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-01-0026

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: Well, the other issue with Amache is it was on a reservation, Indian reservation.

MT: No, we were not. We were the only camp they, that the government purchased the land.

TI: Oh, so it, so it...

MT: And that created a problem, that in itself, because the people, because they paid whatever they, the least amount they could pay, and some of the people were in bankruptcy. You know, times were hard. Depression, they never recovered from it, so there were people, on that school district sold an acre of land for five thousand dollars. Some people only received fifty cents an acre. So whatever they can get they did that, so these people now are mad at us, not at the government. They lost their property and they only got fifty cents on it. Now, that's the worst case situation. Others got paid more, five dollars, ten dollars, five hundred dollars, thousand dollars. It varied.

TI: So what was the, the thinking of the government?

MT: Oh, by the way, that is for not only the camp itself but the farmlands. We had a huge farmland. We had a cattle ranch and we also had a poultry farm as well as produce.

TI: And so what was the thinking of the government to purchase the land? I mean, that, you were saying it's unique.

MT: As I understand it, first of all, Governor Carr, Governor Carr of Colorado was the only governor to welcome the Japanese, even before the camps were there, and when the camps were there he also welcomed us. And in fact, his next election he lost, for senate, he lost because of that. There's a book, Reluctant Politicians. Then what happened is that some places like Durango on the other side also wanted us 'cause they wanted us to farm. What they wanted us to do is farm. One of the things that the government wanted us was to farm areas to, for producing produce, not only for the camp, for otherwise. We were what's called a surplus camp. We produced more than we can take, 'cause there was a, there was a budget of fifty cents a day of food, so if we produced more than the fifty, put everything together, if it was more than fifty, we had more than that, then we had to give it to somebody else, either to other camps, for that particular product, or to the army, army base. So we were, we had storage sheds, underground storage shed, we put products that go in the, like watermelon, melons and stuff.

TI: Well, when you first got there how developed was the land? Was it pretty undeveloped and, and that was part of the reason --

MT: No. It was already developed. It already had irrigation and had everything else, but it was, but they had limited, limited produce that they, they didn't have much truck farming, hardly at all, if any, there and the Japanese came there. Now, that's, that's another thing I really wondered about, because we had so many people from the city and the farm that we had a culture clash. When we went there, some of the farm people were really rural people. The guys were in bib overalls, the teenagers were in bib overalls, red bandana on the neck and this, and a straw hat. And clod hoppers. You know, for us, what is this? Some of our guys were wearing zoot suits. Tremendous cultural divide, and so the city folks, of course, made fun of the farm folks for that. And the city folks all had gangs. Country folks are from little towns all over, so they don't have gangs. And so, so there was this clash and I actually wondered, why did they do that? Why did do that? Why didn't they keep the city folks together so that they didn't go -- 'cause there were plenty of city folks around, L.A. people. So when they do that, then, and they had this cultural... then it finally hit me. We were just a fill. They wanted the farmers to farm all that land, 'cause those central California farmers were superb farmers. They raised things that'd never been raised around there. The farmers, they were just amazed the stuff that we were raising, and they were good farmers, the really, really excellent farmers. One farmer came from Tule Lake and he said, "I'm a --" it was in our block -- he said, "I'm gonna take that four acres and produce celery." And these, and the other Japanese farmers said, "You can't raise celery here." Says, "I can do it." Beautiful Utah type celery. Beautiful celery he raised. So we had superb farmers on the place and they raised good stuff. And we had, we had enough to serve ourselves and then sell to, send to other camps, so the... we, we lowered the cost of our living there from fifty cents to thirty-three cents, I believe. That's what the final tally was. We had chicken farm, raised eggs and the chicken. We had a cattle ranch where they slaughtered the cattle, although twice we had horse meat brought in. We ate horse meat.

TI: Earlier you mentioned Governor Carr. Were you and others aware of his stance during that time?

MT: Oh yeah. Oh yeah, we knew about Carr. In fact, one of the first domestic help, I guess you would call her, 'cause they sent her to school, too, came from Amache. His domestic help when he became governor was from Amache, and he sent her to school.

TI: Oh, so when, when he became... I'm sorry, say, so he became governor, his domestic help was Japanese?

MT: Once Amache got settled, he asked for a person to become a domestic helper for him. He was single and so he had for a domestic help, and this girl from our camp went there to be his, basically maid, I guess, but he also sent her to school.

TI: So this was a Nisei that he --

MT: Nisei. So we, so we were aware of what he did and we, we admired him, even back when -- we didn't know all the things he did, but little snippets and pieces of what you read in the paper, you would have that.

TI: Interesting.

MT: People calling him names.

TI: You mean like in Granada or the town, like that?

MT: Yeah, or in the paper. The Denver Post used to come to us and Rocky Mountain News would come to us, and Rocky Mountain News was, were more kinder to us than Denver Post. They were, they were, Denver Post was very bad.

TI: Interesting, 'cause I, it's interesting. I mean, when the book came out I learned a lot more about Governor Carr, but I didn't realize his stance until then.

MT: Certainly I learned more about Governor Carr after the book came out. Before that I just knew little snippets here and there.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.