Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Alan Kumamoto Interview
Narrator: Alan Kumamoto
Interviewer: Brian Niiya
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: February 7, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-464-4

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

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BN: And then we'll get back to that later, but I wanted to kind of go back to right before the war. So your parents get married, your dad's working as a pharmacist right before the war, where did they live?

AK: In the same area.

BN: But the same general Little Tokyo, broad Little Tokyo area?

AK: No, but within a couple blocks.

BN: Okay. And then you were born in 1940, I assume you were the first?

AK: I'm the only son for the Kumamotos.

BN: First and last.

AK: Well, I have two sons, and there's two grandsons in terms of our, quote, "lineage."

BN: In your immediate family. And then, of course, war comes, they're rounded up...

AK: Go to Santa Anita.

BN: Santa Anita.

AK: In fact, the irony is, where the bus is, where you take it to Santa Anita, is in front of Nishi, where the temple that my grandfather helped build, and that's where they stored some of the stuff, some of the goods and things, but they were just down the street.

BN: Do you have any... I mean, you're a toddler, I guess, at that time. Do you have memories of Santa Anita and/or Heart Mountain?

AK: Not so much of Santa Anita. We go to Santa Anita, it's muddy and all this kind of stuff, but I'm two, so the memories are fleeting. The one thing that I do remember, in a sense, is the trip from Santa Anita to Heart Mountain, Wyoming, because it was on the train. And we were all in cars, train cars, that were all packed, the window shades were pulled down because they didn't want people to know who was in there, etcetera, etcetera, and they didn't want us to look out. And they had armed guards in between the trains, and it was hot. So my recollection is I was in some kind of uncomfortable place, and they said, "Oh, yeah you cried all the way. You cried and cried and cried, and in fact, your dad had to take you out of the car to that space in between," but the guards kept pushing him back in because they thought maybe he was going to jump with his kid. So that's the earliest recollection that I have, which isn't much, but they describe a lot of the surroundings and things that took place. And then with the pictures and things you see the trains and so forth. So we were one of the first groups to arrive in Heart Mountain. And because my grandfather was a doctor and my father was a pharmacist, they both worked at the hospital. So our barracks and so forth were closest to the hospital, etcetera. And my understanding is my grandfather had his own area so he could do research. So my uncle... not my uncle, but my cousin Dennis, the oldest of the nephews, he actually used to go from school up to the hospital. And my grandfather used to, liked Dennis because he wanted to learn more about science, so we got him a telescope and all these other things, so that was his study area. But again, my grandfather wasn't a real talkative, kind of, outgoing person. But if it was research, if it was science, if it was any of these things, he would be ready to talk.

BN: Did the whole extended family all go to Heart Mountain?

AK: Right. So from the Suski side, with the exception... okay, so Julia and Bob Kuwahara, the Disney artist, they were there. And, in fact, in one of the War Relocation Authority pictures, where they wanted the family coming, Bob, Julia, Denis and Miki, the four in the family, are shown walking into an empty barrack with their overcoat on and so forth. So that's their claim to photographic fame as far as the War Relocation Authority.

BN: Didn't Bob do a comic strip after the war named after the...

AK: Miki. Miki's legal name is Michelle, but we all knew him as Miki. I mean, I was Chico, he was Miki, that type of thing. Bob worked for Disney on Hyperion at the very beginning, helped with that "Steamboat Willie" and some of these other movies and things. They wanted him to go to MGM with Hanna-Barbera, I think he was there for a little bit before the war broke out. He built a house in the Larchmont area because it was closer to MGM and so forth, Culver City. And the house got firebombed before they moved in, so "No Japs Allowed" kind of thing. So that was too far out.

BN: What year would that have been?

AK: Oh, it was just before the war, just around the same time. So they went to Heart Mountain, they had their own unit and so forth, so that's why I grew up with Miki, because we're one year apart, he's one year younger than I am, Denis was a few years older. Then when you go to Louise, Louise was there, my mom obviously and dad were there, in fact, our unit was at the very end, and the larger unit had other Suskis, my grandfather, mom and Louise. Joe and Susie were married, and so he had a place there. So it's Clara, who married a Joe Yoshimura, so they were in, I think, Poston or someplace, in Arizona. Because he grew up in Glendale, Arizona, that's where some of his family ties were, in so forth, farming. So they were moved out to the reservations out there. And then Elmer, because he was living in the Coachella valley, was also in one of the Poston or Gila camps, I believe. So we didn't have everybody, but we had the majority.

BN: And then what about your Kumamoto grandfather?

AK: So the Kumamotos, so there's my dad, but there were two sisters. In fact, his youngest sister is still alive, and she's turning to be a hundred and two, three, something like that. After a hundred, you lose count. So Kimiko, who was a widower, was in Heart Mountain with her son, only son. They moved to Chicago. The Masudas were there, that was Toshiko's, the youngest daughter, and they moved, I don't know where they moved, they moved out of camp. I think they moved to Chicago for a while, too. And then most of the Suskis, they moved out to Chicago. Because my uncle Joe was U.S. Army, Military Intelligence Service, and my dad was, too.

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