Densho Digital Archive
Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection
Title: Shig Yabu Interview
Narrator: Shig Yabu
Interviewer: Raechel Donahue
Location: Camarillo, California
Date: 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-yshig-02-0003

<Begin Segment 3>

RD: So on the day when you left for Heart Mountain, did you know where you were going?

SY: Well, they told us they were going to Wyoming, but they didn't say where. But one of the things I noticed about the camp in Pomona was a lot of the, some of the people used to say, "Would you give us your sugar if you didn't use it?" Like when they gave us cereal, they gave us a little package deal such as you get at McDonalds, you know, the sugar. And you could only use so much sugar. And some people have a little gallon can, empty can, and they would fill that up with sugar. And I often wondered, "What on earth are they gonna do with all that sugar?" Someone, later on, a couple years ago told me that they were probably making liquor.

RD: One of the things we were talking about, because we know that, you leave people in there long enough, they're finding some way to make some kind of wine or some kind of, yeah, exactly, and you need that. The sugar was very valuable then, too.

SY: Then I grew up in the era of cowboys and Indians, and I always assumed that the Indians were real bad because if you look at the movie, they're always attacking. And so when they said Wyoming, I was really excited because I thought, well, here's my opportunity to see horses and cattles and cowboys and Indians. But all the way up there, we didn't see a single one. But one evening, somewhere near Salt Lake City or a little beyond, they says, "Well, you guys will get to go eat in the dining room in the train." Oh boy, that was really high tone, really plush for us. I was the first one in line. And my mother was behind me, kicking me along, "Hurry up, hurry up." Well, the first, the next train we entered were all military personnel, whether it was navy or army or coast guard or marines. They didn't have air force at that time, they had an army air corps. And I'm assuming that they were going towards Seattle to go to the Pacific, that's my assumption. But they also had their girlfriends or wives or whatnot, and some were laying down, kissing, embracing and whatnot. And all of a sudden they open up their eyes and they see a bunch of Japanese Americans with slanted eyes and black hair, and we were afraid to talk to them and they were stunned. And they were very nice, they didn't say a word. But I remember that because it was kind of a fearful thing to see so many of 'em. The next train full of military, the next train, then we went to the dining room to eat. Then we had to go backtrack and see the same people.

Then we went to Billings, Montana, and we saw a bunch of kids staring at us. I said, "Hey, come on over and talk to us." Well, the kids kind of backtracked and kind of wondering, "We don't want to see these enemy." So somebody had some leftover boxed lunches like cooked and apples and oranges, "Hey, would you want some orange, want some cookies?" Well, they came to the train and talked to us. We were there for about half an hour. And it was a pleasure talking to these people because what else is there to do in the train? It was a four-day trip.

And then we came to Heart Mountain late at night, it's cold, and an open-end truck, and they told us exactly... it was real confusing for the elderly, saying, "You're going to go to Block 14, you're going to go Block 20, we're going to let you off here." Don't forget, when you go to your barracks, there's no latrine, there's no running water, you have one light, and you have army beds and army blanket. And so we went to our barrack, it was Block 14-2-C. And my parents sat down on the bed, and I remember this real, one lightbulb, real dim light. And immediately we wanted to learn where the bathroom was, and they said, "In the morning and lunch and dinner you're going to hear a bunch of bells all throughout the camp," they had different sound. Because some people use a tire, some people use some kind of other metal, so they all had different sounds. So at breakfast time, we hear all kinds of different noises all over. But that was one way we knew what time it was. None of us had wristwatches or pocket watches or anything else, so that was the only way we knew what time, the approximate time.

RD: Was it just you didn't have watches because of your age, kids didn't wear wristwatches? They didn't take them from you or anything.

SY: Well, we couldn't afford them.

RD: Yeah, right. Okay, now let me ask you this. Let's go back to the train for a second. Again, the shades would have been down, right? Were there guards in your cars on the train?

SY: No.

RD: Oh, so you were totally peeking. And you never saw any cowboys.

SY: Well, we were very obedient. We did whatever was asked of us to do. We weren't looking for trouble, but we were eager to get to Heart Mountain. And the reason for that is, wow, we're going to go to a destination where there's gonna be eleven thousand people. You know, just the number itself was exciting.

RD: Eleven thousand Japanese people, Japanese American people. Well, you would have been sort of in a minority in San Francisco.

SY: That's true.

RD: The Japanese community then must have been much smaller. It's not that big now compared to the rest of the city. Would you say that for me? Because I don't think a lot of people realize that.

SY: Well, there was a, what they all Nihonmachi, which is Japantown. And most of the people lived pretty close to Japantown, the Japanese. And the reason for that, they were not permitted to live in the outskirts unless you worked for someone. Whereas my father and my mother worked as domestic workers, so sometimes they did live out. But 1948, when Sammy Lee, a Korean-born diver, was a gold medalist for the United States, he became a hero as a gold medalist. And so he became very popular and so he went to buy a house somewhere in Orange County, and they said, "You're Asian, you can't buy in certain locations, you can only buy in certain areas." Well, at that time, Congress passed a law that says you can't discriminate any race. If you have the money, you could buy in any area. So pretty soon, people started to migrate outwards.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.