Densho Digital Archive
Twin Cities JACL Collection
Title: Helen Tanigawa Tsuchiya Interview
Narrator: Helen Tanigawa Tsuchiya
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Bloomington, Minnesota
Date: June 16, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-thelen-01-0011

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MA: And you were also attending high school.

HT: Yeah, that was the first class and the teachers came from Arizona. And they were all, it's amazing. I think they felt sorry for us or something. They were all good teachers. They were very compassionate teachers and I got to know them real well. And then my brother got a job. He was a bookkeeping teacher. And then I was taking bookkeeping from this other teacher, but I was transferred over to him... and said, "Oh, Helen, you're going to get 'A' for sure." And I said, "Are you kidding? I work so hard." I even told him before he passed away, I said, "You know, George," I said, "You were so mean to me." He said, "I had to be. They thought I was going to give you an 'A' for sure." I got a straight A and it's written in, I kept the report card. "You kept it?" I said, "Yes, I kept it." I worked so hard. I'm not kidding. I worked twice as hard in this class. And the other teacher, she went to New Mexico later, I went to visit her, and she said, "Yeah, George was real, real bad. But he said he had to do that." You know, give me double work and all that. But rest of the teachers were so good. And I helped them out and when I graduated I worked one month in a motor pool just to get a job and the principal came and said, "What are you doing here? You're going to work for me." So he brought me back and all the teachers really appreciated what I did because I helped them out doing all kinds of stuff. And they said, "You really helped me out. Anytime you want me to do anything for you." Every one of them in the picture, they wrote.

MA: And so you ended up working for this principal of the Canal High School?

HT: High school.

MA: What type of work did you do?

HT: I was a secretary. And I did, there were two other girls. And we did, took care of the, of the attendance, and all the report cards, and all kinds of stuff. But I was a secretary and then he showed me some work that other secretaries had, "See, she never put the year down. How do I know this, what year is this?" So I remember doing that. Then when we were doing that, he had to have surgery.

MA: The principal did?

HT: Yeah, his wife and his daughter was in the school. And he said he had to go to this veterans hospital in Phoenix. And he said he's going to be gone for a month and he wanted us to take care of it. And we took care of everything. We did everything. Helped out the teachers and get the test papers and everything. And he said that when he came back, he said that, "I want to treat you." He got, even the manager, the head of the camp, he used to brag about me. He says, "Best secretary that you ever had." Even the project director wrote a note to me, he says, "We were all jealous of Mr. McVey." They got permission for us to go to Phoenix and everybody said, "How can you go to Phoenix?" Well, I don't know, he said, he just wanted to treat us because out there and he just left us for the day. And they said that, well, what did the people do? No, they probably thought we were Indians from the reservation. And we saw "Since You Went Away" and "Going My Way." It just came at that time.

MA: These were films you saw?

HT: Yeah, two movies we saw. And then at nighttime we went to them. And they took us to Phoenix, one of the high-tone restaurants and we ate and then they brought us back. And then do you know what Senior Ditch Day is?

MA: Why don't you explain what it is?

HT: [Laughs] People nowadays don't know. Senior Ditch Day is when the seniors, when they're good and everything, they have one day that they can take off. So, they said that, "We'll let you go to this little town called Sacaton." It's in the reservation, but you're out of the, out of the barbed wire. And Tets Santo, this other teacher and I, it was about, it must have been about 10 miles maybe. And in those days I was young and I was real frisky, I could walk it. And then there were a bunch of us, we went. Oh, they were so happy. We went to this store and they bought little cans of pop and the candy and all kinds of stuff. And we spent a little time out in the, it looked like a little, little place that they could play and everything. And they were so happy just to be out of the barbed wire. So we came back and we had special permission to do that.

MA: You took the seniors?

HT: Yeah, and we went in there. And then just Tets Santo and I, that's all. And they, if we did that today, they would be running all over the place. But they were so good. They were so thankful to go. And we came back and everybody said, "How did you do that?" And I said, "Well, we got special permission to go." Because they knew. So, another job that they came back, but another job I got was I saved all the teachers, they would open up the gym at night, give me the key, and then, if they ever had a meeting I'd take 'em to a certain place and then they would have their meeting. And they had all kinds of stuff out of, after the school was over. So I saved them a lot of time, so the teachers were real happy about that. They were in the place, what am I thinking about? They were in the, they have a little place that they stayed in the camp and, but they were, they had plays, they did plays. And they did all kinds of things. And they were so happy that I was able to do that. And the kids were, oh, they were good. They really minded. And so they're coming in, they wanted advice. And I was little Abby. Abby, you know that advice column?

MA: Dear Abby?

HT: I was Dear Abby. I was one of those. I can't give you a good, good thing, but they just, we just had a ball. And I went to one reunion and the kids came up to me and he said, "Boy," he said, "we really had fun going up because you used to tell us some jokes and stuff like that." I just wanted them to be themselves. And not to be like this. So it was really fun. They had proms and they had -- nobody went out on dates like seniors, a bunch of the girls and a bunch of the guys went. It was really a lot of fun. And they had the little stores there.

MA: In Gila? In camp?

HT: Yeah, they had little stores there where, if you want to buy a few things you could go in there and buy it. So my little check that I got -- I think I earned sixteen dollars a month and the twelve dollars were the janitors and whatever. And the teachers and the doctors got nineteen dollars. So they came and had, it was Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward was the main one that we used to send out for.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.