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-01-0007

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: At that point, what grade were you in, or what school were you attending?

HC: I was in third grade, and there were two others, two other Japanese children were in third grade. They were both Niseis, however, I was the only Sansei. And in fact, I think I was the only Sansei all the way through, through school in Topaz, in my class. And we went to Berkeley, Lincoln elementary school in Berkeley.

MA: After Pearl Harbor, did you notice a change in the way that people treated you at school?

HC: Yeah, yeah, I did. I was told that I couldn't be first in line, even though I was standing in line almost all recess to be first in line, and I was, people, other kids, threw rocks at me on the way home from school. I was a target for rocks. I didn't retaliate because I figured that they were always bigger than me, and usually boys, and so what could I do? And we went to Japanese school after school, and it wasn't long before Obasan said, or Sensei said, that there would be no more school. And I heard conversations that she had burned all her books, that she wasn't going to be found to be any kind of a subversive person. I really don't know what ever happened to her, but we didn't have Japanese school after a while. Whatever, whatever else happened? On May Day, the school had a real nice celebration for May 1st.

MA: And this was May 1, 1942?

HC: Correct. And the, it was very European, I found out. I thought it was American, but it was quite European, and the maypole, you know, it stands in the middle of the place, and the people twist the ribbons around so that they make designs or they go in and out so that it gets woven, and it was really quite fun to do the maypole dance. And I was selected to be one of the persons to be in the maypole dance, and I thought it was an honor and a privilege, and my mother would fix my hair and I would wear a cute little dress, and all these things. And, but then on, the day before May Day, then I was told that I couldn't be in the maypole dance, that somebody else would take my place. And I wasn't told why, so I, as I was watching the other people practice the maypole dance, I tried to keep back my tears and try not to be sad. And I thought, "Well, I could do the other things. There'll be the booths, there'll be the games, there'll be the big group of people, all around, milling around, that I could be part of." But I didn't have to be in the maypole dance 'cause there was other things that'll be going on in regard to May Day. But then when, but that night, my parents were busy wrapping up boxes, I could hear the, the ropes going around boxes.

MA: Preparing for evacuation?

HC: Uh-huh, because, our bedroom was right next door to, right next to the living room, and so I could hear that. And I, I didn't know what was going on. Maybe my older sister did, but I -- and if they said anything, it just didn't, didn't sink into my head. So I, I didn't know, and when my parents woke us up and told us to put on all this extra clothing, it was kind of nice to put on extra clothes 'cause it was very cold. It was still dark when we were awakened to get dressed.

MA: And this was the day that you were leaving California?

HC: And so after breakfast, the house was very, the breakfast, the kitchen was, was, didn't have any curtains on the windows, and no pictures on the walls, it was quite echoey in the kitchen. And then a lady came by as the sun was beginning to come up, in a station wagon, and we were told to go out to the station wagon. And so we went out to the station wagon, and I thought I looked pretty elegant. I had on my Sunday shoes and my, my Easter hat and my Easter coat and all the extra clothings on. Kid, I was a kid. Little bit vain, still am. But then when we all got out there, there were eleven of us, 'cause there were six children, my parents, my grandmother and two of her sons, her two younger sons.

MA: And this is your...

HC: This was our family group.

MA: And your maternal grandparents or...

HC: My mother's (mother), yeah.

MA: Okay.

HC: Yeah, she was a widow by then.

MA: And she had two younger sons.

HC: Two sons, yeah.

MA: Okay.

HC: Uncle Hiro was in college, and Uncle Harry was graduated from college -- or graduated from high school, I mean, and not attending college. And so they lived upstairs and we lived downstairs in a duplex, so we were very much... my father was very much the family head for all eleven of us. And we, of course, didn't fit into the station wagon, so my dad and grandma and three of us kids went in the first load, and we waited at a school -- in a church, church gymnasium I think it was. I don't think it was a school gymnasium, I think it was a church gymnasium, until it became, until the rest of our family came, and then it became filled with Japanese people. And I didn't recognize any of 'em, none of 'em were related to us. And when we got onto the bus, then, and went down Ashby Avenue, there was Lincoln School, and there was the maypole. And I couldn't do the dance and I couldn't do the games and things, and I was devastated, I just felt awful. The shades were drawn down on the bus, but I could see through the, about a one-inch crack, since I was little and I could slouch down and see out the windows. And yeah, so it had an effect.

MA: As your parents were preparing to leave and everything, did they ever kind of sit you down and explain what was going on?

HC: Not me. They may have said something to my older sister, but I don't recall it being said to me, the rest of us.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Topaz Museum. All Rights Reserved.