Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Min Tonai Interview I
Narrator: Min Tonai
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 2, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-tmin-01-0024

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: Before we, we continue talking about Amache, I just want to, to follow up because you had started a story about the riots in Santa Anita, so why don't you finish up that and we'll get back to that.

MT: Well, what happened is that the guards then, then the edict came down because now what happened is every has hot plates and so forth and cooking there that it was shorting the lines, the fuse box, and so people were buying, first they were requisitioning and they were using so much of it that they had a hard time getting it, so and each room had a bulb and wouldn't have any bulb, or if you had a hot plate you can't operate. So they would now, you didn't know this, but they were shorted out by putting a penny in there and then putting the screw back, the fuse back in. And that was dangerous because you could burn down. So the edict came down saying they're gonna confiscate all the hot plates and they're gonna confiscate the food, and then decided they will also confiscate any knives over x number of inches, four inches, whatever it was, and any scissors over that. Well, normal sewing scissors are over that, so now they're gonna take all the sewing scissors away and everything else away and they're gonna take all the food away. And people were pretty upset about it. Well, initially they would search with people in there, then some of the guards took advantage of the situation and would kick people out of the room. They would search for money. They're slashing mattresses, going through, dumping all the, all the drawers or suitcase, whatever they have, looking for money. And the rumor that I heard, which I don't know if it's true, it probably was just a rumor, that couple of these guards -- they were, they were, these guards there, they had a Japanese interpreter with them, but they were, they were whites -- they asked for a couple of the young girls to come to the room with them and immediately sent signs up saying this is not good and that's when people resisted and pretty soon that's how, they claim that's how the riots -- I don't know if that's true. I know that when the riots started they went after one guy, claimed to be he was Korean or part Korean, Korean, that was a inu or a spy, was spying on us, and so they went after him. And I knew that he was badly hurt because I saw the remnants where the blood was on the ground, claimed that somebody threw a typewriter on his head. But I saw them chasing one of the guards right through the mess hall, one of the mess halls, and as he was running through the thing the guys were running back and they had set the tables for the, for the lunch and they were picking up the plates, saucers and cups and throwing at the guy as they ran after him. They would grab, [motions throwing]. That I saw.

And then one of the things I saw was by the grandstand -- I was wandering around -- I must say that it gave me a life lesson when I saw what I did. What happened is that through the, that area in Santa Anita was a drainage ditch, open drainage ditch, rocks lined up along the thing, and I saw, and as the riot was going on one of the administration, one of the Americans, administration, the white administrative, stood on a, on a milk cart, on one of those and starts saying, "Stop, stop, stop. This is not gonna be good for you. You got to stop. Don't do this." He's trying to, and I'm thinking, wow, what a brave guy. Here it's rioting and he's up there trying to calm everybody down. And one, one of the young teenage Nisei said, "What do you care? We're all Japs." "No, no. You're not Japs. You're American." And I'm thinking, wait a minute. What are we doing here? We're American, kind of a thing. But I'm saying what a brave guy, and I thought, gee, that's really, really, I admire the guy for being so brave like that, trying to quell the riot down and so it won't be a consequence. You don't know what happened to us. Then I saw a, either he was a Kibei guy or a... probably a Kibei guy, he, 'cause the way his appearance, a younger guy, he ran down, probably in his, about thirty, he ran down the gulley, came up with a rock about this big, brought it to a Nisei guy, teenager, probably seventeen, eighteen years old, told him in Japanese, "Throw it." And I thought, and that was a life lesson for me. If he, that kid threw it, it hurt someone and he got arrested or something happened to him, paid the penalty for it, this guy who instigated, nothing happened to him. Right? They probably don't even know each other. And it happened in corporations after that. So often were we in a meeting and doing something and somebody said, "Tell him this," do that, say something, so my reaction, because of that, said, "You do it yourself." Life lesson I learned. Great lesson. So...

TI: Go ahead.

MT: So then I saw, when I was in, a little proof of stealing or something going on wrong is the, the MPs were alerted. It was a funny incident about it because they blew assembly right away, so the guys ran out, the soldiers ran out, the MPs, 'cause they were separate from the civilian guards, they ran out and they were in their shorts and shirts. They said, "Get your clothes on. Go back." They put their clothes on, they get back out. "Where's your weapon?" They run back, get their weapon. I didn't see this, but a friend of mine saw it who, he was at the fence. He saw that, he said that's what happened. And anyway, I saw them coming in the main gate, coming through that. They had the tanks, weapons carriers, different people like that. In front of this whole thing was a soldier with a BAR, Browning Automatic Rifle. Big gun. Everybody starts snickering and laughing. His fly was wide open. [Laughs] He couldn't figure this out 'cause, well, here he's coming out all menacing and people are laughing. He couldn't figure it out. So it kind of broke up everything seeing something like that. And, and nobody challenged the police, I mean, the MPs. I was in the grandstand area after that. I was over there when I heard some commotion. An MP was yelling at this guy to come out of the bathroom and this guy came out and he told him to move. He wouldn't move. He took his bayonet -- it was, it was a, had a bayonet on his rifle -- put it on the guy's buttock and slashed his pants, so he'll move. Then the guy moved fast. And my suspicion was the guy was trying to flush money down the drain, down the toilet. I don't know if it's true or not, but we had already heard rumors about people stealing, the guards were stealing.

TI: So I'm sorry, the person in, flushing, you suspected maybe --

MT: Was a civilian guard.

TI: Was a civilian guard. I see.

MT: And he, and the MP was trying to get him out of there. He was telling him, yelling at him to get out of there.

TI: And so what was the aftermath? After all this happened, how did things change?

MT: There was basically a lockdown, initially kind of a thing, you couldn't do a lot of things. And then things kind of quieted down right away. They were fairly, the people were fairly, or not the people they thought were spying on them and reporting things. They did not, aside from the civilian guards, they did not challenge the MPs at all. Nobody challenged the MPs. The quarrel was with the administration, not with the MPs.

TI: And in particular the civilian sort of police.

MT: Yeah, civilian guards who took advantage of the situation. The problem was that, you know, what were the people gonna do if they had a dietary problem and they couldn't prepare the food for them? And then the, as I understand it, they started making, changing situation so that you had food for the children and you had food for the... things did change because of the riot.

TI: Any other memories, Santa Anita?

MT: Pardon?

TI: Any other memories of Santa Anita you want to talk about?

MT: Well, I know that some, couple of guys sneaked out of the drainage drain and went to see a movie. [Laughs] They got caught. Couple of teenagers, about sixteen, seventeen years old, they snuck out.

TI: How about you? Did you do anything like that or mischievous or anything?

MT: No, no, no. I wouldn't do something like that, 'cause I, consequences were too severe for me. I would think I wouldn't want to try this. I was not that adventuresome anymore. I would do things verbally or challenge people, but I would not, I would not break the law per se, on purpose.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.