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Densho Visual History Collection
Title: June Yasuno Aochi (Yamashiro) Berk Interview
Narrator: June Yasuno Aochi (Yamashiro) Berk
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Studio City, California
Date: December 18, 2018
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-453-6

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BN: Did you go to school there?

JB: Yes. Well, actually, when we went into camp it was May, so it was summertime, June, July, August, so we didn't have really school-school, but they had classes for fourth graders, fifth graders. And it was held in the grandstand, and then the grandstand was also your Christian services, your Buddhist services, your Catholic services, so it was like a place to just gather. So we went to the fourth grade there. I don't know exactly what we did all that time but we just must have played. Then we went to Rohwer in September on a train that took us about four or five days to get there. And that was an adventure. And I think when I went to camp, from Los Angeles to L.A. was a bus ride, and that was my first big bus ride. Then going from Santa Anita to Rohwer, was also a big adventure because that was my first train ride, and it was exciting to go on a train. My brother was a car monitor, and he tells me that as car monitors, I remember he used to get off the train to go buy candies and magazines and newspapers for us. And then in the evening, he says that the car monitors all ate with the railroad workers, I forgot what they called them. But they would have, they were all African American, they would have jazz dances in the dining cars, and they got to eat there. So he had a good time. So that was fun because he got to join them, I'm trying to think of what they called the railroad workers, but he got to party with them.

So we get to Rohwer, and in Rohwer, we were one of the first to arrive there, so everything was still brand new. And compared to the barns and the horse stalls in Santa Anita, we said, wow, this is great. This is nice and clean and a big room. My mother worked as a cleaning woman and cleaned the bath stalls, and my father would be shoveling coal into the heaters to keep the hot water going. And I think my parents -- I don't know about other parents -- but the parents in our block, they did everything to make life happy for us kids, and they built swings out of lumber, and they even built seesaws for us, made stilts for us to walk around in, and we used to find these little small tomato plants, we would take the seeds out and put it in our mouth and pretend like they were frogs. We had fun. We played volleyball every day, it just was a time, as ten to thirteen, we had not a care in the world. I think our parents didn't worry about us running away, there's no traffic to get run over or hit by a car. I think it was a pretty carefree time, and my mom and dad had just come through the hard, tough days of the depression. And so they had worked all their life, both of them. My mother used to take in laundry and ironing, and grew plants in the backyard. So actually, they said while they were in camp, it gave them time to rest. And so they said, "This is nice." I think they took advantage of it by my father doing gidayu and my mother making gifts out of old material. She would tear them into strips and braid it, and make slippers and give them as gifts. Or she would cut material and put it inside of a brown box and make a jewelry box out of it. So they found all kinds of ways to be busy and enjoyed it. And then, of course, I had my Japanese dancing. And the men, they would go out into the woods and bring back the bark or the roots, and they would be carving that and make beautiful artworks.

BN: This is the [inaudible]?

JB: Yeah. So I only saw the nice part of camp, and of course, I didn't know anything about civil rights. I didn't know we were in a prison because we would open up the barbed wires and walk out, and a group of us would go walking down the road to the swamp, and we would play in the swamps and then, of course, you come home because you're hungry. And we saw such poverty in the South. We went to a store in Rohwer, the town, and the store had one gas station, and I remember the floor was dirt. We asked to buy ice cream, and the man says, "We don't sell ice cream here." And I said, "You don't have ice cream? We have ice cream in camp." And the people were just so poor they couldn't afford even ice cream. We would walk back and we'd see these desolate looking homes, and I think we probably were better fed in camp than people on the outside, there was such poverty there. So we felt kind of lucky in a way that we had ice cream in camp, they didn't. So my experience in camp was a good experience. I don't know anything about the "no-no boys," I think our family just didn't even think about it or even talk about it, I think we just signed off fine. My brother volunteered for the army, so it was just not a problem.

BN: This is your...

JB: The oldest brother.

BN: The oldest brother.

JB: He was sixteen, so he was not old enough, but he did not like school in camp because we had nothing but southern teachers, and he felt that they didn't speak English, and so he said he wanted to go to Chicago. So he got a job and left camp. And my sister left camp to go to a school in St. Paul, Minnesota, sponsored by a Quaker family, so she left camp. So in the end, it seemed like the only people left in camp were the old people and the young kids, and we just played, went to school. I was in junior high school by then, and it was a fun time. I don't remember ever being... oh, yes, I remember being upset because the boys used to chase us home with mud balls, they would throw, get these great big balls of mud and grass and pound it down and they would throw it at us as we're walking home from school. They tried to do that to the teacher one day and the teacher's smart enough to let, they're hanging the mud ball over the door, and as soon as the door opens, the mud ball falls down. So it's supposed to hit the teacher on the head, but she was smart, smarter than the boys. She opens the door and lets the ball fall, and then she walks in the door. I remember her name was Miss Tabuchi, and we just all laughed because she outsmarted the boys.

BN: Were your teachers mostly Issei or white?

JB: Caucasian. They were recruited, I think, from the South, Oklahoma, Mississippi, because they all had thick accents, but they were good teachers. I had an English teacher who was really, sentence structure, diagramming, and that was the fifth grade. And I'll never forget her or Mrs. Fox, she was an excellent teacher. So I think we had good teachers. I never had any problems with any of the teachers. But my brother, he felt that he couldn't understand them, they don't speak English, is what he kept saying. [Laughs]

BN: Do you remember your camp address?

JB: Uh-huh, 14-10-A.

BN: And then I assume all five of you were in one...

JB: One room. In fact, the paper barracks that you see at JANM, the folding thing, that's Rohwer barrack 10. So it was a replica of the same barrack that we lived in, and that was kind of interesting to see that it was taken from Rohwer.

BN: Did you partition up the room?

JB: Yes, we did.

BN: Or build furniture?

JB: Well, somehow, I don't know who built the table for us and a couple of chairs. Rohwer was full of mosquitoes, so my mother had mosquito netting over my bed. I think it was partitioned, maybe, I'm not quite sure. But remember having boys and girls over in our room, Dave Komatsu, I remember, with my brother. Another girl named Shigeko Nakano, she went back to Japan. I have a picture of all of them in our room, and we have pictures of movie stars on the wall, so I think we did that to brighten up the room. I think with my sister and my brother and that age group, that high school, college, it was really hard then because it interrupted their plans for going to college. I think that they had it the hardest. Our parents, while my parents did lose everything, it wasn't so horrible that my parents felt like this was a time for them to relax and just enjoy what they have in the camp. So there was no bitterness. I can't say that camp life was bad for me personally.

BN: Because you were that age.

JB: Uh-huh, where we would have fun. It's only later on that I find out our civil rights are violated, we were in prison, then I get angry. While I was there, sunsets were beautiful, the soil was rich, and the parents grew strawberries, different kinds of vegetables, flowers. So to me, my personal experience, I should say, was very nice.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2018 Densho. All Rights Reserved.