Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Barbara Reiko Mikami Keimi Interview
Narrator: Barbara Reiko Mikami Keimi
Interviewer: Virginia Yamada
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 5, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-459-3

<Begin Segment 3>

VY: So let's talk a little bit more about your very early childhood. What are some of your first childhood memories? What comes to mind? This is before the war.

BK: Well, I think that I used to play around on the compound at my granduncle's place, because there was, I think there was like five families, Japanese families that lived in this complex, they each had a house. And then I remember there was a big warehouse where they put the dried chili in to store it for shipment, I guess. And so we used to play around in there. I remember at that time I guess I only spoke Japanese, 'cause that's (what) my mother spoke. And so then when I went to American school, when I started nursery or kindergarten, then I just knew Japanese. So my friend, who was older than, a couple years older than me, he was the keeper of me. He made sure I got on the bus and got off the bus. Like if he wanted to stay after school to play or something, he would get me on the bus to drive me home.

VY: Is that because he spoke English and you didn't?

BK: Well, I guess, probably. He still spoke more English than I did. Well, it was that he was kind of stuck with me because my brother and his brothers, and all the other kids in the compound were all older than us, and here we were two younger ones, and so they would tell him, "Oh, go away," or something. And we just ended up playing with each other.

VY: So that means of all those kids there, you were actually the youngest?

BK: And the girl.

VY: And the girl. Were all the rest boys?

BK: Yes.

VY: Did it feel like you had a whole bunch of big brothers? [Laughs]

BK: Well, not at that time.

VY: Okay, do you have any other, like, early memories of your time? Now, was that in Sawtelle?

BK: No, that was in Huntington Beach.

VY: That was in Huntington Beach, okay. Do you have any other early memories of your time there? Things that you did, activities that you did? You were pretty young.

BK: Yeah. I just see pictures of me, and I guess I must have been about two or three years old. Because we went to camp from there.

VY: Yeah, okay, so, well, on December 7, 1941...

BK: Well, before then, I guess, during the summertime when they were busy drying the chili and everything, getting it ready for shipping, my parents would bring me to East Los Angeles, and I would stay with my paternal grandparents. And I would spend the summer with them.

VY: So you would spend the whole summer with them?

BK: Yeah, more or less.

VY: Do you have any memories of things that you did while you were staying there? Did you go to the beach?

BK: Not really. I don't really remember. I think the only thing was I think I went to church with my grandmother. The only thing is when they would come to pick me up at the end of summer, then I would always grab a bunch of geraniums, because the flowers, I wanted it, so I would pick it. And I never got it home because by the time we got home, it was thrown out because it stunk up the car. [Laughs]

VY: They have a strong smell. [Laughs]

BK: Right.

VY: Where were the geraniums that you grabbed? Did you just pick them?

BK: Out of my grandparents' house, the garden.

VY: I see. Do you remember being in church? Did you understand what they were saying?

BK: Probably not. I would just know to be quiet and sit nicely. That's about all I remember.

VY: And so did your brother stay with your grandparents as well or did he stay with your parents?

BK: No, he stayed with my parents.

VY: Did he work with them? Well, it was during the summer, so...

BK: Yeah. I guess, all I know is that I've heard instances where my brother learned to drive the pickup truck really early. And so I guess when he was seven or eight years old, he would drive the pickup truck in the fields. And then if on the highway he would see a policeman, then he would jump out of the pickup truck and then go hide, so the policeman won't find him. [Laughs] I mean, they weren't going to come, but he just thought, oh, he's not supposed to be driving because he doesn't have a license, and so he would try to disappear. That's about all. And then I guess I had a collie dog.

VY: Oh, you had a dog?

BK: Uh-huh. And I guess my friend, he was like my buddy, but then, I guess, he died when we had taken a day off or something and went away. And when we came back, I guess we found him, he had died. I think that he had mange, got bugs around his neck or something, I guess that consumed him, probably.

VY: How old were you when that happened?

BK: Well, I'm just looking at the pictures, and I guess I must have been like four, three or four, I guess. Maybe five, I don't know.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.