Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Grace Shinoda Nakamura Interview
Narrator: Grace Shinoda Nakamura
Interviewer: Sharon Yamato
Location: Whittier, California
Date: January 25, 2012
Densho ID: denshovh-ngrace-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

[This transcript has been extensively edited by the narrator.]

SY: So what do you know about the Manzanar riots? Was that something you experienced firsthand?

GN: Well, I was in high school, I was in the tenth grade at that time. And I knew that there had been quite a bit of discontent because my aunt worked drying dishes (in the mess hall) and she just kept that job. She said, "I don't need any other job." They brought books up here from Vroman's (bookstore). There was time for her to read books. She took this dressmaking class, this flower-making class, this (embroidery) class.


SY: So your aunt was the one who did all these creative things during camp?

GN: Yes.

SY: But how did that relate to the, hearing about the riots?

GN: Okay, well anyway, my Aunt (Teru) worked in the kitchen, and the cook was saying, "We're not getting the sugar that we're supposed to get." Japanese like to put tons of sugar in their coffee. And we weren't getting enough sugar and he liked to make cupcakes and other things. He was a very good cook, we were lucky. When we were in high school, the boys used to run around to go to all the mess halls. Certain mess halls got a reputation for good cooks, other ones, not so hot cooks. And they were running around to all these mess halls, and then they got a system where they had a mess checker and you had to have a mess hall card for your block. So it was really a problem when we had to go from our place way up (in Block 29) to the other corner of the camp (in Block 19) to have lunch. It was really a problem. So they said, "Somebody's stealing the sugar that's coming," because they always had a certain allotment for every (mess hall kitchen). "Someone's stealing the coffee." Now there were those government workers, they lived in a separate place. They lived in barracks, real nice ones that were stucco, they had insulation and all that kind of stuff, nice windows. Well, they were taking it. The first rumblings were because things were disappearing and they were not getting it in the kitchen. So we knew there was that discontent. And here they were taking advantage of us, and there were block meetings and people were protesting. And then they got more and more (agitated). They said, "This government locked us up." And then when they had that "no-no" question, my mother became (one of the) interviewers of the "no-no (questionnaire)" because she's bilingual. Well, my aunts are bilingual, too. So they (were interviewers for) the "no-no" questions and some people said, "no-no." And they got really discontented. "Why are they trying to make us serve in the army when they've disenfranchised us?" and all that. And I think there would be tremendous protests now in the Japanese American community. Can you imagine a Yonsei going to camp? No, I don't think so. And then people kept on thinking that these people in the JACL -- because it was just a fledgling organization, that they were traitors because they encouraged us to go, to follow the government (commands) and go.

SY: So there was this rising discontent?

GN: Rising discontent. And then they got organized, and they would have protest meetings.


GN: Toshihisa Tom Watanabe. He's an MD, was my uncle. And he had the Central X-ray Lab. It was on Central Avenue, and then Kusayanagi, who was in our camp and lived in Block (29), built the Kusayanagi building right across from JANM. Then my uncle rented space from him and he had his office there. I have another aunt who's a medical doctor, Dr. Megumi Shinoda, and she had her office right on First Street, and she had the first (medical advice) column in the Rafu. I think (many subscribers) read that column. In the walk of fame there on First Street, there's my aunt's medical bag inscribed in the cement where her office was.

Well, anyway, to get back to the riots, I was in Block (29) and it happened down near the police station. Well, I could run pretty fast because it was all downhill. We heard that there was something fomenting down there, and I'm curious. Everyone says curiosity is going to kill me off. It has (almost a) couple of times. [Laughs] But anyway, I went down there, and it almost killed me off that time, too.


SY: And do you remember what you saw?

GN: Yes, I was standing there and the people were yelling. Then from the guard tower they started shooting bullets and one hit Jimmy Ito, who was my classmate. He was standing right next to me and they just shot him dead. It could have been me, because they were randomly shooting.

SY: You were that close, huh?

GN: Yes, we were right up where the action was. He was just an innocent bystander, too. It turns out, now, that my niece, Donna Nakamura, is married to Johnny Ito. His father was the brother of this Jimmy Ito that died.

SY: And you remember him? You knew him?

GN: Oh, I remember him. I mentioned that in the testimony for the Congressional record, and that appears in JANM right across from the picture of Ralph Lazo up (on the second floor) in that last room (of The Common Ground exhibit) at JANM.


GN: (It's upstairs) in that last room (of The Common Ground permanent exhibit. The Common Ground exhibit starts with the barrack and then it goes kind of around to the last room. John Tateishi was the heads of the Redress Campaign). He was (an English) professor. He's an excellent writer (and) he's written several books. We have a whole library full of books on the evacuation and the 442. And every time a new one comes out, Yosh buys it. I don't know what we're going to do with all of our books.

SY: So when you were actually experiencing this riot, do you remember what the reaction was once they started shooting?

GN: Well, then people started running away.

SY: So you started running?

GN: Yes, so I started running away after (Jimmy Ito) fell over. Then it just kind of simmered down and they (stopped) shooting. I don't know what kind of disciplinary action they (got). I know that (later) they shipped a whole bunch of (the rioters) to Tule Lake.

SY: Was the camp up in arms still after that happened, or did things quiet down?

GN: Oh, yes. People were yelling, people were very upset that this had happened. I could remember discussions that we had at home, "Well, it was bound to happen when (the government was demanding answers to) those stupid questions." They would be people without a country (if they answered some questions). But still, they had the presence of mind to know what the consequences would be. So they would say, "Well, you better say yes." Their teenage sons (were told), "You'd better say yes, you'll go (and serve in the U.S. Army)." Others said, "Well, no, why should you risk your life when they've done this to us?"

SY: So you remember your family talking about it?

GN: Oh, yes.

SY: And did you understand what was going on? Were you old enough to realize?

GN: (Yes). Well, all my life, even when I was little kid, I got into trouble. We got in trouble in school because the teacher was trying to coerce us to do something and I felt that you should have a choice. You shouldn't have to do this or that. So that's the kind of person I am. Yosh says he never speaks for me. "She speaks for herself."

SY: But it must have been difficult because your family was all there at Manzanar. So did they have discussion over whether to stay there?

GN: Well, no, there was no doubt in any of our minds that we would all have to say "yes." Well, I didn't have to because I wasn't eighteen then. But they all said they would bear arms for the U.S.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.