Densho Digital Archive
Preserving California's Japantowns Collection
Title: Sat Kuwamoto Interview
Narrator: Sat Kuwamoto
Interviewers: Jill Shiraki (primary); Tom Ikeda (secondary)
Location: Fresno, California
Date: March 9, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-ksat-01-0017

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TI: Okay, so earlier you mentioned how, because your aunt, her health wasn't that good, that you didn't go to Jerome, Arkansas, but instead you went to Gila River.

SK: Uh-huh.

TI: So describe that, going to Gila River. What was that like?

SK: Oh, that was out in the desert, just outside of Phoenix. And let me see, I remember taking the... we were on the train going over there, and we landed late at night, and we went into our barrack. It was just like Fresno Assembly Center except that they were off the ground, the barracks were off the ground. At Fresno, the floor was right off the ground, right off the kitchen... I mean, right off the fairground. How do I describe that now? Well, over at Gila, we had steps where we walked up three or four steps into our barrack.

TI: So there was a space between the floor and the ground?

SK: Right.

TI: And why do you think they had that?

SK: I don't know. I really don't know. But anyway, that was a big difference. Instead of sleeping on the ground, we... instead of sleeping on the tar or the floor, we were about three foot, our floor was a wooden floor.

TI: And so describe Gila River. What are some memories from Gila River for you?

SK: Well, another fun time, too. Well, yeah, I shouldn't maybe say it, but my father was... I grew up in a family, gambling was just forbidden. No gambling at all. So when I got to Gila River, you know, I thought I'd like to be a pantry clerk, 'cause I had a pretty good time there. But we were one of the people that went to camp real late, and we were on the edge of the whole community there. One part of the... we're on the edge of the community, and I looked for something to do, and I couldn't find the kind of job that I wanted. I ended up working in a furniture warehouse quite a bit away, quite far away. And you were forbidden to take any kind of a die for anything. But one kid wanted to impress me, I guess. He had a knife, oh, about that long, pocket knife, and just to cut a little string, he opened it, and then he cut it. I guess he was showing off or something, but I later learned in the hardware business, that was a fruit knife, wouldn't cut anything. You could cut cantaloupes and watermelon with it, but that's about all it would do. [Laughs] Anyway, turned out to be one of the nicest guys that I know.

TI: So this was a co-worker in the furniture warehouse that you had. So furniture warehouse, what, describe that. I mean, who's the furniture for?

SK: Oh, well, we were in charge of furnishing the furniture for the incoming schoolteachers to teach the schoolkids, and the incoming personnel. Like if you were one of the officers or whatever you were in charge of, you know, Caucasian? That's what the furniture was there for, to supply their own barrack. They really had good furniture and everything.

TI: Well, yeah, so I'm curious. How did that furniture compare with what was in your room?

SK: Well, just a regular house furniture.

TI: So they had regular house furniture.

SK: Right.

TI: And what did you have in your room when you got there?

SK: Well, we didn't have hardly anything except what you built, you know, yourself. And let's see now... nothing like that kind of regular furniture you have now.

TI: So going back to the furniture for the... so I'm guessing this is for the WRA staff and schoolteachers, so what are some examples of the furniture that they got in their rooms?

SK: Well, regular furniture like you have in your home.

TI: So tables, chairs...

SK: Tables, chairs, dresser. I'll show you how, I'll tell you what the day was like. You go in early in the morning, the day started from eight o'clock in the morning. And I remember the foreman of our group was a man from Turlock. I can't even recall his name now. And the first thing after we take roll call, he'd say, "Who wants to work today?" Nobody. [Laughs] Nobody volunteered except there were two young guys like me, who should know a little better, but anyway... I put up my hand, and another kid from the coast put up his hand and we would do, take the furniture to the barrack where they lived. And so we loaded up the, some of the furniture, and we drove the car and we went over there and just, just took the... [laughs] I have to laugh about those days. Anyway, after our job was done taking the furnitures over there, we'd come back to this warehouse, and then we used our, the rest of the furniture. I mean, this house was full of furniture now. But we had a clubhouse there, and that's... I can hardly speak. [Laughs]

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Densho and Preserving California's Japantowns. All Rights Reserved.