Densho Digital Archive
Twin Cities JACL Collection
Title: Yoshimi Matsuura Interview
Narrator: Yoshimi Matsuura
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Bloomington, Minnesota
Date: June 17, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-myoshimi-01-0017

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So tell me what Gila River was like. When you first got there, what parts do you remember?

YM: Well, when we first got there, of course, we didn't know where we were. [Laughs] All we knew that it was a desert. But Gila River, it was... I suppose, a shock. Barrack half-finished. We were assigned, my wife and I was assigned to a room to share with a family from San Leandro, California, who happened, one of those that evacuated into central California. They were about fifteen years older than we were. So we had to share a room with them because they couldn't give us the room to ourselves, no two-person room. So we put up sheets and blanket for privacy, and that was our room. And, of course, my family and her family had their own barrack because of the size of the family. And on the second day, our block manager, who was Fred Maruyama from Los Angeles, asked me if I would be his assistant as a block manager. I didn't know what I was getting into, but I said, "Sure, whatever it takes." And from there on, I was working. I was on the government payroll the second day. [Laughs] Sixteen dollars a month.

TI: So describe what a assistant block manager does on a daily basis.

YM: Take care of the block, listen to complaints. Same thing as a block manager would do, but did more legwork than the block manager. Block manager, all he had to do was tell me what to do. But I... we had a lot of complaints about the bathroom, of course, women's bathroom, just a wide open space, bunch of stools, no partition. And shower was the same thing, showerhead off the wall and no partition. And so I found, I met a person from Hawaii who was married to somebody here in the Los Angeles area, I believe, who happened to know something about carpentry. Ernie, Ernest Sasaki was his name, and he had a wife and he had a young daughter. And, of course, he heard lot of complaints about that, too, so he wanted to do something about it. So we got a group together, and I asked him if he would handle that and he said, "Sure." So that night we went out scrounging around for material to build that. And under the fence type of stuff, into the canal, dry canal, government workers, they're very wasteful. New material laying all over the place, so we got some nice material. In the morning we see a stack of material there. We don't ask where it came from or who brought it there, we were happy to see it, they knew what we needed. So we put up the partition. First thing was the barrier in from the door so the door would be protected and can't see in. And then partition down the stools, between the stools. And it was a teamwork, everybody was anxious to do something. So it was nice, no problem.

TI: Now, did the other blocks do similar things?

YM: I would think so. I imagine, I think everybody did, and everybody had the same idea.

TI: So in general, when you first mentioned being assistant block manager, I thought, well, you heard these complaints and that you would write a report, send it to the administration --

YM: I didn't write a report. There was no report written. I just went by sound and feel.

TI: And so it was a very much can-do, we just have to just do it.

YM: That's right, we'd do the best we can. But the biggest complaint was that bathroom right away. And, of course, the second complaint was all the dust coming into their room. Every time we'd... there's about a fourteen-inch crawl space under the building, barracks, and a half-inch space between the planks or the floorboards. So everybody was laying cardboards and newspapers and anything they can find on the floor to keep the dust out. That was another complaint. Nothing we can do about that, because it's building. The other complaint was food. Right away, we started getting complaint on the food. Well, not much you can do about that either because it's provided by the government and you cook what you get and that's it. Some people felt that, right away felt that we're being short-changed. Well, what can you do about that? So those were the two biggest complaint that we were getting. As far as the community is concerned, I think everybody got along real well. I didn't hear anything about noisy parties or anything.

TI: Now, were there some complaints that you got that there was just nothing you could do about, and would have to, perhaps, go to the administration because they could do something about it and that nothing would happen?

YM: You mean a protest of some kind?

TI: Yeah, or there might be...

YM: Organized...

TI: Not even organized, but just something that... oh, I'm not sure what a good one would be. Maybe the need for a school or something, where...

YM: No, we didn't hear too much of that. Actually, I think everything went along quite well. Everybody felt that, well, here we are, let's make the best of it. They didn't like it, but what can you do? So I believe everything went quite well. We had, of course, the government was supposed to issue us with toilet papers and soap and stuff, but of course, none of that really mattered because there wasn't enough anyway. Sears-Roebuck made big business through the catalog.

TI: So how was it with the Issei? Because now it seemed like the Niseis are taking a stronger leadership role and getting things done, whereas prior to that, the Isseis were oftentimes in charge. How did that work...

YM: I think the Isseis more or less depended on the Nisei, at least I feel that way, people that I've dealt with. Isseis were happy to help wherever they can. But I believe they more or less depended on the Niseis. And the Niseis were pretty good, I'd say they were real, really cooperative. Everybody wanted to make it as comfortable as possible. So they had organized sports and stuff like that.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright ©2009 Densho and the Twin Cities JACL. All Rights Reserved.