Densho Digital Archive
Topaz Museum Collection
Title: Helen Harano Christ Interview
Narrator: Helen Harano Christ
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 18, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-chelen-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: So then you left for Topaz September, it was 1942. What do you remember about the journey to Topaz and leaving Tanforan?

HC: Well, leaving Tanforan was a bit of an adventure, because the train pulled, was in the back, came to the back part of the camp, and it was puffing and puffing and making steam engine, coal sounds and all that, smoke. And we had to wait 'til we were called, and then we carried only the things that we had. And again, I carried my box of... I always carried the chamber pot. My parents knew that that would be an important thing for our family. [Laughs] And I don't know what my other brothers and sisters carried, but I know what my box was. And so we were to line up and wait for the train, it was still warm when we were gathering, and my grandmother disappeared. And we were so worried that she wouldn't get there in time to get on the train, but the reason that we had to wait was that, again, everything had to go through, be gone through to make sure that there was no contraband and that we were not taking anything that was not permitted. And so I could tell that my box had been gone through because it certainly didn't look like the very tidy kind of tying that my dad always did. And so when we got onto the train, it was evening, the sun was beginning to go down, and by the time we got to where we could see the San Francisco Bay, the lights of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge were on, which were gorgeous. And as the lights were appearing for San Francisco and Oakland, then I kept saying to myself, "This might be the last time I see this Golden Gate Bridge." And I, and other people were very quiet on the train, 'cause we were supposed to have the windows down, but since it was dark, we thought, "Well, why not put 'em up a little bit?" And so we, so I kept remembering all the things, trying to remember all the things, different things we did, 'cause I thought, "I may never be able to, to be here to do all these things again," going to Fleishhacker Zoo, or to Golden Gate Park, or to Merritt Park, or to Lake Temescal, or to, going to church at Sycamore Street in Oakland. And the lights were still going for the World's Fair and Treasure Island, so I could see those lights, too, and remembering going to Treasure Island for the World's Fair, which was a big, a big event.

And so as we moved away from San Francisco it got darker and darker, of course, and it was more rural, and so then we could, I could sleep on the train. And then as the morning came, then the food was being served, and there were people lined up in the train. My impression of the train was that it was dark and dingy rather than the beautiful light and new appearance of trains that always were in the pictures. But it even seemed like the fixtures were for gaslights rather than for electricity, which made me feel like we were not, we were totally underprivileged, being not treated in any kind of privileged fashion. And then when we got, my grandmother had, when she got lost there for a while before we got on the train, had gone to get some fruit. And so for our breakfast, instead of waiting in line, she gave us kids fruit, and I had, I had an apple that I ate all the way down to the seeds, because there wasn't any breakfast, but they did have, somebody did bring us toast, so I had, so I did have toast. But we didn't have to get out of our seats to go eat. And the same thing happened with lunchtime, then, we were brought sandwiches although we stayed in our seats, we didn't go anyplace. We ate, I remember eating a, my grandmother giving us an orange that she had purchased, and so we stuck a finger in and squeezed the oranges and sucked on the oranges and made that last a long time, which was interesting. And then later on in the day, we did stop in the desert someplace, and evidently it had been cordoned off so that only a certain amount of space was available for folks to be able to walk in, but it was so hot. And my sister was sitting by the window, and I wanted to sit by the window, so I didn't go. I stayed so I could sit next to the window. She tried to get her window seat back, but I said, "But I'm here first," and I got to stay at the window.

And one of the things, one of the impressions that I got as we were riding in the train in the afternoon then, and I was by the window, was that we had the window shades down, but I still had a little bit open so I could look out. And as I looked out, I saw, as we were slowing down through a town, a Caucasian blond boy. And by then I was missing seeing Caucasians 'cause I was only seeing these black-haired Asians, and that's not life as I understood it. Because almost, well, we lived on a block that had black people, had a couple of black families and a Chinese family and another Japanese family and the rest were white. And our neighbors were, one side was Caucasian and the other side was black. But you know, it's, not everybody was Japanese. So to me, being on the train with all Japanese people and in Tanforan with all Japanese people was not normal. And so I waved and smiled to this Caucasian person out, out on the street as we were going by, he just looked with such disdain and hate in his eyes at me, I thought, "Oh my, what have I done to deserve that?" And to this day, I could still remember that, and it's kind of frightful to think about how, how hatred is such a indwelling thing, and it takes its, and it shows itself in so many ways. It has to be taught while you're young.

MA: Right, right.

HC: And then, then we went through Salt Lake City when it was night, and there were some Japanese people there waving, 'cause evidently, they knew that that the train was going to be coming through, and they knew some of the folks, probably, on the train. And then the train went south, we could tell that 'cause, I could tell that 'cause the shadows of the moon, by the shadows of the moon that we were going south, and when we stopped it was in Delta. So the train ride was, was quite eventful.

MA: Right, right.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.