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-01-0016

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: Okay, so I wanted to know if there's any other thoughts or memories you wanted to share about your time in Topaz at all.

HC: Well, I was a kid, so although some people here in Seattle have said, "Oh, I was a kid so I had a good time," I thought, "Yeah, I did, too, I had a good time." But then one of the things that I remember and left an impression on me was when we were in Tanforan, we had this chain link fence all around the camp. And we lived maybe quarter of a block away from the fence, and the fence was guarded by soldiers who walked back and forth with their guns on their shoulders. And I was feeling wistful one day and went up to the fence, and I heard a rustling in the grass. I really was kind of wistful for what was outside the fence, and thinking, "You know, I used to be able to do that," and what's going on in the world now. And watching the cars go by and people going by and all. Then there was a snake that rustling around in the grass, and I, I saw it and I put my foot out like this to kind of, or away, and when I moved my foot, and it must have frightened him 'cause it wiggled right underneath the fence, and I thought, "Oh, that garter snake has a lot more freedom than I have, it can go under the fence and go away, and I can't do that." And I kind of felt awful sorry for myself for a long time after that, realizing that freedom was, is a very important thing, and that we are not to take it for granted. Freedom is not, not just being able to do whatever you want to, but freedom is able to, to think outside of the box, being able to do things that are creative and things, and go places and see things that are new and learn more, more of what there is to do in this world, and explore other venues of life. There's a lot to freedom that we, we need to appreciate. And perhaps that's what being in camp was all about in the long run, that we were more free after that as Japanese people to live outside of Japanese communities and to appreciate the world and to explore other opportunities. I'm not sure if my dad would have wanted to do anything other than what he was doing, but he certainly made it possible for all of us children to explore the world and to do things other than what he was doing. And I suspect that having had the experience of the evacuation, that we probably, this Nisei, Sansei, Yonsei generation, probably have opportunities that may not have been open to us otherwise.

Even as a Sansei, I was a college graduate, I want to Hastings College and earned a degree to teach in the elementary schools, 'cause I knew that teachers were not Japanese, 'cause I didn't see any Japanese teachers except in camp. So I figured that I would probably teach in a private school, or definitely not in college 'cause I'm just not smart enough to teach in college. Or maybe, maybe do a business, have a business of teaching. But, and as we lived, as Frank and I lived in the Midwest, the opportunities for me to teach were not nearly as open as they were, I understand, here in Seattle. So I probably... well, I very much did integrate every school system that I worked in after the... what's it called? When the civil rights...

MA: Brown vs. Board?

HC: There you go. When the civil rights movement made it possible for, made it imperative that schools are integrated, that also meant the teaching staffs were integrated. And so I'm not sure that there was ever a time when I was discriminated against as a teacher. I... and so, so I think that opportunity became more of an opportunity with the Brown vs. Board of Education, plus the evacuation, that dispersed the Asian, the Japanese people all over the country, and outside of the Japanese ghettos.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.