and stuff. I just don't have any memory of that kind of thing. We slept on the train.

MN: Sitting up?

CO: Yeah, we sat up. I guess playing games and things, I think we had books to read, I don't know. Gee, that's amazing. Have I just repressed a lot of bad stuff? Well, that's possible, too. But anyway, the landscape kept changing, so that was very interesting, going from California into the desert and over the Colorado River, right there, right at the border. And getting there at nightfall and getting onto buses and then going into camp.

MN: So you went straight to...

CO: Straight to camp. We didn't have the assembly center experience. I think that made a difference to us because I think the assembly center experience was really bad in the sense that a lot of these temporary places were still within city limits or whatever, and people could see, look out and see ordinary life going on like cars on streets and everything and that they could still see average life going on just outside of these assembly centers. And the contrast must have been very stark, and things like the horse stalls, you know, pretty grim experiences. Now, I know that there was one big riot at Santa Anita because they kept coming around searching all the places and maybe stealing some of the stuff, looking for contraband, and everybody had to put everything out. We escaped all those experiences. So I don't know what my head would have been like if I'd undergone some of those things.

MN: But for you, as I was listening to you about this train ride, from a child's viewpoint, would you describe it as pretty exciting?

CO: Yeah, it was an adventure. I was new, I mean, it was different, and I guess it must have been like, "I wonder where we're going," kind of thing. Not with dread, but with curiosity. I just attribute all this to my parents as being calm and not excitable under the circumstances. [Laughs]

MN: Then you mentioned that you arrived at Parker, Arizona, in the evening. And this is out in the desert, was it still warm out?

CO: Yeah, it was warmish, and we got onto buses that took us into the site.

MN: I know this was nighttime, but what was your first impression of Poston?

CO: Dusty, dirty. Sort of like slightly controlled chaos, because there were a lot of people, and we were all having to be assigned where we were going to be living. So there was a lot of standing in line and people trying to make sure that they lived next door to each other and all that kind of thing, yeah. I have one memory of the next day, my parents moved from one barrack to another because they wanted to live close to our relatives and neighbors. And me and... who was with me? Some other friend. We were out wandering. We were kind of looking over the whole camp, when we came back, my god, my parents weren't where I thought they were going to be, so we had to find them. 'Course, every barrack looked like every other barrack, and we didn't know the lay of the place. But yeah, that little thing I remember because suddenly it was like lost. "Where are they? This is where we thought they were gonna be." But it was daytime so we found them without too much time or trouble. But anyway, again, it was like an adventure, like, "What was going on?" I didn't really think beyond what does it mean or anything. It's just, "What is all this? What is all this?"

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

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.

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: So I wanted to ask you also, you were talking about they started to show movies in Poston. What kind of movies did they show there?

CO: Very, very old movies at the beginning. We would take our stools or any kind of thing we could sit on, and it would be outdoors, and we saw a lot of silent movies and we saw, I do remember Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, probably Charlie Chaplin, lots of old stuff like that. And as time went on, they got a little bit more closer, modern movies. I remember a movie called The Sullivan Brothers. The Sullivan Brothers was a movie about the five Sullivan boys who went to war as a group and all went down with one ship. And everybody cried their eyes out over this family that lost these five boys in the navy. So it's such an anomaly that all this was going on where we were kind of in the war and not of the war somehow. The war seemed very distant because we were so isolated. Maybe if I'd been older I wouldn't have been so isolated, but I was hardly aware that there was this huge shooting war going on out there, except sort of in a very intellectual way, that we're at war. And then, of course, all the old Issei, they were so much into Japan winning the war that that's mostly what I heard, was how Japan was winning the war.

MN: Do you think they really believed that, or was that way of trying to keep the morale up?

CO: Well, both. Some of 'em really believed. I mean, that was something that some of them really hung on to fiercely.

MN: Was that, are you talking about just your block or was that most of Poston I?

CO: I can't speak for most of Poston I, but certainly in our block and nearby blocks, there were a lot of Issei men who were really mad and really upset about our situation and that they were waiting for Japan to win the war.

MN: 'Cause early on in November of '42, Poston had a huge camp-wide strike.

CO: Yeah.

MN: And can you just share with us your memories of that strike?

CO: Uh-huh, yeah. Well, let's see. I know what it was about, but as a kid, I don't think I was really aware of the details of it except that it started out as just a protest against these fellows who were jailed for beating up JACL, or people who were thought to be JACL sympathizers or informers or what, and that this was what the protest was. But it snowballed into a camp-wide protest which involved everything. And so, again, it was sort of an exciting thing that was going on. My goodness, they were burning bonfires all night long, and there was this strong pro-Japan quality to it all, with the singing of Japanese songs and all kinds of makeshift flags flying, the hinomaru and all that sort of thing, and my father, being kind of really involved in all that. So we spent nights running from bonfire to bonfire and just kind of like, it was like a holiday almost. Gee, it was just lots of energy in the air, you might say. But I personally, I guess I really didn't understand the issues at that time, except that they were protesting.

MN: When you were going around at night with the bonfires, did you feel threatened that maybe this might get out of hand, maybe people might get killed? Or did you not feel that tenseness at all?

CO: No, did not. Again, luckily, Wade Head, who was the head of Poston administration, and his deputy, handled it in a fairly diplomatic manner. This is what I know afterwards. But he agreed to listen to the grievances and maybe change some things or whatever. But anyway, there wasn't... my recollection is it didn't feel like the army was going to come in or anything like that. And again, Poston, we were kind of lucky because it was run by people from the Indian Service who had had some kind of training dealing with, quote/unquote "indigenous peoples" or something like that, so that they were a little bit cooler about handling us. That I only know later, of course, but it didn't lead to... and I think there was a genuine attempt to have the people in the camps have more say on what was going on, or to be able to at least air their grievances. 'Cause things settled down after that.

MN: Now, at this time, was Hisaye, was she on the newspaper staff?

CO: Uh-huh.

MN: And did you have discussions with her regarding the strike?

CO: Well, I may have. I don't recall any specific things, but I used to hang out at her place a lot, and we talked about everything as I recall. And I must say, I don't know why she tolerated a little kid hanging around, but she did. Anyway, so maybe she gave me some balance about what was going on. Yeah, we became good friends throughout all this. And she was writing for that, what was it called? Poston Chronicle, I think that was the name of the camp paper. And Wakako Yamauchi was also in our block, so she was there, too. She and Hisaye were good friends at that time.

MN: Wakako is also younger than Hisaye, too.

CO: Not much, three years. She's eighty-six now.

MN: 'Cause you're quite, much younger than Hisaye.

CO: Nine years.

MN: Let me ask you a little bit more, not about the strike, but can you share with us your story about meeting Isamu Noguchi?

CO: Oh, yeah, that was wandering around in camp. Yeah, 'cause I guess I was a nosy kid, I don't know. I just had a lot of time on my hands. We all did. So I don't know what other kids did. One day -- and I think he was in Block 6, which was not our quad, it was the quad over. I just happened upon this man who had the door wide open. I think it was the end barrack of the so-called "recreation barrack" that they set aside for us. And he was working away on chiseling a bust out of what I remember as pink stone, pink marble, perhaps. Yeah, and he was chipping away, and here was this head gradually emerging from all this chipping away. And I had never seen anybody do anything like this before. I was very quiet and I stood and I watched him for a long time. He let me just watch. I don't think we exchanged any words or anything, he just let me watch. And then I picked up a handful of the chips that were on the floor, took 'em home. I guess I never went back, I don't know. I think maybe he left camp shortly after that. But he was also a very striking-looking individual. He was hapa, and there weren't very many at that time. So here was this man who looked different. He was a very handsome guy, and doing this kind of activity. And I'll never forget seeing him.

MN: When you walked into that rec room, though, did you know that was Isamu Noguchi?

CO: No, I didn't know. Maybe I asked somebody afterwards. Maybe Hisaye knew. I think she did. I think she did. I may have mentioned it to her or something, but I don't remember really.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MN: Now, let's see. In September you started the eighth grade in Poston. Where were the classes being held in?

CO: Well, in these rec barracks that they had. Every block had one barrack that was empty, and for use for any purposes, I guess. Well, they used them for classrooms, so that's what it was like. And bare, I don't recall... we had a white teacher, though. So they had recruited white teachers. And that particular teacher I really don't remember. But the later ones I do remember, some of them.

MN: Now, when you went into the ninth grade, did the format change?

CO: Yeah, the format changed. And so there, we went from class to class, so they were kind of separated out as to what classes they were. That meant tramping all across the camp, because they were in different blocks. So we did a lot of walking from class to class. And we had a little junior high school newspaper called Desert Daze, D-A-Z-E, and I don't know if I edited it. I think I did for a while. But I wrote for it, certainly.

MN: How would you compare the education you were getting at Oceanside to the education you were getting in camp?

CO: I would say that in camp it was very hit and miss. I mean, some teachers were very conscientious. There were Nisei who were teaching who were clearly not qualified to teach. But that wasn't their fault, they just got recruited because they had been college students or something and they had this great shortage. So they obviously had no experience, and so they couldn't control the classes. That's my main memory, that the boys were just so out of hand that... you know, like we couldn't even hear the teacher sometimes because there would just be such noise going on. This was very "un-Japanese," but I don't know. Structure was breaking down, I would say. And I don't know, I think the boys really kind of got out of hand in camp, a lot of 'em. But anyway, they tried.

MN: Now, you know, some people might say, "Well, you're in this camp, there's no future for Japanese Americans, so why study?" But you kept up your studies.

CO: Oh, well, yeah. I mean, that was so built into me that I couldn't think of otherwise. I wasn't the only one. There were lots of kids who were conscientiously working away on their studies. And imagine, we had like Latin class in camp, so studied something like the Latin. Drill, Amo, Amas, Amat, they still stick in my mind, 'cause we'd drill all that stuff. And girls generally were pretty good students. So yeah, between the organized social life and school, most of the girls were pretty well-occupied. Their time was occupied.

MN: Now, you were twelve years old when you went into camp. Had you started your menstrual cycle yet?

CO: No, not at that age. But around twelve and a half, yeah. And my mother, the big prude, had never even mentioned any of this. And so once it started and I didn't know what it was or anything, and she says, "Oh, you're now suffering from the women's sickness," like it was some kind of illness to be endured or something like that, yeah. So a very negative feeling about this, "What is this? Why do we have to put up with this?" And other than that, there was no direct sexual information from my mother, 'cause she was a very retiring, prudish lady. And so what I picked up was with my peer group, pretty much. And my mother was, she didn't want us to grow up too fast. And like she did not want us to wear makeup or get things like brassieres. Things like that, she just did not encourage any of that stuff. And I was not a feminine kid, so I didn't really care that much. But boy, a lot of the other girls sure did, and they were curling their hair and clothes and lipstick and makeup and boys and everything else. But I was not inclined to get into that kind of stuff. So I was different. [Laughs]

MN: But you're starting your period in camp, which is a very public place.

CO: Yeah, right. It was very uncomfortable, I think, for all of us, because of the open latrines. And embarrassing, here we are, we all are pretending that this kind of thing is just not happening. You never talk about it or anything, or at least I didn't. My other girlfriends, a lot of them, they also were unprepared because they didn't know about it. But we did have sanitary pads, and I guess the canteens were selling it, or they ordered them through Sears-Roebuck or something. But we had things like that. Again, I guess there were some families that had some savings, and then with the meager pay, I guess they bought these necessities and all that. I don't remember being deprived of these necessities, but maybe some families were. I imagine they were, I don't know. Like my mother took up sewing classes, so she made up dresses and things for us. So we had decent clothing.

MN: Did you have any accidents when you got your period?

CO: Oh, I must have. I probably repressed all of that because it was so disgusting. [Laughs] I mean, just for being female, I felt like, "What a punishment." So I must have. But I don't know, we all coped somehow. I guess we probably ran home or something and changed clothes or whatever we needed to do, yeah. All these kind of girly activities.

MN: Well, let me ask you a different line of questioning now. In camp, you heard for the first time the eta class.

CO: Yeah, yeah. That was new to me, right. And you know, the camps were just huge rumor factories, man. So I think the part of the isolation ended up everybody minding everybody's business. That everybody knew what everybody else was doing or whatever, and so there would be gossip about everybody and everything all the time. I had not experienced that kind of situation, and I didn't like it. I don't know how come we didn't grow up in that kind of situation, but somehow, once we got into camp, there was this tremendous backbiting going on, people always criticizing other people. So this whole question of some people being of the eta class, the rumors would be whispered. And so you were told to avoid these people, which struck me as unfair somehow. They looked like everybody else, and I couldn't understand this classification of eta. And my family had never talked about it, and I don't think I went and asked my parents what they were or anything like that, I don't recall. But it's a lot of this old Japanese stuff coming out when we were all -- in fact, it was the first time that many of us had lived in a community that was all other Japanese. So I think that came as a big shock, too, at the beginning. The only whites who were around were the administrators and maybe a few schoolteachers. And we didn't see the administrators because they lived in a different part of the camp or anything. So it was pretty much a total Nikkei society, ten thousand of us. It took getting used to, with all this sorting out of whose class structure or kenjinkai, where you came from and where your family came from and all that sorting out went on in the camps.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MN: Now, your father, what did he do in camp?

CO: He worked on a project which was supposed to eventually supply fresh fish for the camp, freshwater fish, I guess, so they went around digging deep big ponds to grow fish in. Now, I never really went to visit any of these or anything. It was a complete failure as far as I was concerned, I guess because we never did have fish out of those ponds. But it kept them occupied. He had access to this tractor for digging up these ponds and so he had access to gasoline and a tractor, so he would hitch up a little cart and take a whole bunch of us down to the Colorado River. So we used to go periodically to the river for fun and swimming and all that sort of thing. So my father was, my father was a mischievous kind of person, too. A little bit of a rule-breaker, so he would do things like that. We learned that from him, my sister and I. [Laughs]

MN: But it sounds like he was able to break the rules because people liked him. He had a very likable personality.

CO: Yeah, he was easygoing. And he was a smart man, I think, you know. I mean, you don't think about your father in that way very much, but I think he was quite bright.

MN: Now, what about your mother? What did she do in camp?

CO: Well, she had this, Emiko, the baby. And if she had jobs in camp, I was not particularly aware. It may have been part time like working in the mess halls. I think she did work in the mess halls some time, but I was just out of the house and gone, I don't know what she did. I know she took sewing classes. She may have joined other women's organizations and stuff like that, but I didn't know. I wasn't paying attention to what she was doing. I was out with my peers. You know, if you don't eat with your family... I mean, after all, the camp had a perimeter, so you couldn't go very far, so nobody worried about where you were particularly or anything. So we just roamed around a lot. Gee, so I don't know what my mother did. [Laughs] Besides, I was really thinking of her, she's such an old fashioned lady anyway, so I didn't particularly want to be around her that much.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MN: Now, Poston had over a hundred draft resisters. Did you know any of the draft resisters, and what did you think about them at the time?

CO: Well, like I say, because they had that really strong pro-Japan component to the camp, that's not surprising. And like I know I had a couple of cousins who, I think, refused to go. And later on, I heard the name Hideki Takeguma, and he was a kid who was about my age -- no, he must have been older. He had to have been older. But he was also a resister. So it just seemed like that was not an unheard of thing that a lot of... I think there were a lot of people who were resistant to all this, but they just, the idea of having to go to jail and stuff like that was too much for 'em. So even a hundred is pretty, it's a big contingent that took a stand like that. But I don't think they were gone very long, and they were right back because now I know that in Arizona, the judge really let them go with just a one penny fine or something like that, so they were back and they were part, again, of the community. So there wasn't a big thing made of it, at least not in my knowing.

MN: Now, I know you were really young when the "loyalty questionnaire" was passed out. And I guess because of that, you didn't have to fill out, but your parents did. Can you share with us -- I know you've done a lot of research on this. So the questionnaire that your Issei parents filled out, I know how your father answered it.

CO: Uh-huh, yeah. And again, it wasn't during the actual experience because... when did that happen? February of 1943 or something, I think I was still twelve years old when all that was taking place. Anyway, I don't remember the questionnaire. I read my parents' questionnaire after, when I went to the archives and saw the actual, what their questionnaires were, and I had assumed that my father was a "no-no" and my mother also. But at that point, the questionnaire had been altered eliminating, for Issei, eliminating for Issei, 27 and 28 were no longer there. And one question they asked was, "Are you willing to abide by the laws of the United States?" And my father said "yes." My mother said "yes," I guess. So they passed, or whatever you want to characterize that as. But it's ironic. Just because they happened not to be citizens. I don't know what my father would have done with those other two questions. I think he would have been a "no-no."

MN: Well, your father wanted to return to Japan, is that correct?

CO: Yeah, they had decided sometime during that period that they didn't want to stay.

MN: Why didn't your family go to Tule Lake?

CO: I don't know. Other families did. It just... I never asked, because I guess I was glad we didn't go. But anyway, I suspect that Tule Lake was overcrowded already at that point I suspect. And again, maybe they liked my father or something, somebody did, or something. I don't know. I don't know.

MN: Now, how did you feel about your parents wanting to go to Japan?

CO: Oh, well, that was the last thing in the world that I wanted, is to go to Japan. Because you know, I mean, for all this pro-Japan junk going on, within our block particularly, and in our camp, I said, "That's a bunch of stupid old men, and who would want to live with them?" I didn't want to go to a country that was going to be full of people like that. I was quite clear that that's what it would be like, and also that women would have to be subservient, and I didn't want to be having to grow up in that situation. And I was very American. I was the smartest girl in class in American school, and so why would I want to leave when I was treated so well? Besides, I was reading things and stuff, I must have figured out that they're not winning the war, for one thing, and they were stupid to start the war and all these things. I was becoming aware of that kind of thing.

MN: Now, what did you do that got your parents in trouble, that you were trying to stay here?

CO: Oh, yeah, right. I tried to figure out some way of not having to go, and I wrote letters. I just wrote random letters to magazines, things like magazine editors and whatnot. And those people questioned the camp administration that they're getting these letters, or at least one editor did, and asking, "What is going on with this child?" So they brought in my parents and questioned them, and I think they were very embarrassed this rebellious kid was doing these things. You know, though, I have to hand it to, like, my father, who was not punitive. I think maybe he even understood where I was coming from, to use slang, colloquialism. So I didn't get it from any scoldings or whatever. I knew Issei fathers who beat their wives, who hit their kids and were drunks and all sorts of things. My old man was not like that. So I've been pretty fortunate in a lot of ways, but I don't think he condemned me for voicing or expressing myself this way. I don't think so.

MN: Could that have swayed his mind to maybe remain in the United States, what you did?

CO: I don't know, possibly. Possibly. I just don't know. I think that he felt that there were family holdings in Japan, that they would have something to go back to, whereas they didn't in this country. As it turned out, I think all those family holdings were lost in some way or another, that word came that there was nothing left. So I know that was a big factor in his not going back. But on the other hand, too, I think he was Americanized to a certain degree. Anyway, I don't know why we weren't forced to go back to Japan. Again, maybe somebody liked him. That's what... Aiko would say things like that to me, she'd say, "Oh, somebody liked him." Because he escaped a whole lot of these things that happened to other people.

MN: Aiko Yoshinaga-Herzig?

CO: Uh-huh, yeah.

MN: Because your parents signed papers, didn't they?

CO: Yes, repatriation papers.

MN: And they didn't have to go through Wayne Collins?

CO: No, none of that.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MN: So when did your family actually leave Poston, what year?

CO: '45. In August, the war ended. I left by myself in September to, I went to live with Hisaye in Los Angeles to start school. And my family came out in October where they went to live on a goldfish farm, to work on a goldfish farm in Westminster.

MN: How did you feel about the news that Japan had lost the war?

CO: Well, I personally, I was relieved, I suppose, that's it's over. Yeah, but there was some lamentation in camp, you know. There were suicides. I've heard of a few people hanging themselves at that time, that's how strong their belief was.

MN: Now, you said you had lived with Hisaye in Los Angeles. At that time, was she working for the black newspaper?

CO: She was working for the Los Angeles Tribune. And she took me to their offices from time to time, so I got to meet all those people there, Almena and Lucius Lomax, they ran the paper. And just hang out on Central Avenue there in Bronzeville or whatever it was called, I don't know. But anyway, so that was an experience.

MN: Did you go to any of the black clubs in Little Tokyo?

CO: No, I didn't not. I mean, I was pretty young at that time. One interesting thing happened while I was living with Hisaye. [Laughs] Well, I mean a lot of interesting things, but this one I remember. Have you ever heard of Molly Mittwer? Molly Oyama Mittwer? I knew her, too, and I lived with her family for a little while. And one day, Molly showed up at Hisaye's house when I was living there, and she was in a taxicab, and she said they were going to a party, and would Hisaye like to go? Hisaye said, "No," but I said... I guess, did I say I wanted to go? I don't know. But anyway, I went. And it was at a Hollywood writer's house, and there were a lot of Hollywood people there including a writer, John Fante, Carlos Bulosan, a Filipino writer, and all these people were at this party. I was fifteen, I didn't know who they were or anything. But I know they questioned me about being in camp and all sorts of things, and John Fante actually said, "Would you like to come and live with us and go to school?" I didn't say yes, I didn't know what to think. So my parents turned that down, they didn't think I should do that. And also, well, these are silly stories. On the ride back, there was a deaf... what was he? Writer or something, Ross something or the other, he was driving the car and we were very cramped. So I sat on Carlos Bulosan's lap all the way home to Hisaye's house, and Carlos Bulosan called me up and asked to take me out. And everybody said I better not go, so I didn't go. But these are just accidental things. And, see, Hisaye was already on a circuit with writers and other creative types and things like that, and so this is just one of those happenstance things that happened while I was there in L.A. I think back on it, "God, I should have gone to live with John Fante," but I didn't.

MN: Well, you got asked out by Carlos Bulosan, too.

CO: Oh, well, that too, yeah. Well, anyway, so I knew him.

MN: Wow. Lot of just real historical people.

CO: Yeah, but I didn't know that at the time.

MN: Can I ask you also, you said you met Almena Lomax.

CO: Yeah, uh-huh.

MN: I think she's still alive.

CO: Yeah, that's what I've been told. Wakako said that she's still alive.

MN: What do you remember about her?

CO: Boy, what a dynamic woman. I mean, have you ever met her or heard about her or anything?

MN: I talked to her on the phone, but she won't give me an interview yet. But she's a really interesting character.

CO: Yes, yes. I do remember her, and Lucius also. In fact, that whole scene was very, very interesting, because these were well-to-do blacks at the time. And they had a lot of connections. So I met her a couple of times, but I didn't, I wasn't able to pursue any kind of friendship or a relationship with them. And Hisaye left the Trib after a couple of years, I think.

MN: And Wakako worked there, too, right?

CO: Did she? I think maybe Chester did. Chester's Wakako's husband.

MN: Wakako babysat Almena's kids, I think.

CO: Oh, really? My goodness. But she was highly political, and I remember her ranting and raving about all kinds of things, yeah. And they had their offices in some hotel, upstairs of a hotel. The Dunbar Hotel? Something like that, black-owned hotel on Central Avenue. And I was told that Joe Lewis used to stay there when he was in L.A. And somebody said, "Oh, I'll take you to Joe Lewis when he's in town." Well, anyway, I didn't stay in L.A. long enough to go and meet Joe Lewis. [Laughs] I should have stayed in L.A.

MN: Yeah. Did you know that they also printed The Current, which is a Japanese American magazine?

CO: The Tribune?

MN: Yeah, they published it. Kats Kunitsugu told me that.

CO: Well, they were good to us, considering.

MN: Yeah, Almena told me she actually took an ad out in the Pacific Citizen for writers, Japanese American writers.

CO: Oh, that's how she got Hisaye.

MN: You were right in that...

CO: Yeah, but I was so ignorant that I didn't know it. [Laughs] Anyway, these are just little incidents.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MN: Now, comparing your lives during the period of preparing to go to camp and then trying to reestablish your lives, which was more difficult?

CO: I don't think of it in terms of difficulty. I think with going into camp, we had no choice, so we just did what we were told, and so we can't consider that difficult. I imagine coming out of camp was probably very difficult for people. I was still in school, so I had that framework of going to school. It wasn't like I had to look for a job or a place to stay or anything like that because my parents had to deal with all that kind of stuff. So I know going from the camp schools, going to Roosevelt High for two months while I was living with Hisaye, and that was a scene, man. And then at the goldfish farm I transferred to Huntington Beach High School. And then when I was sixteen, I told my family, I told my parents, "I don't want to live in the country. I want to live in the city, and so I'm going back to L.A." And I knew of other kids who had hired out as schoolgirls, so I said I was going to get a job and move to L.A. And they let me. When I think back on that, seeing how my mother was one of these very retiring, fearful kinds of persons, she let me go. Well, I guess she knew better than to oppose. [Laughs] So I went to L.A. and got a job as a schoolgirl with a Jewish family in the Fairfax area, and I went to L.A. High. So that, all that, I didn't think of as being difficult. I fit right into the school and so it was not a major transition for me.

MN: So you didn't feel any hostility from the other students?

CO: Uh-uh.

MN: How about yourself, though? Did the camp experience change the way you viewed the Nikkei community and yourself?

CO: Yes.

MN: How did it change you?

CO: It got so I didn't like the Japanese community as a generalization. That their outlook was narrow, it was provincial, it was like the roles that the Japanese women were put into and everything, I was pretty sure I didn't want to be stuck into those categories and roles and ways of being. And I really did not like that gossipy kind of lifestyle where, you know, there was always some critical person about how you looked or how you behaved or what you did and all these things. It really felt like, it really cramps a person's style to have to conform to all those norms and values and customs and behavior and all that stuff. Yeah, I was pretty aware of that. Well, where were we now? Yeah, I didn't really want to identify within that group.

MN: So did you cut yourself off from the community?

CO: Well, I did that over time. Let's see. Where would be a good place to start? I went to UCLA for a couple of years, and there, it was hard to escape the social life that went on that was Nikkei. 'Cause they had a sorority, they had their own clubs and groups, and I kept being drawn into them. And it was very hard to say no because... well, because you would make yourself very, known as a I don't know what, but anyway, it was just kind of hard to do. So I transferred to Berkeley so that I could get away from that. I mean, I was doing well at UCLA scholastically and everything, but I decided, "No, I got to get away, get out of this Southern California Nikkei culture." So I transferred to Berkeley.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MN: Let's talk about redress. When people started to talk about trying to get redress and reparations from the government, what was your reaction to that?

CO: Well, let me see now. I think it had been mentioned earlier, various people had brought it up and stuff like that, but never seemed to go anywhere. In fact, I think that idea was thought of very early after the war, and then I know that there was one bill passed, I forget what it was called. My memory of that business was my uncle, who was a lawyer, on my mother's side, Nuggets Fujita. [Laughs] Anyway, he said, "Oh, the JACL screwed that one all up," he said. So that's what I thought. I know that all of us... in San Diego, I think they had some kind of a filling out forms, asking for some redress at that stage, and that was in '48 or so, something like that.

MN: Very early, yeah.

CO: Yeah. I went with my dad and filled out forms. But I never found out if anything came of it as far as my immediate family was concerned. I don't know. But after hearing my uncle say something like that, I figured, well, okay, it's probably not much of anything. Anyway, but also, part of the conditions of that redress was that we were never ever to ask for anything again, right? I think my uncle and people were, really thought that was dumb, but... well anyway. So I really didn't think about camps although it was kind of like a little social thing like, "Oh, what camp were you in?" sort of thing, without thinking about the experience, really. And boy, it was really quite a bit later in my life when... well, for one thing, a lot of people never knew about the camps. But it came up with somebody who was a psychologist. This was at a party or something. And she asked me about, had I been in the camps and I said, "Yeah." And she said, "Well, what happened in the camps?" or something, and I said, "Well, I don't know. Nothing much." And this person looked at me and said, "You were between the ages of twelve and fifteen and you feel that it didn't affect you very much?" And I started thinking about that, thinking about that. I had really repressed it all, 'cause it was just a bad experience. Because it was hard to talk about. Nisei didn't want to talk about the real thing, at least on the whole they didn't. And certainly the white community and stuff wanted to think that it had never happened. Because I would hear that kind of thing, like, "Oh, I can't believe it," sort of thing. So it just was not something that came up very much seriously. But then how come it got going in the '70s? That's when, oh, Michi Weglyn's book came out in '76. Yeah, I think reading that.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: How did you get involved with the National Council for Japanese American Redress, and how did you meet William Hohri?

CO: Well, I was active in the redress thing that was going on in Seattle, which they called a coalition. And I have to hand it to Cherry Kinoshita and the people in Seattle who were getting into this, that they started out in a very inclusive manner in which they wanted to involve the Aleuts, all of them, and all kinds of groups, church groups and everybody. So I was doing work there, one of them recruited me, one of the JACL people there recruited me into it. And I thought, "Oh, this is not the JACL, they're being, involving a lot of everybody." And so I got active in that, and at one point, volunteers were asked for to be named plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Nobody would volunteer, you know, we never want to put ourselves forward or anything. Nobody does. So finally, Cherry, she said, "Will you?" And I said, "Well, what does it mean?" And she says, "Well, your name is just representing, that's all. It doesn't mean that you're, tying you down to a lot of work or anything." "Does it mean a lot of travel and everything?" and she said, "No." So I said, "Well, okay, put my name on there," like it was just going to be a name. And Teresa... what was her last name? I can't remember. Anyway, a few of us, they chose us as a group because we didn't say no or object strenuously. So it was just accidental, just accidental. But then, that's a well-organized group, you know, and they were putting out newsletters and meetings, they had meetings on various things. And so I started getting really interested in what they were doing. And I don't know. I must have been asked to write something or something, but William and I struck up a correspondence. We did it pretty much by just letters, that's how we got to know each other, really. And he said, I mean, he was very nice and he says, "She knows how to think," he said about me. So I felt like, wow, that's nice. [Laughs] But that more than many of the others.

MN: Well, that's quite a compliment from William Hohri.

CO: Yeah, it was. So I met Aiko and Jack and Michi Weglyn and all these people within the context of the lawsuit, pretty much.

MN: Did you travel to Washington, D.C. when they had hearings at the Appeals Court?

CO: Not Appeals Court. I went to the one at the Supreme Court. But they sent out newsletters informing everybody. I mean, once a month, a very good newsletter came out from that group, and then I would get these briefs and things, printed out things from the lawyers running the lawsuit. And William and that young lady...

MN: Helen Carson?

CO: Godbey-Carson, yeah. They came out to Seattle at one time and we had a group gathering and they were explaining everything about what was going on. So there was a lot of information being exchanged all the time. So I got more and more interested in it. And then the Seattle chapter was very active in redress, so we met pretty often and we put out our own newsletter. So there was just a lot of activity going on. We would do things like, in Seattle, write our congressmen and have meetings with our congressmen and stuff like that so, I mean, writing was kind of easy for me. So I would just dash off all these letters and do that kind of thing with the Seattle committee.

MN: Now, were you doing this with the thought that, "Well, I'm doing this but we may not win"? but did you do it with the thought that, "Maybe we have a chance to win"?

CO: No. I never thought we would win. [Laughs] No. I mean, we had so much opposition within our own community, that oh my god... so I looked upon it as an educational project and it turned out to be a very educational project of myself more than anybody else. But I mean, for the outside group because for instance, when they had those hearings, and ours was very well-organized. They had mock hearings and all that, so we all went though the mock hearings. I volunteered to take testimony for especially Issei who didn't have the language. So I did go around and write down testimony for a bunch of people. And like I say, we met once a month, very regularly, and we would have fundraisers. We were having candlelit ceremonies on February 19th. So there was a lot going on, so that was my... I was working at the time, but that was my outside activity, redress or whatever it was called at the time. The redress people would come out, too. Bob...

MN: Bratt?

CO: Bob Bratt used to come out, yeah. I had quite a nice chat with him. And you know, somebody told me that the JACL people were giving Bob Bratt a hard time in D.C. So I wrote him a personal letter and I said, "They do not represent all of us. In fact, they don't represent very many of us, so do not be discouraged by that group of people." And I got back a nice letter from him saying, "Oh, I needed that. That was good to hear, thanks." So you know, I did not hesitate to voice my opinions from time to time. [Laughs] But anyway, so William and I became like pen pals. I have a whole bunch of his old letters and one of these days I'll look at 'em. Like I'd been writing for Hisaye for over fifty years, too, I have some of those old letters, too. But anyway, so we did go to the Supreme Court hearings. All of the named plaintiffs who could go, they paid our way to go and all that. So our chapter, the Seattle chapter, paid my way to go there, and they provided the room and all that there in D.C. So it was good 'cause I was pretty broke at that time, so I was glad that they helped out.

MN: Now, didn't the Seattle JACL chapter sort of break away from national over all this redress issue?

CO: Well, that was earlier on, yeah. They were ready to break off from the JACL, right. You know, like Henry Miyatake and Shosuke and those guys were active at that time, and they were really mad at getting the runaround from the national and all that, yeah. And there were enough backers in Seattle that they would have broken away. I don't know why they didn't, but they didn't.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MN: Well, how did you feel when redress was actually won?

CO: Well, I didn't believe it. I mean, it was really difficult. But then, I compared it to the lawsuit, and I really thought that the lawsuit had a lot more legitimacy in that it was framed as a violation of our law and that that's the one that should have won, but we didn't win. So that was, at least with the congressional thing, there again, it was very educational, I think, for the nation. And I think $20,000 was such a token, piddling amount, but anyway... it was symbolic, you might say.

MN: Now, had NCJAR not filed that lawsuit and not almost won, do you think that Congress would have passed the redress bill?

CO: You know, who can say? I sort of believe that that was the prod for Congress, but we'll never know. We'll never know. It did attract a lot -- I mean, the lawsuit in Washington, the West Coast was hardly aware of it because it was all happening back there, but it attracted a lot. Because I know right after the hearings, we went out, and all the media was there. I know the media from Seattle came up and asked me, and I didn't know what to say. So I didn't make it on air, but that's okay. But they did pay attention to the lawsuit. And we had a great, I think we were there for three or four days or something, but Harry Ueno was there and Hannah Holmes was there, Michi was there, Michi and Walter Weglyn were there. In fact, there's this great photo, huh? Gordon was there, Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu was there, and all these other people. So it was a historic gathering. And as we were seated in the Supreme Court, and they're very strict. They come around, and Gordon was reading a newspaper next to me, and this guy, proctor comes out and says, "Please do not read the newspaper," and things like that. So we all had to sit there very attentively for quite a while. And Antonin Scalia stood up and recused himself, and we heard Thurgood Marshall make remarks and things like that. Oh, but before that, there were a couple of rows of empty seats in the very front, like everybody else was seated and waiting. Man, Mike Masaoka came in with an entourage of people, and they got seated right in front. And I was thinking, "What kind of clout does this guy have that he gets a special seating right in the front at the Supreme Court?" Anyway, I never asked anybody about that, but it was such a show of power or show of himself, I suppose, I don't know. Anyway, so you never know about what things are going on.

MN: Did you ever see Mike Masaoka and William Hohri have any words?

CO: No. In fact, I hardly ever saw Mike Masaoka. I went to one JACL, one of their yearly. It was in Seattle, and this was at the time when the redress bill's... I said, "I have to look at this person after all I've heard about him and see him in action." And I did, and he was, the panel was on Japan-America Relations and Trade, and he got up there, dominated the whole discussion, got off on the 442nd, and they never hardly got to the trade issues, it seemed like. So I said, "Oh, this is the beast that we have been fighting with for all these years." Yeah, that's the kind of guy he was, I guess. And he was doing it for the home team because it was in Seattle and it was in front of the JACL there and everything. Yeah. So he was playing to the crowd.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

MN: Well, let me ask you about Rabbit in the Moon. How did you and your sister come up with the concept for this?

CO: Well, so much in life is accidental. And the accident in my life is that I happened to be working with these people in Seattle for redress. And mostly it was other JACL people. I think finally at the end I was the only non-JACL member and I refused to join because I said, "I have to represent all non-JACLers." So it became kind of a joke, but I was accepted and everything. Well, after redress, Ken... what the hell is his last name? Anyway, he said they were forming study groups and they wanted to study the "No-No Boys." And he said would I want to do that, and I said, "Not particularly." [Laughs] But anyway, he roped me into it and he said, "I want you to give us a report on the questionnaire." So I said, "Okay," so I wrote to Aiko and I said, "Send me a questionnaire, 'cause I've never seen the whole thing." So she did, and she sent me not only her own questionnaire and somebody else's, but a whole bunch of documents about the questionnaire. That was really good of her. Anyway, so suddenly I started reading up on the questionnaire, and that was my "aha" moment. I thought, "Here's the document. This document is really crucial in understanding what happened to us." So I began to do a lot of research on my own and talking to William and Aiko and everybody, had a lot of resources to talk about it. And I said, "I didn't know about this, most everybody else doesn't know about this, and the American people don't know about this. The least we can do is bring up the fact that they did this to us in the camps." So my sister is a filmmaker, and I said, "There should be a documentary about this," only we didn't want to make it. So we were contemplating, "Who could make this?" So we started contacting various people, and nobody wanted to do it. And my sister really didn't want to do it either because she wasn't that all interested, and she didn't feel capable of doing something like this. But then I said to her, "Well, if nobody else wants to do it, I guess we have to do it. I mean, it was starting out on a very naive note like, "Well, I want to get this information out, so if nobody else is interested in doing it, we got to do it." And what did we do? Oh, I know. We wrote a grant proposal to the National Institute of Humanities, NIH, yeah, right. And that is a bear of a form. I worked a year on filling out that grant proposal. And then they turned us down, of course. So my sister said, "We don't want to go with these guys. They're so scholarly and academic anyway." So after that, we started writing smaller grants. And after working on the NIH grant, we didn't have to write other grants except to pick pieces out of the original grant proposal. So we assembled a whole bunch of 'em and I said, "We should send these to every..." what do they call them anyway? They're branches of the NIH, every state has its own council. "We'll send them to every state that had a camp in it." So we sent out ten different proposals, and we won some of the grants.

So with the initial money we started interviewing. And so that got us rolling, and I went through an obsession with camp for a while because it was really interesting talking to all these people and getting people like Shosuke on camera. So just by bits and pieces we started gathering all these interviews and getting these small grants that kept us going. You know, it took us eight, nine years to do it. So we went to the National Archives. I did a lot of reading. And then, when we would get really discouraged like saying, "Man, this is too much. How can we finish this thing?" And then we would run into some of the people that we had interviewed, and they would say, "How's it going?" We'd say, "Oh, we're still working on it, we're still working on it," and we would feel kind of shamefaced about, we can't let all these people down. Because we've interviewed them, and they had told us their stories, and they're expecting to be in this documentary. So we kind of work for a while on it and not for a while. Kept writing grant proposals and things like that. By that time, you know that redress fund that they had? That was around. So we applied for that. I applied for a separate grant in that round, 'cause I wanted to do Violet de Cristoforo's story. So I got a grant to do write that story. Emi got a grant to continue with the documentary. Not a very big one, but something. So that enabled us to continue. And luckily, my sister is part of the Bay Area documentary industry or whatever, so... I mean, she'd been working in it all these years and so she had a lot of friends and resources. So these are all people who help each other. So she got a lot of help from all the friends that are in the business, and so we managed to go on with really professional help, like Pat Jackson, who is the second-name editor who is a Hollywood editor. So we had some really expert help. And we staggered over the finish line.

Oh, and they, her friends, insisted that we enter Sundance. And my sister says, "No, it will never make it." But I don't know, they all really put the pressure on her, so she entered. And one day I get a phone call saying, "Guess what? We made it into Sundance." It was sort of like a miracle. What? We got into Sundance. And then again, a bit of good luck brought that around. Do you know Gene Oishi? Gene Oishi has a daughter... what is her name? I'm getting old. I used to be able to name all these things and I can't anymore. But she is a professor in Long Beach State or someplace down there, she is a lesbian, her partner is a person who works for Sundance and screens entries. So she knew something about the whole camp experience. So when they saw it, she knew what it was about. So if you read the panel in the Sundance brochure about the entries and stuff, it's a really good rundown about the real meat of the matter. And we just lucked out, because if somebody else had been a screener and not known anything about it, it may not have been very interesting. You know, like I say, life is a series of accidents. So that's how we got into Sundance.

MN: And you won the award.

CO: Well, we won... my sister won an award for best cinematography for that and also for another one that she had worked on that was in competition. The one about Vietnam, Vietnam widows. Regret to Inform, yeah, that one. But people from television had come -- everybody's there at Sundance -- and they wanted it real bad. They wanted to show it. POV, Point of View, that series, wanted it real bad. So we said yes. [Laughs] They wanted to show it on the Fourth of July or very close to Fourth of July. They wanted to provoke some comment. So Pat Jackson said, "No, no, no, we want to go for an Academy Award." Well, that seemed pretty far-fetched. And I said, "You know, we'd be better off going the television route because we don't want to just be has-beens at the Academy Awards." Who knows, but anyway, we had a choice to make, so we went with television.

MN: You won the Emmy.

CO: Yeah, and then we won the Emmy. Not only that, but we won lots of awards, so it paid off. And it's still being used in a lot of schools. I'm still selling it out of my bedroom, fulfilling orders. [Laughs] Still get two or three orders a week. So it's still out there. It's alive.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MN: What are your thoughts about... I remember in L.A. when Rabbit in the Moon showed, there was a lot of buzz within the JACL because they felt that it was an anti-JACL movie. How did you react to that?

CO: We knew that was going to happen. And there was angry stuff in the Pacific Citizen particularly. And we kind of brushed it off like... oh, my reply? Oh, one letter, one email came and said, "They waited until Iron Mike was dead," like it was some kind of a sneaky thing to do to him. "If he were alive, he would have really told them off." So I said, "Thank you for your opinion. The JACL, please make your own documentary to show your side of the story." So that's my exchange with somebody, Nobuyuki...

MN: Kawai?

CO: No, somebody else. But he used to be a director or something with the JACL. And NAATA at that time wanted, they sent out copies of Rabbit to every chapter of the JACL in the United States pre-showing on public television so that they would be prepared for whatever fallout would come from it. I know all that happened.

MN: And you folks were also invited to speak at a JACL tri-district.

CO: Yes, in Salt Lake City, Utah. So we went and fended off... oh man, there was a nasty old man and he says to me, "What did you do for redress?" And I said, "Well, I worked for ten years on redress." I mean... oh, well. [Laughs]

MN: Do you want to share the story about when you won the Emmy and who was with you backstage?

CO: Oh, you mean our former congressman? Give me the name, I can't think of it.

MN: Mineta.

CO: Norman Mineta, right, yeah. So we scraped together money to go to the Emmy awards because nobody was giving us our plane ticket fare or anything. Oh, what's-his-name gave us his frequent flier miles and that's how we got there. [Laughs] So it's a pretty fancy deal in this big hotel ballroom. And people like Dan Rather, all those media people were there. So we felt like really tiny mice at a grand party. Anyway, so we're milling around with people and Norman Mineta is there. And I'm wondering, "What is he doing at this thing?" Well, he was on the program, and I think he did speak. Then he left, but I was told afterwards that Mineta did not vanish, he stayed in the back rooms waiting to see if we were going to win or not. So he did hear that we had won an award. I don't know what to make of all that except that he never sent us a letter of congratulations or anything, which I thought, "Gee, given the situation, you'd think at least he'd say he saw us there and he knew we had won." But he never sent us an acknowledgement. So that's how deep the enmity went, I guess, 'cause that's not very Japanese.

MN: Of course, Norman is, his sister was married to Mike Masaoka.

CO: That's true. But we didn't name Mike Masaoka in our film. We considered that, and I thought, "Well, you know, I'm not going to name names. This is going to be about an organization and what it did or what was said in its name, I'm not going to pick out names." Now, Frank Abe does have Masaoka on camera and stuff, so that's different. But we didn't name him.

MN: Anything else you want to add? I've asked my questions.

CO: [Laughs] Well, just that over the years, I've become very aware of what a deep effect that the incarceration had on individuals and on the community as a whole. And that the rift that developed in the camps will always be there. It will never be crossed. And that's really unfortunate, and I'm sad about that. That people who fought the internment on whatever level were somehow categorized as unpatriotic or did great damage to our image or our community or something like that. That's a great tragedy for the community, that it never came to terms with the reasons why were put into the camps. So I'm eighty years old, I'm not going to be here that much longer, but I guess in my lifetime, those issues will never be resolved, and it's a great tragedy for our community. That's good enough.

MN: Thank you.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.