Densho Digital Repository
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: John Tateishi Interview
Narrator: John Tateishi
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Emeryville, California
Date: March 12, 2019
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-469-8

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

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: And the incident we're talking about, the Manzanar Riot, this was a case where a JACL leader, Fred...

JT: Tayama.

TI: Was beat up, I think the report said, "By six masked men."

JT: Right. They were out literally to kill him.

TI: And he fingered Harry Ueno as one of the men. So the administration placed Harry and two others, I'm not sure if your father, but there were two other men placed in the stockade, and then this is where people started asking, because they felt that, essentially what you were saying, that Fred and some other men, the inu, they were the ones who were actually the ones that we had to fight against, and that Harry was a popular, I think he was head of the...

JT: Kitchen workers.

TI: Kitchen workers, and so very popular, which led to this riot. In the aftermath, I looked it up, twenty men were removed from Manzanar, including Harry Ueno, and sent to the Moab, Utah, citizen isolation camp, I think they called it.

JT: I called it an interrogation center.

TI: So is that what you're talking about? So the men who were fingered, someone informed on this group of, roughly, twenty men who were removed from Manzanar. Is that what we're talking about?

JT: The report I saw named certain people and what they said in this meeting, and apparently, at every meeting the Kibei had -- and the Kibei meetings were always at night, late at night -- he apparently reported on everything that was being said. He was a Kibei himself, so it was easy access for him. He was also a very loyal JACL person, which wasn't known at the time. And so he was kind of playing both sides. But it was during the riots that my father got arrested, and part of what happened, what he told me, was that he and Harry Ueno had discovered that the administrators were stealing food products. Harry found the master calendar, and so he knew what was being delivered, and certain things never showed up at Manzanar, staples, and they figured they're selling it on the black market. They both confronted the administrators, I don't know if it was Merritt at the time, whoever it was, it must have been Merritt. And it was around then that the riots broke out.

TI: But then what was the... did he ever talk about why Fred was, so he wasn't necessarily... yeah, I don't quite understand that connection.

JT: One of the things that happened in camp was the JACL became the contact point for the feds, because we had chapters all over California, and this is a way to communicate with the community. So the federal government selected the JACL as a communication point. That's why they knew early on, and had that emergency meeting, that there was going to be a so-called evacuation, and that was the cooperation meeting. They spread that information through their chapters or delegates about what was going on. So when the camps opened, the administrators decided they would have the JACL leaders in each of those camps become the governing body. They would be the ones to more or less  set up the infrastructure, the police, the fire department, if there was a hospital, the various kinds of jobs. The worst jobs, like digging the sewer ditches and working in the kitchens went only to the Kibei. Kibeis started getting pissed off, I mean, you know, they were stupid. And there was always this clash between the Kibei and the JACL anyway. So these JACL leaders, it was stupid of them, they should have realized that this was going to backfire. They exacerbated the situation in the Manzanar Riot, really sticking it to the Kibei. And there was a lot of anger at the JACL, and from the research I'd done, the intent was, they were going to go after Tayama, they were going to kill him. And I don't know who was in that raid party, but, I mean, a lot of them were running around. My father got arrested in a meeting with the camp administrator, and it was when the riots broke out. And so they kept him, I don't know where they took him, in fact, we never saw him again. And we found out from Mr. Ueno's wife, she told my mother that they were going up to Utah, they were being taken there. There was a black porter on the train who gave Harry pencil and paper, and he put an address on it and this guy mailed it. So she got the letter and told my mother that they're going to some camp up in Utah, they didn't know which one it was at the time.

TI: And was there any communication between your father and mother when he was away?

JT: Infrequently, but yeah, they did. And I know that they were writing to each other because she had photographs of us as kids, all dressed up in our Sunday stuff, to send to him. And I know it was for him at that time because it says, "To Daddy," and it's a picture of her and the four boys. So yeah, they were communicating. What was interesting, I found out later, in fact, not all that long ago, maybe in the past ten years, that my father was at Moab and Leupp, and was getting the crap kicked out of him because he wouldn't go along with the other Kibei. And one of the camp administrators said they needed to put him in isolation because the other Kibeis were, they were going to go after him. And so he got moved from Moab to Leupp, and the administrator there said, "It's not safe for him because he doesn't agree with the other Kibei." And they kept trying to get him returned to Manzanar, but Merritt would not have him. So what happened was the director at the Leupp camp, out of his own pocket, paid for my father to be sent to Topaz.

TI: Oh, interesting, Topaz?

JT: Yeah.

TI: I think the other men from Moab, didn't they go to Tule Lake?

JT: They all went to Tule Lake.

TI: And yet, your dad went to Topaz.

JT: He went to Topaz because the director there was a friend of the guy at Leupp, and he said the director at Topaz was writing to Merritt, saying, this man does not deserve to be here, he needs to be returned to his family, that he wasn't part of all this other stuff. And so finally -- and he had to convince Merritt, Merritt said no. Because as far as he was concerned, the troublemakers were troublemakers. But my father's situation was different. So he ends up at Moab and Leupp and getting his butt kicked by the other Nisei. And then goes to Topaz for his own safety, and the Topaz director is writing to Merritt, director to director, saying, "You really need to take this guy back." So finally Merritt agreed to do that, and the director at Topaz, out of his own pocket, paid for my dad to be transferred back to Manzanar.

TI: How did you find this all out? This is interesting.

JT: Files. And it's an interesting story that I knew nothing about.

TI: I mean, you could write a whole book about this.

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