Densho Digital Repository

Densho Visual History Collection

Title: Flora Ninomiya Interview

Narrator: Flora Ninomiya

Interviewer: Virginia Yamada

Location: Emeryville, California

Date: March 13, 2019

Densho ID: ddr-densho-1000-473-9

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

<Begin Segment 9>

VY: Do you have very many memories of Amache?

FN: Well, for me it was a fun time, because we had lots of friends in camp. We had school, and I thought that our schooling was really very good, all of our classmates were Japanese. And you know, since Japanese do value education, I think that we got good schooling. Our teachers were mainly people brought in by the camp administration, they came voluntarily to teach us. And I thought that school was fun, I enjoyed going to school in camp, I enjoyed being with my friends. In fact, when it came time for us to leave camp, I knew that I would be missing all my friends and all the things that all the playtime that we had together. When I came back, school was not difficult because we had, I thought, pretty good schooling. But since that time, I have heard that the people that have gone to the high schools in the camps and had graduated from the high school, their schooling was not as good as ours, the lower grades. Because their teachers, many of them were really not that competent. And so one of my friends told me that her husband, when he came back, it was difficult for him to keep up with the students at the university, because he was not prepared. Like say you're taking a chemistry class, he didn't, he felt that he was not prepared to enter camp, so he had a hard time. But for me, I thought that we got a really good education in school when we were in camp.

And then I hear a lot of complaints from the older Niseis about the food that we had, but you know what? I just can't complain about the food because I never felt that we were hungry. Our camps were not like the camps that were in Europe. Our camps were for us, and I think that we were okay. I think that, since we had so many farmers in our camp, and I read someplace that in Amache, the camp had five thousand acres under cultivation because there were so many farmers that could do this farming. So I think that we did have okay food. But, see, what I hear from the older Niseis is, it was terrible. And even in our video that we made for Rosie the Riveter, Tom Oishi says, "Oh, the food was terrible." He went on and on.

VY: Is he older?

FN: He was older. And I think that the medical care was all right, because the administration brought in medical people, they brought in pharmacists and nurses and all that. But I know that it was difficult for the doctors because the medical supplies were hard to get because of the war. And I know that there were deaths in the camp. But by and large, the population within the camp, the Niseis were all very young, the Isseis were getting older, but they were still in pretty good physical health. But I think that it could have been difficult if you couldn't get medication or you couldn't do the right operation for somebody who was very, very sick, that there's bound to be people being lost within the camp. And if you had lost a parent in the camp, I would be very, very unhappy and angry that the government had us in a place where they should not have had us, and people died as a result of not getting medical care or something.

VY: And your mom, she gave birth in camp, right?

FN: Yes.

VY: Do you remember that?

FN: I remember my father finally joining us after about two and a half years. And I remember him coming back, and we hadn't seen each other, we hadn't communicated with him for so long, that he was kind of a stranger. But it was kind of, I'm sure, a weird situation for all of us to have him come back and finally join us. It was hard; it was hard for my mother. Well, both of my parents.

VY: Did you remember your father when you saw him again?

FN: I didn't remember him, I didn't remember him. And so here's this stranger that comes, it took a while, it took us a while. So I think that we were kind of uncomfortable.

VY: And what was your relationship like with your grandfather when you were in camp?

FN: Well, it's because of my grandfather that we can speak a little bit of Japanese, because he used to always tell us fairy tales in Japanese, so we heard all those stories when we were children. We were close to him. But my grandfather was not a healthy man, he had physical problems like arthritis and rheumatism, and so he could not, when he became older, he could not work. And so that made it very, very difficult for him, and so he had a hard time. Nursery work does involve a lot of physical work. You do have to do quite a bit of physical work, so that made it very difficult for him. And we tried to help as much as we could, so I think that farmers and people that are in agriculture like us, tend to be healthier because we did have to do physical work. It's good for you. So that's very, very good. So I think we tried to work as hard as we could when we came back from camp. We children in our family were all still in school, so we still had to go to school, and by that time, my father had built the nursery enough that we did have people working for us, so that helped.

VY: I want to talk about that more, too. Let's go back to camp just a little bit, okay? When you were in camp, what kind of relationship do you think your mom and your grandfather had? Because this was actually your father's father, right?

FN: Right, my father's father.

VY: Did they have a good relationship?

FN: Well, I think that they had a good relationship. My mother, being an American citizen, took an active part in running the nursery. My mother, since she was an American, had the ownership of the nursery in her name.

VY: Was this before?

FN: Before the war. She was also the person who handled all the billing, and all the financial side of the nursery because she was the one that signed all the checks. And so, in our family, that really made a difference, that she was an American, because she had certain rights that other Japanese families did not have. They had to use their young children as owners of their property, or people that had the financial power over the business that they had. So my mother always worked hard in the nursery, she always knew exactly how the financial situation of the nursery was. So that was really important to my father.

VY: Okay, so it sounds like she was very important.

FN: She was, she was. My mother really was quite a woman. But you know, I would say, all of the nursery mothers in Richmond, they were all quite active in the operation of their nursery. I say that the men took care of the sales by going to the flower market. You know, when you're in agriculture, your work starts when the sun comes up. The men are at the flower market, the women have to get the work started on the nursery, so the women in the nursery families actually ran the operations because the men would be gone. And by the time they came home, mid-morning or at noontime, they had already done a full day's work. And they went to the bank and banked their income, they would do the shopping for the nursery, they would do the household shopping like the groceries, then they would come home. They needed a nap, so by then, it's mid-daytime, and so the women in the nursery business really had to work hard. Every single family, those women in Richmond and El Cerrito, they were all remarkable, I would say.

VY: So it really was teamwork, everybody in the family was very important to keep things working.

FN: Yes, yes.

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