Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Sue K. Embrey Interview
Narrator: Sue K. Embrey
Interviewer: Glen Kitayama
Location: University of California, Los Angeles
Date: September 11, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-esue-01-0002

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GK: About how old were you when you entered camp?

SE: I was, I had just reached eighteen in '41, I finished high school. So I guess by '42, I was nineteen when I went to camp. And I was, like I said, the sixth child in a family of eight, my mother was a widow and we all went with her.

GK: How did, how did camp affect your mother?

SE: Well, for one thing, I think she got... well, I'm not sure whether it was, it must have been arthritis, because her whole left side she was unable to move her arms, and we ordered dresses from the catalogs. You know, Montgomery Ward and Sears, (that) had buttons all the way down the front so we could get her dressed. And, but she used to walk a lot around camp, and she took part in, they had what they called utae, which is a capella singing, telling a story. She loved to sing, so she got involved with that. And later on she went to Red Cross classes where they rolled bandages for the army. And I think for her it was probably a good time, but she never talked about the fact that we lost our grocery store that she had bought after my father died. She always said it was better to be in business for yourself. And so here she was, left a widow with eight kids, and so she cashed in her insurance policy, and bought this little grocery store outside of Little Tokyo, and she really enjoyed being a businesswoman. And then when we lost that, it was a little over a year, year and a half maybe, after she bought it, that she lost it, she never mentioned it. But I think it really kind of killed her dream of becoming an independent woman. And we sold it to a young Mexican American couple, and they took care of it for a while. But she never really was able to get back into doing anything like that. I think that she probably was very disappointed about that, but she never, like I said, never mentioned it.

She got a lot of pressure during the time when everybody had to sign the loyalty oath. You know Question 27 -- "Are you, are you loyal to the United States, and would you serve in the armed forces?" And for the Issei, like my mother -- "Would you disavow your allegiance to the Emperor?" -- would have meant that she would have lost her citizenship. And so a lot of her neighbors and friends wanted her to sign and go to Japan. And she said, "But my kids won't go, so why should I go by myself?" And I think, you know -- and we told her we were all going to sign "yes" because we wanted to get out of there, and my brothers wanted to go into the service. So she was kind of in a quandary between her Issei neighbors saying, "Oh, you don't have the Yamato spirit. You're going to stay in America after they treated you so badly, and you're not going to Japan." So I think in the end she decided that she would stay in the United States, and so I guess she signed the loyalty oath the way she wanted to. But we had all told her we would sign "yes" on it. And she said, "After all, you're American citizens, so this is where you belong." And because she was alone, she felt she needed to be with us.

GK: What did she end up doing after the war?

SE: She refused to go to Chicago, where I had gone and my elder brother had gone, 'cause she said that, you know, it would be a strange place and she wanted to go back to Los Angeles. The other thing was that my sister had arrested TB and she came with us to Manzanar, but the dust and the bad food just wasn't conducive to her health so they sent her back to a sanitarium in Monrovia. And so we didn't see her for like three or four years. And my mother didn't want to go anyplace else. She said we would be abandoning her if we didn't come back to Los Angeles. So she stuck it out in camp until September, I think September of '45, and the camp was to close in November, and she, my younger sister finished Manzanar High School and came back to Los Angeles with a friend who had a hotel that she had leased out and she was going to get it back. So my younger sister then stayed with her, found a job and then my mother and my younger brother came out and settled in L.A. And she found a job, started working after she came out, but during the time she was in Manzanar, you know, my three brothers were in service, so it must have been pretty hard on her, but never complained. I think she was a pretty strong person inside. And once she decided she was going to stay here, and her kids were going to stay here, and sons were in the service, it was just, you know, just go on with life. She lived to be ninety-four.

GK: Wow.

SE: She went to the pilgrimages with me until she was ninety. So she went almost all of the pilgrimages from the -- not the first one, but all through the years. But she was a very strong Buddhist, so she felt that... the cemetery was there, she needed to go back and pay her respects to the people who had died in camp. But she never talked about any of the other stuff, about the bad food, or the terrible weather, or having her kids leaving her behind and resettling. I'm sure she talked about it with her friends when they sat around and reminisced about it, but, yeah. She always showed that she could do things, taking part in these a capella singing and doing other things.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.