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Title: Min Tonai Interview I
Narrator: Min Tonai
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: September 2, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-tmin-01-0027

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: So in Amache, I wanted to ask you about the schools. What were the schools like?

MT: Initially we were, our school was in a, took a block, 8-H, and we had high school and elementary, junior high school and elementary school all in one place, and the mess hall was our auditorium. And we went to school there and teachers came, most of the teachers, most of the teachers were white, came in to teach in our camp. Some were Niseis that were teaching, a few were Isseis, like we had Dr. Torami who taught at Stanford or somewhere, and he was in our camp and he taught math classes, he was Issei. And then we had, as far as I could see at that time, all, they were pretty nice teachers, pretty good, pretty nice to us. They were really, in fact, there was one high school teacher that, they were living outside of camp in a town seventeen miles called Lamar, which was a county seat. They were housed in a hotel there and they would take a bus, come in, and then at night they would go. And one, one teacher said, "I can't even talk to my students after class 'cause I got to catch the bus." And they found out they were building BOQs for, for male, bachelor office, bachelor quarters over there, and so she, she and another teacher demanded that they have, reserve some for the women teachers so they could stay in camp and, and be able to, be able to continue talking to the kids or have clubs or something like that. So they finally built them for the teachers, and they were, these were not tarpaper barracks. They had wooden sidings and they were, I think there were three rooms and, and two teachers in each room. I don't, I never been in one, so I don't know. Well, I did go to knock on the door once, but other than that I never went inside, so I don't know what, what it looked like. But then this Mrs., she was really a beloved teacher. Everybody loved her to the day she died. I would visit her just before she died, too. Great teacher. And most of the teachers, a lot of the teachers were like that. In fact, the teachers, when I was talking to her, she said that everybody she, all the teachers she knew and corresponded with said that that was the best years of their life, best teaching years of her life. She said kids came there, they sat down, they were ready to study from the very beginning, there were no discipline problems, and they learned. And they wanted to learn, learned to their ability.

TI: Was it also a sense, you know, these people came from different parts of the country or whatever to, to teach there. I mean, was, I'm trying to get a sense...

MT: Mostly from Colorado.

TI: Okay, mostly from Colorado, but I'm just trying to get a sense of was it just the teaching experience or was it the fact that --

MT: Teaching experience.

TI: How about the, just teaching Japanese Americans? Did that --

MT: No. It was the behavior and how they can teach, that they had no discipline problems. They just could teach. That's the important thing. Kids would learn. And for them as teachers, that's the ideal situation, to not have to worry about other things other than that. The problem she found is she, that after class she would have them come and discuss about themselves. She, she was a, she was a senior, senior living teacher and stuff, so she would want to talk to them about their ambitions and what they wanted to do and stuff, but only boys would show up. No girls would show up. She couldn't figure out why. And she had good interplay with the guys and they loved her, 'cause she was, she was really giving and she would understand what their problems were and advise them and so forth. She was senior advisor is what she was. And then what happened is then she found out what the girls, the girls had to go home, back to the barrack, their room, and they had to do wash, take care of their younger siblings, they had to clean house, they had all kinds of chores they had to do when they, as soon as school was over, so they couldn't stay at school. So now she then pleaded with the parents, let them stay at school for another hour or whatever it was. And that's how the girls started staying after school.

TI: In general, what was, from your perspective as a student, what was the quality like in terms of the education?

MT: It was varied. Some teachers were very good, and some Nisei teachers were very good, and some were not. They just had a job. One, we knew that he was alcoholic, and he would go on a binge on the weekend and so Monday he couldn't show up. Others were, were forced to teach courses that they didn't know anything about. And I was, I was one of the bad guys 'cause I found out that what he was pronouncing was mispronounced. He would say coal-ee-entrates, should be pronounced coelenterates. I found out in the summer, all semester he would say, he was saying coal-ee-entrates. He's teaching science and I said, and then, I don't know why, but I looked up in the glossary to make sure it was pronounced properly and it's coelenterates. It's C-O-E, but it pronounced coelenterates. So I baited him, poor guy, so he said coal-ee-entrates, bang. I said, "Mr. Jackson, I believe you should pronounce that coelenterates, not coal-ee-entrates." He said, "No, that's right." I said, "Please look in the glossary. You'll find that to be true." And I should've been nice to him, but I baited him, and so what happened is that he looked it up and he never pronounced it coal-ee-entrates again. [Laughs] But then I found out later that he was a music teacher. He was not a science teacher, but they didn't have a science teacher so they forced him to teach science. So I was really unfair to him. I was really unfair to him. I should've been helping him instead of baiting him like that. So he went with the textbook. We read the textbook. Not a problem, not a problem. So you, you had that variation. Others were superb teachers.

One teacher, Mrs. Hopcraft, a home teacher, she was deaf. She had a hearing aid. And she was a writer of children's, she had been teaching, and she was writer of children's books and found out that we had been sent to camp, said, "I have to go help them." So she came into camp to teach. Except she's hard of hearing and because of that, one guy -- he claims he didn't do it. I saw him do it. He went up to her and said... [moves mouth without speaking]. She's trying to turn her hearing aid up. Of course he was playing that game, so tormenting her a little bit. Then I also gave her a hard time once because we were in home room and she wasn't there, and we're all sitting in our chair and, but she wasn't there. Ten minutes goes by, fifteen, so pretty soon everybody gets up and starts chatting and stuff like that and suddenly she came in, so everybody sat down in class, and people behaved so they sat down. She said, "Children, I'm so happy. I'm so happy. This is the happiest day, I'm so happy." She kept saying, "I'm happy." So finally I said, "Mrs. Hopcraft, why are you saying you're happy?" "Oh," she said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I just found out you could" -- this was about January, December, January of, December of '44 or January of '45 -- says, "I just found out that you can now leave camp." We're stunned. So I said, "Mrs. Hopcraft, what's gonna happen to us? Are they just gonna kick us out of camp?" I said, "Where are we gonna stay? What's gonna happen to us? Can we eat? How we gonna live? Are they gonna throw us out of camp and we're gonna be here in Colorado? What's gonna happen to us?" And I said, "My folks are aged and they lost everything they had, so they don't have no place to go." And she said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I don't know. I don't know. I'm sorry." She, I crushed her. And she was thinking in terms of the, our liberty and the, our problem of being incarcerated and so forth, and I was thinking about survival, but I shouldn't have, I went after her pretty hard.

TI: But, but what your concerns were were true. I mean, it's just thinking about...

MT: Oh, I know I was, but she hadn't thought about that, 'cause she was thinkin' about the big picture. But I'm sorry I did that to her. I really regretted that. She died and I told that to her daughter, but she never answered -- I mean, wrote to her daughter, never answered me. She probably thought I was a terrible person, but, but anyway, so we had varying degrees of teachers. A lot of teachers really got along. Some were very young and so they kinda weren't much... you know, they were just out of college, twenty-one years old and stuff like that.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2010 Densho. All Rights Reserved.