Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Marion Michiko Bernardo Interview
Narrator: Marion Michiko Bernardo
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda, Barbara Takei
Location: San Francisco, California
Date: April 6, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-bmarion-01-0012

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: Okay, so from Merced, after Merced where did you go?

MB: Amache, Colorado.

TI: Okay, Amache. And this is where your mother died, at Amache?

MB: [Nods] We got there in the spring and she died in December.

TI: And so describe what kind of medical care she got in Amache? What, did doctors visit her in the barracks, or what kind of care did she get during this time?

MB: I don't remember doctors coming. I think she had to go to the hospital to be examined, but she'd return the same day. And I remember the night that she died, I guess she was in such pain and they gave her (morphine) and there was people coming and going, and I mean, it's just, we're in one room, and I couldn't avoid not hearing that. And you don't discuss things with children those days that, you know, "Your mother's very sick, she's gonna die," or anything. Nothing was said to me, so it was more difficult, I think, for me.

TI: Oh, so while this was happening, when she was dying of stomach cancer, you didn't really understand what was going on?

MB: I didn't...

TI: So she was dying of cancer and as a thirteen year old you didn't really understand that she was dying, or did you know that she was gonna die?

MB: No, I didn't. Actually, I was about twelve, I guess.

TI: And so when she died, what happened? I mean, so this was that night, you said an evening that she died...

MB: No, she died during the day, because our neighbor from Walnut Grove, Bessie Matsuoka, came, worked in the school. She had a couple years at Cal and she was working for the school department, and she came and got me out of class and took me home, and she never said a word walking home from the school. She didn't know what to tell me either. She wasn't trained.

TI: And so who, who told you then? How did you find out?

MB: I guess after I got home and she, they had already taken her away.

TI: And at this point who was there, who was there from the family? Your father, you, and then which brothers were living with you at this time?

MB: They were all living, but we managed to get two rooms. My father did his thing and got us two rooms, so the two older brothers had their own room, small room, and then four of us, another brother and myself, had another bigger room.

TI: So Marion, I'm just trying to imagine, this is, you're twelve years old, so you're in this adolescent age where you're starting to become a young woman and to have your mother taken away like this in addition to being put in this camp and away from home. I'm trying to wonder, how did you cope? I mean, what allowed you to keep going during this time?

MB: Well, I had very good friends across the street I met after we moved there, and I spent a lot of time with them. They had two daughters. One was maybe a year older than I was and the other one was older, a few years older than her sister, and I guess they were my, I was able to fall back on them.

TI: Yeah, because I was thinking, because it sounds like you weren't really able to talk much with your father and your brothers were older, so they had their own lives, and I was just wondering who you had to talk with. So it sounds like this neighbor and the two daughters there were very important.

MB: Yeah.

TI: Now, was there anything that you remember them, like the mother, telling you during this time, this hard time?

MB: No, my mother always combed my hair in a ponytail, and she just couldn't do it. And I don't know how, maybe she just tied it in a ponytail, but my friends said, "Your brothers braided your hair for you." I said, "They did no such thing." Somehow they got the word that they were doing female things, yeah.

TI: During this difficult time, was there anyone that said anything to you that was really meaningful or important to you that you remember?

MB: No, I don't remember that. They were pretty sympathetic. Well, the kids weren't that aware how difficult it is, but no one really... see, we weren't living with the Walnut Grove people. We were living on a different block, so they were all new people, new friends.

TI: Now, what, what kind of service did they have for your mother, like a memorial or a funeral service? What did they do?

MB: I don't remember too much, but I know there were people buried there in camp, but my father refused and had her ashes and we kept that in the house. He would not consider even living there permanently, always with the feeling that we'd eventually get back, so he got the ashes and then when we got back to Walnut Grove he had her ashes buried in Sacramento.

BT: I'm curious, when your mother, when your mother was sick, were you doing all the laundry and shopping and cooking?

MB: Well no, camp food. They had a mess hall, but otherwise I did the laundry and kind of cleaning, but it's just one big room.

BT: So for, like you've got the four brothers and you --

MB: No, no, they did, they had their own room. But they left fairly soon. They didn't stay long. As long as they didn't go back to California they were permitted to travel to New York or wherever. And then they were there a short time and then they were drafted. I mean, we're prisoners, but they were still using us in the war.

BT: So a lot of young people your age said that they had fun in camp, but you had a lot of the responsibilities of the mother, right?

MB: Well, my father did take care of her. He brought food home from the mess hall, and he was a block manager, but it was just too complicated. People with, people's problems, you're a social worker and everything else, psychiatrist. But he delivered, later on delivered meat to the various camp mess halls, and so he would take some and would bring it home and he and I -- my brothers were all gone by then -- he and I would have steak. And of course, you could smell it, but he managed to sneak some, give one chef something nice one time and they'd compensate him with meat. Meats were rare in camp. We had chicken once a week or so, but beef and other things were not as plentiful. So on our hotplate we'd fry our meat, and of course everybody in the building could smell it. They were probably wishing they could have some.

TI: With your mother's death, did you see any differences or changes in your father?

MB: I don't remember. I don't, I'm sure there were, but I was not aware of them.

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