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-01-0013

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: And did they have a school set up at that point for you to attend, an elementary school?

HC: Uh-huh. In Topaz there were four blocks in the middle of the, of the project that were, that were empty, that was intended to be the high school, junior high school. Block 21 was empty, it was also intended to be a school, elementary school. Half of Block 8 was an elementary school, and half of Block 41 was an elementary school. All of Block 32 was high school/junior high, so when it came down to it, seven of the blocks were for "civic," "civic" things, whether they had, they were (not occupied) so that Topaz was made up of seven, fourteen, twenty-one, twenty-eight, thirty-five... forty-two blocks, seven of which were set aside for other things.

MA: And your school was the Desert View elementary?

HC: Desert View, uh-huh. We were on the, the east side, so that we saw the desert. The other elementary school was closer to the mountains so they were Mountain View school, of course.

MA: And who were the teachers that you had in this Desert View elementary? Were they also internees or a combination of internees and others?

HC: The first teachers we had, first teachers we had were all internees. Fourth grade was Ms. Nakamizo, fifth grade was an interesting thing, 'cause we started out with a Caucasian teacher who wasn't treated well by the class, especially the boys. Now, I'm Sansei, so I don't know any Japanese. I'm learning as I'm living among all these folks, but I'm not conversant in Japanese. But all my, all my contemporaries were Nisei, so they of course were very conversant in Japanese. And they conversed in Japanese with the Caucasian teacher, and she didn't like that at all, and she put up with it for a little while. And when it got really bad, then she put on her hat and stalked out of the room and said, "My father said, 'Don't deal with the scum,' and I won't," and she didn't ever come back again. The principal came in and said, "What are you guys doing?" And somebody else came and taught us for a while and then we had another teacher, I don't remember her name, but she was very much of a hillbilly.

MA: And this was another Caucasian teacher?

HC: Another Caucasian teacher. And she was a very poor speller, and her grammar wasn't very good, and she would write sentences on the blackboard and these same boys would correct her grammar and correct her spelling and talk to her in Japanese. And she gave up on us, too. We were not very respectful in that manner.

MA: Do you think it was because --

HC: And finally we had Miss Nakamizo, and she took us, finished us, the fifth grade, and she also took us -- no, Miss Matsutani, I mean. Miss Matsutani took us through fifth grade, finished us with fifth grade and took us into sixth grade as well.

MA: And did the students seem more comfortable with Miss Matsutani because she was Japanese, do you think?

HC: Well, they were used to being rebellious by this point. [Laughs] And so the... and so Miss Matsutani said, in response to when the boys said, "Well, we're supposed to be Japanese so why don't we study Japan?" She said, "Okay, we'll study Japan." But there weren't books that taught about Japan, and so she said, "Okay, we'll have, we'll have some of your parents tell you things for you to tell the class, so that the class can learn about Japan. And one of the girls came with her mother and put on a Japanese, her mother put a Japanese dress on her, it was very pretty and very interesting and I thought, "Ooh, that's something I've never seen before." [Laughs] And another person got up and had a report about her town that her parents had come from. But the, almost the rest of, all of the rest of them said, "Well, my parents said, 'You're American, you learn American, you learn about American history. So you go to school and behave and be, be an American.'" And so I don't know if that's what controlled the class eventually, but she certainly gave the class an opportunity to vent, which evidently they wanted to do, because fifth graders are a bit rebellious.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.