Densho Digital Archive
Raechel Donahue and Garrett Lindemann Collection
Title: Sumi Uyeda Interview
Narrator: Sumi Uyeda
Interviewer: Raechel Donahue
Date: 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-usumi-01-

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

<Begin Segment 1>

RD: Okay. Where were you born?

SU: I was born in Sacramento, California.

RD: And when?

SU: I was born in 1932.

RD: We should look so good. And were your parents Japanese citizens?

SU: Yes, they were. They were Japanese citizens, they came over about 1915 or 1916, '17.

RD: Wow, that must have been interesting. Where were they from?

SU: They're from Hiroshima, Japan.

RD: And Chuck's family is from there, right?

SU: Chuck's family is from Wakayama, Japan.

Off camera: Shig...

RD: Yeah, Shig. Shig Yabu, maybe. So where did you go to school?

SU: I went to school, elementary school, we used to call it grammar school, in Penryn, California, and high school in Auburn, California, Placer Union High School.

RD: [Inaudible].

SU: Right.

RD: I went to school in Grass Valley.

SU: Oh, you did?

RD: Yeah, just as a little kid, though. I was in grammar school there, too. Do you remember what your life was like in... where were you taken from, Auburn?

SU: From Penryn.

RD: What was it like in Penryn, your life like in Penryn?

SU: Well, my mother was widowed with a lot of children, so I grew up in a poor family but she supported us by being a barber. And I lived in this little town of Penryn and I had a great time. It was a happy childhood.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

RD: So do you remember the day that you were told that you were going away?

SU: I knew that it was sometime in May of 1942, I think 1942. And it was after my school, after school, and I was walking in the schoolyard, and the principal flagged me and said, "Come on in, we have a little meeting." So I went to a little meeting in my school, it was a one-building school, it's a small school. And that's when we were told that in May something we will be moving to some camp.

RD: So what did you think was going to happen?

SU: I didn't know. I didn't know because I was only nine years old, and so...

RD: What did your parents tell you?

SU: My mother just told me that we would be moving and that was it. I don't really remember...

RD: One of the things we've talked about is how nobody questioned their parents, it was not in their culture.

SU: That's right. If we're going to move, we have to move.

RD: Exactly. Where did you go first?

SU: I went to a camp in Marysville, California, it was called Arboga. And it was hot and barren, no grass, no greens, just barracks.

RD: That was a pretty small one.

SU: Yes.

RD: And you weren't there for very long, I'm sure you don't remember a lot of this.

SU: I don't remember how long we were there, but it was not very long.

RD: And then where did you and how did you get there?

SU: And then we were shipped to Tule Lake, California.

RD: This is where we are now.

SU: That's right, it's this room. Except this room looks a lot bigger than when I first, as I recall it. I think, I just feel it was a smaller room than this.

RD: You can't shake that and neither can anybody else.

SU: I know. And there were five of us in the family, so actually... yeah, five of us, so we had five cots lined up.

RD: And there's only six in here and it still isn't very big. So that wasn't too long a trip, really.

SU: You know, we went on a train, that's all I remember, and I think it was an overnight ride and I don't really remember that much.

RD: Was it your first train?

SU: Yes.

RD: So that must have been exciting. So some of the kids at Heart Mountain had a good time. Did you have any fun when you were at Tule?

SU: You know, as a child I had fun, because I really didn't know anything else. We didn't have to worry about food and all that, so I did have fun. I did a lot of things. I took tap dancing lessons and I went to the recreation center and played with different people.

RD: Was it unusual for you to be, because now you're with all Japanese people. Was that weird?

SU: No, actually, because Penryn was mostly all Japanese, you know, in Penryn. So all the businesses were run by Japanese, and the Buddhist church was right across the street, and we all gathered as a Japanese community. So it really was sort of a lateral move except not as...

RD: Yeah. Did your mother lose everything, did she own anything?

SU: She had to rent, she was renting the house. She was a barber and she was renting the house that she was doing... so she really, she might have lost some things, but it wasn't a big thing like a property.

RD: And do you remember when you first came, I'm sure the barracks were very plain. Did she fix it up over time?

SU: No. No, it was, she didn't have the knowledge or skills to fix it up, so we were just there as-is.

RD: Yeah, some people didn't and some people did. So you were there three years?

SU: Yes.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

RD: And do you remember your leaving the camp?

SU: Yes. I remember leaving, but the most I remember is getting sick on the bus. We had to take the Greyhound bus back, and I was so sick, that's all I remember about coming back.

RD: Getting carsick?

SU: Yes.

RD: And what did your mom do after?

SU: She returned to barbering, and we were able to return to the same house that we rented. So she continued on with the barbering.

RD: Well, did everybody in Penryn go away?

SU: Yes.

RD: The whole town?

SU: The whole town. Except the people we were renting from where Chinese, they owned the buildings there, so they were there.

RD: So the Chinese people stayed and the Japanese people left.

SU: Yes.

RD: And the Chinese people took care of the property for the Japanese people?

SU: No, they just had that vacant so we were able to move back in.

RD: Well, when I was in San Francisco, there was an area with mostly Japanese people but it was the Chinese people that were responsible for them getting evacuated. Because they used to have these signs that say, "You're good Chinese, a friendly Chinese person, evil Japanese person." You should see these posters, they're terrible.

Off camera: They had that one down at the L.A. Japanese American Museum that was really, it was very interracial.

RD: Yes, it's very racist.

SU: Oh.

RD: So how did you meet Chuck?

SU: Well, we're from the same community, so I knew him from childhood. But when I was going to San Jose State college, he was going to Stanford and he dated my roommate, and so...

RD: But you guys ended up in different camps.

SU: Yes, but we did go back to our own community, and Penryn and Rocklin were very close, it's right there.

Off camera: Roy was in her Latin class.

SU: Yeah, Roy Doi was my Latin class.

RD: Oh, so now he married, as I said, he married Joan. Did you know the story?

SU: No.

RD: They met at the Heart Mountain reunion, and he said to her, "You know, I had a crush on you in eighth grade math?" He said, "You still look the same." And she said, "Ooh," and they went --

SU: Really? I didn't know that.

RD: And they went to Vegas again and they said they were there at midnight, they were the first people in line to get married when the chapel opened.

SU: I didn't know that.

RD: It's good, isn't it?

SU: Yes.

RD: And she was the daughter of the Italian ambassador who had accompanied his Japanese wife to the camp even though he didn't have to. So she's half Japanese. So this is, it's our other love story.

SU: Oh, that's nice to hear.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

RD: And my last question is, why is this important for the outside to know what went on? Because we don't see this in our schoolbooks.

SU: Well, it's important for our children to know that we did, we were incarcerated during the war, we had nothing to do, I mean, we were incarcerate without any criminal activities. And so the most important thing is when we came out of camp, that was the worst time for me, out of camp with the prejudice and all these taunting. But in a Japanese community, we told each other that we have to do more than a hundred percent of anything we did, we had to do more than a hundred percent to prove that we were good, loyal citizens. So when I got out of eighth grade, went to high school, and I just said, "I'm going to just go ahead and study hard and get on, do the best I could," without any... what's the word I want?

RD: Without any bitterness.

SU: Without any bitterness, uh-huh. So I went on, I went to, I graduated high school, went to San Jose State college, became a teacher, and I taught for twenty years, retired early, and then I got a job as a claims representative for social security, and I think I did well. I think I did okay.

RD: You did do well. And it was kind of ironic, when you were teaching, that none of this was in the schoolbooks.

SU: I know.

Off camera: What did you tell your children about your internment?

SU: You know, I never really liked to talk about my internment. Chuck did, he was able to talk to them, but I never was able to. I don't know what it is, but deep inside of me, I just felt I was incarcerated, I was in jail. And you know, that's shameful to me, and I just couldn't get myself to tell them, although I do have some little memorabilias from camp I show them, but I don't tell them anything.

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