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

<Begin Segment 1>

VY: Okay. Today is Tuesday, February 5, 2019, and we're here in Los Angeles, California, with Barbara Keimi. Dana Hoshide is our videographer, and my name is Virginia Yamada. Barbara, thank you for joining us today for this interview.

BK: Yes.

VY: Let's start at the beginning. So can you tell us when you were born and what name you were given at birth?

BK: Well, I was born in Sawtelle, California, on December 4, 1935. And my name was Barbara Reiko Mikami.

VY: Okay, and how about your parents? What were their names and where were they from?

BK: My father's name was Chihiro Harry Mikami, and my mother's name was Fumiko, and her maiden name was Kagawa, and then she became a Mikami when she married my dad.

VY: And was your father born in Japan?

BK: Yes.

VY: And how about your mom, where was she born?

BK: Well, my mother was born in Buena Park, California, in 1912.

VY: In 1912. Did she grow up there?

BK: No, not really, because my dad used to... well, when I was born, my dad was working in Beverly Hills, because he was a chauffeur for the Bell family.

VY: Yeah, we'll get to that in a minute. I'm wondering -- sorry, I apologize -- I'm wondering about when your mom was growing up, where did she grow up?

BK: Well, I think when she was around three, which was very young, her father decided they wanted to go back to Japan, so they left for Japan. So my mother was educated in Japan.

VY: Is that where she met your father?

BK: Yes, it was, I think, kind of arranged or families or relatives put them together and they got married. And so they got married in Japan, and then they came over to the United States, and then I guess they wanted to make sure that it was, there wouldn't be any problems, so they got married here, too, so they would have to make sure that they're married. [Laughs]

VY: Okay, so they got married first in Japan and then they came over here and got married again.

BK: Right. Because I have a picture of them that was taken when they got married, and they had the full dress. My dad was in the Japanese getup and then my mom had the kimono and the headdress and all that kind of stuff. And I have a picture of that, and that was in 1930.

VY: 1930 is when they got married?

BK: Yes.

VY: So do you know how old they were there?

BK: Well, I think my mom was like eighteen, and then my dad was thirteen years older than her. So he was thirty-one, I guess.

VY: So when they both came to the States, did either one of them speak English?

BK: My mom, I know, did not. My dad, he might have picked it up when he was working as a chauffeur for the Bell family, and the next family he went to was the Thompson family that were living in Beverly Hills.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

VY: Okay, you know, let's talk about that. What kind of work did your parents do when they were here?

BK: Well, my dad was a chauffeur at that time. And then, after... so my brother was older than me, and so he was born there, I guess. And then...

VY: I'm sorry, so your brother was born while your dad was a chauffeur?

BK: Yes.

VY: Where did they live at that time?

BK: In Beverly Hills. And then when I guess I was going to be coming, they moved to Sawtelle, and my dad was still working as a chauffeur. And then after I came, then I guess they moved to Huntington Beach where my mother's uncle had a chili farm. He was in charge of the co-op, and he was more or less known as the Chili King of Orange County.

VY: Was that a nickname that people actually called him, knew him by?

BK: Yes, because I know we had an exhibit at the (JANM) museum, of the old farmers, and they labeled him with his picture. His name was Masami Sasaki, and they had a picture of him and under the picture it said, "Chili King."

VY: So that was your uncle on your father's side?

BK: My mother's side.

VY: Your mother's side.

BK: So he was my granduncle.

VY: Okay. And so getting back to you when your father was a chauffeur, what kind of families did he chauffeur for? Who did he drive?

BK: Well, the Bell family, I'm not sure, but then I know that... I don't know if it's the son or the grandson, ran, in the '50s, ran for assemblyman or senate or something. And so at that time...

VY: So you're talking about Alfonso Bell?

BK: Yes.

VY: Okay.

BK: And then I think the next family my dad worked for was the Thompson family, and it seemed like he was involved in the movie industry. And so from what my dad used to say, he used to take trips, and they would drive all over the place. So all the vacations and things, he would drive them to, like Grand Canyon or I don't know.

VY: He would drive the whole family?

BK: He never really mentioned the family, but I know like Mr. Thompson or Mr. Bell were the ones that he referred to, that, "We went here and we went there." Then when he quit the chauffeuring, then he worked on the farm for my granduncle.

VY: Okay, that's when he moved to work on the chili farm.

BK: Right. And so, at that time, we relocated to north Long Beach, which is, I think, the next city over from Huntington Beach.

VY: And so when was your... well, how many siblings do you have?

BK: I just have one older, or had one older brother.

VY: Okay, and when was he born?

BK: He was born in 1931.

VY: Okay, so was your father still a chauffeur at that time?

BK: Yes. Because I'd just seen pictures of them when they said, oh, this is when they lived in Beverly Hills. Because I think they lived above the garage at their home.

VY: At the Thompson family home?

BK: Yes.

VY: Okay. Did your dad ever tell stories about those times when he was driving Alfonso Bell?

BK: Yes. He (told) a lot of stories. I mean, you know, all the places that they went to, he says, "Oh, I've been there. I took Mr. Thompson there," or Mr. Bell, or whatever. And so I can't remember all the places they went to, but it seemed like he traveled pretty extensively, driving.

VY: He was probably looking at different properties and that sort of thing, perhaps.

BK: Could be. Because I know later on, after we came out of camp, we would drive down Wilshire Boulevard and then they would tell me, "Oh, this used to be all just open land," because that's when he was living there. And now they have all these insurance buildings and high rises and everything else, so it's completely different. So he used to always refer back to when it was empty lots.

VY: Yeah, the area's changed quite a bit over the years.

BK: Yes.

VY: We'll talk more about that, too. How about your mom? Did your grandfather ever take the family back to Japan at any point?

BK: Well, (my mom with) her parents moved back to Japan, that was it, they stayed there. Because he had, I guess, made enough money, he was a labor contractor. And so they moved back to Japan, and then my mother was educated there. And then my grandfather, (...) with the monies that he made in the United States, built a home in Japan. And that's where my mom was raised until she came to the United States when she got married.

VY: And what part of Japan is that?

BK: In Hiroshima.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 4>

VY: Well, do you have any memories of the day that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor? You were probably about four or five at the time, right?

BK: All I know is that, at the house, they were, I guess, told to get rid of anything that was Japanese. And so any books and things (we had) were all being burned, and so my dad had a big oil barrel, so we were throwing things in there, and my dad had lit it so that everything would burn. And so I had the job of throwing the books and things in there.

VY: What did that feel like to you? Did you understand why you were doing that?

BK: Well, not really. I know that the FBI came to our house, and all I remember is... I guess being in the farm, I guess we had guns or rifles or something. There was an empty, those casings, I guess, that was on the window sill. And then I know that (we) worried because they said, "Oh, no, if the FBI finds that, oh, we're going to be in trouble." And so I just remember that, I don't know what we did, but we were just hoping they wouldn't find it. I guess they did (not) and so nothing ever happened, but I just remember we just kind of had that anxiety while they were there, searching the house.

VY: So at that time you were probably four, maybe five?

BK: Probably.

VY: Do you remember anything else that your family might have done to prepare?

BK: No, not really. Because my dad was picked up by the FBI, I guess, soon after that.

VY: Was that soon after they came to the house?

BK: Yeah, I think so. Because when my dad was picked up by the FBI, then we moved from the house to go live at my granduncle's house because his wife was living there by herself.

VY: And where was that? Was that in the same town?

BK: That was in Huntington Beach where the complex was.

VY: Do you know why they took your father?

BK: Well, what I heard was that my brother started Japanese school. So they asked my dad if he would be on the board of the Japanese school. And my dad said, "No, I'm sorry, but I'm not able to because I'm busy with the farm and I won't be able to participate on the board." But they said, "Oh, we need somebody so can we borrow your name and put you on the board?" So he said "All, right, but I won't be able to do anything." And so I guess he got on the list, and so that's why he was picked up.

VY: I see, so the FBI saw him as a community leader?

BK: Right, or involved with one of them. So by the same token, my granduncle was already picked up, too, because people in Huntington Beach knew him because he would do the banking and they would all see him coming in the bank and they would acknowledge him. So when they had to pick him up, and he went to the Huntington Beach police station, then they knew him there and they felt real bad having to pick him up and put him in jail. So at the time when they were going to move him to the next place, they knew that my granduncle had to take care of business because otherwise everything was left up in the air. So they brought him home so that he could talk to his manager, like open the safe and all this kind of thing. Took care of that and they proceeded to take them to wherever. I guess to L.A. in their jail. And I don't know if it was at Tuna Canyon, which is, at that time, they called it Tujunga. It's known as Tuna Canyon now, and that's where all the men more or less were incarcerated.

VY: So that was your granduncle?

BK: (Yes), and then I know my dad was there, too, because I remember going with my mom to visit him. I guess my cousin's father (drove) my mom and I down to see my dad, and then I remember the chain link fence that he was behind. I mean, that chain link stayed in front of us, and after that, the other things that happened, I don't know if it's because of the stories I heard, but I just remembered visiting him there.

VY: Do you remember what that felt like? Did you understand why he was there?

BK: Not really. I just remembered that that's where they put him, and we (went) to go visit him. And then soon after that, because my mom didn't really speak English, and here she was stuck with my brother and I. And so she didn't really know what to do, so I guess some friends that had relatives in Marysville said, "Well, we have relatives in Marysville, why don't we go over there?" And so my mother said, "Well, okay," because then she also took my grandaunt, because she was by herself, too. And so the four of us and then our friend's husband and my brother got in a pickup truck and my mom drove the car, the Buick we had. And they had to rush because they could not, there was a curfew and you had to be wherever you're supposed to be by sundown. And so all I remember, her telling me that she drove from eight to eight, and she was so exhausted the next day that, I don't know, she spent a couple of days in bed, because she was so worn out from the drive.

VY: So your mom drove the car?

BK: Uh-huh. She was the only one that was able to drive the car at the time, aside from her friends' husband that was in the other pickup.

VY: Did she drive very much before that?

BK: Well, yes, because going to school or being on the ranch, marketing and going to and from the ranch and everything, she was always driving.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

VY: Okay, so your father and your granduncle were in Tuna Canyon, and you and your mom and your brother and your (grand) aunt drove to Marysville to stay with some friends?

BK: Right.

VY: And then what happened after that?

BK: Well, since everything was still uncertain, my mom felt that I should go to school, so she made us go to school. And so I think, I don't know how many days I went, but I know that I went. What I remember is that they called me a "Jap" and that really hurt me. And all I remember is I guess I was not really used to English yet, not speaking it, and so all I remember is the teacher made me stand by the (chalkboard), (and) on the board, (I) had to write my name over and over, I don't know, for the whole board to, I guess, make me learn how to write my name. And then so when I went home that night, I told my mom, "I don't want to go back there again." And so she knew it bothered me, so my mom thought, well, things were uncertain, she didn't know how long I would have to be going to school there, so she just said, "Okay, don't go. You don't have to go." And then soon after that we must have gone into camp, or we went into the assembly center. I guess that's when the Executive Order 9066 came out, and so we had to all evacuate.

VY: What center were you sent to?

BK: Well, we were sent to Merced Assembly Center. And I guess after we got there, my dad must have joined us at Merced, because I've seen pictures, group pictures where people are seated (...). They had decorated between two barracks and made an archway with morning glory. And so I guess they were real proud of that and so all the residents that worked on it took a picture, and I noticed my dad was in there. So I said, "Oh, he must have joined us there."

VY: Oh, interesting. So you know your dad probably joined you there from the pictures, but you don't have a strong memory of him showing up one day and being there.

BK: No.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

BK: And then from there, they started sending us to different camps and we went to Amache, Colorado, I guess they call it Granada.

VY: Did you have other family members that went there also, or friends?

BK: Yeah. I think that the couple friends that we went to Marysville with were there, and I think my granduncle and my grandaunt, I think were in Colorado, I mean, Amache.

VY: Do you remember that journey at all?

BK: No, not at all.

VY: How about once you were there, what's kind of the first memory you have of being there?

BK: Well, I remember, I know that they would give you passes so you could go to town. So we went to the town of Granada, I guess, and then I guess to shop. But I don't really remember any details.

VY: You don't remember being in town and interacting with people in town?

BK: No, not really.

VY: Do you have any memories of how, during that early time, how the adults were behaving around you?

BK: Well, my parents, I think, like a lot of parents, shielded their children. And so my parents, they never said anything against the United States, they never said anything negative like saying, "Oh, why did they put us here?" or, "What are we doing here?" They never said anything like that. And they just did the best they could, and we just try to adjust to getting our meals and having to walk to the bathroom and walk to the shower and things like that. But I'm thinking, I see pictures of people standing in line at the mess hall to go into lunch or dinner or breakfast, whatever it was. But I never could remember standing in line, and I don't know why I don't have any memories of that.

VY: Interesting. Do you have memories of, actually, meals at all? Like sitting down with your family and eating or other people in camp?

BK: Not really. I mean, I was always with my mom, I think. But I know that my brother's age, because he's, like, five years older than I was. And so I think that the kids would all get together and eat by themselves, and so there was no family dinnertime. So I think that was like a negative for the families.

VY: So around that time, you were probably around five or six and your brother was around ten or eleven?

BK: Right.

VY: But so you remember you mostly had meals with your mom and your brother had meals with his friends. How about your dad?

BK: I don't really know because he would go out, like sometimes they would have jobs for people to go out in the field and work. And so I think my dad used to join that group to go out and do fieldwork, farming work. And so I don't really remember him sitting down and having a dinner all together.

VY: Do you know any other kind of work your dad might have done in camp, or how about your mom? Did she do any work in camp?

BK: No, my mother didn't do any work. I mean, but she used to take classes like what she used to do before the war. She used to come into Little Tokyo and doing sewing classes. And then when she got in camp, then if they had any sewing or tailoring classes, she always went to that. And I remember she ended up, she even made a suit for my dad from the tailoring class. And she also started taking flower arrangement, the Japanese flower arrangement.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

VY: Okay. And then is there anything else that happened while you were at Amache? When was that? It was probably around 1943, '44, and did you go to another camp after that?

BK: We went to Tule Lake because of the uncertainty of what was going to happen, my mom wrote to her dad in Hiroshima saying, "Can I bring the family home to Hiroshima?" And so my grandfather wrote back to her and said, "Sure you could bring the family home because you won't starve because we live in the country and we grow all our vegetables and rice, and we have a stream on the property where they could fish." And so they won't be starving. And so that's why my folks decided to go to Japan, and so that's why we were sent to Tule Lake.

VY: Okay, so your family was planning to go back to Japan, so you were sent to Tule Lake, and then what happened in Tule Lake?

BK: Well, we got to Tule Lake, my mom wanted us to make sure that we won't have difficulty with the language, but yet, she didn't want us to forget, or still learn English, too, so she made us go toJapanese school in the morning, and then in the afternoon we would go to American school. And that's when I went to the archives to see what information they had on me, I found out that there was forty pages on me. And I'm saying, "God, I'm only a kid, five, six years old, what could they have on me?" And so when I sent for it, they said, "Well, it'll cost you twenty dollars." I said, "Okay." So I sent for it, and then I found out there was a lot of blank pages, but then they also tested me in American school. And so my test was in that packet. And then apparently they felt that I didn't really speak English because I must have failed that test. And so I guess they were concerned that maybe I needed... well, I don't think at that time, they didn't have special education. But then I also noticed that they tested me the next year, and I must have learned something because that was the end of that. [Laughs] They kept me in school.

VY: So a whole year went by, so things changed a little bit during that year.

BK: Yeah, I must have learned something. [Laughs]

VY: Do you think you learned more English during that time?

BK: Yes, I think so. Because I really don't remember now speaking Japanese except to my mom and my parents. It seems like by the time we got out of camp and I started American school, I went to elementary school, I don't think I had any problems.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

VY: So in camp, when you interacted with your friends, did you speak English or Japanese, do you know?

BK: I think it was English.

VY: Do you remember things that you did together, activities that you did with other kids in camp?

BK: Well, I think we played Hide and Seek and Kick the Can and different kid games. And all I remember is that we had a communal bath, it was female and male, and I know we had a real big tub that they had built. And so I remember we used to, the kids, in the summertime or something, we would decide to go swimming in the big tub. And I remember the custodian that was manning the bathtub, heating the water for the bath and everything, he would always yell at us, "Don't go into that tub," and then we'll sneak in to go swimming or cool off or something. But I remember him yelling at us, like, "Get out of here," or something.

And then another thing I just remembered is when we went to the (2018) Tule Lake pilgrimage, I remembered a Japanese school teacher's name, which was Mukushima, Mr. Mukushima, Mukushima-sensei. And at that time, I was learning the multiplication table, and so I learned it in Japanese. And then all the rest of my life, I always did it in Japanese, my multiplication tables. And then at the last pilgrimage, I think it was last year or the year before, and it so happened that I ran across some people that also were students (of) Mukushima-sensei. So then they talked about learning the multiplication tables and everything like that from this teacher. And with all the teachers I've had, that's the only name I really remember. So then at the pilgrimage, we were talking in this group, found out that Mukushima-sensei's son was at the pilgrimage. And he said, "Oh, my last name is Mukushima, my dad was a minister. I didn't know he taught Japanese school." And we said, "Well, we learned the multiplication table," and it was a shock to him because I guess he was born in camp, at Tule Lake. And to this day, I guess he didn't know his father taught Japanese school, he just thought he was the minister. And so we talked to him and he goes, "Oh, my goodness, I never knew that." So he was very surprised. And all the students had all good things to say about him, like how he affected us by teaching us math.

VY: That must have been so moving for him to come there and learn about his father from other kids that knew him at the time.

BK: I'm sure it was. Because as it was to me, it was like, "Oh, I met his son."

VY: So you went to Japanese school and American school. Were different subjects taught in the two different schools?

BK: Yeah. Well, I think that in Japanese school, we'd learn how to read and write. But in American school -- I don't really remember these specific things that we learned, all I know is the long walk we had to take to get to elementary school. And then I remember (walking) through the snow and rain to get to elementary school. There would be, like, a group of us that would be going to school and then coming back.

VY: Yeah, so talk a little bit about the weather there. It was very extreme conditions.

BK: Yeah. Well, we used to have snow in there, but I don't know, it wasn't that bad where it was so miserable. I think we got through it, yeah. Because, well, all I remember, I guess, is like we used to have the summer festivals, and they would have the ondo dancing, and we would participate in that. I don't know where we got the kimonos, but I remember dressing up in the kimono and doing Obon dancing. Because I guess one of our friends that lived in the next block, she used to teach Japanese dancing, so I remember learning from her.

VY: Okay. Is there anything else that you remember about camp that you want to talk about before we leave that time?

BK: Well, I must have been a little brat, because I remember, like, I was friends with this guy that used to have to sweep the mess hall after dinner. And I don't know, he must have been, I guess, a teenager then or something, I don't know. But I remember I used to get on his broom and he'd push me as he's sweeping. And another thing, we used to have persimmons, and I remember he gave me extra persimmons, the soft kind. And so I took it back to our room, and then I must have ate too much because I remember getting really sick. [Laughs] Then, after that, I guess whenever -- I liked persimmons, but then the soft ones, I would kind of like, "Oh, I don't know if I want to eat it." But that's about all I remember.

VY: Do you remember how old you were when you left camp?

BK: Well, I think I was nine years old.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

VY: Okay, Barbara, so let's talk about what your family did after leaving camp. Where did you go? This was after Tule Lake.

BK: Well, coming home, coming back to L.A. from Tule Lake, I guess we were on the train. I remember the train ride. Well, in fact, it was funny because before we left camp, our last meal was lunchtime, and I remember as I was going through the line, I don't really remember the daily things. But then on that particular day, the people that worked behind the counter knew we were leaving. And so I remember this man saying, "Oh, today's your last meal here today," and we had bologna, fried bologna. And so he stacked my plate with fried bologna and said, "You're not going to be able to eat this again." So he loaded my plate up with bologna, and I just remember that. [Laughs]

VY: Did you like bologna?

BK: I guess so. I mean, we don't have it very much now. In fact, I don't know if I ever had fried bologna after that when we got out of camp. I've had bologna sandwiches, but not... but okay, so when we were on the train ride back, I guess we were on the train and so we were looking out the window and everything. And so I think my granduncle was with us. Well, for one thing, I think that it was just my brother and I and my mom, because my dad had left the camp earlier because he wanted to find a place for us to live and get a job. And so he left early and then he got a job working at a mattress company. And I don't really remember, but I kind of think it was like the swing shift, so he worked at night. And then he found an apartment, and then so when we got out of camp, we went directly to the apartment. And I know a lot of people had to go different places to live, but we went to this apartment. And so I guess we were fortunate.

VY: So your dad went first, he earned a little money, found an apartment, and then sent for you guys.

BK: Uh-huh, and then we joined him. And I guess on the train ride home, I guess I saw this big red building. And so I (asked) my mom, I said, "What is that?" And my mother said, "Oh, that's a barn," and I went, "A barn? What's a barn?" And she was talking with my granduncle saying, "Oh, she missed out on a lot because she doesn't know what a barn is..." and that was a common thing, right, in the countryside, to see a barn. But then that was the first one I ever saw.

VY: And you were probably, what, nine years old?

BK: Yes, I was nine. And so she thought, oh, I missed out on a lot.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

BK: And then I started elementary school, went to First Street school. My dad found an apartment in Boyle Heights, East L.A.

VY: Oh, so your dad found an apartment -- is that where you guys went to, Boyle Heights?

BK: Yes.

VY: Initially, okay.

BK: And then I started First Street school. Well, I guess, I don't know if it just happened, but I went to school and then I made friends with, I think, the tallest girl and the toughest girl in my class, in my grade. And her name was Yolanda and she, kind of, more or less watched over me, I guess. She was very good athletically and I guess nobody messed with her. And she, I guess, kind of like took me under her wings. And then my other friend was, I think, one of the prettiest girls in my class, and she used to work in an office and I was working in the office with her and so we became friends. And so I guess they made my elementary school pleasant.

VY: And that was in Boyle Heights?

BK: Yes.

VY: Did you stay in touch over the years with either of those two?

BK: No. I can't even remember what the last name was. Because I know Yolanda was, I think she was Hispanic. And my other friend, I think her last name was Amadon, so I don't know if that's Greek or what. So those were my two friends in school.

VY: Do you remember anything else about Boyle Heights? It was a very diverse area.

BK: Yes. Well, I grew up like, I guess it's a block away from the Evergreen playground. And that was across the street from First Street school on the south side of the campus, and we lived on the south side, too. And so I used to spend a lot of time at the Evergreen playground, we did sports there and I also did crafts. I guess they had probably a good program that they would have summer vacation or camps, and I guess I used to participate in crafting and different things that they had there.

VY: Do you remember what the other kids were like?

BK: I don't really remember anybody specific, but I know that I used to hang out with this Mexican family because we were in an apartment so the daughter was married and she used to live in the next apartment. And so she had younger brothers and sisters that were my age, so they lived about a half block away so I used to play with them when we were outside. And then there was another girl named Helen that I hung out with. But once I went to junior high, I think they were out of the picture. I don't really remember even playing with them.

VY: So how long were you in Boyle Heights?

BK: Well, the thing is, we were there until I got married. Yeah, in fact, I went to Roosevelt High School, which was actually right across the street from where we lived.

VY: So you were there a long time. Do you remember the different kinds of foods that you ate? Did you go to restaurants or markets?

BK: Well, no. I know when I was in junior high, you know, my mom used to send me to Japanese school, and so I'd have to go, I used to go on Saturdays and then I think it would change to, like, I would have to go after American school. And so I don't know if this started like three or four in the afternoon, I'd have to go take the streetcar and they'd come into L.A. and Little Tokyo and go to Japanese school. Well, actually, and then I started hanging out in Little Tokyo because my granduncle that we used to be with in Huntington Beach, had bought, was the owner of the new Olympic Hotel on San Pedro Street, and my mother was head of housekeeping there. And so when I finished Japanese school, I would go over there, which was two or three blocks away. I guess... while we were in camp, that area was called Bronzeville. And then so when my granduncle got back the hotel, I remember they had a black manager running the hotel, Mr. Sweetwine, and his wife used to be the office manager. And so I got to know them, because I was there like every Saturday. And so I used to hang out in the neighborhood, I used to go to different shops (...). Like one was a florist shop, and I guess I used to just hang out, walking all over Little Tokyo killing time, and you got to know some of the merchants. But they're not there anymore.

VY: Well, at that time, who were the merchants?

BK: Well, there was always the chop suey house, the San Kow Low, and the five and ten cent store, Uyedas was there, (...) the son took over since then. It so happened that his sisters, when we were going to USC, they were there at SC, and so I used to talk to them. We never really hung out, but I was acquainted with them. At that time, we didn't really eat out. I mean, I guess it's to save money, so if we ate out, it was for special occasions like weddings or funerals something, and it would be Chinese food. And one of them was the Far East Cafe, that was a real common place that we went to.

VY: And that was in Boyle Heights or Little Tokyo?

BK: This was in Little Tokyo. Yeah, so in Boyle Heights, I don't think, we didn't eat out anywhere there. I mean, I know there was a market that was kitty corner to the corner we lived, and that's where I would go to get bread and milk and things like that. Eventually when I was in high school, I used to help there. I was the cashier, helped them wait on customers, or, I mean, it was across the street from the high school, and so I guess there was a lot of pilferage because the kids were coming in, try to sneak this or that out. So they wanted bodies there to, like, be watching. I mean, I wasn't able to do anything, but I guess they just felt that if somebody was there, they would think that they were being watched. So I worked there while I was going to high school on Saturdays or maybe an hour in the evening or something like that.

VY: Who owned the bakery?

BK: Well, it was a market.

VY: Market.

BK: Well, it was the Higashi family, and Min was the son. And he used to work the meat department. And I think his sister did the cashiering, and I guess she was married and when she was expecting, I guess he needed someone there to help him out. And so I guess he asked me if I'd come and help.

VY: And how about in Little Tokyo, do you remember any of the other shops, what they were like or what was there at that time?

BK: Well, there was the food mart, Enbun, and I used to go in there. Mainly I think I was at the florist.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

VY: Now you said, talking about your... was it your uncle who owned the hotel?

BK: My granduncle.

VY: Your granduncle owned the New Olympic Hotel on San Pedro Street. And you said he got it back after the war. Can you talk about that?

BK: Well, I think that from what the conversation I heard adults talking, and because we used to always have dinner over there at my granduncle's house, because he's the one that had the house and the room.

VY: Sorry, was this also the Chili King? Was this the same granduncle?

BK: Yes.

VY: Okay.

BK: And then so my mom would do most of the cooking usually, and over at his house, because we were just in an apartment, and so in their conversation at dinner, you would talk about how he got the hotel back. I guess it was owned (by) a group of men, owned the hotel.

VY: This is before the war?

BK: Yeah, I guess. I'm not really positive.

VY: Okay.

BK: And I guess when we had to go into camp, (I guess) they had to do something to dispose of it or take care of the business of it. And so apparently, it sounds like one of the owners or partners had sold it to this American company, and so they were running it. And then when we got out of camp, then my granduncle said, "Well, I'm going to try to get it back." And then I guess the partners said, "No, you can't get it back, it's gone." But my uncle said, "No," he said, "I'm going to try." So I guess he hired two attorneys, and I don't know if Mr. Collins was involved, you know, the attorney that did a lot for the Japanese people. Because I know my granduncle used to talk about him a lot, all the things that he did for the Japanese community. And so I don't know if he was the attorney that was involved in it, and so they went to trial, the partner said, "No, you're not going to get it back." My granduncle said, "Well, give me your shares," or, "Sell me your shares," or something, and so he got it all for himself. And then he went to trial, and I guess at the trial, I guess it was one owner that signed off on it and sold the property without getting the signature of all the rest of the partners. And so when they went to court and the guy that sold it was to testify before the judge, and then the way my granduncle used to say, (...) they were going to question him. And I guess when they were questioning, testifying, he said, "Well, I sold it, I did it (myself)." And then I guess (the judge) just closed the case, saying, "Oh, okay, no." It wasn't sold, (told) my granduncle, "It's yours." So that's how we he got it back. So this is the conversation that I'm hearing in Japanese. Here I'm like ten, eleven years old, twelve years old. I mean, I hear the conversation because I heard it several times. But then I don't know really the true thing that happened. Yeah, 'cause it's more or less second or third hand, really, and it's like dinner conversation.

VY: But you remember the hotel?

BK: Yeah, because I used to help there. And then I know that he eventually sold it, and then he bought, on First and San Pedro, where the California Bank (now), that used to be Miyako Hotel, so then my granduncle bought that. (...) I don't know if they really ran a hotel. I think it was more office (in the building) at that time. Because I don't think my mom, she (was) working there anymore because by then she became a Japanese flower arrangement teacher, and so she was teaching Japanese flower arrangement.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

VY: Okay, so after the war, your mom taught Japanese flower arranging. Did she do any other kind of work?

BK: Well, when we first came out, I think she used to do sewing. She used to do piecework, I remember, I think she used to make pockets on shirts. I know she bought a power machine and so she would be sewing pockets day and night, I guess. And I don't know where she took it, and then she got more work and did that, I guess just doing piecework, and she was also hemming handkerchiefs, doing the French hem or something and making handkerchiefs. She'd get paid by the pieces, I guess.

VY: And did she do that work out of her home?

BK: Yes, because I was still going to junior high or something. I don't know, I might have still been in elementary school and doing to supplemental income. And then my dad started gardening, so I don't know exactly how long he was working at the mattress factory. Well, I know he eventually got a route for gardening, and he became a gardener full time.

VY: Did he have his own gardening business?

BK: Yes.

VY: And did he have any employees?

BK: My brother. On Saturdays, my brother would help him. And then I know I went a couple of times when my brother went to summer camp or was out of town or was with his friends or something. Then my dad would take my mom and I to help him do gardening and then I liked the idea of walking behind the, I guess, motorized mower by then. And so I said, "I want to do it, I want to do it," So he'd let me do it. And then I remember looking at what I'd done, and it was the wavy zigzag trail that I left, so he'd have to redo it because he couldn't leave it like that. But my dad was always very... I mean, he always let me do anything I wanted to do, really.

VY: Why do you think he chose gardening? Was it something he had a passion for, or did it seem to like something he could figure out how to do?

BK: Well, I think that it was something he could figure to do, and he would be his own boss. And I guess, as he got the route, people kept asking him, neighbors or (someone) would, at the houses he was at, they would come and ask him to do their lawn. And I don't know, my dad was like a, people person, and I remember he would tell me about the ladies inviting him into the house and saying, "Oh, Harry, come, have some coffee," or, "I made some cake or something," and they would invite him in and give him cake and coffee or something. And, in fact, several times, the customers were... and I think a lot of these ladies were widowed. And so they would say, "Oh, bring your family over for dinner," and so we'd go to the house for dinner and the customers would cook him dinner and things. And so, I mean, I went to a couple, several dinners. I think my mom didn't really care to go, but I guess after they asked so many times, they felt that they should, so we went. I don't think my brother ever went, but I always, I was still young yet, so I tagged along a lot.

VY: What was that like? What were their houses like? Were they different than your houses?

BK: Yeah, 'cause we were in an apartment and they were in a house. So that was a big difference. They were always so nice and very inviting.

VY: And who were most of his customers? Were they mostly white?

BK: Yeah, they were white. I think he had a lot of customers in Glendale by the observatory.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

VY: And did your father, was he a gardener pretty much until he retired?

BK: Yes. And I think he worked until he was seventy years old.

VY: How long did he live?

BK: Well, he was ninety-two when he passed away. Yeah, that was in 1992, 'cause he was born in 1899. And so, well, my mom is still alive, and she was born in 1912, so she's just had her 106th birthday.

VY: Wow.

BK: And she's at skilled nursing. And she's still... I mean, she can't remember what she ate for lunch, but she recognizes her grandkids and great grandkids. I don't know, it sounds like she talks to all the caregivers, it seemed like they all know her.

VY: Did she ever talk about the war later in life, about that time period?

BK: Not really, no. I think that they never...

VY: Neither of your parents?

BK: Right. I mean, you know, like they talked about things that they did, because my dad was (learning) shigin, I don't know if you know what that is. It's like Japanese singing.

VY: Your dad did that?

BK: (...) Yes, my dad did that. So he learned it in camp and then when we got out of camp, he was teaching on the side because he enjoyed it. Because a lot of the Japanese weddings, at the reception, they would always get people to come up and entertain, like sing a song. And so my dad always would sing a song. My mom was into singing, too, so she would sing the popular songs, not the classical like my dad would sing. And they enjoyed it.

VY: Well, what kind of life do you think your parents wanted for you?

BK: Well, I just think mainly to be happy. I know my mother wanted to be a doctor when she was in Japan. But then at that time, because that's what she would tell me and then she wanted my brother and I to go into it, but I said, "I don't like the sight of blood." My brother was, you know, he didn't like to go to school. And so that was not in the cards. But my brother ended up... well, my mother said he had to go to college. My brother was really an A student, he was really good, but he did not like going to school. So my mom said, "You have to go to college," so he said, "Okay," and he decided, he went to business college, and so that way he could get out in three years and not have to go four years. But he owned his own body and fender shop, and he was doing well at that. He had the Hertz account, the Hertz rental car account. And so he would fix their cars and then they usually used to sell the rental cars after a certain period of time, so he would get them ready to be sold. So he had a good business going. Later on, after he died, I heard that he and some of the other people that were in that business wanted to start a parts shop so they could purchase their own parts. I guess it was a good business, but then it never panned out because he died when he was forty years old. So I just heard from his friends that that's what they were going to do.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

VY: Well, how about you? Where did you go to school and what kind of work did you do after school?

BK: Well, I went to USC and I was in office management. So I worked for Union Oil for a year and then I started working for Lucky Stores which became, I guess Kroger owned them, and that's where I retired from.

VY: When you were going to USC, are there any strong memories you have of that time, like your interactions with other students or with your teachers, friends?

BK: Yeah. Well, most of my friends were in teaching. And then my husband, I met him and he was going to City College, but then he had some GI Bill, so he came to USC and then he went into teaching, but then I went into accounting, and so I was in the accounting department at the Lucky Stores. And (...) we went to football games because we were into sports. And so we're still going to football games and basketball games.

VY: Did you or your brother have any children?

BK: My brother did but we didn't. So my brother has a boy and a girl, but they're in their fifties now, and they have kids, so we have grand nieces and nephews.

VY: And you stay in touch?

BK: Yes. In fact, my nieces, the oldest daughter of my niece is second year at University of Connecticut, because her dad went to Connecticut. And the others are still in high school.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

VY: Getting back to your experiences related to being in camp, do you ever go to any of the pilgrimages?

BK: Yes. Well, I went to a couple of Tule Lake pilgrimages, and I think I went to one, I think it was a pilgrimage for Amache, Colorado.

VY: And why do you think you go to those?

BK: Well, see, my husband was in Heart Mountain, and then he's at the age where he was, like, ten or twelve when he was in camp. And so a lot of (the) older people that were in camp are not as active. And so he kind of got roped into helping with the reunions, and so because he's involved with Heart Mountain, then I go with him to the Heart Mountain pilgrimage and reunions. In fact, we're on the Heart Mountain committee to do the luncheon reunions. As far as my camps (go), so I'm more involved in (his) reunions than in my camp reunions.

VY: Why do you think it's important to have these pilgrimages?

BK: Well, I think because of the fact that people didn't talk about it. But now, they're more open about it. I think we're losing a lot of the older people, and so it seemed like (they want) to get together and reminisce, I guess. Because I don't have that much connection with the camp people like, I think, (...) people that are older than me have. Because I think it affected (people) at that time (that) were in high school and in college, I think it really made a big difference in their life, because that's when they were going to college or meeting friends, meeting mates, and that got all disrupted. So, to me, it seemed like that was the hardest age. Well, it really changed their lives. And they lost contact with their friends, could have been their lifelong partners. And I guess, since we're on the committee, there's always someone that says, "Okay, we've got to do it again," and so we say, "Okay, we'll help you." So just being that we're volunteers at the Japanese American National Museum, I guess we have more interest in it.

VY: Yeah, and why do you think you started doing that? Talk about that a little bit, working as a volunteer at JANM.

BK: Well, I think that it helped when we first got introduced to it. My husband started it, and then I was still working and then I got involved in it. The people that were in charge of the volunteers, they were very accepting, and they made you want to be a part of it, and I think that's what made us think, "Well, why not?" And so ever since then, we've been participating. (...) While I was still working, I used to volunteer (on) Thursday evenings after work, because that was the only time we were open in the evening. And then at that time, my husband had retired, and so he got involved in the history part. Because he was a teacher, and so I guess this is kind of like, fit right in doing tours and things, still being connected with the kids.

VY: You've been doing it for many years.

BK: Yes, because we started, well, I started in '92, and he started a year or two before me.

VY: Have you found, the kind of questions that people ask you, have they changed over time, or are they the same kind of questions? Are you ever surprised by any of the kind of questions you get?

BK: Well, not really. I mean, I don't have interaction with the visitors as much, because I'm more in the office area. Whereas my husband is more into, like he started doing school tours, but now he's into taiko drumming, and so he does the demos for the kids that come to the museum, the school tours. So they usually offer a guided tour of the objects and things, and then they do origami, and taiko is part of it. And so it seemed like the kids remember the taiko more than anything else. [Laughs] And he's been doing it for a while, so he enjoys it.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

VY: Okay, so I think we're getting near the end of our conversation. I wonder if you could talk a little bit before we conclude about how you felt during your time after the camp and all throughout life, really. Did you feel accepted by most people? Did you ever feel different, or is there any incident or experience that stands out to you?

BK: Well, I think that, through high school, and then maybe through part of going to college at USC, I think that I always felt like a second class citizen. It just seemed like I wasn't a full, fully accepted as an American. And it's just that people, it's not how the people treated me, it was just like how I felt inside of me that I wasn't good enough, and that was one of the reasons I went to college, was that so that I could hold my own and not feel like I'm inferior. And (...) then besides meeting my husband, and he didn't have that complex that I had. And so then we started interacting, like with other people besides the Japanese Americans. And we would go to, like, Trojan Club meetings and then his teachers group and things, and we felt accepted, and I felt better of myself that, oh, they think I'm just as good as they are. And so I think that he helped me get away from this second class citizen feeling. So I feel that now, we can go anywhere, and we don't have to feel like, oh, do they want us here or not? We're just accepted. So we're happy.

VY: Thank you, Barbara. Is there anything else you'd like to say before we conclude today?

BK: No, you made it very easy, or, I mean, inviting and comfortable. I feel very comfortable with you.

VY: Good, I'm so glad. I'm so glad you joined us today, and I'm so glad you shared your story. Thank you.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2019 Densho. All Rights Reserved.