Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: May K. Sasaki Interview
Narrator: May K. Sasaki
Interviewers: Lori Hoshino (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 28, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-smay-01

<Begin Segment 1>

LH: Kind of wanted to get an idea of -- I know you were born in Seattle, but... and your father worked over in the U District -- but were you living over there also?

MS: I was born, I'm sure I was born in the U District, and then we moved back down into the International District, but that's, as I recall, I think I was born there. I was born at one store and all I remember is that when they came to tell the news to my dad, he said, "Was it a boy or girl?" And they said, "It's a girl." And he kept on stacking the cans up, he didn't even care. Because he wanted another boy.

LH: Another boy? But he already had four.

MS: I know, but see, in Japanese culture, the males are always highly regarded, so then, and that's what everyone kids him about, you know, that he just kept stacking the... you know how you stack the can up in the pyramid style -- he kept on doing that, didn't miss a beat. But if it had been a boy, he probably would have stopped and gone. Now I was born in, at home so I'm trying to remember where, but we had a midwife at that time. You know, you didn't go to the hospital.

LH: That was a common practice?

MS: Yeah, uh-huh. Midwives were, and it was also common practice for the wives to stay on their back for almost a month. They were not allowed up, so they usually had friends come over, and at that time my sister was brought over when they knew my birth was impending because she was to be the nanny to take care. Because that was the practice; the women were supposed to stay on their back for a month, and the midwife and family members and whoever just helped. My dad says he had to wash diapers and stuff. [Laughs] But that's what I recall. But I think it's either born there or here, I just can't remember but I know we had a store because he kept on stacking the things.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

LH: So you were, your family lived where the, in the store, in the back of the store?

MS: In the International District, we lived right above the store, you know, Jackson Grocery, Nakamura Grocery was right on Jackson Street. It was in the, I think the old... we lived in the Togo Hotel, I just remember that, and if there's still a Togo Hotel that's right above from there on Jackson. But we lived right above and then the grocery store was down below, so...

LH: I'm trying to get sort of an idea of the time and the location where you were born and the makeup of your whole family at that time. Weren't you the youngest?

MS: Yeah, I'm the youngest, so I don't know, maybe it was at... but, you know, that picture of the store was taken shortly after I was born, right? 'Cause the date's on there and think that was '37 or something like that on the pictures.

LH: Was that Nakamura Grocery on Jackson?

MS: Uh-huh, Nakamura Grocery, so I don't know where, what place it was... just in my mind I always thought I was born over there and then we just simply opened the store down there but it could have been... you know, you never ask your parents where you were born. [Laughs] All I know is in Seattle.

LH: And then your sister was brought over to be your nanny?

MS: Well, she was brought over earlier to take care of my other -- and so at that time I didn't know who she... I mean, I thought she was an aunt or someone older. I didn't know until later that she actually was my half sister because she was, she spoke Japanese like the older people did and...

LH: How much older than you was she?

MS: Well, she must, right now she's at least ten or ten... maybe ten or fifteen years around my senior because at the time she always just felt old to me. [Laughs] Let's see, how old would she be? Because she would have to be that age 'cause then she started going to the school that immigrants, non-English-speaking kids had to, so she could start learning Japanese -- I mean, English, and stuff like that. So all I remember is she was there and then she was there to take care of us 'cause she told me that later. She said, "You ought to be glad that I came over to take care of you guys." [Laughs]

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

<Begin Segment 3>

LH: And then from what I understand, your family had sort of an unusual makeup?

MS: Yeah, both my parents were married before. My mother was widowed when she first was over here. She was working in the lumber camps with her husband and he had appendicitis, and at that time they actually just put 'em on the table there and operated and it was very unsanitary and therefore he died of infection. At the time, she was pregnant so she had to go back to Japan 'cause she had no one here to help her. And then my dad, in the meantime, was already here, they didn't know each other. But he was married, had a wife that he had left back in Japan along with Chiyo and her brother. Because he was working he got... he came here first as a young man, he went back, got married, and then he came back working for, I think it's Takahashi Import, and, you know, that kind of work where you go back and forth. So he didn't see any point in bringing his wife over here since his mindset was that he was going to be back in Japan.

LH: Shortly?

MS: Yeah, uh-huh, all the time. Something happened to their marriage and so then they were divorced. And so then, then there was a baishakunin, which is an older woman that arranged marriages, and they arranged a marriage between my mother and my dad 'cause by that time my mother had come back to the United States knowing that a widow with one child doesn't have much chance of getting anywhere. They were very poor and she needed to find some way of making a living and then eventually have her son come over here. Well, they got together, they got married and had the family. In the meantime, her son was being raised by her mother back in Japan and then in the meantime he was starting this family with her here and it was growing and times were hard, yeah.

LH: Your oldest sister is, your oldest sister is a half-sister on your father's side?

MS: Uh-huh.

LH: I see, and then you have an older half-brother on your mother's side?

MS: That's right, that's the one that was being raised by the grandmother. And then when the grandmother got too old, then my mother went back to Japan to bring him back but not to have him live with us. Because, you know, we were very poor, and he had already three of us and then a daughter that he had brought over to take care of us. So the idea was the best opportunities would be provided for him if he lived with an aunt and uncle who were childless and had -- they were quite well-to-do, in Denver.

LH: Oh, in Denver?

MS: Uh-huh. And so he was brought there immediately going from Japan straight to Denver.

LH: How old was he at the time?

MS: He must have been high school, well, maybe older. He was old enough because I have pictures of him. It's hard to tell because they dress him up even if they're younger and he...

LH: Old enough to understand the situation.

MS: Oh yeah, because I heard later that -- you know, they don't share these things with us, we didn't, I didn't know what was going on. I just wondered well, maybe he was supposed to live over there. But I...

LH: Your parents told you about him?

MS: Yeah, that there was a brother. That's because... I guess we... just enough to let us know that there was another brother there. And that's how the story came out about how -- 'cause I had no idea that she was married before -- and had... and then she told me later that, of the lumber camp and everything. I was just amazed because she was brought there and they figured, well, you can't have anyone there that doesn't work, so she became the camp cook. And she never cooked bread, she was just used to Japanese food, and she had to learn how to make bread and Western kinds of food and I guess it was... that's why I marvel at how they were able to adjust to the situations that happened.

LH: Difficult time and she seemed to have adapted pretty well.

MS: Yeah, I think so. I felt that her being widowed by the death of her husband when she was pregnant, I mean, she was a strong woman to have withstood all of that. Then went back to Japan, had the baby, left, and...

LH: So how did the brother in Denver feel about his situation?

MS: Oh, he was so hurt and I didn't know about this until later. He came to visit us at camp because people in Denver did not have to be interned. See, it was the West Coast. And he came to visit us and at that time he was talking to me 'cause I hadn't really met him.

LH: Quite a bit older.

MS: Yeah, and then I was kidding -- you know how young kids would kid -- and say, "Oh, there's my favorite sister." And there was a picture of her and she was very attractive. And he said, "You don't have a picture of me." And I said, "No," because we didn't. And then he got, he got very upset that he was not at all even counted as a part of the family, and I'm sure it wasn't that -- it was just that he didn't live with us. Now, my sister was not actually living with us at that time. She was in camp but not with us. She was with her first husband's family, so she was in camp. So it was still that we were together in sorts, but he never went to camp.

LH: I see, your family was separated in more than one sense.

MS: Yeah.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

LH: But then you also had full brothers.

MS: Yeah, my two brothers, 'cause they were a little older than me. My next brother was just a year older than me and then my oldest brother, full brother, was about four years, five years from me. So, now that's the one I'm telling you that kind of got, he was... older kids were kind of left to their own devices a lot and they took advantage of that freedom to experiment on doing all kinds of things. Stretching their freedom to whatever, so I think that's where he learned to be very independent, didn't listen to my dad too much anymore. And so when he came back to Seattle from camp, he really got into trouble. And the thing that saved him was that he volunteered for the air force. 'Cause by then, he kept getting kicked out of schools and it was pretty bad.

LH: I'd like to, I'd like to explore that a little bit more when we talk about the camps. And what can you tell me about your other brother?

MS: George? He was just a year older than me so his experiences were closer to mine and he was closer in terms of, shall we say, following our parents' directions. We were very obedient, so he and I were closer in that. I think he sowed his wild oats later.

LH: Oh, he's older than you also?

MS: Yeah, one year.

LH: I see, oh, very close in age.

MS: Yeah, I was the youngest and then had two brothers. So we were, in fact, we were almost eleven months separated between us but my oldest brother -- and it had to do with the friends and having the ability to form these small gangs. And the gangs get into their own life of their own so I do recall that 'cause my, I recall my mom and dad muttering about how he was getting, learning bad habits and things like that. And that's true, I think he just... and that whole group, they weren't bad. They just were not willing to toe the mark and to go school and study and things like that. I think that just carried over 'cause I don't think any of them went to -- I'm just trying to remember whether they ever went to college or went that way. A lot of them went into the service or went into some other fields but never were into studying or academics or anything.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

LH: So for yourself, then you felt that you were more obedient as a child?

MS: Yeah, I think it was because I was so young that you kind of stayed with younger kids who were a little, at least the friends, neighbors, even if your own parents, there was like they watched for you. And then you were young enough so they can tell you what to do and then you kind of obeyed them.

LH: Is that part of the culture?

MS: Yeah, I remember always having other older women, obachan, not 'obaachan' but (obasan), just older women that could tell us what to do and we would snap to it because you just did it. [Laughs] I found that it's funny because even when I was adult and married and had my own kids, when I ran into them I felt like a little kid again because they reminded me of the times when they were... if my mother wasn't there, they could tell me what to do and I would have to do it, which was fine. You know, it was like, kind of like what Hillary Clinton is talking about now. "It takes a village to raise a child," and that's so true. If we had more of the caring adults all over that kids would respond to, and then I think that would help. So I think that helped us.

LH: It was the situation that existed at the time and maybe doesn't exist currently?

MS: Uh-uh, uh-uh.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

LH: Yeah, well, what'd I like to find out about is going back to your family, what your father and mother did for a living.

MS: Well, since I was born into his already established, what his career was, he was owner of grocery store. He worked for a grocery store in the University District owned by hakujins but after he wanted to branch out on his own, I think he tried doing some in the University District but you didn't get the customers there so he knew he had to go to the Japanese International District.

LH: Now, wasn't that a little unusual for him to be away from the center of the Japanese population?

MS: I think he started there because he had an opportunity from the white owners who he -- and I don't know how he met them -- but all I know is that from pictures of his being with the other owner of the store and everything, this is where he got his training to be in grocery store business, I guess.

LH: So he spoke English fairly well, then.

MS: Yes, yes, that was a wonder to me. He spoke English, and he wrote English very well. He did have some accents but he spoke very well for someone of his age and time.

AI: So he was able to communicate well with the other colleagues and the owner and the customers but you mentioned that he wasn't able to get the customers in the U District. Why was that?

MS: I think it still boils down to there is still a lot of discrimination and, you know, there's no way to explain that. Just that he didn't seem to get the customers that the other stores down the road would get that were owned by Caucasians, so he realized... and then there's a need down in the International District to have a store so I think the two coincided where he opened up that store. And it was quite a well-known store, from what I understand. He had there, other people have come up to me and they, "Oh, Nakamura-san," and "Nakamura Grocery?" And I said, "Yeah," so there are various Nakamuras but at least we were remembered as the grocery Nakamura.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

LH: So, as a child, do you remember -- excuse me -- do you remember wandering around amongst the goods in the store?

MS: Oh yeah, I was little but I do remember being there. I do also remember that we were broken into because they did it by breaking into our quarters up above the store. They actually bore a hole in the floor and they dropped down into the store, and I don't know when they did that because we were always at one place or the other but apparently --

LH: Your family was living there?

MS: Yes, yes.

LH: People are coming and going.

MS: That's right, but I guess it was, occurred at a time when we were closed or something because I just remember the hurrying and scurrying and everybody, you know, all this bedlam and then they found out that this man had actually made a hole in the floor, corner of the room, and dropped onto the fruits that are piled. I don't what he came --

LH: And what did he try to steal?

MS: I don't know.

LH: Did he steal things?

MS: I don't know, all I know is that they said that dorobo, you know, "robbers," and I never knew exactly what was taken because we were not rich and everything that, any money that was there was always run back into the produce and everything else and so there was very little cash that was available. But...

LH: It's a little unusual that he was able to get in. Was everybody in the family working in the store?

MS: Well, yeah, or we were too young and then we usually either stayed upstairs or down so I can't, to this day, imagine how it was done. But apparently -- and there is this conjecture that it was someone that knew us, you know, a family friend or something, so...

LH: Within the Japanese community?

MS: No, but see, it was a hotel right above us. And there was, at times, when my sister had to go out or something. I mean, you had to give her her break. She had to be -- then we did have this one guy that used to come in and baby-sit, too. And I do remember that. So they all said, well, maybe... but he was such a nice, loving -- he wasn't Japanese, he was a Filipino man.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

LH: Well, I did want to ask you about your interactions with non-Japanese and non-Japanese Americans. Did you have much contact with...

MS: Not too, not too much, as children I don't remember that at all. 'Course, that was young enough so I didn't venture too far from home so the only one I remember is in the hotel.

LH: The people that you saw on a daily basis were primarily Japanese American?

MS: Yeah, I would think so, that's all I remember. At least that's... I'm sure there were non-Japanese, too. There had to be.

LH: Since your parents were speaking Japanese -- well, your father spoke English -- but were they speaking to you in Japanese all the time?

MS: Oh, yeah.

LH: Did you know any English?

MS: My sister did and I.. I learned English when I went to Maryknoll because they started, I mean, that's what they talked, so that's when I started learning. And then my brothers would bring home -- they didn't want to speak Japanese at home. So they would start -- and my mother picked up words, too, because you have to because they wouldn't talk to her. [Laughs]

LH: And so she spoke to you in English at times?

MS: Well, at times, yeah, so I wasn't completely isolated from English.

LH: And then Maryknoll was a nursery school?

MS: Yeah, it was a nursery school.

LH: Was it very far from your house or your grocery store?

MS: Yeah, because I remember riding on something. Either someone picked me up or some [inaudible] member going to that place and I don't remember. I couldn't walk that distance 'cause that was, would have been twenty blocks.

LH: And were the kids there other Japanese American kids or were there Caucasian kids there also?

MS: I can't remember, 'cause, being that young. All I remember are the nuns that took care of us. And I remember two, one who was very, very stern and I guess you always remember those, Sister Consolata. And I remember Sister Denise who was the nicest, sweetest -- and she was the nursery nun and she's the one that helped... I think she got me out of diapers from what I understand. [Laughs]

LH: You have a good memory for names.

MS: Yeah, well, there's two that had an imprint and then Father Tibesar, of course, was the father in charge of Maryknoll.

LH: He's quite well-known...

MS: Yes, he was wonderful. I just remember him as a big man. When you're little everyone looks big anyway. But that's where you picked up some of the language.

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

<Begin Segment 9>

LH: Now, how old were you at the time when Pearl Harbor came?

MS: I guess I was about six. Just turned six, I think.

LH: And how did you first become aware that something was happening, something was wrong?

MS: Well, I think you could sense the parents' and adults' anxiety, and there was a lot of hushed tones and conversations. They didn't want to really involve us as kids because they knew we would have no understanding of this. I do know that there was all this -- they seemed to be very unhappy, a lot of arguing, a lot of hustling around trying to get organized is all I remember. And we seemed to be in the way, I just remember that.

LH: Did you overhear any of the arguments?

MS: Well, I know one of the major arguments was that my dad wanted to go back to Japan because he felt that America was not a good place for us to be at that time. And my mother absolutely refused to go back. She says, "There's nothing there for us," so she said, "No," and he kept insisting. And up until then my dad was always the decision maker. Everything he said, went. So it was kind of surprising to me that I could hear her voice raised, the first time, and when she said, "No, you could go back but I will keep the kids and I will stay here." And I guess he knew that she was serious at that point. So I think it took place, he changed his mind, after we were visited by some FBI agents. Apparently all the people were being visited in various households.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

LH: But your father had... there was a reason why the FBI came to see your father?

MS: Because he was recognized as one of the leaders of his kenjinkai, Kagoshima. They were all groups in the Japanese community and my husband was a Kagoshima-ken person. And...

LH: Your father.

MS: And he was a spokesman for that group. Well, all the different leaders of the community, they even took reverends, they took presidents of organizations, people who were designated as people that could lead the community one way or the other, were visited. And many of them were just taken away. So there was this system of people calling each other and just warning them that they were on their way to your place.

LH: So it wasn't a complete surprise when they showed up at your door?

MS: No, no, no, it wasn't. They knew that eventually, everyone kind of knew that eventually if they had someone, a father that seemed to have a role in the community then that person will be visited, too. So then when they finally came to our house, I remember being in the other room with my two brothers and my mother. And there were these two big guys that came and were talking to my dad about this. And then my mother told me, she whispered in my ear, in Japanese, to run over there and grab hold of Papa and start crying. And then she told the other two, my two brothers, to go there and just look very sad. So then we did as we were told. I didn't quite understand why we were doing this, but at that point you do what your parents tell you to do and especially what Mama said. So I ran over there and I grabbed a hold of his pant legs and I started crying and hollering, and then my brothers were there holding onto Papa. And my dad was startled. But then he saw the effect it had on the FBI agents. They kind of looked, you know, and everything, and they had all this bedlam and crying and everything going on. So finally they left and then after, I was to learn that my mother had purposely planned this, that she would have us kids run over there and make such a scene that they would think twice about -- because actually it was left up to each of the visitors to determine whether that person would be, one to removed. And I guess at the beginning when they started picking people up they didn't know this. And later on they began to see that these are human beings that are doing this. Even if they are told their orders are to go and grab a person, they couldn't help but be affected by a family man or something.

LH: Your mother used some quick thinking.

MS: That's right. I think she... my mother had some reserves in her that she never showed us until it really was necessary, like standing firm about not going back to Japan and then at this point doing that. But she never really used that too often. I always thought of her as very passive and submissive.

LH: But as a result, what happened to your father?

MS: Oh, then he thought about that and he said, you know, if he's going to have to stay here and he's going to beat this and survive this, he's going to become 150 percent American although he wasn't. He was still an alien. He said he's going to be one of those loyal aliens and he's going to show the United States government how loyal he is. So...

LH: From that point?

MS: From that point on.

LH: And what happened to the FBI people?

MS: I don't know. They never came back.

LH: And your father didn't have to go?

MS: No, he didn't have to go. So my mother has often said when they're arguing about something and he's saying she's wrong, then she says, "Remember the time..." [Laughs] And so she really knew in her mind that there, they had to do something to stop this because all these families that were left without their fathers and husbands, that was really tragic. But they knew that they were trying to cripple the community from mounting any kind of protest that way. Not that I think we would have protested at that time. I don't think it was within the group to do that. Because, not because they were not strong. It was that they knew that given the situation they're in, that they're going to have to deal with it in the best way they can, and to fight against it might mean that they will be all killed or all jailed and their families.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

LH: So the time came for the evacuation. How did, how did your parents tell you what was happening, that you had to leave your home?

MS: Actually, they never really told us. We just kinda knew and the kids, older kids would talk about it. And they're the ones that told us that we were -- at least me -- that we're going to be moving. And that we don't know where, but it's gonna be a camp. And so in my mind it was supposed to be like a camp that you would go to for summer camp or something that I heard of 'cause I'd never gone to one. I was too young yet. But the older kids had learned about camps and things like that. And I knew in my mind that I wasn't supposed to ask because of the way my parents were dealing with this. I knew it wasn't a happy thing for them. Everything was... before, I remembered my life as being relatively carefree. Now I knew that I had to be very careful about how I acted with them, not to bother them, not to ask them too many questions because they had things weighing on their mind. So as a youngster, no one really has to tell you some things. You just kind of know that there's something amiss but it'll play itself out.

LH: So as a six-year-old, how did you handle getting prepared for the evacuation and going down to the bus?

MS: Actually, I didn't. All I knew was one day my parents were packing things up. And I figured, well, that's their job to pack things up and get it ready for us. But when it came down to the fact that we were gonna go, she just told me to pick up what I wanted to bring with me and to take that. They didn't expect me to carry packages for them, which was kind of sweet of them.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

LH: Do you recall what you took?

MS: I do remember I had a doll. That's all I remember. I had a doll in one hand. I had a package in the other hand because each, both hands were kind of filled. But that's all I remember. I didn't realize that we would never come back, it would never be the same and the number of years. I just thought it would be, you know, a little momentary thing so that I can always come back if I wanted. So I never weighed what is more important to me. I just took what I thought was -- I'd like to have my doll, so I remember taking that. I don't remember what my brothers took, I don't know if they remember it. I just remember my parents bringing boxes that they... and then the suitcase that they carried.

LH: And they had to get -- many people had to quickly settle their affairs. What happened to your father's business?

MS: He left it in the hands of a neighbor who promised that he would take care of -- and by then we had a fourplex -- and at that point, he said, he was right next door, he said, "Well, we'll take care of it for you, so don't worry. When you come back, it'll be here."

LH: So this is a hakujin or Caucasian neighbor?

MS: That's right. And of course, you don't have that much time to look around for any other resources, so we had our things stored in the building, anything that we couldn't take with us. We thought it would be safe, and we took the things apparently that my father and mother felt were important for them, you know, right away you need. So all I remember is that. And I was very carefree -- I know my parents found it hard -- but I was very carefree at the time because we were gonna go somewhere and do something different, and as a youngster, those new adventures are kind of exciting.

LH: Would you say there was a sense of excitement about the whole prospect of leaving?

MS: For me, there was, well, you accept whatever is going to happen anyway, but I thought, "Gee, I wonder what this is gonna be like?"

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

LH: Do you recall any description of what it looked like when you got to the bus?

MS: Oh, well, all I remember is that one morning we were told to get ready and get our things and we were supposed to all meet at this bus stop and then I was startled because there was so many other of my friends were there, too. And oh, this is going to be fun. And we got in the bus and I remember -- see, bus rides were fun for me 'cause I didn't have those things too often, so the only thing, the only thing that's really foreboding about it as I recall is that there were always uniformed soldiers around us. And I wondered about that because that hadn't occurred either, but I just thought, well...

LH: Do you recall, were they armed?

MS: Yes, yeah. All the soldiers we saw were armed. Anyway, we got on the bus and then we all went to a point where -- we didn't go straight to Puyallup, the assembly center. We were then dropped off at another point where a larger group of us were there by then. And then we were all tagged with tags, that told us our family and things like that and information so that if any of us got lost, if families got lost, they could find each other, I guess. And at that time, I believe they must have already assigned the areas, the areas A, B, C that I recall in Puyallup, that we were assigned to Area B.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

LH: So you arrived at Puyallup. And when you entered, do you recall any of the way it looked?

MS: Well, you know, it was a former fairgrounds, which I had never been there before, so I didn't know. But the one thing I remembered was the animal smells, you know, that's how fairs are. You have your animal smells. I remember that. That was very different for me, and then the living quarters, of course, were some of the stalls and some of the buildings. But we had one of the row of stalls and so therefore the smells were greater there. And I remember that there were cots and, for some reason, some kind of mattress. It wasn't the kind of mattress I was used to but, and then army blankets. And then we had the bare lightbulb hanging from the ceiling. And each stall is yea big, and there weren't ceilings. They did not come to the top, so the walls, excuse me, didn't come to the ceiling. So you could see all the way across. If you climbed up on something high, you could see all the way to the other end, and voice traveled all the way through.

LH: So you're all there together with your mother, your father, your two brothers, and yourself. And in a barrack?

MS: Yes, we had one. [Laughs] It wasn't even a barrack -- it was a stall. It literally was a stall. And they told us it was temporary, so they just had to get us all assembled there so that they'll know which camps we're going to. So we had an idea that this was temporary and that's where we're supposed to get ready for this. So part of that was inoculations; we all had to have a series of shots.

LH: Now, what was that to prevent?

MS: Diphtheria and small pox and you name it. But I remember having at least three or four because my arms were just sore and then there were scabs. You know, these black scabs that came out. [Laughs] And I remember feeling like that must be how cows and animals feel like. Because we were all lined up, and we had to have a couple shots at a time, 'cause they couldn't, we couldn't keep coming back. So I remember having two shots and then being very ill for at least... I felt ill about it, and a sore arm.

LH: I can imagine that's a pretty vivid memory for a six-year-old.

MS: I remember those things that were kind of painful, and that definitely was a painful time.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

LH: Do you recall -- is there any other memory that sort of sticks out in your mind about that time?

MS: Well, one of the things I thought were kind of strange was that we had the barbed wire fencing all around the fairgrounds. And there was a road that passed by close to the fairgrounds. And there were, they would bring busloads of non-Japanese people, and they would actually let 'em off and let them look at us like we were, you know, like we were caged animals. And I used to remember, "Why are they doing that?" But they actually came and looked at us while we were behind barbed wire fencing there. That was a little bit weird for me. I just remember we used to do gyrations. [Laughs]

LH: That's the first mention I've heard of these tour buses.

MS: Yeah. Well, they were either tour buses or buses that happened to stop by 'cause we were right along the main drag. And they actually let the people off and let 'em look at us and they'd go back. And I could hear them saying some things, you know, not quite understanding but just knowing that they were looking at us. So we must have been some kind of attraction for this group to come and look at us.

LH: And they were up against the barbed wire, looking in?

MS: Well, they didn't come too close to us 'cause we were near the wire and I think they were a little bit worried about what we might do.

LH: Were there ever any warnings from your parents about the barbed wire or the guards?

MS: Only that to obey whatever they told us to do. Only that. They didn't... I just... I have to say, I don't remember feeling threatened by them. Halfway just wondering why they were there and why they had guns. Because I couldn't imagine any of us doing anything. Of course, you know, I'm so young. Maybe the older folks might have been threatening to them, but I never felt, as a child, but everything is from a child, six-year-old's perspective.

LH: About how long were you at "Camp Harmony"?

MS: I think we were there for a few months. We weren't there for over that time. And then when my parents told us that we're going to be moving again, because I was wondering why they were getting the things all ready again. And I said, "Oh, where are we going?" Well, we're gonna... they said far away 'cause I wouldn't know where Minidoka was. So they said, "Far away," and enough so that we'd have to take a train to go there.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

LH: ...a bit about the, leaving Puyallup, going to Minidoka and what your experience was.

MS: Well, you know, I remember being very excited about a train ride. I'd never been on a train so to me it was kind of exciting. I know my parents didn't share the same enthusiasm, but it's like you have to do what you have to do. But I remember being excited, I got to be on a train. And we were riding along and one of the things that I remember is hearing the older kids singing "Don't Fence Me In," which was a song that was popular at the time. I didn't realize how prophetic that would be, but I remember those catchy things as I look back on it. But as we got to the campgrounds in Minidoka, I saw how flat the land was. It was so flat. For miles and miles around I could see flatness. And way in the background you'd see some rolling hills, but other than that it was so flat. And it was the time of year that it was hot, so it was dusty. And I remember the dust was so thick and there was no way of stopping that. The wind, when they had windstorms, it would just roll across the landscape. And you'd have these tumbleweeds, sagebrushes, just tumbling along with the dust and everything, and you got used to that.

LH: Well, so as a child, how do you cope with that dust?

MS: Well, 'cause we're lower to the ground, so we'd get a lot more of it. [Laughs] So my mother... we used to practice wearing kerchiefs or handkerchiefs, a large handkerchief, around our neck. So if we found ourselves -- these windstorms would come up every so often without any warning -- then you'd just pull it up over your, kinda like bandits. But you found that those were very handy to you, and when I had to go to the restroom -- which were outhouses -- we had to use that as our way of getting to and from during duststorms because we would just be covered with dust from head to toe. And you can hardly see, too, that was kind of a thing we got used to. You had to navigate by either having a friend with you or just remember some places along the way as you went 'cause the restrooms weren't located too close to us.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

LH: As a small child, do you remember, how did you understand where you lived and why you were living in this place?

MS: Well, we never really... at least I never asked at that age. You just accepted things that happened, and I know that it didn't seem like my parents were willing to explain anything.

LH: Was it frightening?

MS: At the beginning, it was kind of exciting, 'cause it was different, and that "Camp Harmony" was horrible, you know, the assembly center we had just left. So I thought this would be a little bit better. Certainly was bigger and spread out more, and our quarters were a little bit larger anyway. So I didn't feel frightened. I do remember in the evening, in the distance, I would hear the train whistles. And I used to think, "Oh my goodness, I wish I could be on that train going someplace." I just remember that, so that's real nostalgic to me. Every time I hear a train whistle right now I think about that. And I think of when I was young in camp. That's what you could hear a lot was in the distance. I wasn't scared. I think our parents did such a good job of keeping us, just telling us this is what we're going, this is what our life is going to be like and just accept it. And perhaps that's part of the Japanese culture that says shikata ga nai. You take whatever you are given and you work with it. And I guess that's what we decided we're supposed to do, too. There were times I attempted to ask, but I was cut off short. Or, they let you know that you were not supposed to ask some questions, that you just obeyed and that was it. So I did that. I had a lot of obachans, ladies that were in camp around us, so although my parents were busy with camp work, I always knew I had someone that was there to look out for me and make sure I didn't get into mischief.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

LH: Now was your family able to be housed all together?

MS: Yes, well, no, let's see. I had a half sister, but she was already married already, so she stayed with her family, her married family. Whereas all of us were with my mother, father, my two brothers, and myself were all in one barrack, actually one room.

LH: Did you all eat together?

MS: No, that was the one thing that was very strange that we had to get used to. My mother took on the waitressing at the mess hall because they wanted a lot of help there, and they asked the camp internees to take those roles. She eventually became a head waitress, which meant she spent more hours away from home. The meals... she knew that I was supposed to go to the mess hall and so we usually went with our girl friends and boy friends, little ones that went with us. Or the (obasan) would see that we got there and we ate. But we never could eat with family because my dad became a block manager, which then took him away to other responsibilities. So both my parents were no longer always around as they had been, and now my brothers and I were kind of left to our own devices. My, I was young enough so that I could still be told to behave by the friends of my mother and father, (obasans) and (ojisans). But my oldest brother loved this freedom, and he felt that now he could do what he wanted with his cohorts, and they became kind of like a gang in camp. They were not bad boys, but they certainly liked to do things that were not always things that their parents wanted them to do.

LH: By "gang," nowadays we understand "gang" to mean something where maybe young men are causing mischief and maybe criminal acts.

MS: Oh no, this wasn't anything of that. I guess you'd just call them boys sticking together, then, maybe. But in their minds they were this gang. And there were often many little gangs that sprung up, and they would have their own meetings and their own kinds of things, rituals that they would go through. But I just knew that my parents were always so upset about the way Jimmy was sticking with his, those bad boys, and they were making him bad, you know. And yes, he wasn't as obedient. I remember him talking back to my dad which he never did before.

LH: There was a tension between your older brother and your father then?

MS: Yeah, I think that occurred in a lot of places there. The Isseis used to be the leaders of their family, but once this whole thing came about, they didn't all have the ability to speak the language, so that the people in the leadership positions in camp became largely the older Niseis. So the Isseis had to take a lower role, which was kinda hard for them. My dad was able to maintain a kind of leadership because he spoke both English and Japanese, which allowed him the ability to work with the camp authority and still work with the people in camp.

LH: So some people, some of the Isseis actually had a lot of free time?

MS: Yeah.

LH: But on your father's case, he was quite busy.

MS: Yes.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

LH: But could you explain a little about -- there's a saying about the Issei men...

MS: They were, they were the heads of families, and then they found themselves not the heads of families anymore. I think that was very difficult for them to accept. So there were times when there were tension and they were fighting. All the things that occur when the leadership is being challenged in one's family. That's too bad because what it did was the self-confidence, the feeling of pride in being the head of a family, when that is taken away from you, we found some Isseis that weren't quite ever able to get back that same feeling of what it is to be the head of one's family. I felt sorry about that. You'd see some of the older gentlemen kind of sitting there. They would pick up and do things like play go or hana or whittle or make things.

LH: I've heard that, that referred to as, jokingly, as a forced retirement placed upon these Issei men.

MS: Yeah.

LH: But what do you, what's your view on that?

MS: I kind of think, I know people like to joke and say, "Well, I had more free time on my hands so I like that," and everything. But I really think if they were to be given a choice as to whether to go to camp and get that forced retirement or stay out of camp and have their freedom and have their leadership and their sense of pride and self-confidence, I'm sure they would never have said that. But I think it's a matter of, for self... what is it? It's a denial which then lets you, allows you to survive a situation and just laugh it off and say, hmmm. It's like when you get hit doing something foolish, you say, "Oh, it didn't hurt me anyway." Well, it did hurt, and you could see it in some of the ways they were not able to ever regain a sense of who they were. And that was kind of a sad situation. But as a youngster, I just noticed that there seemed to be older gentlemen that were sitting around doing not what I considered as... but they were just having games or having fun.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

LH: But from the youngsters' point of view, lot of people have said that maybe camp was actually a positive experience and there might have been some positive aspects to it?

MS: I think there were some. I can't say there were, that the whole thing was a terrible travesty for everybody. There are some people who do say that that was a fun time for them. Like my brother, who got his freedom, he probably would say, "Oh hey, I had a ball." Well yeah, he had nothing but freedom, but it affected the rest of his life. I'm sure that he would have turned out differently if he had remained in the situation as he was growing with, up under the guidance of my father.

LH: How do you think his life would have been different?

MS: I think he would have gone on to college, and I think he would have gone into commercial art. He was very good in art and some other areas related. As it was, he got into so much problems with schooling, and he was kicked out of so many schools that his only saving grace when he got to the age where he was either to graduate or get kicked out or whatever, was to join the air force. And that was the best thing because that gave him discipline again, the discipline that he didn't have from junior high school on because of camp. My other brother was not affected as much because he was closer in age to me, and I think therefore he was still in, under the discipline of my parents.

LH: So both of you were about six, seven?

MS: He was seven. Of course, we aged as we went in there but when we first started I was six and he was seven.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

LH: What was the school situation then?

MS: Oh, well, when we went, there was one school that I went to, Huntville. And then as the population grew, then they opened up a second school called Stafford School. And the elementary schools were taken care of very immediately as we went into camp. I did notice that my oldest brother didn't have a place to go immediately. There was a time when they were still trying to set something up for them.

LH: And he would have been high school age?

MS: No, he was still junior high school, so when he came out he was high school age and that's where... but I think that important formation years are your junior high years when you learn to either go with authority and respect academics and everything. And I think he lost that chance, which I really think is...

LH: He didn't seem to enjoy school. From what you're telling me, it seems that he didn't enjoy school, but was school a positive experience for you?

MS: For me, it was. I guess they had the more caring people as teachers, or I was lucky to get them.

LH: Can you describe the setting of the school? I don't read too much about that.

MS: Well, all I remember is it was one of the rooms in a barrack which they set aside for it, and my room had little tables and chairs just pretty much like a classroom. I didn't know what a classroom looked like because this was my first experience, really, in a formal situation, so that to me was what a classroom should look like. Small tables and chairs and a teacher. And we had a blackboard or some kind of board that she drew on because I remember her writing with chalk. But it was one of the barracks, one of the rooms in the barrack that was transformed.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

LH: I've actually seen a photo in a Minidoka Interlude yearbook, and it shows a classroom and pasted on the walls are patriotic posters. Do you recall that sort of patriotism?

MS: Oh yes, that's right. And we were also encouraged to grow victory gardens 'cause in-between the barracks there is this barren space, so Isseis, being as industrious as they always are, they used to dig it up and make garden space and everything. And so we were told as youngsters to go home and get a part of that and make our victory garden. And I don't know what we were going to do with what we grow there but it was to be called a victory garden, and I remember doing that. I remember that I learned to say the Pledge of Allegiance while I was there, and it was ironic because the teacher that taught me was a German teacher who chose to be there. I believe she was associated with the Quakers or some pacifist group, and she wanted us to know what it was truly like to be an American. So she taught us the meaning of what that was and the Pledge of Allegiance and I do remember. And it makes me a little bit teary-eyed 'cause I think of the irony of learning the Pledge of Allegiance while being behind barbed wire fences in the camps. But she was so loving that... I remember I had a leaning towards art and so she taught me how to draw and make pastel drawings. And she told me, "Draw what you see." And the only things I could see were the barracks and the watchtowers and then some of the sky -- our skies used to be orange near the evening hours. And I remember a lot of that in my drawings of the camp. And I remember it being on the wall and to this day I could still see it. I wish I had it. But I think she developed my love for art and my understanding that we were okay. We were in this camp but we're not to worry about it, we were okay people. I don't, I don't remember feeling that at the time. I do feel that that's what helped a lot of us, was that she was such a loving person.

LH: And that your circumstance was not of your own doing?

MS: Yeah, I think she tried to explain that to us, but being as young as we are, it would have led to other, other, other. So all she did was try to make us feel that this situation was very unfortunate, but don't feel that we were guilty of anything.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MS: Although I did feel guilty because we were in -- even at that age I could understand that we were behind this -- and then the watch guards were always continually being... there were people posted in there, and the guns were not pointed out.

LH: So what did this make you feel?

MS: Well, it must have left something because up until the time I had gone into camp, everyone referred to me with my Japanese name, which was Kimiko. And so I was always Kimi-chan, Kimi-chan, and that was okay. But I began to sense that it was because I was Japanese that I was in this camp because I looked around and we're all Japanese. And I think that's when I came to this decision that whenever I get out of here, I'm not gonna be Japanese anymore. [Laughs] At that age, it doesn't make any sense but that's what I decided. I never said anything to anyone but I remember that near the end when we were ready to leave, when people would call me Kimi-chan, I would pretend not to hear them. And I could hear them muttering and everything but I wouldn't hear them, and I figured, "That's the way I'm going to do it. I'm not going to be Kimiko anymore. I'm going to be May because that is my name also." And when I... I never used my name Kimiko after.

LH: So you were equating the Japanese Kimiko-chan or Kimi-chan, you were equating that with there was something wrong with being Japanese.

MS: With being Japanese, uh-huh. Yeah. [Interruption] Yeah, and I think there was a lady who challenged me at one point because I didn't use my name Kimiko, and we were doing some cultural awareness kind of activity and she was Japanese.

LH: This is when you were older?

MS: Yeah, this was when I was doing some training. And she had said, "I don't know why you're doing this when you don't even use your Japanese name." And I just started crying. And here I was an adult and you'd think... and then later I explained to her how I lost that name and then she... but I thought, "Gee, why am I crying about that?" It doesn't seem like anything that would, that I should just get mad at her, but I couldn't. Because I was ashamed that I gave up that name. Anyway, here we go. [Cries]

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

LH: So you're at the point where you're starting to understand a little more about the situation, your circumstances, sort of coming to an awareness about what it means to be in the camp?

MS: Yeah.

LH: And you are also... earlier you mentioned about wishing you could go places. And how did that affect you?

MS: Well, there was a time when, later on in the camps, they allowed radios because I remember vividly listening to Hit Parade and some of the music of the times and some stories that came on theaters or whatever they were. So I remember that you do, wistfully think, you know, "I wish we could be there and see these things," or, "Why can't we do things like that?" And I do remember that, but you knew you couldn't bother your parents about that because they couldn't do anything about it either. But I do remember near the ending of camp where they were getting a little looser about things, they allowed a group of us youngsters a chance to visit the neighboring city, which was Twin Falls. And we could go in there, and we could go to a real theater because up until then we used to go to the canteens and they'd show the Flash Gordon movies, Buster Crabbe. [Laughs] But that was what amounted to the kinds of films we used to see. But we were going to see a full-fledged movie, and we were going to go to a regular theater.

LH: So was this a group of children?

MS: Yes. There were children in... well, by then we were about, let's see, about seven, eight years old, still young but still old enough to be in, and I'm sure there was an adult there. But all I remember is that we all piled in, and most of us were about my age. We piled in this big truck that took us from the camp grounds into Twin Falls to see, to a real theater, to see this movie. And I'll always remember that movie. It was National Velvet and it was one of Elizabeth Taylor's first movies. And we saw that movie twice. We sat through it twice. [Laughs]

LH: Now why would you do that?

MS: Well, we loved it. But also, we were told by the camp authorities or whoever was the one to give us permission to go, that we were not to venture outside that theater, that we were just supposed to stay in there. We never questioned that. We just figured we'd better... we had never been out of the camp, period. So we were thinking we'd better just do whatever and go only where we're supposed to go. So we went to the movie, sat through it twice because we knew that was the length of time it would take before the truck would come and pick us up again. So that movie is indelible in my mind, and I still remember that. But we never really interacted with any of the people of the community there because we were told not to. We were dropped off in front of the theater and picked up in front of the theater and brought back.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

LH: But you really, at this point in your life, did come to some awareness about the situation, the camps. You started to, you started to form ideas about what it meant to be Japanese, Japanese American?

MS: No, I didn't know what that was. I really knew that there must have been something wrong with it, though, because we were put into these camps. And it was like, well, pretty much like a prison 'cause we couldn't come and go as we... and as young as we were, no one really stopped and told us anything. We just accepted what was our situation and our parents, heaven forbid, we could never talk to them about it. So I remember coming back to Seattle, and I remember starting school, and I do remember one incident where a young Caucasian boy came up to me. And I knew he was not friendly because he had this very, well, he had this face, a look about him -- and he said to me, "What are you?" And I knew what he was looking for, but I said, "I'm Chinese." And he looked straight at me and says, "No you're not. You're a Jap." And I recall that so much, I was thinking, "How did he know?" 'Cause I was using my name May, and Chinese and Japanese look the same. And that kind of still reinforced that there's something dirty or something bad about being Japanese. So I didn't realize how strong that was in me, but even when I got married and had kids, I didn't try to share with them too many Japanese things. And when they were born, in fact, I made sure that none of them had Japanese first names.

LH: It was a conscious decision?

MS: It was. I remember my parents asking me why don't I give them Japanese first names, and I said, "No, that'll only hurt them, so we'll just give them American names." And that's what we... later on, as I did go through this program on cultural identity and awareness which was started by Mako Nakagawa, I found that the depth of my guilt, or I don't know if you call it self-hatred, but I know I didn't like being recognized as being Japanese. And it took a while before I understood that that was okay. But I have to admit, it took into adulthood, that whole feeling.

LH: So from childhood and the time in camps, that's where it began?

MS: Uh-huh. 'Cause I had no reason to be...

LH: And that feeling, that feeling of uncertainty about your Japanese culture and heritage.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

LH: So you had been in Minidoka about three years all together?

MS: Uh-huh, approximate.

LH: And then once again, it's time to move.

MS: That's right.

LH: And how do you discover this?

MS: Well, because half the camp had already moved out, the families and friends that I had known had found places to move out to. It was a matter of knowing where to go and getting that all arranged before we could leave the camp. And so we knew, at a certain point in time, that our friends were back in Seattle and that we would find a place to stay there and make our lives restarted all over again. For me, it was just a matter of another trip and this time moving to another place. I think for my parents, though, a lot of them approached this not knowing what to expect on the outside. They felt at the beginning when we were told that we could leave the camps, the first ones to go were the very young who went out east. Or, the families who felt they had some ties there that they could rely on, some neighbors who had taken care of their property or their business or their homes. They were to learn later that that wasn't always the case. However, they did go back. That set up a kind of community already and it was easier for us to then leave the camps and go back. We were told that the first initial place, there were places that people could stay at and our place was the Seattle dojo, and I remember going there, and we actually stayed on the mats, slept there with our baggage and everything.

LH: And what type of place was this?

MS: It's the community center where judo is taught to the community and that was there before the war. And I'm not sure what it was used as during the war, but after the war they opened it up again, and judo was not happening yet. It was simply a place that the Japanese people who came back, evacuees, could return to. They had several places like that, the Japanese language schools and other buildings that we could use as temporary living quarters.

LH: So what did, what was the dojo building like?

MS: Oh, it was a, well, it's hard to describe. It was just an open building that had a, balconies on the side, and they had a large mat in the center where the people did the judo matches and everything like that. That's all I remember. They had bathrooms and things on the sides but it wasn't big.

LH: Were people... several families were put into this big open space?

MS: Oh yes, yes. It was like camping. [Laughs] And we had, I think they must have had either blankets or bedrolls but we just laid side by side with other people because everyone knew that you had to make do, and we knew it was just a matter of time before our friends and others might find other lodgings for us.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

MS: They also had something operating for the Japanese community which they continued since the days of the Japanese immigrants. When they first came over, aliens could not borrow money from the bank. And so in order for them to have some money to start a business or do anything, they pooled all their resources into something called the tanomoshi and that was a lifesaver for many of the Isseis who came back to find that their property, their businesses, their homes were no longer there. That the promises of it being taken care of during the war had not taken place. And my father was one of them. The fourplex that he had been told by a neighbor was going to be there for him to resume ownership of was already sold to someone else, and all our things were gone. We don't know whatever happened to it, but we were not even allowed near the property 'cause it was no longer ours. I think that was, of course, it had to be a blow to my parents, but there's something... you know, my parents were so strong through everything else. I guess they accepted that as something else that they're gonna to have to overcome.

LH: When your family first returned, they fully expected to come back and return to the business that they had held prior to the war?

MS: Right. And because the fourplex was theirs, and they had some belongings that we had stored there. We had no idea of the length of time we would be gone or anything. No one knew, so we left a lot of nice things there. Everything was, of course, gone and the owners that were there professed no knowledge of anything. Only that this was his place.

LH: So in your father's case, did he turn to this tanomoshi?

MS: At the very beginning, he didn't have any money to put into it because you only earned $15 a month when you're in camp. So he had no money to put into it. So he had to immediately go find a job, and he worked as a cook at the Olympic Hotel for awhile. And my mother then pitched in as a cleaning lady, and she went to a lot of private homes. And the community here, the larger community, knew that all these influx of evacuees who needed, and they needed cheap labor, so of course there were jobs for them to do as long as it was cheap labor. It was something that they could go into right away, and they earned money, however little it was. They were very frugal, and they saved the money and they also must have had some savings. I don't know where they got it from but with that combined they were able to then borrow some against the tanomoshi that some people had started up as soon as the camp let out. We were one of the later ones, so maybe it was pretty much up and going again. There were some people who were fortunate. There were people who did come back to businesses that were still there. So everyone helped each other. That was the marvel of things; they knew when their community members were in hard times. Everyone pitched in. So the rich or the poor, they all tended to get together and help each other out. So this was one way he was able to borrow the money and... we first lived in a rental home for...

LH: How long was it before you were able to move from the dojo to a home?

MS: Oh, that was, that wasn't too long. I think we had help from friends to find a rental place because that was supposed to really be temporary, just to get us back into Seattle and then try to find a place so we're out of the camps. And they had, by that time, wanted to get the people out of camps as fast as they could because they wanted to close those down, too. So there must have been that because I don't remember staying in the dojo for maybe a few months, at best. It wasn't that long.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

LH: Now, after your father is trying to get an income going, and your mother is also working, did he ever express any bitterness about having lost his property and belongings?

MS: I think to his friends. When the Isseis get together as they did, and when they come to visit, I could overhear snatches of that. But they never expressed it to us. I guess they felt that it wouldn't do any good and that we have to take life and try to make something better out of it. So they didn't want us to feel bitter about things. So I have to admit they were good about not turning us against our government.

LH: How about his interactions with the greater community? He used to work in the University District amongst non-Japanese Americans. But what was his attitude at this point about non-Japanese Americans?

MS: Well, he had to work among them because that's the only place the jobs were available. That's why a lot of the Japanese Isseis went into trying to get a little business of their own, grocery stores, laundries, restaurants, where they didn't have to necessarily depend on catering all the time because, yeah, they had to cater to the non-Japanese public and do their bidding. I'm sure he didn't like being a cook but that was the only job that he could do at the time. My mother also, she used to kid a lot about being a cleaning lady, but that's all she could do. But she used to tell me about how it was to do that sort... therefore, they both stressed that we must get an education, and that's the only way we can ever get beyond this. So that was always in their minds that I would go to college, in fact, all of us would go to college. But my two older brothers didn't go, so I was the last one, and they said I have to go. And so I had no choice in that, and I had to go to college.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

LH: And so from, from that period of time, it seems that women's choices were perhaps more limited than now as far as what their career choices would be.

MS: Right.

LH: But was it particularly limited because you were a Japanese American woman?

MS: Oh yes, yes, there's no doubt in my mind.

LH: So how did you choose what you wanted to do?

MS: Well, we knew that at the beginning for women, we either had to be a secretary, a nurse, or a teacher. And teachers were not held in the highest regard by the greater community. In the Japanese community that was a great prestige. But in the larger community, teachers have not always been held in the greatest esteem. So those were the three choices open for women. And minority women, for heaven's sakes. But I have to give credit to the Japanese and other Asian Americans who were the pioneers in the teaching field and the field of education. Do you know that when I started teaching, they were still there? That shows how short a time that was when we first had our first Japanese American teacher. And she is, she just retired about ten years ago but she was still, she still volunteers for the district.

LH: That's quite a breakthrough.

MS: Yeah, uh-huh. But she had to really lead a very -- what is it -- restricted life or tight ship. She always had to toe the mark because she was the first, and she knew that. And I remember she, talking to me when I first started teaching. She admonished me, saying that I must make sure that I do the very best job, better than anyone else. Because she opened the road for Japanese Americans so she doesn't want anyone else coming after her to shirk or not do our job. In fact, the thought -- I was wearing open-toed shoes and she got mad at me saying, "That's not proper." But it just showed that... she was still there... it was such a short time between the time when she first started and then when the rest of us were able to get into the teaching field. Because before there were a lot of Japanese secretaries in the buildings but they weren't there as teachers.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

LH: So you chose a teaching career, went to college to study up for that. And then when did you get married?

MS: I got married as soon as I... a year after I graduated. No, excuse me. I graduated and taught another year, and then I started my family. So therefore I only taught a year after graduating from college. But my parents were satisfied because now I had gotten my degree, I was a teacher, and that's what they wanted. I met and married my current husband because he was in the other -- there's two organizations on campus. One was for the Asian Americans and the other one for the Asian American men and Asian American women. We were out at both and we used to have get-togethers, and that's where I met him. We married and I taught only a year after that and then we started our family. And I had four kids. I had three girls and a boy.

LH: You mentioned earlier about making sure that they all had American names.

MS: That's right.

LH: And at this point, so you've gone through a college education. You've become more sophisticated in your thoughts about the world. But still you chose to name them American names rather than Japanese names?

MS: And that shows how really deep-seated that feeling was about my identity as a Japanese American rather than an American only. And I didn't realize how much I was resisting that Japanese part of me until after, much after. I just knew that I didn't want Japanese names for them. I didn't think it was necessary. I never used my Japanese name.

LH: You said an interesting thing, that it would hurt them. How would it hurt them?

MS: Well, I felt it hurt being a Japanese myself because as we grow up I remembered the taunts and especially after the war those were related to being Japanese. I had some Chinese friends who wore buttons that said, "I am Chinese" because they wanted to make sure that they were not mistaken for Japanese. Now of course, then I thought being Japanese was something really bad 'cause I had friends who also decided that they wanted to make sure that they weren't mistaken. And when I was... I did remember hearing offhand comments from adults in the greater society and I could hear the word "Japs" being said. So I knew that that was... there was something wrong with being Japanese.

LH: So it was a conscious emphasis to be American.

MS: That's right.

LH: American as possible.

MS: That's right.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

AI: And I was wondering if this led to other conscious decisions of yours or perhaps unconscious decisions in the way that you started raising your young children.

MS: I have to admit, I did not push too many of the Japanese kinds of things. I didn't teach them about any of the Japanese traditional holidays or the foods or anything. And they didn't ask for it, either. Because as children they probably wanted to do what was acceptable at school -- your traditional breakfast and your traditional lunch, etcetera. It was only after I got involved with Mako Nakagawa, who was the creator of the cultural heritage program, when she told me she wanted some people to be involved because she needs volunteers to start a cultural heritage...

LH: And where was this?

MS: This was in the Seattle Public Schools, and the only places that this program could occur would be if you have a child in a school, then you have entre into that building.

LH: Oh, so you weren't doing this as a teacher?

MS: No, I was at home at the time. My kids were young. In fact, my last child, Becky, was still in kindergarten, and it was only because she --

AI: And what year was that that Mako asked you to get involved?

MS: Gosh, I can't remember, it must have been in the '70s that she asked us to start. She had, she was always very strong in being able to develop in our Asian students strength of cultural identity and who they are and pride.

LH: Was she another mother with a child in the school?

MS: Yes. In fact, all of us that she recruited, she did so knowing that we had kids in schools and we would have that able, ability to get into the building. Because it was volunteer, and it was not something that the schools were willing to fund at all.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

LH: Tell me a little bit about what the program was and how it evolved.

MS: Well, we had a curriculum that we developed because most of us were teachers, ex-teachers and we presented it to the school district, at least Mako did. And they said, "Well, it sounds really nice but we don't have any money to fund you, so, but it would be wonderful if we did." Well, so she decided that, well okay, we will get some volunteers, and we will get some critical funding that might be necessary. She was able to that. I don't know how this woman did it but she was wonderful because she talked me into doing this, too. And I said, "Okay, I'll give it a year. I'll try this because there couldn't be any harm in it, and if my kids could be involved in it, too, then why not?" But at the time, I kept thinking, "I wonder if it's really necessary to teach them about the Japanese culture. What would it do for them?"

LH: So this program focused specifically on Japanese?

MS: At first the beginning was Japanese American heritage program. Then it grew to be Asian American, and then we became a full-fledged cultural, ethnic cultural heritage program which crossed all colors, because we found it worked. And what we did was, we had a room and once a week we would meet with different groups of kids. And the group couldn't be larger than ten because it would be, lose its intimacy. So we had groups of eight to ten, and these students had to volunteer for the program. They were never coerced and their parents had to know that it was okay for them to go to this cultural heritage program.

LH: Did your son want to go to this program?

MS: Well, he didn't, he thought of it as a way out of his regular classroom for that amount of time. [Laughs] And then he thought it was a kick. When you're in elementary age, the kids like to have their parents around, so it was kind of a kick for him to see me in the building and leading a session with him, so he came. And then, of course, Pam and all of my kids had a bit of this involvement because I was there. And as I saw them get really excited about Japanese things and Japanese fairy tales and the foods and things like that, I thought, "Gee, I guess it is something that they can be proud of." And I thought, "Gee, that's a shame that I didn't do it myself." So then we started buying Japanese -- well, we had Japanese books in the program -- so then I replicated that and I had some at home. And then I talked to my kids about the growing up. But we never talked about camp. We just never did. It took awhile for me after I got to a point where I thought it's okay and it's something that I have to model for my kids, too. And at that same time, this lady that worked for KOMO-TV was developing a special on the internment. That was one of the first ones that came out. It was called Fences of Minidoka, and I wanted my children to see it, too. So when I knew it was on, I had them all sit down. And they didn't know what they were going to see.

AI: About how old were they?

MS: Well, they were in elementary school, so in that age range. They weren't in secondary -- I mean, in junior high school yet. But I remember them then sitting down, and we're all watching the television and they were quite incredulous that this even happened. And I think the oldest one said to me, "Why didn't you tell us?" And I said, "Well, it was something that was hard to share." Of course, they questioned, "Why, if you were not guilty did you allow this to happen? Why didn't someone stand up and say, 'No, no, you can't do this?'" And I said, "Well, at that time we didn't do protests like you do nowadays." Also, we were a very small segment of a larger population. Many of our older people were non-citizens, too, and here was our American government saying that we had to go to camps. And in essence, they were almost saying that to prove our loyalty, we had to go quietly or else you're disloyal or you'll be put in prisons of another kind. And so I guess the community decided that to preserve the people as a group and their families -- 'cause many were young -- they needed to just go along with it. And I said, "When you see soldiers with guns and everything coming, you just don't go out there and say, 'No way.' You just go along." And Japanese people tend to be very law-abiding and obedient anyway. They've learned that there's a place you must stay when you are in a minority situation, and that's where they found themselves. And we were all like that, and I always said I was a kid so I didn't know one way or the other.

LH: Was all of this helping you to sort out your own ideas about being Japanese American?

MS: I think so. I think so. I think it's hard to admit that somewhere in your mind you think, "I must have been guilty because none of us fought back and everything." So you begin to realize the time and place and the role of Isseis and how they wanted to, I'm sure, but they felt so helpless being aliens, and actually they were aliens. "It's a whole different era now," I told them. "And at that time you couldn't do that. It was just, you'd be squashed. So they went ahead. It didn't mean we were guilty. It just meant that we wanted to take the better road at that time."

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

LH: There's... this is a little aside but perhaps would you mind talking a little bit about what your father did? He passed away and you were going through his belongings and the reason I bring this up is because it points a little bit to perhaps how he dealt with the times.

MS: There was a card that all aliens had to have in their possession at all times during that period. And they had to show it if they were stopped on the streets, and it was called the loyal alien card. And it was a blue card that he carried around in his wallet, and I didn't realize how important that was to him until I found it still in his wallet. Now he had, in the meantime, become naturalized as a citizen, so he should feel that he's now a citizen. He had all those rights and he's safe. But in the back of his mind, I think he recalled that being a citizen didn't help because citizens and non-citizens were carted away to these camps. So there was his card. You can hardly read things on it, but I knew it was his loyal alien card that he kept with him. So he knew in his mind he had to become a citizen, but he also knew that he also had to have this other card. And that was very poignant to me, and I didn't realize the depth of that until I saw the card.

LH: So you are at the point where you're discussing, finally, your situation, your feelings with your children. And there was also another interesting incident that you mentioned that happened in front of your children with someone in your neighborhood.

MS: Oh, well, our neighbor -- we've had some arguments and things like that as sometimes neighbors do. And at one particular time, my kids were upstairs looking out the window and she was screaming at me and I must admit I was screaming back at her. And at one point, she then turned around and said to me -- I guess she didn't know what else to say -- she said, "They should have kept you in those camps." And then she turned around and walked away. She knew that would get me. I just, it just stopped me cold, and I went back into the house, and at that point I think the kids knew they couldn't ask me anything. They just knew that there was something really hurtful about what she had said there. And a lot of people know that that'll get to you because all of us did go to camp.

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

LH: So then the time that you spent with your children really was a learning time for all of you?

MS: Oh yes, that's why I'm so grateful that Mako involved me, and then because of that the kids all got involved. But the biggest learner out of that was me. Because I began to realize that I was really going through a denial process, trying to pretend I was an American and by being American I had denied that I was Japanese at all. And that was a revelation to me. So therefore I kept working in the cultural heritage program. It became a career almost, and as we developed further on, we saw how important it was not only so that kids don't go through that because I had spent so many years of my life into that denial. And here I was now just slowly beginning to realize some pride in that part of me. And I began to get more involved into the community and the civil rights organizations and etcetera. And that's why I got eventually involved in the JACL.

LH: Can you tell me a little bit about... well, when did that happen?

MS: Well, actually, I started working at the same time we were working on the cultural heritage program. I started going to meetings and listening to what was happening, and I was amazed. All this activity going on and so therefore after about ten years of going through this, some of the older folks there said, "You're an old timer now, really, so you ought to start taking some positions of more responsibility, not just coming."

LH: Within JACL?

LH: Yes, so I started out as a historian, maybe chairing some projects that only lasted a short time. But I was really in awe with the leadership that was in there, the older Niseis that were there were wonderful people during that time that had to be the forerunners. Because it was under their leadership that the redress movement even started. The Seattle chapter was the one that initiated that, and I was part of that time. I was a very small part of that, though.

LH: How were you involved?

MS: Well, at the beginning, we were on redress committees, and then eventually I did take over one year as president of JACL. And the exciting part of that was, that was the year that redress was granted to the Japanese Americans. It was the year that I was ending, so it was wonderful.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

AI: Well, you had mentioned earlier that, when we talked before, that at the beginning, you had to be convinced about redress.

MS: That's right. That's right, I have to admit.

LH: Could you say a little bit about what your initial thinking was?

MS: You know, at the very beginning, when word of this movement came out, I said, "Now how, how could you cheapen it by doing that? Because there's no price you can put on the freedom that was abridged. How can you do that?" There's no way any amount of money is ever going to pay us back for those years of being imprisoned and being treated that way. And it took awhile before I began to -- by people explaining it to me -- they said, in our society, if you do not put some monetary penalty on doing something that is wrong, people in years after, in the future, will never believe this is, that there was even anything wrong with it. Because there was no apology, there was not anything that would say this was wrong and the best way to stop people from repeating a wrongdoing is to fine them. And so the monetary thing, it was very little when you compare with the losses that many people had, but it was more the principle that was involved there. And when I began seeing that yeah, it's for really future generations; it's not really for us. The money can't go to some of the people -- they've died. The very people that suffered the most are dead. But the monetary redress is important for future generations because the government will be very careful before they do anything like this again when they remember how much they had to pay monetarily and that's the way our system works right now. So then that made sense to me. It wasn't for us, it was for the future and other minority groups that might find themselves in this situation. We had to do this, and it took us forty, fifty years, but we managed.

LH: The reparations, the monetary reparations was a part of it, but George Bush wrote an apology letter.

MS: Yeah, and we had that framed in our house and that's important for us. But the monetary part is important for the greater society to see that there was some cost to this and that you'd better think twice before it's ever done again. My kids say if anything like this ever happened they would not stand for it. And I said, "Well, that's true, and I think you should approach the way your generation would. But don't think ill of us because we didn't, that we approached it differently. It was a matter of survival. Maybe you wouldn't even be around if we didn't survive." [Laughs]

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

LH: The, I know there are a number of issues that were, that JACL had to ponder during the time you're very heavily involved with them, and the redress was very important. But I know that you mentioned talking about an apology to a group of Japanese Americans that made the decision to answer "no-no" on the questionnaire about being willing to serve in the army or not...

MS: In the military. Yes, I think we decided, during the redress movement, that it was a time to heal wounds for everybody. And one of them was that we wanted to then... the JACL had a part in -- I'm not sure how you would say it -- but those who did sign "no-no" and say they would not serve in the military -- were treated very harshly by the JACL and other community. And there was a time now with redress coming for all of us that we should heal those wounds and admit that just as the United States government was now willing to admit they were wrong, JACL could certainly admit that they were wrong at that time. To chastise and to treat so harshly a group of people who decided that they were loyal in their own way and their loyalty was to say, "No, I won't serve and it's because I am an American citizen and you're putting me in this bind." Much dissension and much divisiveness occurred because of this among the Japanese American community, and we had to heal that. We did put forward a resolution to try to have that healing come about, and we were disappointed that it did not go through. Old feelings are still there, and I think probably some people will go to the grave with those feelings, and that's unfortunate. But those were hard times and the feelings that started at that point is deep in all of us and it's hard to get rid of them. And so I didn't realize how deep that was until that resolution was defeated. But I think there'll come a time when we'll be able to pass that resolution because we are becoming more enlightened. And I think the younger generation is now starting to take over, and I think they understand more. That this has to come about. Otherwise we're not all healed.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

LH: May, a little earlier you were describing the whole process of being a little girl, Kimi-chan, turning into May, and then starting to work with the cultural diversity program. And at one point you spoke with somebody about your name.

MS: Right. We were all discussing, members of the cultural team that was gonna do some training out on Lake Washington. And so we had a group of people who were quizzing us about what our experiences were and what our credentials were for being on that training team. And at one point this lady said to me, "Don't you have a Japanese first name?" And I said, "Yes," and she said, "Why don't you use it? You must not be very proud of being Japanese. How can you be on this team?" And I remember breaking down and crying. I couldn't explain to her why I had given up that name and how because I had recently regained my feeling of pride and everything, I didn't want to use it because it was special now. It's hard for me to explain that but at the beginning I didn't want the name, and then later I wanted to use it but it had to be special. So I didn't want people just to use it because I had become a newly -- what is it -- identified as a Japanese American. That was special to me, and I didn't want to explain that to her. So I remember just breaking down and crying. I felt like saying it was none of your business but I think it was later on I was able to explain it to her personally. Because she was of Japanese background, too, so she thought that it was odd that I wouldn't ever use my Japanese name.

LH: At this point in your life, then, do you feel comfortable with your Japanese American-ness?

MS: Oh yes. In fact, I feel pretty good about that part of me. The only thing I do miss is that I wish I had learned the Japanese language because I think I could have communicated better with the other (obasans) that I knew, and my own mother, who really didn't speak a whole lot of English. And she spoke English that was the way we could communicate, but I don't think she could ever go into any details of everything because that's in Japanese. And so I really felt -- and then, of course, when she got older and was not quite -- she had to be put in Keiro for the last few years of her life -- she spoke only Japanese then and it was so hard because I couldn't really talk to her as well. Because the only Japanese I knew was kind of a babyish Japanese baby language but I do notice that I use Japanese baby talk a lot with my own grandchild, nen-ne, man-ma, nai-nai. All Japanese baby talk. And I'm glad that my grandson is taken that naturally as a real language for him, too, because he'll say back to me, "Nen-ne, so I know he's catching on. And we don't want to lose all of that. So I wish I had more of the Japanese language, but the other kinds of things I've been reading about and we've taken a trip to Japan. It's not quite the same, but still I can appreciate more of what it is to being Japanese and how that's great.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

LH: Now I'd like to take Kimi-chan/May back to a reunion of sorts or a time when you revisited Minidoka in your adult life.

MS: Yes. I think many of us who were in Minidoka had wanted to go back at some time because we had a Day of Remembrance where we went to Puyallup, and that was a healing step. But the next step was to go back to the camps, and so when they arranged a Day of Remembrance back in Minidoka, my husband and I decided that we would be part of that group to make the pilgrimage back. It was a twelve-hour trip. We took a bus that went directly to the area.

LH: What did you expect to find and to feel?

MS: You know, I really don't know. I just know that I had to go back and see what it was like because we spent over three years of our life there. And we just, we just had to go back, and I remember as we stepped off the bus as we were brought directly into the camp area, I thought it's just not anything like what I remember it. Because there aren't any barracks of course. There's just stretches of barren land where they're just flat as I remember that.

LH: So the camp that was there was torn down.

MS: Yes, it was all torn down, and the only thing that they managed to retain was the gate, the gate to the camp itself. I don't know why they kept that, but I think it's because there was some masonry and it was made out of stone and things like that, so it was harder to demolish. But they had kept that and they had set up a kind of a monument and a large sign that explained what happened at this site so many years back. It was quite moving because we had speakers who spoke, but I found myself not really listening to them. You're in your own space looking around and I couldn't remember -- because, of course, I was young when I was there -- once all the barracks were down, I couldn't decide where was Block 14. And my husband, who was older, said, "Now, according to the canal which ran by there" -- everyone knew that canal -- "Block 14 would be over there." And he walked to the fence and showed me. And I remember standing there and looking. And then the tears started rolling down because I guess you think, gosh, I didn't realize what it was until after, that we were all there and that my parents and what they had gone through. And I was so young not to realize it and I'm grateful to my parents who made that life bearable at that time. [Cries]

LH: Many realizations. You understood.

MS: Yeah. And then when we were riding back on the bus, I remember all of us were breaking out in song. I guess we felt a little bit like the monkey was off our back and we all took turns singing. There was a mike on that Greyhound bus and we all took turns singing songs that we remembered, the older songs, and it was really a wonderful feeling. So the twelve-hour trip was worth it. We were only there for an hour or so at the most, and we turned around and came back again. But Joe and I decided that that was really important for us to do that to bring some closure to that part. And so I must admit, there are things that I carried around with me and didn't realize that because in order to survive, you need to put things that are hurtful way back. And, but as you get older and because of redress and some other things -- and for your own kids, too -- you need to go back and be able to put that down, at rest. And then also I would like to be able to talk to my kids about it, when they're ready to hear about it. Because I think they would like to know what happened in the past and that we survived.

LH: Is there anything else that you'd like to add?

MS: No, I really enjoyed talking to you about it and I didn't realize that it would affect me as much. But I do believe that as a group of people, we have really come through with flying colors, and I hope the future generations will get a chance to hear more about it from those of us who were able to share it. Thank you.

LH: Thank you, May. It was wonderful.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.