Densho Digital Archive
New Mexico JACL Collection
Title: Roy Ebihara Interview
Narrator: Roy Ebihara
Interviewer: Andrew Russell
Location: Roswell, New Mexico
Date: March 7, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-eroy-02

<Begin Segment 1>

AR: Okay this is an interview with Dr. Roy Ebihara, a second generation Japanese American who was born in Clovis, New Mexico. The interview is being conducted by Andy Russell on behalf of the New Mexico Chapter of the JACL and its Confinement in the Land of Enchantment Project. Today is July 10, 2012. The interview is taking place at the Best Western Motel in Roswell, New Mexico. So thanks for speaking with us today. Dr. Ebihara, you were previously interviewed in detail by Tom Ikeda of the Densho Project and this interview will eventually become part of the Densho collection. So I'm not going to attempt to a full life cycle interview that would likely cover much of the same things that Tom covered. Instead I want to ask some questions that might enhance what was captured in that last interview, maybe fill in some details, and also ask you to reflect on some aspects of this field research that we've been doing the last couple of days and will continue to do tomorrow. Okay, so for starters you mentioned that three of your siblings were born in Japan. Does that mean that your father and mother were married before they came to the United States?

RE: That's correct. They were married for several years I would imagine, at least five, six years. And my dad, of course, came to America, was supposed to go Philadelphia to further his education in tool and die and machinery type of thing, expertise.

AR: And then he took the job with the railroad.

RE: Yes, in San Francisco, I guess he was gonna catch the boat back to Japan but I don't know, I guess he ran out of money or whatever transpired there. [Laughs] so he was stuck in the United States but felt that there was an opportunity for him to probably strike out on his own if at all possible.

AR: So he called for your mother to come over with the kids about 1922?

RE: Yeah. After he ended up in Clovis and was able to put away enough money for boat passage, my mother arrived with her three kids.

AR: What was her background and what was her reaction to coming to Clovis?

RE: Well, you know, she was in a family that were pretty well off in Japan's caste system. She had a formal education, all the niceties of life that her mother provided. But coming to America, I guess it was a shock to end up in Clovis where we lived in a railroad camp, so to speak, and it was more or less, as she saw it, like a ghetto existence. And unlike perhaps my father presented a picture to her, the streets were certainly far from being lined with gold, you know.

AR: Do you think she felt isolated there? Well, I should ask how many Japanese women were in that community, and do you think your mother felt isolated or did she have plenty of female company?

RE: Well, I would assume there were at least seven or eight women married to these railway workers. I guess she still adhered to the old ways that you don't associate with people of lower class level, coming from other occupations. So she really never made any great attempts to associate with these women. That made her life miserable. She, I believe, certainly isolated herself from the greater community.

AR: So her family was more of an upper class.

RE: That's correct.

AR: Was it banking industry that her family...

RE: Well, you called it today... I think her mother or my grandmother was a money lender. I guess back in those days there was no building or institution. People knew that she had the money to, if you loaned it, she loaned it out and if you took the loan, you better pay it back.

AR: I see. And the other wives were more from the farming class background?

RE: Yes. I think people who immigrated to America were mostly agricultural people, where Japan's economy at that time was not very good.

AR: Okay.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AR: In the Japanese colony of Clovis, can you describe the housing that you lived in, in as much detail as you can remember, like how many rooms there were, the various rooms, and amenities like plumbing or electricity, heating systems, decor and smells and things like that?

RE: Well, it was nice. I'm not sure how much the Japanese railway workers were involved in the planning, but they made it like it was a, sort of a park in the middle, and then surrounded by two long buildings, one was L shaped, the other one was more straight. And in each of these buildings there were certainly rooms or apartments you would call it, for at least three families, three to four families. And then isolated on the far side to like an enclosure was another building that housed two more families. So in all there were room enough for eight to nine families in that thing, surrounding this beautiful park area. Actually I remember seeing a little pond with a goldfish swimming around it.

AR: Now wait a minute. Are we in Clovis?

RE: In Clovis.

AR: Really?

RE: Yeah. However, we lived outside of that, for what reason I really don't know, but we lived in the single one-story house that was outside this so-called camp. And it was obviously proximal, but we had the privilege of having a chicken coop, a outhouse and everything that went with the house.

AR: Kind of contained with your family?

RE: Uh-huh. And it, where all of us kids live in, all eight of us really.

AR: Okay. Was your father like a foreman of the Japanese workers, or would you describe him?

RE: I'm not so sure, but my father obviously through his early years training in Japan had all the technical skills of being a machinist as well as the tool and die maker.

AR: And he brought some of the other guys in and trained them?

RE: Well, those who came along through time, he certainly trained 'em. Maybe those who were there before him he also trained. So my dad was very talented, yes, as a machinist.

AR: How about the interior of your house itself?

RE: Well, there was nothing to brag about. It certainly was well-kept. I don't think anything looked really rundown but we certainly felt like living in a sardine can with so many kids and, of course, including our parents at the time. I was alive, obviously, my oldest brother and oldest sister passed away. But in my growing up years there were, including my parents, there were ten of us. So that's pretty crowded in a two- or three-bedroom house. I really don't recall that there were more than three bedrooms.

AR: So would the boys share a room together and the girls?

RE: Uh-huh, like a bunk bed. My brother Ben, my younger brother Bill and I, shared a bunk bed in one little room.

AR: Uh-huh. And you mentioned the outhouse, but did they have running water in the house, do you recall? I know it's a long time ago, but...

RE: Yes indeed, because we never brought water into the house, so there had to be running water. My understanding is our heating was always done by coal stove or wood burning stove, and my mother also cooked over that.

AR: Over that coal stove?

RE: I don't think we could've afforded any electric appliances at that time.

AR: But you did have electric lighting and things like that by the '30s?

RE: Yes, we did, but prior to, apparently when I was very young, my oldest sister said they used to burn kerosene so I guess us kids used to smell like kerosene at that time. I don't know that, recall that too much.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

AR: So I take it that you grew up in your younger years speaking Japanese in the home or only Japanese, is that correct?

RE: Yes, you know, up to the time that we were able to go to Sunday school, we had no reason to learn English. We pretty much kept to ourselves. Our social activities were limited with other people, other than the Japanese families. So we certainly were pretty fluent, growing up pretty fluent in Japanese.

AR: Uh-huh. And did your father know, speak English very well or did your mother?

RE: No, you know, my mother, again, having very limited outside contact, never made any effort to learn any English or any other language. So I just recall that she spoke Japanese primarily. She could understand a few English words, but beyond that she couldn't carry a conversation. Even after we moved to Cleveland that was the situation. My father could pick up Spanish because he had to learn Spanish for some of the coal workers there and the railway workers, so he had to learn that, but he could speak in broken English pretty well.

AR: Uh-huh. All right. Did you and your family celebrate Japanese and American holidays? Are there any of those that stand out in your mind?

RE: Oh yeah, absolutely. New Year's Day was the biggest day, obviously, even in Japan. So we always... even kids looked forward to that, adults as well. On New Year's Eve much preparation went on. The families took turns so one family would be designated to be the host family to do the mochitsuki. Mochitsuki is the pounding of the hot steamy rice in making little rice cakes with it. Obviously it was a big entertainment for us kids to see that. Men with wooden mallets pounding the thing in the shallow thing... I forget what it was called. But anyhow, that plus they made all the, women made all the sushi and all the sweet things and it was just a wonderful occasion to celebrate.

AR: Uh-huh.

RE: New Year's Day, it was time for the menfolk to get drunk, I mean, drink sake and, oh wow, it was always something. And we would go from so-called house to house or quarter to quarter of the Japanese and by the time I recall when it all ended up, my father was so stoned that my brother and older ones had to drag him back home. He was happy as a lark, always singing away, but...

AR: Was there much drinking or gambling on other occasions, was that the pastime of the guys in that group?

RE: I don't know. It was said that perhaps some of the men did like to play Japanese gambling games, I don't know what they were. But as a youngster I never witnessed people gambling. Fourth of July was celebrated with fireworks and firecrackers and that was a good time as well.

AR: Now was that with the larger community or in the...

RE: Within that compound, yes. In the park where the goldfish and the little pond was there, right adjacent to it where they would set off the fireworks and it was fun.

AR: All right. Do you recall anything like in Japan they celebrated Boy's Day and Girl's Day?

RE: You know that was not so much our family. But we would go in there and they would fly these... oh, I don't know, they looked like fish.

AR: Paper kites.

RE: Kites and things of that... there were Boy's Day celebration, Girl's Day celebration, not certainly with our family, I guess we'd sort of gotten away from that having converted to Christianity.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AR: So we're still in Clovis. How were the Japanese laborers and workers treated on and off the job in Clovis?

RE: You know, it's hard to say. Most of these families very seldom socialized with Caucasian families or any other families. They... I guess the men diligently and loyally worked at the Santa Fe Railroad. But other than that, the social activities were limited amongst themselves within that so-called "Jap camp."

AR: Now Professor Collier uncovered commendations that the Japanese were consistently being, you know, recognized by their supervisors for loyalty and hard work and they were well-liked workers.

RE: I think it goes back to their background going back to Japan when they were, that was the thing... anybody who worked for somebody else, that loyalty was the most important thing, yeah.

AR: Did you ever have a sense at that time, and maybe even a little later, because your dad continued to work finding new employment during the war, but did you ever have a sense of what he was working toward? Was he planning to buy property someday or did he just work to make a better life for his children or what was the...

RE: It's hard to say. I would imagine my dad would've liked to show his father that he's capable of doing just as well as he did. I think that's all... that was because of his skill and his knowledge that he was gonna probably want to prove that he could do that. However, my dad came to the realization through time, that racial discrimination was a big impediment in his road to succeeding in doing anything. Obviously I think when he came across country on the railroad, realized the vastness of this country and the potential for industrial development, but I think he pretty much gave up as time went, but it was, he was rejuvenated so to speak when we had the opportunity to get out of the camp in Topaz, Utah, to come to Cleveland where he was finally given the opportunity to work utilizing his skills as a tool and die maker. When the young men in America were going off to fight in the war, World War II, my dad was now replacing them and working in a war plant. And I think he was just elated that he could now use that as a stepping stone to more, greater successes.

AR: Well, and during the war he probably got union scale and pretty good pay and not a dual wage scale like he had in Clovis.

RE: Yeah, Dad was very proud of that. And I think I mentioned earlier that it was interesting that for our survival after Pearl Harbor, when my dad and all the Japanese railway workers were no longer employed, he was always worried about putting food on the table. But Mr. Morris, Mr. Morris was the local grocer who always, we shopped over there, realized the predicament in which we were in and extended... offered my dad credit for all the groceries. So for that period of time that we were in Clovis, remained in Clovis until January 24th, obviously he ran up a big credit, eighty dollars was a huge hunk of money. But there was absolutely no way my dad could pay him back during those times that we were incarcerated. So when he got that job in Cleveland we were still able to put food on the table but he made sure that as soon as possible he had a money order sent out to Mr. Morris to pay him back and he was very appreciative, and Mr. Morris was appreciative of that.

AR: This is maybe a smaller detail, and maybe you don't, I don't know if you have any memory of it, but at that time, you know, the Japanese are kind of confined to the camp, did Mr. Morris deliver groceries or did your dad go over and get them?

RE: No, it was that we always picked it up. Either the kids, us kids went with my older brothers and sisters with a wagon, or they certainly carted it back.

AR: I wonder if any special arrangements were made, though, during that crisis period when the camp was kind of shut down?

RE: I don't believe so. I don't recall that. I never thought about how the other families fared. They must've been under the same, similar circumstances, or credit.

AR: Uh-huh, okay. Back in that period and, of course, before the war started, did the Japanese residents of Clovis get Japanese newspapers, like via the railroad network?

RE: Yes, they did. I'm not so sure that my parents did, but obviously, when they were finished with the newspaper they probably would give it to my dad to read. But yes, they did.

AR: I should specify, it's like Japanese American newspapers, vernacular press.

RE: Well, there was a newspaper published in San Francisco or Los Angeles called the Rafu Shimpo. I do recall some of those newspaper coming out. Some parts were apparently in English and most of the parts were in Japanese.

AR: Something like 90 percent of the immigrants, even from the small, the poor farming families were literate, so most of the people read the newspapers.

RE: That's true. Absolutely they were able to read.

AR: Do you recall any outstanding Japanese American students or athletes in your area? This is kind of a generic question I tend to ask, but...

RE: Athletic or had the ability... I really don't know. From what I gather, my oldest brother wasn't too interested in sports. Obviously he didn't have the formal education earlier on, so he concentrated on being self-taught as much as possible. And my brother Hank, of course, was the water boy for the football team, but other than that I really don't know that anybody within the camp participated in sports. Somebody told me that Mr. Hatae's son was pretty good in wrestling or something of that sort, martial arts, I don't know, judo, maybe. But other than that I never really heard of anybody accomplishing anything.

AR: Sometime it might be good to go through the school yearbooks for Clovis and see if there were any students that stood out.

RE: I don't think anybody...

AR: Probably not, because very few went to the public schools and....

RE: That's right. If it's true that they didn't go to the public school, obviously they didn't participate in sports. But our family, no, nobody really participated in sports.

AR: Okay.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AR: Normally I have a lot of questions about World War II but that's one area where Tom Ikeda really did a fine job of covering your experiences up through, you know, being sent to Topaz and being resettled in Cleveland and so forth. And tomorrow we're going to be asking a few more questions about the Baca Camp when we get out there, or the Old Raton camp. So I'm kind of going to skip over the war years at this point. Let's see, so I kind of want to move into some questions about the... after World War II. And one of the first things I want to ask you I guess is in your interview with Tom you mentioned that you had kind of a rough spell as a teenager, and we don't need to rehash that, but when did you really kind of start getting serious about your education and your career plans?

RE: That's interesting. I do recall that, well... I was having disciplinary problems while in the U.S. Army, in that two-year stint. I guess it was a sense of rebellion that continued on from the time I was in high school years. But I laid in the bunk realizing that I had an opportunity to receive the benefits of the GI bill. And I remember laying in that bunk bed looking up at the ceiling and saying, "What am I going to do?" In about three weeks I receive my release from the U.S. Army obviously to a reserve status, but what should I, what do I go back to? Driving trucks out in California, which I did prior to that service stint, or go to college? But it had been at least three years since I left high school, so I lost enthusiasm for academics. Obviously I was not a good student either in high school, so it was an issue of, can I make that, kind of discipline myself to do something worthwhile? I went back to California just to see where I stood, and my relations said, "You know, you have enough intelligence to go onto higher education. You have no business driving trucks and doing things." After about three or four months I realized it was not for me anymore, so I came back home, worked a little bit. My dad got me a job working in a punch... as a punch press operator and that was the worst. Maybe it was a blessing that I had that opportunity, so I said that's enough of that. So I enrolled at Ohio State University where my younger brother was in engineering and my older brother Ben was in engineering in college over there, so I certainly took that step. And, you know, it was a little difficult making the transition being away from academia for so long. But I struggled and I managed and once I got going with my wife who I had known for many years, that she encouraged me to go on and do something in college. I felt good about that.

AR: Did you start deciding on a major and a career path around that time?

RE: Well, you know, since my dad always wanted all of us to be engineers, except my oldest brother Hiroshi or Hank, rebelled, and Hank got his, post-graduate degree in sociology and anthropology at the University of Chicago. So he was not in good straights with my dad. But I thought maybe it'd be a good time for me to be in good straights with my dad, so I went into the College of Engineering at Ohio State and took up civil engineering. But as time went on I said that is certainly not for me. I said, "What am I doing?" I wasn't interested. So I took a series of tests to determine where I fitted in, and it was in medicine of all things.

AR: Huh. Aptitude testing?

RE: Yes. So I don't know, they got me a job at University Hospital as like an orderly, prior to med school. And... but then I realize now I didn't like blood, I didn't want to do surgery, so I went into optometry and I found my niche there. I wasn't sure that I wanted to pursue the practice of optometry or anything of that sort. I was, had good academic records enough to go on to work on a PhD, but unfortunately my adviser passed away. I was... I went out to practice, he said, "Get your feet wet," but by the time I was out in practice for six months, he passed away, died of, choked on a piece of food and died. And so, I don't know, my wife was not too enthused about me going back.

AR: So, what do you mean, you had a... what does it take to be a practicing optometrist?

RE: Well, I had my degree.

AR: Like bachelor's degree?

RE: Doctor of Optometry.

AR: Doctor of Optometry, but you were thinking about an academic PhD?

RE: Yeah, working on my masters and going after my PhD. But I had that opportunity at the University of Alabama, at the medical center to take, be the assistant clinic directorship over there. And also they were going to defray a lot of my expenses for my masters and I went down there to interview. I received okay, and I was all set to enroll, leave Oberlin, Ohio, and go down there, but we had our two kids. My wife did not like it down there. It was a time of turmoil there, some civil rights issues. Governor Wallace was ordered by the federal government to open the public schools to everybody and of course, there was a "white flight" out of the public schools. It was a mess. My wife didn't like that. She didn't want our kids to grow up in an environment that was chaotic. So I had second thoughts, and I finally turned it down, repaid the university for all the expenses they paid for me to be down there for an interview. She said, "You know, you could be a good optometrist, you could do things well." And, of course, we succeeded financially as well as...

AR: But you do have something of a research bent though that you continued to research and study eye diseases and...

RE: Yes. Even now I yearn to do things that are more academic in nature. I've given many talks, I've guest lectured here and there.

AR: But the field of optometry you moved into was also more clinical, right? More...

RE: Yes, you know, I was involved in so much way back then. There were no opportunities to use diagnostic drugs or therapeutic drugs, and I was involved, instrumental, very much so, with the State of Ohio, and the state professional association to get these across at the state legislative level, to be sure that we have all these rights. Even if we have the ability, we just didn't have the law behind us.

AR: You're saying that as an optometrist the laws didn't prevent you to use medications and prescribe medications?

RE: That's correct, way back in my early years of practice, absolutely so.

AR: You had to push for that?

RE: Absolutely so. But that was gratifying, but you know, there's always deep down... you often wonder what more could you have achieved in life. But you know, thank goodness I have a sensible wife who says, "You know, why would you want to do this?" Or she would say, "Why would you want to do that?" Well, it's self-satisfaction. Well, she said, "That's sort of being a little selfish about your life."

AR: Did you have children by that point too?

RE: Uh-huh, yes.

AR: So she's looking after the kids, too?

RE: Yeah, I realized that the family was a priority. So we enjoyed life, but at the same time enjoyed a lot of things that were academically related.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AR: So where was the bulk of your career spent? I know you're recently retired, or fairly recently.

RE: Half of my career was spent in private practice. Of course, I was always so busy I had to have associates. And a lot of them just wanted to go on their own like I did. So in my years, fourteen young people had become optometrists very successfully. They came through my office as patients, so that was something of pride that they want to emulate the things I did. But eventually, one of my ophthalmologist friend who came to practice in our county realized that he wanted to be associated with me of all things. [Laughs] And so we formulated a association, a partnership, where I said it would be great if we could hire Cracker Jack optometrists to do most of the general ophthalmology work and you retain specialists and we can form a group, which we did. So we had at that, in the beginning, about ten optometrists and ophthalmologists working together and it grew to be seventeen. Now it's twenty-eight.

AR: What's it called?

RE: It's called Lakeland Eye Surgeons and Consultants, Inc.

AR: So you're covering everything from diagnostics to giving prescriptions?

RE: Surgeries, everything was done, taking care of five hospitals in the area for eye care, emergency situations, so...

AR: All right.

RE: It was a good deal. We made sure we didn't lose friends, colleagues, made sure patients went back to them, but we provided the kind of care I think the patients expected. The bottom line is top notch patient care that people would appreciate.

AR: Did you have a, you know... and the focus I guess is kind of on Cleveland here, by the time you got back to Cleveland as a young man and started college, did you have the sense that you would be competitive in the job market no matter what field you went into by that point?

RE: I think so. There was always that degree of confidence. I think that even with my brothers, sisters, we always... I guess we grew up being a little competitive, but we always...

AR: But in the sense of, the racial barriers had come down by that point, where you might not have aspired to that?

RE: Well, you know, I recall coming to Oberlin, it was a diverse community of about seven thousand people. If you included the college it came to about nearly ten thousand, but it was such a diverse community with African American population of about 28 percent. And I really wanted that, but back in those times, in 1963, discrimination was there in a way. When I went to a bank to borrow some money, loan for buying professional equipment, I was denied that by all the local banks. So I had to go out of the county to another bank and they provided the money for me at that time. Of course, later they apologized that they, little did they know that somebody who was of color, so to speak, could succeed in the healthcare field.

AR: So they essentially admitted that they'd discriminated against you?

RE: Yes, and that was wonderful to hear. And of course then the medical community looked at me as...

AR: A little oddity?

RE: Oddity, so I was not accepted, but eventually I became the president of this town's medical society to render the care for everybody. And, of course, there was a lot of howling and protest but certainly...

AR: What's the timeframe on this? '60s, '70s?

RE: Back in the '60s... '60s into the early '70s, it was a very interesting time. But, you know, you roll with the punches. You've got to prove what you're capable of doing.

AR: Did, was there a JACL, Japanese American Citizens League chapter in the Cleveland area?

RE: That's right, uh-huh.

AR: And were you involved in it? Did you help to found it?

RE: No, I really didn't get involved in it until about 1980, '80s.

AR: It already existed and well-established before then?

RE: Yeah, but I did spend considerable time with JACL, you know, it was good.

AR: Just a side question. You know, Roger Daniels, who's kind of a real important person in Japanese American Studies, the "Dean of Japanese American Studies," lived in Cleveland or somewhere near, what's the other big C state?

RE: Cincinnati.

AR: Cincinnati is where he was stationed. Do you ever brush elbows with him?

RE: No, but I heard of him, yes. Cincinnati had a pretty good group of JACL members there. Yes, they did. They were considered, they combined with Dayton, another city nearby, Dayton-Cincinnati JACL, so yes, we heard a lot about them. Good success stories.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AR: Was the attitude about interracial mixing and marriage kinder in Ohio that it would have been in your childhood here in New Mexico? Was it more open? Or anyway, not to put a...

RE: I think through time... you know, when my wife and I were going through high school, we graduated six months apart from the same high school. But it was a no-no that we could not ask any Caucasians to be going to the senior prom for example, certainly dating was taboo. But you know, that changed soon after, I would say, five, six years after I finished high school. And that would be into the late '60s, early '70s. Back in the '50s, my brother had come back from World War II, out of the army, he enrolled at Northwestern University while he was a student there. He met Nancy, and Nancy was his wife-to-be. Nancy was of German Irish descent. Her father I think was one time the mayor of Youngstown, Ohio. But they were dating, but they were literally stoned. I mean, they were cursed and everything else. It didn't matter that they went shopping in a black part of South Chicago, or the white part of Evanston, they were literally stared down at. So they suffered an awful lot. When they got married that was even worse, where both of them were shunned by both parents, my parents as well as her parents, so that went on for a while.

AR: It was tough for people that --

RE: For eleven years of their marriage, and it was so unfortunate. My father obviously realized that he was so wrong, but being an old stoic Japanese, did not want to tell him that he apologized. But instead he put away a substantial amount of money to give to his grandchildren there. [Laughs]

AR: Well, let me ask you this, what's the best thing about being a Japanese American in Cleveland, and the worst things about it over the extended time period?

RE: I think the best thing was that all the Japanese American families did well. Both kids did well academically, they were good members of the greater Cleveland community. I think we were recognized as model people. You know, the old saying goes, that cliche, we were model people, but that was true in a great sense, and it was always that we were always smarter, our kids were smarter than our counterparts. [Laughs] And so we were looked at as being able to achieve academically as well as...

AR: Smarter or harder workers, what do you think?

RE: I think we were harder workers, really, we weren't that much smarter, I don't believe, truthfully. But it was perceived that way. It was great.

AR: Are there any negatives to that? Like say compared to California communities that you've lived in, or certainly not, I don't think it would fall down compared to Clovis, but are there negative aspects of being that far east?

RE: You know, I think interracial marriage was more prominent the further you got away from the...

AR: West Coast?

RE: West Coast people. I think partly it was, the opportunity to rub elbows with other Asians of the other sex was not as easy. And so you saw families even today where it's all mixed blood, very few married within the race.

AR: Uh-huh. And what's the danger with that? Is it that you think that maintaining some ethnic identity and Japanese-ness is important?

RE: Well, in a way, when we want to retain some of the cultural things, other than martial arts, you know, like... Taiko and some of the refined things, the culture that was there. It's slowly being lost, I think. I think the only thing that saved it was the thing about taiko. But around Ohio you're lucky to find one person of Japanese blood doing taiko, you know, so it's interesting. But I don't really see too much negative today. The negative comes with the influx of newer people from Asian countries.

AR: So have your children and grandchildren taken an interest in Japanese American culture and history?

RE: Absolutely not. That's... I try to put things to my granddaughter or even my son and daughter about, "You should take pride in that," but they've never expressed interest in what went on. However, it was interesting. My son was running for a public office in western Michigan, I mentioned I think he was running for trusteeship of the township. But he, in his letter of resignation since he was now moving from Holland, Michigan, to Raleigh, North Carolina, he mentioned that, "Isn't it wonderful that it was just one generation ago, my father was incarcerated in a camp being considered an enemy of this country and here I am having the opportunity to run for public office and all you people accepted me so graciously?" He said, "Where else could this ever happen but in America?"

AR: So he has internalized it even if he doesn't want to tell Dad.

RE: Yes, but he does take pride in that I was always involved in community affairs but he takes pride in the fact that he is a Japanese American. And of course his wife said, "I married your son because I wanted to have bright children." I said, "Oh my gosh, that's crazy."

AR: Is she Japanese?

RE: No, she's Dutch, of Dutch descent, of western Michigan. But no, in actuality, she saw my nephew... I mean, yeah, my nephew Steve who practices medicine in the Seattle area, and his wife, Carol, is blonde and the kids are the cutest kids in the world. And she's... when they were married she said, "I want good-looking kids like them," and she got her wish. We have a great, nice granddaughter, yes.

AR: Let me ask, because I'm not sure if Tom addressed this in the interview, but how did your family go about receiving redress, was it as part of the big 1988 Civil Liberties Act, was it automatic, or did you have to apply?

RE: No, automatically. I think you filled out a form, who you were, where you were and everything else and you were alive, and to prove that you were alive, you were paying your taxes, Social Security, you filed your income tax and all that. But around before 1980, sometime before that, my wife's brother was... at one time president of the national JACL. Henry Tanaka was his name and Randy Shibata, and some of those involved with JACL in New Mexico knew him well. But he asked that I work with him getting in touch with local congressmen around the area of northern Ohio to impress upon them the need to have this redress issue brought forth. And so, some... many years before that we were involved in that. Unfortunately, there were numbers of Japanese American families that were opposed to that. They were doing well, they were comfortable. They didn't want to rock the boat. They didn't want to cause a public issue of this redress and reparation issue brought up. They said it would be too embarrassing and besides, they were doing well enough they didn't need a "handout," so to speak. But interestingly, the same people who accepted all that money were the ones who opposed redress and reparations. So we don't think about that too much but it did happen obviously.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AR: So we know you're retired now, and what... let me see. Can you talk a little bit about your humanitarian work in your retirement years?

RE: Well, you know, for years I was quite aware of my brother-in-law, who was a plastic surgeon that was, he was involved in working with disfigured people in the leper colonies, whether it was in Kilimanjaro area or Mexico or Molokai. He would spend time repairing their disfigured faces. He also spent time in the Vietnam War repairing hundreds of children's faces and disfigured faces caught in the crossfires of the war. But I also wanted to spend at least two to four years of my life doing humanitarian work as well, so I've been involved in doing that. I do the free clinic doing eye examinations, the free clinic, county free clinic I go once a year to do eye care in South American countries, Central America.

AR: Is there a particular organization you work with there?

RE: Not really, but there's a group called... Volunteer Ophthalmic Services to... for Humanity, VOSH, and I enjoy that because it's comprised of everybody from veterinarians to RNs to MDs and ODs and it's just that we all have a common interest in caring for people.

AR: Any particular stories, incidents in that charitable work that really stands out as a representative case of the work that you do and of the gratification that comes with it?

Well, you know, when people who are literally blinded, for disease conditions that we insist we get together with local surgeons, or surgeons in the proximal area to have them get their cataract surgeries or any kind of surgeries done, but also to provide glasses when they have no access to glasses, all, most of their lives, coming out of the jungle or some of the remote areas had never been with doctors of any kind. And to be able to see for the first time in their lives, to look at their faces like that. I mentioned a young boy who had a disease process called retinal blastoma and we certainly we caught it and saved his life because he would've had cancer that would've spread to his brain and he would've died. But it's gratifying.

AR: You also mentioned that a lot of the physicians you were working with were very much into the treatment of the symptoms and the diseases and not so much into the prevention and you pushed things like what?

RE: That's correct, yeah. When I first started a few years ago in this mission... missions abroad, I inquired whether there were any kind of education materials or any educational programs that would allow these people to understand that they can prevent these conditions from occurring because of the environment in which they lived in.

AR: What are some of the environmental dangers that...

RE: Well, one of the worst things, in Central America, in the northern part of South America, it's near the equatorial area. The equator in nearness to that, they would be exposed to three times the amount of ultraviolet radiation than we would up here in our hemisphere. So that that in itself, the ultraviolet radiation would cause all kinds of irritation both internal to the eyes as well as external, combined with wind, dust and so on, would create abnormal tissue growth across the eyeball, which eventually would blind these people without surgery. But having surgery would not guarantee that they would have good vision again for too long. Cast in the same environment without protective devices on the eyes would bring back the same thing even with vengeance so that 70 percent of the people who have had surgery would certainly succumb to bad vision again. So I developed a brochure in simple Spanish to explain that sunglasses are not just for attractive looks, it has a practical utilization.

AR: Does your group bring sunglasses down and distribute them?

RE: Yes, we would bring thousands and they would be gone in a matter of days. I'm embarking on fundraising in the Ohio, greater Ohio area, with Lions Club to be able to purchase good quality sunglasses of all things coming out of China. And so if Wal-Mart sells them for $4.99, we can get 'em for fifty cents apiece. So, that's remarkable.

AR: You're probably shaking up the anthropologists over there who showed up one year and the next year everybody's got sunglasses on.

RE: [Laughs] We certainly... I'm so grateful that there's the existence of International Lions Club who helps us out to distribute all of these things and distribute those brochures to educate these people.

AR: Well, what do you think is your greatest personal achievement?

RE: I don't know. Educating people about good health, practicing good health measures, I think that's what's necessary in America today to reduce the cost of health care is getting into more preventative medicine. We need to do that and we need to work effectively in that area. I mean we can't go on with continuing, rise and high cost of health care. But if I've done anything good, I think I've done my share of educating people that good health means so much, even for the eyes.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AR: How about what do you think the legacy of your generation, the Nisei generation is, have you thought about that?

RE: Well you know...

AR: Let me back up and let me ask you this. What kind of Japanese traits do you like to see passed on to the future generations and which kind of Japanese traits did you, you or your generation and your siblings renounce?

RE: I think what's missing today mostly in our third, fourth, maybe fifth generation is the fact that they don't understand the word "endure." I think it was pounded into us, no matter how uncomfortable situations were, such as our incarceration into these camps and that, it was the word Japanese call shikata ga nai, it can't be helped but you must learn to endure these unfortunate circumstances. For somewhere on the horizon good things will be there if you work hard and you stay and you do endure the problems that we have now. I think that's one of the important things. I think another important thing is respecting elders, and also make sure the children respect elders. You bring up your kids to respect the older generation.

AR: Are there any traits or characteristics of your parents' generation that you said, "We don't need that"? That haven't fit well with your life or that you...

RE: Oh, you know, I think one of the things was that I didn't like with my parents... I don't think it's a big issue but as much as they loved us, there was no great expression of love by hugging, expressing, "I love you," or things of that. And I've done my darndest and so did my wife to make sure that the kids understood that we do care with them, we verbalize, hug them, did things. I think if there's any fault with that generation, or even the second generation, many of them still carried that apartness and, not very good, it's not good. I think we got the good things in America that says, let's show a little expression of love, care.

AR: Well, do you want to respond to that question about the Nisei and their contributions to...

RE: Well, that's a tough one. They, you know, if they did anything they, we all had to prove our loyalty to this country. We had to prove to everybody that we are good citizens, we are American as apple pie, we can be, but let us retain our culture, let us retain some of the customs. After all, did not all the other immigrants come with their customs and their celebration of something they brought back from the old country? I think we had to prove that we were truly good Americans first. I think the Nisei, the soldiers who fought in the battles went out there to prove that we are good Americans. I think those on the home front, we all, our parents said, "Show that you are good Americans. Show the good side all the time." And I think that was the generation that had to do those things to be accepted.

AR: Well, we're going to conclude this formal part of the interviewing process and I just wanted to ask if you have anything you want to add for people who may listen to this interview or read the transcripts.

RE: Oh, not right now. Maybe I can think about it.

AR: Well, thank you very much for participating in our project and for this interview.

RE: You're welcome, sure.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

[Location: Outdoors in Clovis, New Mexico, near the railyard.]

AR: -- two hundred yards or so from where we estimate that the Japanese colony of was of Clovis, right? And there's, we've been over there, there's not much left, but if somebody came here in 1938 or something, what would they have seen when they, when they went to the Japanese colony, like in terms of buildings and such?

RE: Right now I'm standing in part of the cattle grazing field that was there. It was quite expansive out there. If you look back in the background there was, there were of course no telephone poles or anything of that sort but there was a huge, huge barrier like fencing that was about 20 feet high that sort of kept people away from our Japanese camp that was established way out over there. It sort of gave us some privacy. Sort of... it just defined where we were out there, of course. And us kids, we used to come out here and pick cactus or catch tarantulas or things of that sort, but this was our playground, so to speak, as kids in here.

AR: All right. Can you, in as much detail as possible, describe the interior of your home, various rooms, amenities like plumbing or electricity, heating system, the decor, the smells, the size, the size of the place and maybe the sleeping arrangements?

RE: Yeah, our house was rather a small house, probably at most three bedrooms. I think it was really two bedrooms where all of us were sort of packed in there, just to sleep in.

AR: How many kids again?

RE: There were... actually to begin with, there were ten of us. But by the time I came along in my mother and dad's life, there were eight of us surviving. So pretty much we lived there, and then in 1938 my brother left. However, there were no indoor plumbing so to speak so we had an outhouse adjacent to the house. There was, electricity came along in the mid-'30s, if I'm not mistaken. And there was running water, of course, I guess, you know, you pump the water from a thing and so it was rather crude. The floors were made out of boards, you know, and you could tell it was warped in places so you had to be careful you didn't stumble over here and there. There was a small living room, probably no more than eight feet by eight feet, so to speak.

AR: Wood heat, or wood stoves for heat?

RE: Uh-huh, we had wood stove, coal burning stove. Us kids used to go pick up loose coals from the railroad yard in the pails here and there and we would pick them up and then we'd bring them home and of course we picked up cow chips out in the field to... they worked both as fertilizer and of course we threw them in, my mother threw them in the stove they kept us pretty much warm throughout the cold nights. Yes, and there was a chicken coop nearby and that's where we got our eggs.

AR: Was there much decor on the walls and was it Japanese in flavor?

RE: No, everything was rather simple. It was just a very, very modest little home. Of course we lived outside the Japanese compound so to speak and everybody else lived in the... these sort of prefab type, prefab like structures.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AR: What kind of emotions do you have returning to this place after all these years?

RE: Well, in a way, we as kids enjoyed life in a way, so it's somewhat nostalgic. I don't think that any of us who were younger experienced any hardship, so to speak. We thought we were living quite a normal life. We had no idea what discrimination was so... yeah.

AR: Does it matter to you that there's virtually nothing left to mark the existence of that community?

RE: Yeah, it's so sad because, you know, many of us would like to go back to our roots and say, "This is where my home was," and everything. But it's very difficult to identify the structures that used to be there as identifiable.

AR: This building that we kind of see behind you, I refer to as kind of the tin Quonset hut, do you think, you have some memories of African American families living in this region of...

RE: Well, not exactly there. I would imagine the farmer who used to have horses, graze horses here, and there were cattles as well but there were horses as well. And we used to go lure the horses with treats and things but they apparently were... existed in this particular area. Whether they were confined in there, I really don't know. Across the way were African American families, a few who raised pigs, hogs, and that was probably it. And if we go down around this road nearby was the stockyard that...

AR: Did the African American kids go to school in town?

RE: No, I don't recall them. I think there was a one-room schoolhouse where Highway 70 runs over there. There was a one-room schoolhouse and I don't... we were privileged to go to the public school as a family, but those who didn't probably did encounter those other minorities there.

AR: Well, being here on a nice cloudy day in the coolness of the morning, does it bring back memories of what you would do as kids for fun?

RE: Oh, back those days summers were extremely hot, extremely hot, and so we would always be looking for a tall tree, cottonwood trees, to lay down under and take a siesta every day. Every day seemed to be cloudless days, hot and... very hot.

AR: You've spoken in previous interviews and other people have written about how the Anglo people from town would come by and buy vegetables from the Japanese and imported trinkets from Mr. Kimura?

RE: Yeah, basically the vegetables were grown by my mother and father in the back of the house. And so, yes, there'd be a smattering of people, maybe a dozen or so would come and buy vegetables on a Saturday morning. And that's when my mother, when us kids would help wash the vegetables and prepare them on, for the stand, and that's what they did.

AR: What were some of the kinds of vegetables you sold, do you remember?

RE: Well, you know, seasonally there would be cabbages, celery, lettuce, carrots, and you know, we even grew peanuts, but of course that was harvested in the fall. But the basic, basic vegetables that people wanted, we grew them. It was all irrigation farming, gardening so to speak. Mr. Kimura had an in with some import... area, so we would always anxiously await seeing these wooden crates come in from Japan and they would be... for the Japanese families they would, he would import soy sauce and all the Japanese condiments and things of that sort. For the American people, he had all these trinkets, little Japanese novelty things and necklaces and things, and people would come in Saturday morning, buy vegetables from my mother and father, go in to see Mr. Kimura's little gift shop adjacent to his quarters, their quarters, yes.

AR: So would you like to see some kind of a historical marker around here or somewhere else in Clovis that recognizes the history of the Japanese in Clovis?

RE: I think it would be nice because we were part of Clovis' history. I think our fathers, the Japanese railway workers, contributed immensely to the economy of this town. And of course we were part of Clovis.

AR: You know, you're a thoughtful, reflective man, do you think there's any larger lessons to be learned about what happened to the Japanese from Clovis during the war? Any thoughts on that? I mean, take your time and think about it.

RE: I think Clovis people were embarrassed at what happened without protecting us. We were not the enemy, but I think by and large we learned a lesson that hate and discrimination has no place in America today. But those are the difficult times we all faced but hopefully that we will never repeat history. History's always repeated by man, you know, as you know, and it's unfortunate.

AR: Okay. Do you want to add anything else at this, at this part of our interview, thinking about Clovis?

RE: No, but I certainly appreciate the opportunity to come back and revisit, certainly my brother and sister's gravesite, the area which I would have called home, and of course I look back, not in anger, but nostalgia and gratified that we had an opportunity to be part of this life here.

AR: Well, we're sure happy on behalf of the project to have you come back and take this time to interview with us.

RE: Thank you.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

[Location: Railyard near Clovis, New Mexico]

AR: Okay, Dr. Ebihara, can you explain to us what we're looking at here? We actually found some things on the landscape from your childhood, so what are we looking at?

RE: Well, this is the turntable in the roundhouse which was a huge, tall building about 30, 40 feet high. That's no longer here, but this, the remains is this turntable in which my dad worked on the locomotive. He was a machinist and so my dad worked in here. It used to be hotter than a firecracker in here. It was always, always where my dad worked every day of his life being a machinist. And of course this... it was contained in a big building. If you look in the distance, there's a tunnel entrance here and that, an entrance or exit, and we negotiated going into town through those tunnels.

AR: They went under the tracks?

RE: Yeah, it went under the tracks for hundreds of yards going into town near the train station or the depot, but...

AR: Was there any lighting in the tunnel or anything?

RE: Yes, there were lights in there, of course, but then vandals would come in and break the lights and it would, like we'd be groping our way through the tunnel to get to the other side so it wasn't always easy.

AR: Got to be scary for a young kid?

RE: Yes, it was, but it was the shortest distance to get into town. Otherwise we'd have to go over the highway, over on both ends, which would be quite a distance for us as kids to negotiate.

AR: Would you say you went through the tunnel almost every day?

RE: Pretty much every day, yeah, we did.


AR: Would you say almost on a daily basis, the Japanese community?

RE: Uh-huh. All the Japanese families, of course, utilized that to get to town because the distance to the highways on both sides were just too far for us to negotiate. So this was the shortest distance, so obviously we were segregated from the rest of the town, so we lived across the railroad tracks. And so the tunnel ran for a couple hundred yards or over to, near the railroad station or called the depot over there, and of course it was not always safe to be in the tunnel by yourself, we always had others who accompanied each so that, for protection. Because there were occasionally those...

AR: Ruffians?

RE: Ruffians who would be, yes.

AR: Waiting in the tunnel?

RE: In the tunnel to accost us, rob us or whatever.

AR: Were there any actual incidents where people got robbed or beat up or...

RE: Yes. That's why many years before, my mother cautioned us to be careful and be sure you were in groups. When we were in groups, nothing ever really happened, but those, there would be people, kids standing at the top of the stairway spitting at us as we came up the stairway, so you know, those incidents we could tolerate, yeah.

AR: Lot of name calling and...

RE: Yes, indeed.

AR: So... and as you remember the night when your families were removed from Clovis, this is the area where you saw folks gathering?

RE: Yes, you know, again, people had to come through the tunnel, so most likely they came, the vigilante, quote, "vigilante groups" came through the tunnel and came across. And from our vantage point we could see the oil torches obviously from there, yes.

AR: Yeah, your camp is probably about two or three hundred yards behind the camera.

RE: Right. About three hundred yards from this tunnel entrance or exit, yes.

AR: Wow, scary.

RE: It was, uh-huh.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

[Location: Downtown Clovis, New Mexico.]

AR: All right, Dr. Ebihara, we're in downtown Clovis, and with the backdrop of the Clovis Hotel behind you, we thought this was a good opportunity for you to reflect on some of the memories of being a child in Clovis.


AR: I know that you spoke about ways that the children made money?

RE: Oh, yes. We were enterprising young people. Sometimes we sold things, or tried to sell things that people said, "Oh, no, we don't want those," they were tarantulas or rattlers, rattlesnake or cactus in an old Campbell's soup container. But one of the things --

AR: Who were your customers? Who were your customers?

RE: Well, they were people who have a brief stop on the Pullman, the train would come twice a day, ten-thirty in the morning or eleven, and then at three-thirty in the afternoon. And us kids knew just when the Pullman would arrive so that we could beg for some money or whatever. But Hotel Clovis was the only hotel in Clovis at that time when we were growing up, and so we knew that some people would get off and stay at Hotel Clovis probably overnight, because the trip from the west going east would be a long ride or going the other way. So we would take our wagon and wait at the train station, at the depot, and then when people would say, "Well, where do we get a taxi?" Well, there were no taxis but we would say we can haul your luggage over there and they would, they would go with us and we would make five cents to ten cents. That was a lot of money for us kids at that time.

AR: What did you do with the money that you earned? What did you do with the money you earned?

RE: Oh, we would go to the local grocery store and buy little candies, you know, whatever, it was always about a penny or two cents for candies, but that's what we used the money for. But we were enterprising enough to do that. There were times we had no customers and there were times we had more than the wagon would hold with luggage. So it was great time.

AR: Did you have to contribute at all to the family income? Did the kids...

RE: No, when we were kids not really until later years when we were teenagers.


AR: So we're standing in front of the Lyceum Theater. Do you know... people of your generation, the movie house was always a very big thing in their life. Can you talk a little bit about what kind of movies you liked to go see and what kind they showed here?

RE: Big thing. I guess we were always used to entertaining movies like musicals, and that was always left us with lasting impression about life, how it was always bigger than Clovis obviously. You know, there was always interesting that, could there be life like that, so glamorous and so beautiful? But going to movies took us out of that ghetto existence, took us into another world, but we enjoyed that very much.

AR: Got out of your little camp environment?

RE: Lyceum, Lyceum theater in the background is probably one of the few lasting remnants of the old Clovis that we know of, you know. And of course if you look at the cobblestone streets that's here, it's what's left of the cobblestone but there... Clovis was, always had a celebration called the Pioneer Days. And so there would be parades and the Japanese community was involved in that with a little float depicting girls in kimonos with false cherry trees, and they would have parasols and people were always impressed with that beauty of the Japanese costumes and the pretty young ladies wearing those kimonos. So we were part of that celebration, Pioneer Days, yeah.

AR: I wonder if any residents ever took any photographs of that? That would be...

RE: A few, I would imagine, yeah, sure.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AR: Now, as I'm sure you know, in many of the places in the south and even in the west, these theaters tended to be segregated, and kids that were Japanese or Mexican or African American had to sit in the balcony. Was that the case here?

RE: You know, I don't recall that too much but most likely it did occur, but we weren't aware of it. I don't recall sitting in any particular place except in a church where we went to the First Baptist Church, and we had to sit in the back.

AR: Yeah, your family was the only Japanese Christians in the community?

RE: I believe so. I don't recall the other families that were converted to Christian religion.

AR: You spoke in a previous interview about why your parents decided to convert in the '30s, and I think you kind of touched on that and that's important. How did that affect the relationship between your parents and the other Japanese people that may have remained Buddhist or Shinto, practicing Shinto? Was that a sense of tension or difference?

RE: Well, I would imagine, I can't say for certainty, but I guess there was a little bit of resentment. We became somewhat of an outcast since a majority and most all these people were of Shinto religion and came here with that religion, kept it, but the circumstances of Depression years, the death of my sister, made my father come to think that maybe God or the gods didn't favor us. So it was time to convert to the Christian religion that everybody lived by here.

AR: And I think you mentioned that, a desire on their part to make sure you guys learned English was a big factor, too?

RE: Yes, and the church became the focal point for us kids to learn to speak English. Of course, our first language was Japanese. Oftentimes we mixed Spanish with Japanese and not know it, but we had to learn English and of course we were gonna go to grade school.

AR: I see. How often did you go to church?

RE: Well, you know, every Sunday, the Baptist Church had an old rickety bus and they would pick us up around ten, ten-thirty in the morning and we had to go to Sunday school so, you know, we had to show up at church. They were very strict about attendance at the Baptist Church.

AR: How often did your parents attend the church?

RE: I don't recall my parents ever attending church. I know they were baptized in an old muddy creek but that was about it. [Laughs]

AR: Is that right? Did your father ever have any church fellows come over to your house or anything to discuss it with you?

RE: No, no, my father I don't think ever had any contact with church people. I guess they tried but they gave up since my father was a stubborn old cuss that said, "All right, I've converted so that's it. God should favor me now." But that was the end of that, you know, so.

AR: Kind of on that topic, did... when you were growing up and again maybe not exclusively you, but your siblings, did kids from Clovis come to the Japanese camp to play and socialize? Did other kids...

RE: Not... not hardly. We were pretty much segregated. I guess parents of these kids in town really did not want them to be associated with us. We were sort of looked at as oddballs, odd people, practicing Japanese customs which was unfamiliar to them, and they didn't want any part of that really.

AR: And this is kind of the Anglo American community in particular?

RE: That's correct, uh huh. Most people here were, I understood, were of Welsh decent.

AR: Did any, did Mexican or Indian kids come socialize with you guys more or no?

RE: Not much at all either, so we were pretty much kept apart. We, Kimura kids and Ebihara kids always played together, did things together.

AR: I understand that your brothers and sisters had some friends in high school, Anglo friends. Did they ever go to their houses? Did your siblings ever go to their houses?

RE: I would imagine they did that because in the late... in about six, seven years ago when we met with some of the classmates who were Anglo Saxon people, but they spoke highly of them and they did socialize with them so that was great. However, that was limited to our family, not to Kimuras. We were just, I guess, a token... integration.

AR: Do you think the Christian identity helped to bring that down?

RE: I'm sure that helped. That helped greatly, yes, indeed. I think we no longer were foreigners, so to speak, because of conversion to Christianity.

AR: Uh-huh, right. You spoke about Christmas being kind of special to you, too, at Christmastime getting gifts from the church?

RE: Yeah, the church, I think we were so poor that even a little cellophane bag with apples, oranges, nuts and a candy cane, and a little toys meant a lot to us. I mean, it was a joyful time. We would get some kind of little books from the Sunday school teachers and so it was... it was a great time. I think it was in... back in 1940 when my brother finally went to California to find employment out there that he would send money and send money to my parents and say, "Buy some Christmas toys and things for our kids," and at that time we had our first Christmas tree and that was a wonderful experience.

AR: Well, if you don't mind a question about your spirituality today, did your experiences with the Christian church as a youth stick with you or did you have to kind of grow into that as an adult? Or...

RE: Well, I think we accepted that. My mother made sure that we went to church. Of course, the older ones rebelled and they did go to church but they joined other denominations outside of the Baptist faith. So us kids, some of us went to the Baptist church, but I was really pretty much that until I met my wife and became a United Methodist. So church has been --

AR: It's about the same anyway.

RE: Church and... has been a great part of our lives, yes.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

[Location: Baca Ranch.]

RE: This is where the log cabin was. The log cabin, this was the back, back door to the log cabin. That was the front of the log cabin. The log cabin, we never utilized this for anything; it was always empty. But years ago before we were there, back in the '30s, it was utilized as the mess hall or the kitchen for the Girl Scouts. Because the Girl Scouts used to utilize this facility after it was abandoned by the Civilian Conservation Corps people.

AR: Any reason why you guys didn't use it?

RE: Our cooking facilities were provided by a little wood burning stove inside the barracks. But as kids we used to come in here, and there'd be bluebirds and other birds would be trapped and we'd chase them around inside here. Other than that we very seldom had any need to be here. I don't think we ever had meetings or did anything really special in here.

AR: Do you know what this slab to the back would have been for?

RE: I don't know, it was the back, this is the back entrance, so I suppose they backed up the provisions and things they needed for the kitchen was here.

AR: Was the kitchen here?

RE: The kitchen was, yeah, the kitchen was, most likely was here. And this was a huge dining hall. But it was a magnificent log cabin structure.


AR: The site of the log cabin that wasn't utilized by the camp personnel.

RE: You see where this big tall pine tree is. This was the u-shaped, remember the u-shaped facilities where the Kimuras, Kimuras lived right here. The Kimura family lived here. In this angle was the big latrine. It had a lot of toilets and facility, washroom and everything was here. Our family was in this other wing of this big building, right up here. It was sort of like a courtyard right in here, and the latrine we shared over here. And this is where we lived, in this wing. Had to walk through the barracks to get to the latrine over here in this part of the building. Across the way was where the administrators, Mr. Tenney and the border patrol used to live in that little cottage where the fireplace is.


AR: Facing west now, what's that structure behind you?

RE: That structure behind us was a nice little cabin, cottage-like, and that's where the, Mr. Tenney, who was a supervisor here, and his, another man was in there. They pretty much were called administrators of this whole camp.

AR: Camp. And they're officers of the INS, Immigration Service?

RE: Yes, they were. And so, the front of our quarters here always faced that way to their front. If you notice that big pine tree there, back in those times we were here, many of the pine trees were as big as that. We were just surrounded with huge pine trees reaching to the sky. But that's what it was like, until, of course, the fires in the 1950s, the forest fire that raked through this canyon wiped out all the big tall pine trees.

AR: Now you said your father and some of the other Issei actually had cut down pine trees.

RE: Cut down pine trees perhaps as big as that. It was incredible because they somehow obstructed the view that the administrators wanted all of us. So they were all in here, huge pine trees, and they chopped down about a half a dozen of those huge pine trees.

AR: Now was the camp actually enclosed with barbed wire?

RE: No, no, uh-uh, only the barbed wires were where the cattle would not, would be behind that. The ranchers were even there then leasing the federal land here.

AR: I see, so they didn't string barbed wire to keep you guys in or anything?

RE: No, not at all, not at all.

AR: Now you said there was one u-shaped building if we look off to the north here.

RE: Uh-huh. Right here, adjacent to the slab, the Kimuras were on that one wing of that u-shaped building. We were on the other building, the other wing.

AR: Other wing, and then there was a second u-shaped building?

RE: There was another u-shaped one that was pretty much abandoned. Now if you look over there, now to the left of the administrators' cottage was another two cottages there. One of them, next to the administrator, pretty much about 30 yards away, my sister Amy and my sister Fumi lived there because there were too many of us in this cottage, this quarters. And then, the last building as you came in here was Mr., the Hataye family and Nishibata, or the other family lived there.

AR: And they really were just a couple, man and wife?

RE: That man and wife, I'm sorry, man and wife.

AR: And how big was there structure, was it as big as the u-shaped one?

RE: No, no, it was just like the one that was just... like small cottages across the way. And apparently back in the '30s when the Girl Scouts would come, that's where the scout leaders used to live in those cottages. I'm not so sure that these quarters that were the u-shaped quarters were prefab buildings that were built by, for, to accommodate CCC men, I guess after the Girl Scouts pretty much abandoned this area. I don't know which came first.

AR: Girl Scouts or CCC.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AR: Now weren't there some single men in the Clovis community, and if so, when they were moved here, where were they housed?

RE: Over there, in the adjacent cottage to where my sisters lived in.

AR: Okay, but you described a couple, I can't remember the names, but you've described...

RE: Mr. Hataye, I think, was one, and Mr. Nishibata.

AR: Uh-huh, and they were married, had wives? You're not remembering?

RE: I don't think so.

AR: Okay, all right.

RE: I'm not so sure.

AR: Because I'm trying to think, you know, thirty people, there were probably eight or ten people in your family, probably a similar number in the Kimura family. So we need to account for another ten people, that's probably close.

RE: I think originally the Hatayes were here but they got a release to go work somewhere else, so that sort of depleted a number of kids.

AR: I see, uh-huh.

RE: Yeah, that's what I would assume, yeah.

AR: Okay, all right, and we're not seeing anything on this landscape here where the two u-shaped buildings were, right?

RE: There's absolutely nothing left.

AR: Nothing left here.

RE: Now, facing in that direction was another prefab building, short it may be, but we utilized that as a recreation building. So the movies were shown when they could come and bring some movies. I recall seeing movies like Deanna Durbin, who was a film actress who was very popular back in the '40s. And so you would see some movies of her or there were other...

AR: Hollywood style movies, but maybe...

RE: Hollywood, yes...

AR: ...older movies, or current?

RE: Older. Oh, I would not say there were current, but they were back from the late '30s to the early '40s, I would assume. There were some. I remember a character named Ishkabibble, or something of that sort, so it was always, I could always remember there was a horror story. There was a hand reached out from behind a bed thing, and reaching in to grab somebody and that left me with fear every night when I went to bed, you know. But movies were shown, games were played in there, whatever.

AR: It sounds like the camp administrators made some effort to give you guys some semblance of normalcy there.

RE: Yes, they did. And that's where my sister also was trying to teach us to learn, get a little more education, yes.


RE: This is where the recreation building was, right here. I would say it was about 40 feet long, one-story, prefab building.

AR: Does this impression in the ground mean anything to you here?

RE: No this depression, I really don't understand why it was there. It could've been behind that building, for reasons that we never saw that.

AR: Where was the sewage leach field that you described?

RE: The leach field was somewhere back in there, behind the administrators building and behind where, that little one story building where my sisters, two sisters, lived. If you got close to it you could smell it, you know. But it apparently was not functioning well, so yeah, the sewage system was not good. But right in there was the center of the whole compound, so to speak, right in there.

AR: And you didn't have running water in the barracks area, but you had the latrines facilities behind it?

RE: Well, it was toilet, flush toilets and everything. The running water, but the running water was not within our quarters. I think we all had to, I think my mother went to the back in the latrine area to do the laundry, as well as washing the dishes and things like that.

AR: But there was cook facilities in your quarters?

RE: Yeah, there was always a little potbelly stove, and my mother utilized that to do her cooking. It was wrought-iron type of stove, yes.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AR: So what were you saying about the mountains?

RE: Well during the thunderstorms we would all sit around or stand around and watch the lightning strikes. There were times the lightning would hit some trees and there would be small forest fires. And the Forest Service would quickly get up there and douse the fire. But it was always a spectacular sight to see bolts of lightning hitting tall pine trees.

AR: And even on clear days it's beautiful mountain range, huh?

RE: Yes.

AR: You said that you and some of your siblings actually hiked those hills.

RE: Uh-huh. I would believe my brother Ben initiated that. You know, he was a teenager and was always daring to do things, and so we never got too far. Us kids only went part of the way, always followed the crick that ran down the mountain so that we wouldn't get lost. We had to have some landmarks or something to come back to. The crick ran down and along in front of Mr. Tenney's cottage there. And, would you believe, that's where we gathered the watercress, in that area. It was always something, yes.

AR: Did you, was there any flack for going on that long hike?

RE: No, you know, we never said anything. So apparently, you know, they ignored the fact that we were kids, and kids needed to travel to do things.

AR: And there were no guards or guard towers?

RE: No, they pretty much, the immigration authorities really trusted us.

AR: And where could you go, right?

RE: Yeah. And we became very close, so nobody's gonna run away or go anywhere. Where would we go? We also, kids, used to, we used to entrap trouts on the streams, and by golly it was fun catching trout.

AR: So there's another stream on that side of the camp?

RE: Uh-huh. The stream ran over to that area, and of course, seasonally it ran continuously, sometimes a little low, sometimes with the rains up in the mountains, the crick would rise. But we created a dam so to speak, or rocks, let the water sieve through, chase the trout downstream and then we would trap 'em in that pool and net 'em out.

AR: So there's a little creek on this side of the camp and a little creek on...

RE: Uh-huh, the little crick there was more of the small cricks and the bigger cricks ran from that way.

AR: I see, uh-huh.


AR: Was there any kind of a, you know, marking at the entrance to the camp or anything like that?

RE: No, there was a gate.

AR: A gate.

RE: There was a gate. Most likely they wanted to keep any people of curiosity out of here.


AR: There's another part of it, is this too far down to be part of the housing?

RE: Yeah, 'cause I remember there was, it was from that road, we'd not paid much attention, us kids used to walk down here, go across the roadway, and up to the farmer's. He had a little orchard and we used to raid that during, when the apple was growing in the fall. Ate green apples.

AR: But you said that the house, the cottages your sisters lived in were much closer to the guard tower?

RE: Right there, yeah, right up in there. The first quarters you hit was right to the left side. And then there was the next one, where my sisters lived in, and then administrators' building up over where the fireplace is. So there were three.

AR: Pretty closely together.

RE: Yeah, pretty close together indeed.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AR: We're near the entrance of what would've been the camp back then, the Baca Ranch or Old Raton Camp, and we just traveled over a dirt road up from the main highway. About how many times do you think you traveled up and down that road?

RE: Well, you know, often there were my older, older sisters would accompany them going to Capitan or somewhere, mostly doing just organization of getting our kids' education so my sister Amy spent more time in the...

AR: Commuting.

RE: Commuting out of here, so...

AR: Now was that road in much worse condition back in those days?

RE: Absolutely, the road conditions were really bumpety-bumpety. And, you know, she probably spent all of the day, they would leave early in the morning and come back late, late in the day. As I said before, at times if there were rain storms, you know, gully washers, they couldn't ford the cricks, the cricks were really something, it was deep.

AR: In as much detail as you can, can you describe the living quarters that you lived in? I mean, we saw the physical layout, but the interior, what would that have been like?

RE: Well, the interior of these quarters were rather austere. It was just, there wasn't much to it. I don't recall, but they had, more or less, I think, asbestos boards that were used. Today we use... what do you call it, those sheets? Drywall, drywall.

Well, instead of drywalls, they were all covered with compressed asbestos, so it's a wonder none of us suffer from pulmonary problems. But you know, us kids, we used to see punched out holes here and there. Looked down in there and these CCC boys probably just hid things behind that. But we tried our best to make it look good by patching up any holes. But they were lined with asbestos boards, I will tell you. Compressed boards that looked like fiber, fibrous material.

AR: What was the bedding like?

RE: Oh, more or less, thin mattress, like cot mattress.

AR: On metal...

RE: That's right, spring. It was just like living in an army cot. I think essentially that's what we slept on was army cots, with thin mattresses.

AR: Some of the things written, there's a lot of discussion of how your father and the other Issei men would gather materials around the camp and do repairs. Is that right?

RE: Yes, they did whatever they could to make life easier. If you recall, in World War II, soap was also rationed, so my father and other men had brilliant ideas that if they could get animal fat, which was easy to get, and lye, so with lye and animal fat they would make all the soap that we needed. It was sometimes, the mixture was so strong that it would literally burn your skin. Nobody could say we weren't clean. But obviously it was awful strong. [Laughs]

AR: What about other things, cosmetics or that kind of stuff?

RE: Right, I mean, we had to make do with what we could.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AR: So Roy, you're walking up a road toward the residences, but this road didn't exist then?

RE: This road did not exist here. Where the road is now going is actually where the cottages were, the two cottages that were here, the three cottages were right in this, right where the road is. So this road was not here. If it was, it was more to the, to my right here, and it was not any fancy road.

AR: It was a trail?

RE: It was just a muddy trail, like, allowed the automobiles to come by, yes.


AR: So it's sort of unfortunate in the Forest Service's lack of historical consciousness that when they built this road coming up to the new camp site, the recreational area, they pretty much demolished the foundations or whatever was left of the housing that stretched from here, is that right?

RE: That's gone, yeah. This was the back end, back end of the back wall of the cottage or cabin here, the administrators lived in. So it extended out, somewhere about like this, came out to about here.

AR: Relatively small houses then.

RE: Yeah, you know it wasn't very big. I would say probably was no more than about 20 feet long, by maybe 12 feet wide, rather small.

AR: And your sisters' cottage?

RE: The one just over there.

AR: So their foundation probably would've been on this road area, too?

RE: Part of this road, the foundation would've been on part of what is this road now.

AR: And then at least one more structure further south.

RE: Yes and there was another structure, uh-huh.

AR: This might be a good time to ask about the types of food that you received from the government at the camp. Do you recall the types of food that you ate? Did you have rice or did you end up with oatmeal or what was it?

RE: You know, whatever they could pick up that was not rationed off. It was rationed, we got little bits and pieces. But, you know, it was like bacon, or animal fat, some beef, pork, whatever that they could pick up. Sugar, flours, you know, the essentials for cooking that my mother and Mrs. Kimura and all of the women could cook used.

AR: Did you miss anything, like was there a lack of soy sauce or rice or...

RE: Yes, I think we sure did. But you know we adjusted to whatever was palatable, we took up. But the gardens my dad started somewhere around April, May, and certainly we all enjoyed the fruit of his labor, you know, cabbages, carrots.

AR: The gardens would've been off in that direction?

RE: Right. It was behind our quarters, behind the latrine about 50 to 100 feet out past there. There was a clearing, sufficient sunlight to hit the garden, and those cabbages were humongous; they were huge. The carrots were huge. We wondered why the vegetables were double the size of the vegetables that my father grew in Clovis. The thing is that we're at a higher elevation, the ultraviolet radiation is stronger, of course, up in higher elevation. That contributed to gigantic vegetables. My dad was very proud of that. He always used to talk about the ten-pound cabbages, you know. Big cabbages.

AR: But he would've had to clear that land from scratch, right?

RE: Oh, the clearing of the land was very difficult. It took him a lot of time to get the rocks and stones out of there, and they were utilized to define the garden lot. That was interesting.

AR: So from your childhood perspective, you thought this was a pretty good place to live?

RE: Absolutely. All of the Kimura kids and us, we thought this was, this was heaven. Every day we looked forward to something that was challenging to do. We were always active; I don't think we had a dull moment. We just enjoyed, we were nature boys.

AR: Had you been exposed to mountainous territory before?

RE: No. It was just astounding because we lived in the high plains, Clovis, New Mexico area. And, of course, we had, none of us had ever seen mountains as tall as these mountains. It was just spectacular to us.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AR: Okay. Even as we have a conversation about how this might have looked like paradise to younger children, it's important to note, right, that even the camp administrators pointed out that many of the Issei parents were despondent, and especially the women. And there was even in the reports, thoughts of suicide that were expressed, right? So, harder on the adults, right?

RE: Absolutely, it was difficult. As kids we didn't realize how much of a psychological impact this kind of confinement here meant because, you know, every day, what was there for them to focus on that would be of any interest? Us kids were always discovering nature, finding the creatures around, but I guess it was very depressing for them, and also to be uprooted from their day-to-day routine. This was just too overwhelming for them I'm sure.

AR: And the fathers, your father and the other men consistently applying to get their jobs back and writing letters.

RE: Right, and trying to keep busy doing things that they were asked to do by the administrators here. I don't know, you know? It's tough. It was tough.

AR: That's right. Do you have any thoughts about the Forest Service's use of this camp site? Good, bad? And to take that a little further, would you like to see some kind of historic marker placed here to commemorate that moment in time when it became a Japanese confinement camp?

RE: I think it would be nice to have some historical markers. After all, all these people who camp or frequent through here on visits would never understand what this was about. I think it should also go back to the days that it was a Girl Scout camp or... lived here by the CCC boys who reforested the area. But most importantly that, in America, some families were detained here during World War II.

AR: I think that's a good idea, to cover the range of the history.

RE: I think... at least a marker, but hopefully that this area will be preserved in some nice state.

AR: Yeah, well, probably a conscious decision to leave that chimney there, so that's something, I guess.

RE: That's great. That and the slab of concrete are the only things that remind us about the locale of where we were quartered. It's the only reminder that we were here.

AR: Do you have any final reflections about this place before we...

RE: Well, as I look towards the mountains, the beauty of the mountain never changes. It's just nostalgic. For me, it's the most beautiful thing there is, and it'll be forever etched in my mind, the beauty of the mountains in the background.


RE: This open area is where my father had his vegetable garden. It wasn't very big, but enough vegetables were grown to feed all of us here. Grew giant cabbages.

AR: Did he get help from the other people in the camp to work on his garden?

RE: I don't recall. I'm sure Mr. Kimura and others might have volunteered, but my dad was very particular how his garden was treated. So he cultivated quite a bit himself. But this area was just full of rocks and stones, and my father maintained clearing that every day.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AR: All right, so in January of 1942, your family got word that they would be dispersed to the Topaz Relocation Camp where your brother lived, right? Or where your brother had been sent.

RE: No, that was December.

AR: Oh, December.

RE: About the middle of December, we were apparently, after almost a year had lapsed, and obviously the authorities here, for reasons that it might have been too costly, and how long we would be detained here was a major question mark, I would imagine. I think secondly, all these major relocation camps were now established in the interior parts of the west, so that that was an opportunity for us to be released to these camps of our choosing.

AR: Another thing, there was the issue of education. You were not allowed to --

RE: That's correct. That was deprived, and, of course, that was on the minds of these authorities, as to it's time for these kids to get some education. So a lot of these issues were compounded issues that needed to be resolved.

AR: What was your reaction when you first got to Topaz, Utah? What did you see and what was that like, coming from this place?

RE: First of all, we left here, and they transported us to the railway station in Carrizozo, which is about twenty miles from here or so. And then we went on a train. It was late in the day, and I recall it was the most horrifying experience to be seeing a camp, a concentration camp, with barbed wire fences, high fences, and military guards on watchtowers and machine guns. It was a frightening experience. But to see the hundreds and thousands of Asian faces was just something that we had never experienced in our lives. It was a horrifying experience, so to speak.

AR: And then you were back in a landscape that was pretty much like Clovis in its appearance, right?

RE: Oh, it was even worse. It was part of the desert of Utah.

AR: So did you long to be back here at this camp?

RE: Oh, absolutely. Our family talked about, "Oh, gosh, I wish could be living in Old Raton Ranch again." We all missed it, but obviously adults said, "It's not possible." We had a one-year vacation. How many kids could say they had eleven months of vacation?

AR: Up in the mountains. Up in the mountains?

RE: Yes, in the mountains.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

AR: Okay, we're standing in front of the Capitan Elementary School now. Of course, this is a newer building, and in the '40s it would have been a much different schoolhouse that actually accommodated all children from kindergarten through twelfth grade, I think. And I'd like for you to recount what happened when you were at the Baca camp site in terms of education for the children.

RE: Well, it wasn't too long after we got there in January, late January, that my sister raised a concern with the authorities that the kids needed to get an education. After all, January was a school month, and kids needed to have an education, and they had somewhat forgotten about that fact. And so Mr. Tenney and the authorities went to the Capitan School Board which was the closest school district around. And they negotiated a situation where seventeen of us kids would be allowed to go to school, attend the school here. Well, we spent about three days in school here. I think the third day, however, a vigilante group formed and they were adult men who had shotguns and said, "Uh-uh, the kids are not going in that building again." So we all went back in the sedans and whatever, the vans, and we went back and that was the end of our education.

AR: At this location, right? What grade was your sister in at this time? About how old was she?

RE: My sister hadn't quite finished Clovis High School. She was a senior at that time and when the war broke out. So her education was limited to eleven-and-a-half years of school.

AR: And this is Amy or Emiko, right?

RE: Amy, uh-huh, my sister Amy. So they decided that the next best thing was to have the principal at the Clovis High School send her all the books that were necessary to educate all of us. And so she embarked on trying to teach us the best she could, but of course, with no teaching experience, it never materialized, so after a month or so she finally gave up and that was the end of our education.


AR: When we were at Fort Stanton in our previous trip, your sister also had a little run-in with authorities there, too. Can you recap what happened when they brought you to Fort Stanton?

RE: After about eight or nine hours of driving time coming from Clovis to Fort Stanton, why we were there I don't know, but anyhow, we ended up there before the sun came up, and my sister inquired whether we were going to be incarcerated or detained over in this facility. And, apparently they said that's what the plan was. Well, my sister said, well, it's apparent to her that it was a POW camp, German war prisoners, and since we were mostly kids, we're American citizens, we could not be confined in that facility. So they then talked it over, and after we had breakfast over there some time later, they decided to put us in an abandoned CCC camp, which is the Civilian Conservation Corps camp, and so in Baca Canyon, and that's where we ended up.

AR: Yes, and I think one of the concerns she raised was that you were going to be housed with German prisoners, with men, right?

RE: That's correct.

AR: And your kids and women and families were gonna be...

RE: They were mostly, they were men, and there was no way that you could put families in there amongst these POWs.

AR: In those three days when you were in the classes, how did the other teachers and the children treat you?

RE: It was all right. It was a little strained because the majority of the kids were, I didn't recall seeing any white students. They were mostly American Indian students in there, but I don't recall any incidents at all.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2008 New Mexico JACL and Densho. All Rights Reserved.