Densho Digital Archive
Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection
Title: Joan Ritchie Doi Interview
Narrator: Joan Ritchie Doi
Interviewer: Raechel Donahue
Location: California
Date: 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-djoan-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

JD: I was born in Los Angeles, California, in Boyle Heights.

RD: And were your parents American citizens? Tell me about your parents.

JD: Yes, my parents were American citizens. My mom was born in Hawaii, my dad was born in Japan. Now I have to stop and think about that. But he is mixed, Italian and Japanese.

RD: And your mother was Japanese?

JD: My mother is Japanese.

RD: And they were, of course, both American citizens?

JD: Yes.

RD: And where did you go to school?

JD: I went to school at Malabar elementary school in Los Angeles.

RD: What was your typical life like before you went to camp here in Los Angeles?

JD: Before we went to camp? I guess we were just kids growing up, going to school, going to Japanese school, just having fun. It was just kind of a normal life.

RD: When you said you went to Japanese school, that's separate from your regular school?

JD: Yes. Every day after school we went to Japanese school.

RD: So you have quite a mixed culture. So you speak Japanese?

JD: No. [Laughs] I mean, I speak very little Japanese because it was interrupted when we were quite young.

RD: And do you remember hearing about the war or being notified that you were going to be taken to the assembly camp?

JD: Yes, because some of our neighbors, some of them were businessmen, and they were taken first and they were put in a different camp. They were Japanese schoolteachers and whatever, so they were taken away. And then we had to get ready to go, so, of course, parents were trying to sell everything that we possibly could sell.

RD: And how old were you when you went to the assembly camp?

JD: Let's see, I was ten, I believe.

RD: Did you go to Santa Anita?

JD: No. I was in Pomona Assembly Center. We lived where the horses lived, in the stables.

RD: That's the camp that I remember, because I went to school in Riverside. So I knew a lot of people. And so your family, did they own property at the time?

JD: No, they did not. So I guess all they had was neighbors or someone who just kept different possessions for us, but no, we did not own any property.

RD: Did you get everything back afterwards?

JD: No, I don't believe so.

RD: Tell me that -- use that as a sentence.

JD: Oh. No, my family were not able to get anything back that they had left behind.

RD: That's amazing. I knew people who lost nurseries and gardens and homes and all of that. So what was your first impression as a young girl coming to the assembly camp?

JD: I believe it was a little scary and also kind of dirty because the living conditions were so different from in a home. And I remember having to fill up bags with hay that would be our mattress. I don't know, it was just pretty different, so it was scary. As we got older it became a little different.

RD: I'm sorry, what?

JD: As we became older and went on to Heart Mountain, it was a little different. By this time we're used to living in this style and things were a little bit better, I believe, in Heart Mountain than in Pomona.

RD: Yeah, probably, but not much, from what I've seen. What did your parents tell you about why you were going?

JD: Well, I think we were aware of the war, and because we were Japanese, well, we knew they were sending us off to war. And as we got older, then we understood who was behind sending us to camp. But it took us a while to understand that. I was too young, really.

RD: What did your parents do to for a living?

JD: Actually my father was in jewelry business, but he had gotten sick. So at that point, my father had just gotten over being ill, so he wasn't doing anything. And my mom was working, she used to monogram handkerchiefs, men's shirts and things, and that's what she did to keep the family going.

RD: So you sold everything so you would have money to go to the camp, right?

JD: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RD: Tell me about the trip to Heart Mountain. Did you go back by train?

JD: Yes, we did. And I remember they had us pull down all the blinds because they didn't want anyone to see us. You know, I don't know at that point if we were afraid because we didn't know where we were going or we were just afraid because it was so mysterious, why do we have to pull the blinds down, etcetera. But I guess my mom and dad probably tried to keep us as calm as can be. And, actually, my dad didn't have to go, but he went with us, so...

RD: He didn't have to go?

JD: Right.

RD: Why?


JD: Because he was considered white, he didn't have to go.

RD: Because his surname was Italian?

JD: Yes. My last name was Ritchie, which was, originally was R-I-C-C-I, which is Ricci, but when he came to America, he changed it so it's more anglicized where people knew how to pronounce it.

RD: So he was a naturalized citizen.

JD: Yes.

RD: That's interesting. And what was your first impression of Heart Mountain? Do you happen to remember what time of year you went?

JD: No, I don't. But it probably was more in the summertime, because I remember later on having to buy winter clothes, warmer clothes, and ice skates for ice skating and etcetera. You know, I can't really remember whether at that age I was really upset about it all other than leaving your old friends behind and what our life was gonna be like, and all of us crammed together in one room. I have three sisters and a brother, but we also had another girl come live with us because her mother got sick, her father had passed away, and this lady asked my mom to take her child with her. So we were six of us all in one room. My mom and dad had a separate room. So it was just different for us to get used to living that way. Cold... no, maybe the cold came later.


JD: No, I had not seen snow before, so that was a little bit exciting, you know. Playing in snow, and my dad would go get some clean snow and put a little bit of canned cream or something on it and make some kind of dessert for us.

RD: You had snow pops. It was kind of like snow pops. And what about the guards? What do you remember about the guards at Heart Mountain?

JD: Well, we were in Block 27 where the guards were right there. So it was scary. That part was scary, you know, 'cause they were right there. And I guess we probably just never went near the guards, we just stayed away, although our barrack was lined up alongside of there. But, you know, I'm not sure how long they were there. I don't remember if they were there.

RD: We've heard that after a while they took them away because they realized no one could run away to anywhere.

JD: [Laughs] There was nowhere to go, right. That's true, though I don't remember how long they were there.

RD: And we talked to a women who was in her twenties yesterday, and she said the girls would get in trouble for talking to the guards.

JD: Well, I was too young, I wouldn't even think to talk to the guards at that point.

RD: So what did you expect to see in Wyoming? Did you expect to see, I don't know, cowboys and Indians?

JD: No.

RD: Didn't know where you were going?

JD: No, didn't know where we were going.

RD: Do you remember the swimming hole?

JD: Oh, yes, I've got pictures of the swimming hole. I was in Girl Scouts, so we camped out there. So that was fun.

RD: Tell me about the Girl Scouts.

JD: Don't ask, because I don't remember much about the Girl Scouts.

RD: So did your mom and dad fix up the barracks after a while?

JD: The best they could, they did. And my dad never ate in the cafeterias, he didn't like doing that. But my mom worked in the cafeteria, so she would bring his food home to him, and all of us would all just go with our friends to eat at the cafeteria. But my dad was spoiled.

RD: Were you allowed to cook in the barracks?

JD: No, I don't believe we did. Maybe later on we did because we used to have a couple of priests who came to play bridge. My mom and dad were bridge players, so they would come over and play bridge in the evenings with my mom and dad. So probably my mom did cook them things.

RD: Do you remember getting stuff from catalogs?

JD: Yes, I think that's how we got all our clothes. But there wasn't that much money because I remember having to wear hand-me-downs.


RD: There was a little boy that drowned in the canal, I mean, in the swimming hole, the irrigation ditch. Do you remember that?

JD: No, I really don't remember that.

RD: Okay, because he was probably just about your age.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RD: Now, I happen to know that there was this boy that had a crush on you in the eighth grade.

JD: [Laughs] I wonder who that was. You mean it was that short little guy that was in my class? And then he grew up and then I married him.

RD: What do you remember about Roy?

JD: You know, I don't really remember that much about Roy. I was never boy-crazy, I only liked to play with the boys, but we played games and baseball or whatever, so I was not, I guess I was more immature, young, whatever you want to call it. But I then met Roy later on in life and it was love at first sight, so what can I say?

RD: Tell me how you got married.

JD: How did we get married, Sweetheart? The date we picked and etcetera? Well, we picked February 14th so Roy would never forget the day. And then we went to buy a lot of penny Valentine cards, and that's how we announced our marriage to everyone.

RD: I've heard you were first in line at the chapel.

JD: Oh, that we were. In the middle... what time was it? First thing in the morning.

RD: How long was that after you re-met?

JD: It's embarrassing, not long.

RD: Hours, days?

JD: No, no, it was days.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

RD: Okay, let's go back to the camp for a second. Do you keep in touch with anybody that you knew in camp?

JD: Do I keep in touch with anyone I knew in camp? You know, you kind of forget whether you know 'em from camp. No, I don't believe I do.

RD: And then what happened, how did your parents rebuild their lives afterwards and what did they tell you about it? Because I remember a lot of Japanese families that were all Japanese -- not that your father was... he was half, but still -- that said just the Japanese expression for "it can't be helped"?

JD: Well, I guess maybe it was a little easier for my mom because my dad went out from the camps to, and they found these trailer camps to put people in, so they had somewhere to move to. And I remember first we moved to Santa Monica, and I don't remember what kind of home we lived in there. And then once the trailer courts were set up, then we moved into the trailer court. So we had that little advantage because my dad was one that went out looking for places for other people.

RD: Was he allowed to leave the camp more than others?

JD: Yes, he was. If someone was ill, say, one of our friends was born deaf, he was able to go to Chicago and find a home for them, a school to go to. So he was able to go in and out of camp.

RD: Did he not look Japanese?

JD: I guess he did. Definitely mixed. You'll see the pictures of him.

RD: We'll see. And finally, I find it interesting that there is such a lack of bitterness about people, or is it, do you think, that you just managed to suppress it all, or did you really not feel angry?

JD: You know, I don't think I'm angry. I think I'm more upset, because I feel like I'm insecure, I wish I could be more outgoing. I think in that way, it's upsetting.

RD: What do you think would happen if the American government tried to do it to today's young Japanese people?

JD: Never happen, I do not believe. The younger generation, our children, there would be no way they would go.

RD: And why do you think it's important for them to know all of us that we're talking about?

JD: So that it doesn't happen to anyone, actually, whether Japanese, Muslim, whatever, it shouldn't happen to anybody else.

RD: Oh, that's right. And when you came out of camp, did you feel like you had an increase in discrimination or racism from people on the street?

JD: I think we were... I'm not sure on the street, but I think that's why I became uncomfortable again to meet these people. Not that I think anybody, my classmates were intentional or anything like that, but I think it was all my insecurities.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann and Densho. All Rights Reserved.