Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Michiko Frances Chikahisa Interview
Narrator: Michiko Frances Chikahisa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Skokie, Illinois
Date: June 17, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-cmichiko-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: I want to go back, and earlier you talked about the religion aspects, how becoming Catholic became something that became more apparent during camp?

FC: Yeah.

TI: And so I wanted to follow up on that. What did you mean by that?

FC: Well, the Maryknoll fathers positioned a priest in just about every camp. They couldn't live in the camp 'cause they were not, they were not official, so they lived in the town closest and the priest would come in and say mass and get to know us. So it was our hakujin contact and they were, we had a priest that had been in Japan, was actually released as a prisoner of war. The Japanese had interned him and he was released and sent back to the U.S., and he came to Arkansas with us, Father Ryan. And so he would, if we needed stuff from town he would shop for us. There's a cute story, one of the families that was from Maryknoll had two little boys -- they were like kindergarten age or preschool -- and they always wanted to leave camp and go to town, so Father said he would arrange it, he got the permission and took these two boys and drove into McGehee, Arkansas. And he stops and the boys say, "What are you stopping for, Father? Let's go to town."

TI: And he decided to stop by these, a couple buildings probably.

FC: [Laughs] And they couldn't believe that they had actually arrived in town. They were expecting L.A.

TI: Right, they looking for the buildings and there's nothing.

FC: So that was really funny 'cause Father though that was so humorous that these poor kids...

TI: Now, did your family convert to Catholicism?

FC: Not really until after the war. My father had pretty much said you have to be of majority age to make that decision. Now, he was, they didn't go to church with us. I went to church, my sister and I went to mass every Sunday as long as... she got sick again. My older sister we left behind, and in Arkansas my sister was one of two people who came down with valley fever, which is a fungus infection in the lungs, and it's contagious so she had to drop out of school and they put her in the hospital. And then it went, turned into pleurisy, and from that she became tubercular, so the last year of camp, I would say, she was in the hospital.

TI: In Arkansas.

FC: So when we returned to California she was in a Pullman car, and we went to the hospital, deposited her, took out my other sister, exchanged patients.

TI: So that must've been hard on your mother and father, both, two daughters sick. But I want to ask a little bit about your parents. What was life like for them in Rohwer?

FC: My father was block manager for a while, and then he ended up as a farm liaison person. He worked with the farm help and the students that worked a farm in the summertime, so enjoyed that job, that particular job. My, in spite of the fact that they had all these different classes in camp, my mother never went to any of 'em. She just stayed at home, and she did some sewing and cooking. As soon as we got, not as soon as, shortly after we got settled my father insisted that we don't go eat in the mess hall, so my mother would go and get the meals and then we had a hot plate and she would add other stuff, and we ate at home 'cause my father didn't like the fact that families didn't eat together and he just, he says, "As long as I'm here we're gonna all stay together."

TI: And how was that for you?

FC: It was, it was okay. It was like what I was familiar with. And I didn't particularly want to be sitting in the mess halls with these teenage guys that were making terrible remarks at the girls that came in, that kind of stuff. It didn't appeal to me at all, so I didn't mind that.

TI: Now, would you do all meals or just the dinner meal?

FC: Just the dinner meal.

TI: And then, so for breakfast and lunch you would use the mess hall?

FC: I don't, can't remember. I think for breakfast we went to the mess hall, yeah. And lunch we went, we ate at school. We must've packed something. I'm not sure, 'cause we didn't have enough time to come back, go back and forth. So it was the dinner meal in particular that we stayed and had in the barracks.

TI: Do you know if very many other families did that?

FC: I don't know. I don't know if other families did that or not.

TI: 'Cause you hear more of the story of kind of the breakdown of the nuclear family because the teenagers ate with their friends and then the parents...

FC: That's right. 'Cause the boys in our block all ate together, the teenagers. I don't recall what the other girls did. Some of 'em had sisters, so they went to eat with the family group, but some of 'em, they ate with their family instead of with their peers. But you could see that families, and some of 'em the fathers, had not yet come back from federal prison, so there was nobody, no central unifying figure. The mothers didn't have much control over their kids.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2011 Densho. All Rights Reserved.