Densho Digital Repository
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Grace Hata Interview
Narrator: Grace Hata
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: West Los Angeles, California
Date: March 16, 2012
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1003-10-13

<Begin Segment 13>

MN: Now, what was your first impression of Manzanar?

GH: When we went there it was just being built, so I believe we had just six blocks of buildings there. But the center part where they usually have the laundry and the bathroom and all that, it was not (in function), the plumbing was not ready yet. They had big ditches dug and they had an outhouse on the side. Everybody had their immunization shots and they were sick and in line for the outhouse. It was pretty awful. We got a bag that we're supposed to put straw in it for a mattress, and at that time we got two navy blankets, a navy pea jacket. We got the round, with a long handle, eating dish with a cup, a metal cup that would, all army surplus-type thing, and knives and forks, got that. And the buildings just had tarpaper on the outside, and the floorboards were not completely close together, so you could see the dirt down below.

MN: What was that first night like?

GH: Then that night we had a big old whirlwind come through there, and I thought that it was gonna take the roof off because I've never seen anything like it or been any place like that. And I had the pillow over my ears, but when I woke up in the morning and looked at the little mirror that we had sitting on one of the inside boards, I could just see (where) the tears ran down [points to face]. We were just full of dust from the windstorm that came through 'cause it all came through the flooring. And I heard (that) the scorpions came through and they got bit or whatever, stories like that. We were lucky; we didn't have that. But yeah, that was the first night. And we had a potbelly stove in each of the apartments there. The apartments were partitioned, but the top was all open, so you could hear from one end (of the building) to the other. And we had no partition inside the little compartment also, so we saved one of the cartons that the stove was sent in for a partition. And we found out that Mr. Koike kind of looked after us, 'cause we were just flabbergasted. We didn't know what to do. And so he went and told us about this canteen where you could buy a washtub, so we bought a washtub and we saved the gallon cans from the mess hall to boil some hot water, and we took baths in our washtub, with the partition from the stove that was sent there. It was cold. The nights were cold, and the daytime, I don't remember then, but I know later on it was hot. It was so hot. But the winters were very cold. We've, we haven't had that sort of weather living in Gardena, so that was really something the first year.

MN: So you're telling me that when you arrived they had no showers?

GH: No showers. The center part of the camp was not completely ready yet.

MN: That's why you had to get that washtub and that's how you cleaned yourself?

GH: Yes. Yes, we had to do that at the beginning.

MN: Now, which block did you live in?

GH: I believe that was Block 6.

MN: And they had only built up until Block 6 at that time.

GH: I think so.

MN: Do you remember if you got any diarrhea from eating the food early on?

GH: I don't think I got sick, but a lot of the mess halls, the cooks were volunteers I guess, in the beginning they were not professional cooks for a big place like the mess hall, and so we got, what was distributed was salted pork and beans and things that most of us didn't really eat on a daily basis. So the cook didn't know what to do with it either, (but) some of the mess halls the cooks were very good and most of the others, I think, just kind of got by with what they had. But later on in camp we had a farm so that we got vegetables and we were able to make better use of food the way we usually would eat. But like breakfast, we had apple butter, that was my first introduction to that. Apple butter and things like that that I don't think I'll ever forget. [Laughs]

MN: And now you're in Block 6 and there's really no partition, and how many people were living in there at that time?

GH: I think that that moment, we were lucky that we were, it was just us. I don't remember anybody else in there at that time. But as time went on and they designated so many people in a compartment, we were put together with another family 'cause we didn't have enough in our family.

MN: What was it like to watch the rest of the camp get constructed and to see new people coming in?

GH: They had busloads of people coming in to fill up the camp, but it was all done mostly from administration, so I wasn't too interested in that. So I don't know exactly, but it did fill up. We had the hospital built, and my mother worked for the hospital. My brother worked, Thomas worked as an ambulance driver, so we got to move into Block 29.

MN: When did you move into Block 29?

GH: That was after the hospital was established there, so I don't know what year that was.

MN: How different was Block 29 to Block 6?

GH: Well, by that time they had linoleum on the floor. We had sideboards in the building. We had a ceiling, and it was kind of closed in. But we still had to live, by that time, with another family, so three boys from the other family lived with us, and so we had to sort of put up a partition because I was the only girl there. But we sort of had to make do with what we had.

MN: And then they had showers, I think the showers were set up, and then -- it wasn't just an outhouse anymore?

GH: No. The center section, the laundry and the shower and the bathrooms in there were set up. By this time the women complained of no privacy, so they had partitions between the toilets also, which was good. And some of the people still complained about the showers. They were not used to taking showers with a bunch of people, although there were maybe a few Japanese tubs that were built in camp someplace. I don't know where it was, but people were talking about it, and so they had Japanese-type bath also, bathtub. But the showers, I guess, was still kind of open and either you had to get used to that or go when no one was there. [Laughs] So I think that's how that adjustment went, as time went on.

MN: How did you do laundry at Manzanar?

GH: By washboard. It was just a tub, so with a washboard. We had to go to the canteen to buy all the necessary things, soap and... wash my hands.

MN: Now, you said it was pretty hot during the summertime.

GH: Summertime, it could get as hot as a hundred and twenty, so it was very hot.

MN: How did you keep cool?

GH: Some people were very innovative, and they said you could put a box with wet burlap on the outside so that when the wind blows through it'll cool down. And people built things like that, and some people were even able to build a cellar. Of course, we were not that innovative and we couldn't do it, so we didn't. [Laughs] But we heard of a lot of these people who had cellars. And we carried umbrellas in the summertime.

MN: Now, what about the windstorms? How did the camp people manage that?

GH: The whirlwinds used to be pretty awful, but I think as time went on, when we were in Block 29, by that time people had made gardens between the buildings. (...) They grew vegetables and things. Or they did a lot of things in between the buildings, made lawns and things so that it abated the whirlwind a little bit more. It was just between the firebreaks that you would see whirlwinds.

MN: So let me ask you about school, then. Do you remember when school opened at Manzanar?

GH: At first we didn't have any school. When it first began we sat on the floor. We didn't have desks and things. And as time went on we got desks, and we had, I don't know about the reading books and things. I can't remember exactly. And I think our teachers were volunteers because who would want to come to a camp of all one race like that and be known as an internment camp, but they did have teachers come from different places. And I think (...) my teacher was from upper state New York, and she wanted me to correspond with her niece and so I did write letters. We had a few correspondences together. I still have a picture of her. I was grateful that we had this teacher who would volunteer to come into a place like, where we were.

MN: So were all your teachers Caucasians?

GH: Yes. Well, she was the only teacher I had.

MN: Were there any Caucasian students in your class?

GH: No, no. We were all Japanese.

MN: Now, you mentioned that your oldest brother, Thomas, was an ambulance driver, and what did your mother do?

GH: My mother (...), she was a washerwoman with Dr. Goto's mother, who asked her to help her with washing the diapers for the infants with communicable disease. Nobody wanted to take that job, so my mother and Mrs. Goto did all that washing for hospital.

MN: How did your mother know Mrs. Goto?

GH: They were from the same ken. They were Fukushima-ken, and she knew of them.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.