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

<Begin Segment 1>

GK: My name's Glen Kitayama, and today is Thursday, September 11, 1997, and I'm here talking with Sue Embrey at UCLA's Sunset Village conference room. So, Sue, how are you enjoying the conference so far?

SE: Well, I think I finally settled down, it was a long trip coming here. [Laughs] It took me -- there was nothing on the freeway that I could see, but it was like 15 miles an hour, you know, we were going stop and go. I'm glad it's over. Sometimes it's nice to be the first one on. Sometimes it's not so good, but...

GK: [Laughs] So you were able to get it over with at least.

SE: Yeah, yeah.

GK: We were talking earlier about some of your camp experiences, so can you tell us where you went to camp?

SE: I lived just around Little Tokyo, so all of us went from there directly to Manzanar. Part of the reason was because my older brother had volunteered and was already there. We were all scheduled to go to Santa Anita, but at the last minute they sent directions, or instructions from the U.S. army that people who had relatives in Manzanar could go there (as) additional barracks had been built. So, I think basically that almost all of Little Tokyo went there. And some of my friends ended up in Santa Anita. I'm glad I didn't go there, because they said it was just terrible, with the horse stalls, and the smell of hay, and all that. But (at) Manzanar (had) new barracks and everything. Things, I mean, everything wasn't finished, but it was at least better than the horse stalls.

GK: Did any one of your family have to go there to help construct or...

SE: Yeah, my brother volunteered. They asked for 1,000 volunteers in early March, and so my brother quit his job and told my mother, "Well, if we have to go, maybe it'd be better if one of us went ahead and tried to make things a little bit better." And then we were worried that we wouldn't get there, because they were talking about our going to Santa Anita. But when the instructions came out that they had some room for people at Manzanar, my mother insisted that... so not only my family, but my in-law -- my brother was married, and he had an in-law family, we all decided to register (under) the same address and go together. So there must have between sixteen and twenty of us, you know, in-laws, and cousins, and all that.

GK: What were the conditions like at Manzanar?

SE: Well, we got there by train. It must have been around an eight-hour ride, so it was quite dark when we got to the station in Lone Pine. They picked us up by bus and took us to Manzanar, so we didn't really know 'til the next morning where we were, actually. And it turned out to be a fairly nice day until breakfast, and then the sandstorm came up and we could not see anything. And we were told to go and collect our suitcases, 'cause they didn't unload them the night before when we came in. So we all went out into this great big firebreak, and they just dumped the suitcases off the trucks, went back to the station to pick up some more. And so it was almost impossible to find our way back because every barrack looked exactly the same. There were no numbers on them in the beginning. And I can't remembered how we did, but we managed to get there. And it blew all day. That was the first, the first day we were there, and we thought, "Oh my gosh, is this going to be like this all the time?" And it was not that cold, it was early May, so it was just beginning to warm up.

GK: What were the winters like?

SE: Very cold. First year, I think '42, it didn't snow, so they were short of water, and they asked everyone to conserve. But in '43, it snowed, I think, on Christmas Eve, but I was already gone by then, so I don't... but the nights got very, very cold. It was about 3,500 feet altitude, so as soon as the sun went down it would get cold. Of course, the summers were very hot, and we were given a salt tablet a day to take so we wouldn't get dehydrated, and told to drink lots of water.

GK: Wow.

SE: So it got very hot in summer and very cold in winter.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

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.

<Begin Segment 3>

GK: What did you do in camp?

SE: Well, the first couple of weeks we really didn't do anything. People were looking for things to do, and the Maryknoll sisters came in from the Los Angeles Maryknoll Center, and they asked the administration about setting up a school, because this is the middle of May and a lot of the kids had been taken out of school to come there. So they found a couple of barracks, and they asked for help. So my sister-in-law had been going to UCLA and wanted to teach, so she said, "Let's go down and see what we can do to help them." And so we took care of the little kids, we had them sing, and we took 'em out to play, and... we're not a very well-organized activity, 'cause we had no books, there were no chairs or tables, and the sisters were just getting started.

So we did that for a couple of weeks, and then the administration announced that the camouflage net factory had been completed, and American citizens who wanted to help in the war effort could come and work there. So I decided that was what I wanted to do. So we were making these huge nets, they were ten by twelve, they hang from the ceiling, there's a pattern on one side and a blank net on the (other), and you just weave these colored burlap strips, green, and dark green, brown and follow the pattern. And so that went on for a while, and then in June or July, the farmers in Utah, Idaho said that they were going to lose their sugar beet crop because they had no help on the farms, and they wanted the people in the camp to volunteer and go out, so my brother and my sister-in-law went out to work in Idaho. And some of the people in the Manzanar Free Press went out, the young men that were working there, so someone said, "Gee, you know, there's a couple of openings for reporters on the Free Press." (...) They said, "You know how you like to write, so why don't you go apply for a job?" And I did, and I got a job as a reporter. And so I enjoyed that, 'cause I got to walk around the camp, find out what things were going on. You know, one block, I think, Block 6, people had finished building a fish pond and a rock garden, so I reported on that. And I reported on things that were happening elsewhere. And we had a sports editor who wrote about all the sports activities.

So by the time, I guess June, July, things were beginning to settle down. People figured, "Well, we have to be here, so might as well go on with life." Then we had, they had set up a co-operative and the government asked these co-operative enterprises groups across the country to come in and set up co-ops, so the co-ops (were) like a beauty shop, shoe repair shop, a barber shop, and what we called the canteens, it was like a little grocery store. And it was kind of self-operating. People buy stuff, and then the money is kept within the business. The Manzanar Free Press was one that was also part of the co-op, and we got funding from them and also from advertising. Sears Roebuck and some of the big companies advertised so that they could send things back and forth by mail. So that was set up and people were able to get some services. So that was an interesting time for me in terms of being able to write and do a lot of reporting, and ended up as people went on out of camp, all of us young people, the youngest of the group, got (promoted) and became the editorial staff and I became the editor for a while.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

GK: How long did you stay in camp?

SE: I was there -- let's see, I figured it out one day -- seventeen months and twenty-six days, so about a year and a half...

GK: So you left...

SE: I left in October of 1943. By that time, I guess by the beginning of '43, the WRA decided they really needed to get us all out of camp, because it was, first of all, costing the government too much money to feed us and to keep us there. And they were running ten different camps, so... they were encouraging people to go out -- women wanted to get married to soldiers, they would get their clearance and let them go out. And then students were going out to colleges back east, and with this temporary furlough thing going on with the farms, they thought might as well do it on a more permanent basis. So they set up this permanent relocation policy, so I applied to leave, and I got a job offer -- not a job offer -- an offer from the YWCA in Madison, Wisconsin to come and live there, and they would help me find a job. And I had already gotten letters from several friends who had moved to Madison, they were working, they were nurses working at the hospitals. And they said, "Oh, you know, it's so much nicer out here. Please come out." So I thought I'd do that. My brother, who had volunteered to come to Manzanar, was the first one of our family to leave also, he went to Chicago and he got a job there. So he kept writing to us and telling us, "So much better out here. There are plenty of jobs," so we should all come out. But we couldn't get my mother to leave, so I went out.

And in December '42 there was a riot in Manzanar, and most people didn't really, most of the people that lived in Manzanar didn't know that it was happening. It was just a group, a small group of maybe about 200 people, and it was over the lack of sugar, the disappearance of the sugar in the mess halls, and the mess hall (...) workers wanting to know what was going on. And then a JACL member had gotten beaten up because he had received permission to go out to a National JACL meeting, and everyone felt that the administration was playing favorites to JACLers because they were pro-administration. And so after he was beaten up, Harry Ueno was arrested on charges of being a suspect, the person who did it. And so they put him in prison in Independence, and the negotiating committee met to try to get him back to Manzanar and have some kind of hearing there. The crowd got unruly and went to the front entrance and (...) the MPs (were called out). And evidently, from what I've heard, they said somebody released a truck brake, and the truck headed toward the stone building, and the MPs got panicky and they shot at the crowd and two young boys were killed and several people were wounded. So after that things got really kind of uneasy for people, and I guess the government decided they needed to do something. So they started separating people and what they called troublemakers, people who wanted to go to Tule Lake and either go to Japan or just sit out the war, and people who had signed "no-no" to the loyalty oath.

I was -- they suspended the paper because it happened on December 6th, which was sort of an anniversary date for the attack on Pearl Harbor, and of course the newspapers made a big thing of it. But we decided to put out a Christmas edition and... so I was taking the copy, it had to be printed in Lone Pine or Bishop, because the printing presses were up there. So I was taking the packet to the Project Director's office, when I almost bumped into him, in fact, he threw open the door and I almost bumped into this military officer, and I looked up and he was my former high school teacher. He was now a captain of the MP, (the) group that they had sent in from Las Vegas after the riot. And so while we were talking, he said, "Have you made any arrangements to leave camp?" And I said, "Oh, they won't let us out now after the riot. They don't trust us anymore." "Oh, no," he said, "I've just been talking to Washington and I've talked to the Project Director. I told him 'I know these Nisei kids, and I've had them in my school, in classes. You must get them out of here.'" And he said he talked to Dillon Myer, and he said, "They're gonna go through with this project of getting everybody out," so he said, "I want you to make your application and try to get out of here. This is no place for you." So then he asked about some of the other people. I said, "Well, they're, most of them are in Heart Mountain," you know, because we got separated. But that was encouraging for me to hear that, so I decided I'm gonna apply and I got my clearance. But I didn't apply for a while because things were kind of uneasy, and so it was October of '43 before I actually left Manzanar, and there were about, I think, six of us were driven to Reno, and we caught the train at Reno, and went to Chicago.

GK: Did you have a choice to go anywhere you wanted?

SE: Yeah, uh-huh. Anywhere except back to California, or back to the military... I'm not sure that people were able to go to New York, I think a lot of them went to Chicago and maybe New Jersey and then they ended up, you know, after they'd been out a while go to New York. Because I think New York was also a military area. But I went to Madison, Wisconsin, first, and then I ended up in Chicago, 'cause my brothers were there. And then I was there until '48 when they, yeah, '48. Although the restrictions were lifted in '45, so you could back to California.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

GK: What did you do after you came back from Chicago?

SE: Let's see, I came back to (Los Angeles), from Chicago in '48. I found my family living in a two-room, I would say it was a shack, but it was a medium house, I guess, there was only two rooms. But it had no running water, everybody had to use the faucet outside, I guess. There were about one, two, three, about three or four different living quarters, and there was a house in front. Now, people who lived in the house in front had to keep their bathroom open so we could all use it to take a bath or shower. And I thought, "Oh, this is awful," you know, here they've been back for two years. "Can't you find a place to live?" "No, we haven't been able to find anything." And my mother actually wanted to buy something 'cause she had some savings, but not really enough to make a down payment, so... as soon as I got back, I went around looking for a rental, anything. It was amazing, I found a lot of discrimination again. You know, I would get on, take money with me, go to a public phone, 'cause they weren't building, they weren't making telephones yet, because the war had just ended and all of the companies had gone into war work, so they were converting, and so we applied because my brother was a veteran, and they were giving preference to veterans. But we didn't have a telephone, so I would go into these public phone booths, and call all these numbers in the papers, you know, advertising rentals. And amazing, the minute I said my name, "Oh, we don't rent to Japanese, we don't rent to Asians." Orientals at that time. Had a hard time looking for something. And then I thought, "Well, maybe we could try buying something." So I called the real estate agencies, and they'd say the same thing: "We don't sell to," you know, "we don't sell to Japs, we don't sell to Orientals." So then I thought, "Well, my mother likes to go to the" -- she's a member of the Koyasan Buddhist Temple -- "maybe I could find something around Little Tokyo." And south of, south of Little Tokyo there were some small houses a lot of black families had moved into. And I came across a three-bedroom house for rent. And I thought, "Oh, this is great." And so we moved in there, and so my mother lived there for a while until my brother bought a house in the Crenshaw area, and she moved out there with him. But in the meantime, in 1948 I came back, I went to work for L.A. County Health Department, and I was a secretary to the County Health Officer until about '52. I got married in 1950. I think after that I went, I went to work as a legal secretary and put my husband through school. And then after he finished, then I went to school. [Laughs]

GK: And where did, where did both of you graduate?

SE: Let's see, he got his degree in, Master's Degree in Psychology. He went to work at West (Los Angeles), Community College and I got my Bachelor's in English at Cal State L.A., and then I went for my Master's at USC and got my teaching credential. So we both ended up as teachers.

GK: Oh.

SE: Uh-huh.

GK: Interesting.

SE: Yeah.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

GK: I want to jump ahead to the 1960s and I remembered listening to you on the panel talking about the repeal of Title II movement. Was that your, were you involved in this, and...

SE: Yeah, I... (in) 1950 we moved to Echo Park, after we were married. And we got involved in the local Democratic politics and the mayor's race, and we were, you know, walking precincts and licking stamps and stuff like that. And I was not too much in touch with the Japanese community. There really wasn't anything going on, you know, the community centers hadn't been building up, and there was no JACL, so... I think there were, but they weren't very active. So, I had met Edison in, I can't remember, in one of these...

GK: Edison Uno?

SE: Uno, in one of these meetings and I was very impressed with him. You know, he was always thinking of things, issues that we needed to get involved in. And so I guess we contacted him, regarding trying to get Manzanar listed, you know, but that was not 'til '69. But around that time, I met Dr. Bob Suzuki, who was also active with JACL. He was a teacher, he was a professor at Cal Tech. He's an engineer by trade, I think, by experience. And he was involved in that Title II campaign also, and he got me involved in it. I'm not exactly sure how, unless some of my other friends called and asked me to get involved in it, or went to some meetings, and they said this was a very bad law and we wanted to get it removed. And I got, and I was with a small group of people that were working on it. And I remember that we wrote to Mike Masaoka about it and how we were going start this campaign, and he sent back this letter saying, "Don't do it." You know, "This is not the time to do it, we're gonna lose the section that will give citizenship to our parents, and we're gonna jeopardize the bill. We don't want anybody to do anything about it." But we went ahead and did it anyway, and Edison was really the major leader of the whole group.

GK: Was this the '60s?

SE: Yeah, this was the '60s, and I think prior to that there was a group of, there was a group of us, we formed the Nisei Progressives. This came out of the third party candidacy of Henry Wallace. Henry Wallace was rejected by (Roosevelt) to run for the next election, you know, as a team, and so he decided to form a third party and a friend of mine, who's very progressive person, wanted to start a group to support his candidacy, so we formed a group called Nisei for Wallace. And we were doing precinct work, and all. And he, the leader of the group, gave most of the impetus, because he had distributed petitions to sign us, to get on the ballot in California, and that was done. So he was very instrumental in talking about Title II being such a bad section of the law, we needed to get rid of it. And that the McCarran Walter Act was good because it gave citizenship to our parents, but then it also had this bill that would put people in camps, and he said we can't have that now. After all, we were just out of the camps. And so that's how, I think that was how I got involved. A friend of mine wanted me to get involved with the group. And I had admired Henry Wallace for his agricultural work. You know, he had done hybrid corn growing and done all kinds of experiments with crops in his, I think he's part of the Midwest. And so I thought, "Gee, I wonder, if he does something like that, maybe he'll be good as a president." So I went on, sort of on a personal level, but then I got involved in all these other things. And then when I went to UCLA to look for something, I ran into people like Kenyon Chan, who were active there, and he said they were putting on this pilgrimage in 1969, and would I be interested in going. I said, "When are you going?" And he said December. I said, "Oh, that's a terrible time to go. Gonna be so cold." But then he said, "No, we want people to feel that," you know. Well they did, it was a very cold day, it was the coldest day of the year in Owens Valley. And everybody was complaining that their cameras wouldn't work because it was so cold. And they didn't have warm clothing, and I think Jim Matsuoka and I were the only ones that wore long underwear, and bundled ourselves up.

GK: You and Jim probably being the, two of...

SE: Two older, yeah.

GK: ...the Nisei who were actually in camp. [Laughs]

SE: That's right, and probably I think we were the only few. I think Karl Yoneda came with his wife, but there weren't very many Nisei at that pilgrimage, it was the first one in '69. And I guess after that I sort of got involved. Warren wanted us to form a committee and start thinking about what we can do with Manzanar. So that's, gradually got more and more involved in that.

GK: That was Warren Furutani?

SE: Uh-huh, uh-huh, yeah. And let's see, who was organizing? Ron Wakabayashi was one, in the JACL, and then Bob Suzuki, of course, were all part of the group that decided the pilgrimage would be a good idea. That way people would get, you know, at least alert them to what's happening with Title II, and so that was the start. And I don't -- I think Title II didn't get repealed until about '71 or '72, something like that. Because I think you had to go through the Congress, and get a bill passed to repeal that, something like that.

GK: Right.

SE: So... but in the meantime I was still doing work on the local level. You know, I was part of the PTA, and I was part of the local clubs, and we were doing local elections mostly. Mayor's race, City Council race, things like that. Gradually got more and more involved with the Japanese community. As things developed, the clubs began to form, and ended up that way.

GK: Yeah. Did you end up working for, with George Takei's campaign for Mayor? Not Mayor, City Council.

SE: Yeah, I did. I really wanted him to be... yeah, I really wanted him to be elected. I went out and campaigned for him. And he was a really charismatic candidate, you know, he would have been good. But I guess, I don't know what it was that it ended up that he didn't win. Can't remember who was running against him.

GK: Cunningham?

SE: It was Cunningham, I guess, yeah. David Cunningham. But he turned out to be pretty good, but I was really disappointed that George didn't win. Yeah, it was kind of... I guess he's been active in other things.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

GK: When did you, when did you more or less take over, and I say take over, but become the Chair of the Manzanar Committee?

SE: I think it was after the '73 dedication of the plaque. Warren said well, he wanted to go on to other things. And we had a lot more members, you know, a lot more people involved in it, but most of them were very active in Civil Rights movement, so after that kind of finished, they all kind of went their own ways. Some of them were still in school, and then so when Warren left, and when he left the JACL, we couldn't use their address anymore for the Manzanar Committee, so it ended up that, you know, everything was coming. I said, "Well, you can use mine," and ended up with everything coming to my address. And gradually, I guess... we didn't really work at it, things just happened, I guess, that way. People come and help us that were interested in doing the pilgrimage. They're not interested in coming to meetings the rest of the year or doing other kinds of things. Going out and doing presentations and things like that in classrooms. I get other people to do that, I get people like William Hohri, and people in the valley, San Fernando, I have two or three contacts, I call them up and say, "There's a school that wants someone to come and speak." And they all do it, they enjoy doing that. William does the one out by the beach, the South Bay area. So that way I could spread it out to different people.

GK: So the Manzanar Committee, does it run year-round?

SE: Yeah, yeah. In fact, you know, the Park Service put our address on the Internet, so I've gotten letters, I've gotten two letters from Germany, one from England, (from people who) want information. And I've helped a lot of students. They participate in a National History Day contest every year.

GK: Yes.

SE: And each year, there's a theme. The first one that I helped was several groups here in California. And then one of the winners was a Sansei gal in Hawaii, and she had written me and sent me a questionnaire, and I answered it and sent her a packet of information. Came out number one in the National History Day contest. She interviewed like sixty people over the phone.

GK: Oh, my gosh.

SE: And she interviewed her grandparents and her parents, and got all this information. Then... that was geography in history, how does geography affect history? And she did a really good job on that, the fact that we were all in desert areas or swamplands and how the climate affected people's thinking, and you know, she asked all these questions, and did a very good project. And a gal in Texas called me, and interviewed Norm Mineta and I sent her a packet of information, and she interviewed me over the phone, gave her some tips on how to do an oral history with her grandparents. I said, "Be sure and interview them. You want to know what your family history is." She came out number three in that state contest. She won the regional, local one. And then the last one was a gal in Florida, at a U.S. Naval Station and her mother called, and said, "She has no information, could you send her stuff?" So I sent her some information and talked to her on the phone. She won the state contest. I didn't really get to talk to her, but I left a message on her phone. I thought it was really wonderful. She went to Washington, I think, I don't know how that turned out. A number of these young students I've helped, and they're really bright kids, and it's really, you know makes me feel that it's, continuing that people do have an interest. And all of them want to buy all the books they can get a hold of. [Laughs] And I give 'em the Museum bookstore number, I said, "Call the Museum." And they said, "Wow, will they send it right away?" "Well, tell 'em to send it, you know, special delivery or whatever." "Oh, I've got to have it, I've got to have that book." And so it's been an interesting experience. It would be nice if we had an office where somebody could do all that, but all of it pretty much comes to me, and then I just send them out to people if I think other people can answer it better. You know, if they want to interview a veteran, I call my friends in veteran's group and have them contact the student, and that way they get more out of them. In fact, the gal from Texas, I told her to find some survivors of the "Lost Battalion," you know, the 36th Division from Texas. I said, "You know, that's a local story you really should talk about." So she said she'd try. But places like that where they don't have any (...) Japanese living around the area, it's important I think to get them as much information as possible.

GK: Right.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

GK: So, what would you say was the main contribution of the Manzanar Committee to the redress movement?

SE: Well, I think that annual event kept the issue alive, kept, at least made more and more people aware that that thing happened, because a lot of people didn't know it even happened. And when I went to Chicago to live, they had seen some headlines -- some of the people that I worked with -- but they didn't really know the whole story. And when I told them, you know, they sort of sit there and like, "It really can't be true that this happened." And, you know, you say, "It did happen, it happened to me." And so I think that the publicity that's generated from it, and also having the reunions, going back to the other camps. In the cafeteria line today, this guy was standing next to me, picking out his salad, said, "You know, you were at that Gila River reunion." I said, "Yeah, the pilgrimage." He said, "We made $65,000 for the monument." I said, "You did? That much money?" He said, "Yeah, everybody who had been at Gila River or had connections gave us a donation." I said, "That's amazing." I said, "I wish we could do that at Manzanar." We don't get that kind of money, very seldom. You know, $100 donation comes out of nowhere, maybe $50, people gives us sets of photographs, you know, that they take and things like that, but none of them... I don't know whether it's because we've been going so long, or they think we have money 'cause we do it every year, I don't know. But I think all of that, in a sense, educated the Nisei.

You know, we were only nineteen, eighteen, nineteen when we went to camp. We were very naive. Politically, we didn't know anything. And even though we read about the Constitution and studied about the Bill of Rights, we didn't think of putting it into force. You know, very naive. And that's why it took so long, I think. But I think that having these pilgrimages and then people could see things outside their personal experiences, that it was a constitutional issue, not just a personal one. And that there were things that we could have done, you know, to ask for relief and we didn't do it. And that was because we were very naive, I think. We didn't have leadership, I mean, we were only eighteen. [Laughs] Our parents were actually our leaders, you know, they were still in charge of the families, and they were all pulled off by the FBI, so there really was no leadership. And a lot of people, you know, they don't say that. A lot of people are opposed to the JACL. They, you know, people have said to me, "They sent us down the river. Mike Masaoka took us from independence to captivity. He's the leader of JACL. You know, that's what he did." And I've heard JACL people say that about him. And when they came up with the idea of redress, it was mostly individual payments, and they sure didn't want a community fund handled by JACL. That was the biggest issue. I mean, nobody's mentioned those things. I think we're too polite to each other, you know. I expected fireworks. [Laughs] But I don't think it now, because when I was talking to Don Nakanishi, he says, "Everyone's worried about everybody attacking them." Different groups, you know, but I don't see that. I mean, they have a few things they say about JACL, but it's not really that much, you know, that harsh of criticism. Although one of the workshops, they said they went after Heart Mountain Fair Play Committee.

GK: Right.

SE: But that's not really part of the early years, you know.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

GK: Even though JACL came up with the idea for... or at least they're the ones who passed the resolution for $25,000 to each internee back in 1978, would the community have followed the JACL had they gone through with this, this proposal?

SE: Maybe if it were the only organization doing it, I think they would have. But see, they had NCJAR and they set up NCRR, and they had the court cases. I think all of that combined, coming almost on top of each other, helped it more. I think that NCRR did the most in terms of the younger people, and JACL had to convince their older members. 'Cause a lot of them were opposed to it. They just thought it would be welfare. "We don't want to take that money from the government." And you have to explain to them, it's not welfare, it's what you're entitled to, you know, you can sue someone for that kind of wrong that's committed against you. You do it for an automobile accident, you do it for personal injuries, it's part of the American system, and there's no reason to think that it was welfare. And I know some of the people that testified at the commission hearings asked for a lot more, individually, they felt they lost more, and they wanted... one, I know one young man asked for a million dollars, 'cause he said he lost his younger sister, and that he suffered tremendous racism when they moved out to Idaho on the farms. He said he was, "I would rather have been working on the farm with my dad than going to school because it was such a terrible time for us."

And so I think if JACL had been the only group, they probably might have gotten more other kinds of leadership besides Mike Masaoka. Because a lot, I think, depended on his decision. And he was very much against redress in the beginning. And I don't know if people know that he was the one that cut out the sibling receiving the money -- brothers and sisters -- but only the children and the parents. Because he didn't want the people who went to Japan to get it, in case the families were separated and one brother got redress, and he died and he was gonna leave it to his other siblings who were in Japan, because Mike Masaoka thought they were all disloyal. He never considered that there was family reasons for people to go, or that people were really disillusioned with the United States because of what they did, and they were gonna go to Japan. It was not a matter of disloyalty. But he was not brought up in a Japanese community. In our workshop they kept talking about the cultural heritage of being, you know, reticent about talking about your experience, about complaining, about asking for redress. Mike Masaoka did not grow up in a Japanese community. He was a Mormon. He grew up in Utah among hakujin, you know? So I don't think he understood that family obligations sometimes mean a lot more to people, you know. And that he had no right to expect that, or to believe that every one of them who went to Japan was disloyal. Because I'm sure a great majority were not. You know, they went because their parents had to go. A lot of them came back -- and they were minors, too. But see, they lost out on the redress because of that.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

GK: What would you say were the contributions of the different organizations? Say, starting with NCJAR?

SE: Well, I think NCJAR's class-action suit was good because it, I think, made the Nisei believe that you could do something by law, through the legislative, I mean, through the judicial system. And that, even though it didn't win as it went along, they still got appeals, you know, they were able to get appeals through. And then when it got to the Supreme Court, I think it's kind of validated their feeling that they had some good reasons to ask for redress. That it was not just a frivolous lawsuit, that people were just asking for money. But that they really had suffered and they really deserved to get it. And I think that was good, and then having that followed by the coram nobis cases also helped. And when they set it aside, of course, that was even better. Because, I think a lot of them believed in the system, but they weren't quite sure it was going to work for them. And then on the other side, you had NCRR doing the lobbying, which most Nisei never did. And I think that was good, 'cause it made them realize that you can go to Washington, and you can fight City Hall on some issues. Although I think most of us never believed it would happen. You know, we really didn't think it would be possible. Because, first of all, mostly, you know, Republican Congress. Everything that happened to redress and Manzanar being a historic site, and some of the other things, all were done under a Republican Congress. And it was a Democrat, Franklin Roosevelt, who signed the Executive Order, you know? Ford did the American Promise, invalidating E.O. 9066, and Bush signed the redress letter, he also signed the Manzanar bill. And let's see, before that, what did we have?

GK: Does that, would you say that that says more about them, or does it say more about the community?

SE: Well, I think it's both, because the community really lobbied, they really lobbied in Congress, and that helped. All the letters that went out and the contacts people made, and we were also, in a better position with some of the -- because we had congresspeople in Congress. In '42 we didn't have anybody. We had no leaders at all, even in local offices. So that by the time the redress bill got to Congress, we had Mineta, we had Matsunaga, we had Dan Inouye, we had Norm Mineta, although Norm told us in a meeting years, in 1980, that no way we were gonna get redress. He said, "You should see all the hate letters I get from my constituents." He says there's no way that we're gonna get it. That's why they were so lukewarm on it in the beginning, 'cause they were afraid they were gonna get defeated, they wouldn't get elected again. You know, all of them felt that way. And I know Bob Matsui said at our Manzanar reunion in 1980, was it '88, yeah '88, said, "If you talked about redress or camp before 1980, you would never had heard me say anything. I wouldn't have come to (...) make a speech like that here." He says, only since 1980, he said, that we really got moving on it. So even though a lot of things were happening, they were sort of happening, sort of as a prelude to the big push later. And once JACL got in there, and NCJAR filed the class-action suit, and the NCRR formed nationally, I think it really helped to have all three of them. Although I'm sure there was a lot of competition, you know, a lot of criticism back and forth about JACL not helping, taking all the credit after everybody else did the work, and all that.

GK: Is that your sentiment?

SE: Yeah. People tell me JACL worked hard -- I'm sure they did. I supported them, I went to their fundraisings. They had the Legislative Education Committee going, and they raised a lot of money. But since I had been helping San Fernando, I knew that there were people that really worked on redress. But I think they felt the same way, that JACL always gets on the bandwagon later and takes the credit.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

GK: What would you say is the legacy of the redress movement?


SE: Well, I think the legacy is, for the Nisei, if they hadn't been aware of it before, that they can use, that they should use their rights as citizens to ask for relief. So, you might lose maybe, but at least you may take, you know, you have to take that chance. And it's like Henry said, that some of his non-Japanese friends kind of, didn't respect us because we weren't fighting for what we thought was right, and that we were being so quiet and taking all that, I guess, on the chin. And also, I think, for the future generations, gives them some feeling that, "Well, our parents did it. You know, they suffered, but they went back and they fought, they took a stand." And that was important, because I used to feel very lonesome in some of these political groups, because I was always the only Japanese American. You know, and I'd say -- and they would say to me, "How come some of your other friends aren't here?" And I'd say, "Well, they don't, you know, they're not interested in politics." "But it's so important, you know, it's so important to take a position," and, "Yeah, but you know." And that was, maybe one or two people I would see at some of the these fundraising events and other things, and I guess it wasn't until maybe the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations that I saw a lot of Asians. But before that it was like, you know, very lonesome, yeah. And I think part of it is because we were pretty naive in '42.

GK: Right.

SE: We were young, we were not in any leadership position, and like Aiko said, we didn't know what hit us when it happened. And it took us a long time to really confront what had happened, and you don't like to say, "Oh, your government did this to you." When it's your only country, you don't like to say, "Oh, they did me wrong," and you don't like to admit that, so... I think part of that was the Nisei psyche, they're passing on a legacy to the third and fourth generation, and we did take a stand, we did ask for redress and we did get it, and maybe not as many Nisei as the Sansei and Yonsei, but there were some of us there. I think that's a legacy that's important. Maybe someday they'll put it in the textbooks. [Laughs] I still haven't seen much of that.

GK: I remember Bob Matsui once stating at a Day of Remembrance that "the challenge for the Japanese American community is to move beyond redress and into other issues." Do you think that since passage of the redress bill that the Japanese American community has done that?

SE: I think that some of them have. I'm not sure that the whole community, you know, has moved forward. I think it's important for them to take issues like on the immigrants' rights and the welfare reform, because it affects us. It's not something that's way over on the other side. It does affect our parents, and it affects people that have been here, especially the welfare reform bill. And there are other issues. Yesterday on, Jim, was it Jim Lehrer's News Hour, they talked about the Asian bashing, and they had several people they interviewed. And I guess this one gal, she used to work for the JACL in Washington, Karen? Her position was that there's a lot of Asian bashing as a result of this investigation into the Democratic National Committee campaign fundraising. On the other side, this lawyer said, "If people did something wrong, they need to pay for it, and then it's not Asian bashing because he happens to be Chinese." John Huang is who he's talking about. He says, "If you don't do things right, that's too bad, you have to pay for it, and you should not call it Asian bashing." But at the other side they're saying, you know, they can't tell us any different from people from foreign countries, and their racism is apparent here. And so you have the two views. But I hope that, I hope that the Sansei who did the lobbying, who got into the experience of writing letters, you know, will continue that, because I think there're lot of issues out there, and they need to be addressed. And it goes beyond redress, yeah.

GK: Is there anything else that you'd like to add before we have, before we run out of time? I think we have about five minutes?

SE: No, I don't think so. I think all of it, you know, a combination of everything brought this redress victory, and I always tell people that getting the Manzanar bill passed is like putting the maraschino cherry on top of the whipped cream. Because we got the redress bill, we got the commission hearings, we got the coram nobis, and the Hohri vs. U.S. went all the way to the Supreme Court, all those things combined really, sort of, not exactly make up for what happened in '42, but in a way makes it a level, kind of a level field. And I think we came out pretty good in spite of all the things that happened fifty years ago, fifty-five years ago.

GK: Okay. Thank you very much, Sue. It's been a pleasure interviewing you.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.