Densho Digital Archive
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Mas Okui Interview
Narrator: Mas Okui
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: April 25, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-omas-01-0016

<Begin Segment 16>

MO: I don't remember what month school started, because I was in fifth grade. But we went to a, we had a class in fifth grade, and we had this blond teacher, her name was Miss Golden. And she would hit us once in a while. And what bothered us is that one of her... her boyfriend that was a military policeman would sit in the back of the room. I don't know what they were doing because she wouldn't allow us to turn around. And then I remember my mother telling me that we would be pulled out of that class and sent to a special class called "Special Sixth." And we were told that there were too many kids in our class, and so they took about twenty-five of us or maybe thirty of us and put us in classrooms. And we were not in Block 16. 'Can't remember what block... see, the elementary school was in 16. We were sent to another place, and we were supposed to study sixth and seventh grade in one year, presumably because we were more capable. And so I never went to seventh grade. So I finished high school when I was sixteen as a result of that. And when I think back, that was not a good idea, because I was always younger than everyone else.

MN: Now when school started at Manzanar, did you have desks?

MO: We had benches. That's all we had were benches. And the benches, we kind of sat on benches, and being a little kid, it was okay. And then the walls were plasterboard, or what we'd call drywall today. And I remember they painted it black so they could put chalk on it. And it was hard to see. I can remember -- we had no books, so the teacher would say, "You got to pretend," this is this, this is that. I remember we were having a science thing and he was trying to tell us what a Bunsen burner was. We had no idea what a Bunsen burner was. Later on I knew what it was, but he was trying to explain to us that you could boil water and have ice in the same test tube. And so he was saying, "Let's pretend this is a Bunsen burner, this is a flask," and he would kind of draw a picture, but you couldn't tell. But that's the way it was. And then there was a day we received the first books, we had these boxes. I'd always been an avid reader, and I'd read so much I'd get headaches sometimes. I remember my mother, when I was nine, took me to an optometrist to get me glasses. I had to wear glasses when I was nine for corrective vision. And we got these books, and they were all damaged books from L.A. City Schools. And we were part of the L.A. City School system, because there was no way Inyo County could take care of us. So there were all these books, and you know, you eventually open it and turn the page and it has something about, that you don't want to read. Turn the page, 130, 204, finally you get to that last page and there's some comment about your sexual activity or what you're going to do to yourself, or whether or not your parents were married. [Laughs] You know how kids write in books. But anyway, they were treasured books even though they were... they were all discarded from L.A. City Schools.

MN: So your teachers in Special Sixth, were they all Caucasians, or did you have --

MO: No, we had Mrs. Abel. She and her husband, Mr. Abel became my eighth grade history teacher. But Mrs. Abel, Mr. and Mrs. Abel were friends, they were Quakers. And so we had a variety of teachers there. We had people who came from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, we had people who were physically disabled, we had, some of the teachers were internees, because I remember for part of my fifth grade I had Mrs. Nakamura. We had conscientious objectors as teachers. Yeah, that's what I was told. I don't recall if I ever had one. But I look back, and I had good teachers. The teacher I liked the best was Mr. Rogers, who was our French teacher. And he had a withered arm. He had a withered arm, and he had a portable typewriter. And sometimes in class while we were doing things, he would type. I was just absolutely entranced with watching a guy with one (arm) type as fast as he could. He had to return, do the keyboard... but he was really a neat teacher because not only did he teach us French, he taught us French geography, French cuisine, French history, he would tell us stories about himself. He was just a fascinating man. But he had this withered arm.

MN: Now the Special Sixth kids, where did they eat lunch?

MO: We ate at the mess hall that was there. We didn't have go to back to the... well, let's see. I can't remember in high school whether we went back to the mess hall. Yeah, I think we went back to our mess halls. We had an hour for lunch, or maybe an hour and a half. And so, but the Special Sixth, we ate at the local mess hall. And I keep thinking that we were in Block 12, but I can't remember. But we ate at that mess hall. I know the elementary school kids ate at Block 16, 'cause that's where the school was.

MN: And then you were talking about you loved to read. Now, was the Manzanar library near the Special Sixth classes?

MO: Yeah, it wasn't too far from there. But the thing is, you can go to the library and check out books. Even when we were kids in Burbank, Mrs. Lipton would save books for us, stack 'em up, take a wagon up there. She always let us have more books than we were entitled to.

MN: Were there any Japanese books in the Manzanar library?

MO: If there were, I didn't know about it, because I didn't read Japanese.

MN: What kind of books did you check out at the Manzanar library?

MO: Whatever they had there. I remember the first time I ever read Roughing It, I was at Manzanar, and today that's probably, of all the books I've ever read, my favorite. It's a Mark Twain book, when he came here to the West. It's this incredibly funny, funny book, an analysis of human character.


MN: So it's getting dark and you're reading, you love to read books and you have to do your homework. Where did you get the light to do all the work?

MO: Well, initially, if you're in the barrack, you had one naked light bulb hanging from the center there. Later on, they put extension cords in, and the problem with that was that if too much power was being used -- if someone used a hot plate, it would blow out the fuse. So what was surprising, they put the penny in there, that more of those barracks, I don't think any of those barracks ever caught on fire. Or maybe they did, but I didn't know about it. And what they would do is they would put a penny in the fuse box, because they just had that one circuit for the entire barrack. But we would read mostly during the day, and it was too expensive to read with a flashlight at night because batteries were very precious. Yeah, and I would read in the morning. It was just something I did; I've done it all my life.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.