Densho Digital Archive
Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL Collection
Title: Nancy Iwami Interview
Narrator: Nancy Iwami
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Watsonville, California
Date: July 29, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-inancy-01

<Begin Segment 1>

MA: So today is July 29, 2008, and I'm here with Nancy Iwami. I'm Megan Asaka, the interviewer, and the videographer today is Dana Hoshide. And we are in the Kizuka Hall of the, which is the home of the JACL Watsonville - Santa Cruz chapter. And so it's great to be here today with you.

NI: Nice to meet you, too.

MA: So I'm going to start with some, just some basic questions.

NI: All right.

MA: So when were you born?

NI: I was born on May 20, 1914.

MA: And where were you born?

NI: Watsonville. I'm a native. [Laughs]

MA: What was the name given to you at birth?

NI: Kiyoko Tada.

MA: And how did you get the name Nancy?

NI: Oh, I don't know. As we were growing up, I guess it was hard for some of my Caucasian friends to call me Kiyoko, so they said, "We'll call you Nancy." That's how it started, and it's been ever since, before high school, I think.

MA: And what was your father's name?

NI: Kumakichi Tada.

MA: And where was he from in Japan?

NI: He is from Okayama-ken, you want the county?

MA: Sure, if you know it.

NI: Kibi-gun, Kibi-gun, and his town was Takamatsu-cho. I remember that.

MA: And what did his family do? What type of work did they do in Japan?

NI: I really don't know what they did. He did not tell us much, so I don't know whether they were, I don't think they were farmers. It sounded like they had a little shop in town. He mentioned tofu, going to sell tofu when he was a young boy, so I'm assuming, I'm not sure.

MA: And what were his motivations for coming to the United States?

NI: I think the way he told me, they weren't wealthy people and so he said, "Well, so many people are coming to the States," so he thought he'd try to, you know, do something. So he, that's what he did, and he didn't find any gold on the streets or anything like that, he told me.

MA: Do you know what year he came over to the United States?

NI: That I haven't the slightest... it must have been about after 19-, oh, it must have been in the early 1900s.

MA: And did he settle in Watsonville first?

NI: No. He arrived in, he said, Vancouver.

MA: Vancouver, British Columbia?

NI: I don't, I don't think so. It must have been, isn't there another Vancouver?

NI: There is.

NI: Yes, Portland...

MA: In south, yeah, around the Portland area.

NI: Because he talks about Mt. Rainier. I think that was it... not Mt. Rainier, or is it Mt. Rainier?

MA: Yes, yes.

NI: He worked there in the lumber mills or something for a while until he came down here.

MA: Okay.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

MA: And how did he meet your mother?

NI: "Picture bride." That's what it was.

MA: And a little bit about your mother. What was her name?

NI: Her name was Hana, H-A-N-A, Eguchi, E-G-U-C-H-I, and she is also from Okayama. And I think her family had a coal, selling coal in that little town.

MA: So from the same town in Okayama as your father?

NI: No, her place was... what was it? Oi, so it must have been a small, very small village, probably, Oi, I don't how you would write that in English, Oi.

MA: And do you know how old she was when she married your father?

NI: I think she was about twenty-one, I'm estimating on my birth.

MA: And what was your mother like as a person? What kind of personality did she have?

NI: Oh, she was a gentle person, though she was a fun-loving person. She liked to kind of joke around. Work, hard worker, she tried hard because in the old days, some of these Issei men were, they thought they were the boss. So I think she had quite a hard life that way. Other than that, she was really good to us. She always wanted to do the best for us as much as she could.

MA: A good mother, then.

NI: Oh, she was a good mother.

MA: And what about your father? What was he like?

NI: Well, there again, he was a strong person, and whatever he thought was right for us kids, we better believe it and try to obey him. But he was partial in some ways as we grew up. When we were younger, well, he was kind of strict, very strict.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MA: And when your parents were in Watsonville, what type of work did they start doing?

NI: Oh, they were, most Isseis like my folks were what they call sharecroppers. And so in those days, it was mostly farm work, strawberries, and being a sharecropper, that meant you did everything yourself. They gave you the land and, I mean, worked their land and you did all the work on it. And therefore it was not hundreds of acres, it was just families, so, oh, maybe two, three acres, five acres, something like that. And besides, in those days, Watsonville was more into apples, so it was, there weren't that much, there wasn't that much open land until the strawberry business came in so good lately that apples are all gone.

MA: And the strawberry farming, I've heard, is difficult because you have to move around...

NI: In the old days, yes, because we didn't have all this chemicals where you could stay and fumigate and replant. In the old days, uh-uh. The land was pure. We could eat the dirt and didn't die. And so that's how it was, we stayed about two years and moved. At the most maybe three years, but they said the third year wasn't very good.

MA: And would you move close, close by?

NI: Well, we'd find another, maybe a place where they'd say, "Would you like to sharecrop our land?" So some places, these, the bosses, I call, had a camp or whatever, you know, for each sharecropper, a home for each sharecropper. Not a real one, just cabin-like, but still, it was livable. And so we'd stay there, and if there was more, more than enough land nearby, well, then you could use that land and stay there. But other than that, we had to move.

MA: How many families would be working, sharecropping on these farms?

NI: I'm, I can't remember living in a large camp. The most I recall was about, there were about six, six, some were larger, you know, six families were living where I was at one time, and I guess we only had about two acres or so apiece. And the family did all the work. And so my folks would say, "Oh, I wish someone would hurry up and come so you kids could help, you know, work on the farm." And labor, well, no mechanical things were used, it was, at the most, horses. And then like my brother was telling me that horses couldn't be racehorses, they had to be old nags that didn't run away from you when you were working the furrows. So, well, if it was a large farm, I guess, the boss had, you could borrow it. But when we went individually or rent, then we had to get our own horses and equipment.

MA: And the people who, the bosses, the people would own the land, who were these people usually? Were there ever Japanese people who would...

NI: Well, we always had Caucasians or other nationalities, civilians. But I don't, I can't remember, maybe there were. Sakatas were big farmers here, but I don't know if they did (strawberries or only lettuce).

MA: And what was your relationship like, usually, with the boss? I mean, was it pretty...

NI: Well, they were pretty lenient as long as you did your own, what your own business, what you're supposed to do, I'm sure. I can't recall because by the time I got out of high school, (...) we were renting, so we had to do everything on our own.

MA: Okay.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: So how many children were in your family?

NI: [Laughs] There were seven of us. Five girls, including myself, and two brothers.

MA: So five girls, two boys.

NI: Two boys.

MA: And how, were you the oldest or in the middle?

NI: I'm the oldest, and it's just, almost like the saying goes, it was almost like clockwork. Every two years there were, I think five, then three or so, two came way later.

MA: So you were the oldest, so I imagine you had a lot of responsibilities that the younger ones didn't have.

NI: Yes, I know. I really did. But come to think of it, it wasn't too bad now. It seemed like when I was growing, up, goodness, I thought everywhere I went, Mother would say, "You take the younger ones with you." So I didn't want to, but I had to. But now, as we got older, I've lost three sisters, I miss them. Well, even when we were younger, when one was not at home, at some friend's place, and they're not around, we miss them. Yeah, and as we get older, it gets, well, worse. I mean, we get more lonesome, but that's life, I think.

MA: So what are some of your earliest memories of living in Watsonville or farming, or any of your early memories?

NI: Well, it was, what should I say? I guess we enjoyed ourselves. We had a big family, so the kids all played together, rolled around in the dirt, and the dirt was pure then, no chemicals. And then, there were some, roller skating, and there was biking. There was hillsides, and we'd go up the hill, occasionally we'd come to town and go to a theater show. And then New Year's, well, if it's a, we called it camp because there was a group in this boss's place, and so each family would have a big New Year's party, and we'd go from each house, one house to the other. Yeah, and another good time was like Fourth of July. My dad would go to town and he'd buy about two cases of soda pop, we called it, and that was a treat. [Laughs] In other words, we weren't dirt poor, but we were all about in the same position.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

MA: And what about your grade school or grammar school? Which grammar schools did you attend?

NI: Well, seeing we were sharecroppers so we had to move, so I guess I went to one, two, three country schools. I went to three country schools, and then finally high school, which was in town, and the bus transported us. And I think I was fortunate to be able to graduate from high school.

MA: What year did you graduate?

NI: 1933.

MA: So a little bit more about the country schools you talked about, what were they like? What did they look like?

NI: Well, there were just, the first country school I attended had only two rooms and two teachers. One teacher would teach one to four, and the next one would teach four to... what is it? Five to eight or something like that. That's the way it was, that was Carlton school, I think, and then, on San Juan Road. And then we moved over to Riverside Road, and that was called Railroad School, and it was the same way, two rooms. And we had to... uh-huh. Originally, when I was in the first grade, we lived so far away from town, I had to walk clear up to town, Watsonville, to go into first grade, (and) walk. And so my dad said, "Well, six, I feel sorry for you, so I'll start you from seven." So I'm one year behind in school. He thought I'd be a better walker at seven than six, I guess, because it was a long walk, maybe five miles.

MA: And that's there, and then back in the end of the day.

NI: And we walked, yes.

MA: Wow.

NI: We used to see wagons on the road then, yet.

MA: So were there other, in your, especially in these country schools, how many other Japanese students were there?

NI: Depend on the area where there were Japanese sharecroppers, lots of Japanese. And then when they moved, then, you know, it got much less.

MA: So were the other students mostly Caucasians then?

NI: Yes. Caucasians, and there were, well, I would call, like, the Slavonians, and there were some Italians, too. But we got along real good, yes.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

MA: What about Chinese? I heard there weren't as many Chinese farmers.

NI: No... no, I don't remember going to a country school where there were Chinese, uh-uh.

MA: So the Chinese mostly were in town in Watsonville?

NI: I guess they must have been. I was a country girl, so I didn't know too much about town. Because there wasn't any transportation into town, my dad was still riding a bicycle. Whenever we want transportation into town, they called, there were a couple of people that we used to, they called themselves, (...) stage conductors, they had a horse and buggy that could hold maybe about a dozen people, and you called, tell them to come and pick, pick us up.

MA: And that's how you would get into town?

NI: And get into town. And there were lots of boarding houses in town then because of this. People couldn't go back and forth in a day or two, so there were lots of boarding houses, Japanese boarding houses in town.

MA: Were they segregated? So did Japanese have to stay in their own boarding houses?

NI: It seemed that way then. We had what they call a Japanese town and a Chinatown, too, here. I don't remember the Chinatown too much, but my husband used to talk about it and how they used to celebrate New Year's and shoot firecrackers and so on.

MA: So the Chinatown and the Japantown were separate then?

NI: Kind of separate. I think Chinatown was more in Pajaro across the bridge. Then eventually it burned down, so they came into Watsonville.

MA: What happened there? Why did it burn down?

NI: Fire (...). My husband always used to talk about the big fires in Chinatown. Yeah, couple of big fires, he said.

MA: But it wasn't arson or anything like that, or just kind of an accident?

NI: It was an accident, I think. You know how the buildings were so rickety in those days.

MA: And so then do you know when that was? When the Chinese moved from Pajaro into Watsonville?

NI: Oh, it must have been before, gee, I think I was almost in high school, so it must have been late, in the '20s and '30s. They were merchants, you know, they had grocery stores, dry goods store, things like that.

MA: Did they do business a lot with the Japanese?

NI: Oh, yes. Got along pretty good, I think. Very good, in fact, I should say.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

MA: And I'm curious more about Watsonville's Japantown and what that was like?

NI: Goodness, I really can't say too much because my dad used to just come into town maybe, well, it must have been in the early '30s or late '20s, finally got a car, an old Dodge Touring, they called it, and we'd all get in there, he'd bring this, he'd come into town so he'd bring us. But then other than that, I can't recall too much. There were, Japanese (...) grocery stores and shoe repair and restaurants, and pool hall, what else? Then there was a large, well, they called it a hall where the Japanese used to have movies from Japan, those black and white movies where a person would stand by the side and he would be, he'd call the, he'd be called the benshi, and he would talk in the woman's voice and the man's voice and child's voice and so on. No, no talkies. I recall going to those because that was quite a treat for the old people because it did not come very often to a small town.

MA: That's interesting. So this, he must have traveled around California or something?

NI: He used to take these movies and go. I even recall one time he was repeating the same movie we had seen once before, and somebody complained, "We've seen this already." [Laughs] So he changed (it). So he would just take these old movies and go around.

MA: That's interesting.

NI: That's one of the things I recall.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

MA: So you mentioned that you, all the siblings, you and your siblings helped out on the farm. Can you describe a typical day maybe when you were in grammar school, what that would be like, what time you would get up?

NI: Well, we had to get up quite early because we, we had to walk to school. We did not have to go to work in the mornings before we went to school. Some of my friends told me they worked before they went to school. 'Course, we helped after we came home and they'd be waiting for us to change our clothes and hurry up and come out in the field. We'd lag and lag. [Laughs]

MA: What would you do in the fields?

NI: Well, pick strawberries, sometimes we'd help weed, help irrigate because they had a different system than now where we had to watch the water go down the flumes, and it would go into each furrow. They had to be sure that it reached the other end, so maybe I'd stay on this side and my younger one, brother or sister would stay on the other end. It reached the end and then I'd cork that little hole and stop it.

MA: Wow, yeah, that's interesting.

NI: Sometimes when it gets dark, it's hard to see whether the water reaches the end or not, because the furrows were quite long.

MA: And how late would you usually work in the day?

NI: Well, well, until maybe around six or so, five or six, because they'd come and pick the berries up. The owners would come and pick the berries up and take it to the station, I would, I'd call it. 'Cause in those days, I think most of the things were done by freight (train), not by truck.

MA: And what would your family do in the winter or when the growing season was over or it was slow?

NI: Well, I don't know, there wasn't too much to do. I guess the nightlife, Dad was, in the country then, we had what you call our modern spa, furo, remember? Furo? Well, so if lived in the country, well, he'd cut (and) chop wood and make firewood for the furo. Or he'd go and (...) work pruning apple (trees) because (...) lots of orchards. That's what they did, prune (apple trees), rather, not orchard. And then, well, go fishing, 'cause we have the ocean around here. So we enjoyed fish a lot. [Laughs]

MA: I imagine, yeah.

NI: He was a good fisherman, he used to like to clam.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

MA: So what religion did your family practice?

NI: Pardon?

MA: What religion?

NI: Buddhist. We, well, my father was a Buddhist, but it's called Nichiren (sect). We call that name Nichiren. My husband's family was Shin sect.

MA: And did you attend Sunday school?

NI: We tried to, and then because Sundays, sometimes we were busy out in the fields in the summer, and so we couldn't, but we tried. And then after we got a little older and I could drive, then we were able to come out more. And then he would, he thought we should learn Japanese, too, so he sent us to Japanese school. I wish I could remember all... it's been so long ago.

MA: Where was the school located?

NI: We went, there was one on Riverside Road, and it was on Mr. Kizuka's ranch. Oh, no, yes, right there, I think it was. Once a week (a teacher) would come out there.

MA: How did you like Japanese language school? Did you enjoy it?

NI: I enjoyed it. I could recall, you know, like katakana and hiragana, but I did not go, where, what do you call those words, kanji or whatever. I could kind of remember a few words here and there, but no, it was too, too much, I think, for my dad to transport us, too. But he's the one that started us, he went through Japanese school and picked up all the Japanese books, the old ones, and he brought it home.

MA: Which language did you speak with your parents? Was it mostly Japanese?

NI: Mostly Japanese, yes. And it was so funny because my mom would say, "When the butcher comes to the..." there used to be peddlers, what we'd call peddler, and they'd come into camps. Butcher, tofu, and I don't know what else, fish man, I guess. And my mother, I recall, definitely she said, "Kyoko, get 'hamboko.'" I didn't know what "hamboko" meant. [Laughs] And then, and so I, that's what I told the butcher who was Caucasian, and he knew what it was. "Oh, you mean hamburger?" "Oh." [Laughs]

MA: Oh, that's really funny.

NI: It's funny. There's many occasions like that, my husband used to talk about, and he'd tell me and we'd laugh about it.

MA: Well, it's interesting to me because it shows that there was a lot of interaction, you know, between the Caucasians and the Japanese, and they worked together, they had to.

NI: Yeah, there was another one where (...) somebody wanted matches. And "machi, machi," uh-uh. They couldn't understand it, and then finally he walked around and, "There, that's it." "Oh, matches." You know, it's interesting, even now, these Latino markets, I went there once and asked them, "I would like some book matches, matches." They didn't know what I was talking about. I guess the clerks just had arrived from Mexico or somewhere.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

MA: So did your parents maintain ties to Japan? Did they keep in touch with relatives in Japan?

NI: In a way they did, my mother did. In fact, she was the only one, she was the oldest, and she came to this country and never went back. One time she was going and the war broke out, so she canceled. But, so therefore she never went back. She kept in contact with her family, and she was the only one that came here, she was the oldest, and she lived the longest. Yeah, she lived a long life.

MA: How, how old was she when she passed away?

NI: She was ninety-eight. So I say, "I want to live that long, too," if I'm healthy.

MA: So how much did your father and mother emphasize Japanese traditions and Japanese culture in your, in your house?

NI: Well, they kept it up pretty good, I think. But, as we grew up, it changed. Yeah, I think so.

MA: So as you went to school and maybe...

NI: Yes, uh-huh, and our eating, the eating habits, the food also changed. Observed all the holidays, Japanese holidays.

MA: New Year's.

NI: New Year's, yes, Obon and what else?

MA: What would you do for New Year's, what did your family do?

NI: Oh, we prepared all the goodies, he said we must clean the yard, we must clean the house, everything must be new when the new year comes around. So we'd try to get new clothes, which was hard.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

MA: So you said that you went to Watsonville High School.

NI: Uh-huh.

MA: And how many Nisei students were in your class when you were there, about?

NI: Well, gee, I don't know how many Niseis were there, but there were quite a number of Japanese. Surprised... in fact, my class was a large class. I felt there were... now I can't even recall, but I guess there were about twenty in our graduating class.

MA: And Watsonville High School had students from the country and from in town?

NI: Yes, all over, and this was the only high school here. Lately there's so many (...) high schools.

MA: Did most Japanese live in the country like you did, farming, sharecropping, as opposed to town?

NI: Well, I assume. Because... I can't, I never lived in town, so I can't say at this time, but there were quite a bit in the country, also in town.

MA: And how did the Nisei students fit in socially with the other students in high school?

NI: Well, as far as I know, I didn't mingle too much. We were more like, what do you call, groups.

MA: A clique?

NI: Oh, clique, yes. But I had some good friends, but we never, outside of high school, we never went to visit the home and slept over and things like the kids do nowadays. (...) That's me.

MA: And how did you and your friends maybe spend free time when you had, on the weekend? What did you do for fun, social activities?

NI: There weren't too many. We were working on the weekends. But if there was something at the church or some group had a picnic, we'd go, it was special. So I think in the old days, the church was our social place. It isn't like nowadays where they just take off on the weekends here and there. We just didn't, couldn't probably. But I think we had a good life, though.

MA: What types of things did they have at the church? What social things?

NI: Well, sometimes the ladies would have cooking, and then other times, well, we'll form a little dance group or something, learn how to dance. And then sometimes someone would come and teach us certain things, ikebana or cooking, and we all get together, whoever could come. So those were the little things or the big things going on then. Because I can't remember going out of town for anything big except maybe church conferences or conventions they called it, the YBA.

MA: The Young Buddhists Association.

NI: Young Buddhists, yes. So that, that's the only thing that I can recall going out of town. 'Cause my folks, my father (...) learned how to drive when he was older, so naturally he didn't know how to drive out of town.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

MA: And you said you graduated in '33.

NI: Uh-huh.

MA: And then when did you get married to your husband Charlie?

NI: Three years later, '36, 1936. And he died in 2003, so how many years is that? [Laughs]

MA: Oh, I don't know. [Laughs] Let's see. And how did you meet Charlie?

NI: Oh, his sister lived on the next farm, they owned the farm next to where we were sharecropping. And then I knew him, too, he was a barber in town. His father was a barber and he took after (...) the business, rather.

MA: What was the name of his barbershop?

NI: Charlie's Barbershop.

MA: So did you move into town after you married Charlie?

NI: Oh, yes, definitely.

MA: And what was that like, moving out of the country and more into town life?

NI: Not much different. He was the eldest, and I married the eldest son. So I went right into the family, mother and father-in-law, and two siblings. He had two, a brother and a sister, yeah.

MA: So you moved in with his whole family?

NI: Uh-huh.

MA: And so did you live near the barbershop? Is that where the house was?

NI: Uh-huh, it was in back of the barbershop, and the barbershop was in front. It was right in the main town, Main Street.

MA: On Main Street?

NI: Yes.

MA: Who were, who were Charlie's clients? Who would come in? Mostly Japanese or all sorts of people?

NI: Yeah, any, whoever walked by and had to have their hair cut, and they'd walk in, and he had Latinos and blacks, white clients, Caucasians. But he had quite a bit of Japanese clients, too, customers, I should say.

MA: And what were relationships like between whites and Japanese and whites and Chinese before the war? What was that, race relations like?

NI: Well, I really... well, I don't think it was too good, but... and that's the way I felt. Maybe I was always that type of a person, that felt like maybe I should lower myself and not... when we went into the shops, they were fine.

MA: But you still felt a little bit like you didn't want to stick out too much?

NI: Well, I didn't feel like going into fancy places. Isn't that odd? That's the way I felt. But I guess they didn't, they didn't mind. They wouldn't mind if you're gonna pay for anything.

MA: And what about the Filipino community in Watsonville? Did they mostly go into farming before the war?

NI: Well, they were working for big farmers, as far as I recall. Like in the, in the winter they'd work in the drier, apple drier, in the summer, in the lettuce. I think that's the way I recall. They're real hard workers, they're all young.

MA: Young men, I assume.

NI: Not married then, very few married.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

MA: Okay, so I wanted to talk about Pearl Harbor, that day, December 7, 1941. And if you could talk about what you were doing that day and what you were doing when you heard the news.

NI: Uh-huh, I can tell you, we had bought a home that, in September, I think, and my husband and we were cleaning the thick paint on the walls in the bedrooms in the house, we wanted to repaint it. And all of a sudden, he says, "What's that on the news?" It was radio, yeah, it was radio, we didn't have TV then. And he said, "Japan attacked Pearl Harbor." Dropped everything, that's it. I'm not gonna do that. Oh, I felt, "Oh my gosh, what's gonna happen to us?" That's the way I felt. I was more afraid of anything. Not of Japan attacking us, but I was afraid for our own self here. And it was scary.

MA: What did Charlie say? How did he feel about everything?

NI: Oh, that's what he said, "Well, I guess this is it. I don't know why they would attack us," he said.

MA: What about Charlie's parents? What did they say about it? And your parents, what was the Issei reaction?

NI: I really don't know what she said, she was a widow already. It was really something that I can't even express right now. It's just an awful feeling.

MA: Did you notice a change in the way people treated you after Pearl Harbor in Watsonville?

NI: No, I didn't. I really didn't, because we had Caucasian neighbors, and they were so good to us. They couldn't understand why we had to go.

MA: Do you remember hearing about any hostility or anything, anti-Japanese sentiment in Watsonville or surrounding areas?

NI: Not then. It was mostly just before we were going to evacuate, you know, we had to get rid of, oh, I think they called it a shortwave (...) radio or whatever, and had to take... everybody comes and says, "Would you sell this?" "Would you sell that?" for almost nothing. So, and he just got rid of his car just before we left, took the washing machine to the country where his brother-in-law had a home, in safekeeping or something like that. It was used by the time we came home. You could tell they used it, which was all right, I guess. We, that's the only... and they're gonna come, and, oh, the FBI have come to that house and that house and stories went around that way, too. So we were wondering what we had that they didn't want us to keep. It was radios and things like that, maybe if you had swords or something, take it to the police department. We didn't have too much of those, fortunately.

MA: And did Charlie own the house you lived in?

NI: Uh-huh, we had just bought the place.

MA: And it was just the two of you or was his mother still living with you?

NI: His mother (...), so there were three of us.

MA: And as you were preparing to leave, what happened to the house? What did you do?

NI: Our lawyer, he was able to rent it to, we gave him the, what do you call that word? Where he could do whatever you want, like he owned our place. He was a real good attorney, oh, yeah. He was good to the Japanese, Mr. McCarthy is what they called, his name was John McCarthy.

MA: So he helped a lot of the people in the community?

NI: Oh, he helped a lot of Japanese people. So, also Mrs., Dr. and Mrs. Marshall, they did, too.

MA: Dr. and Mrs. Marshall, okay.

NI: They were real good people.

MA: How did the Chinese community react to the Pearl Harbor and then to the...

NI: I don't know. Someone was saying they, they must have worn pins or something saying, "I'm Chinese," but I never saw that.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

MA: And can you describe the day that you were leaving for, was it Salinas Assembly Center that day?

NI: Yes, well, we had to, I think someone came and loaded our large sacks or whatever on a truck and took it to the, what is that, auditorium, that's where we all met. And it was really sad getting on that bus. We were the first ones to leave Watsonville, and my mother-in-law was not that old then, she was in her sixties. She really acted like an old person, I felt sorry for her, you know. So I had to more or less help her a lot, so my husband had the responsibility of carrying, if there was carry-on luggage, well, he took care of that. Got on the bus and as we were going down Main Street, some of those people were still, they were standing around watching us go, Japanese, I don't know how many days it took us before they got us all into Salinas Assembly Center. Oh, it was sad. Tears just, you know, rolled down my eyes to think that I'm leaving, for one. But that's the way I felt. I wasn't bitter, I was more afraid of anything, more than being bitter.

MA: I assume they, the government didn't tell you, really, much of what was going on, right, or where you were headed or for how long?

NI: They told us we were "dangerous enemies" or whatever. They drove us on the bus to Salinas. We got there, oh my gosh. It was shock. It, it was an experience to see all barbed wire and sentries up there on that tower. I was afraid they might shoot us. Didn't happen, but...

MA: And what were your living conditions, your housing in Salinas?

NI: Housing? It was just one big room. I don't know if there was a cot in there, there must have been a cot. And my gosh, there were just the three of us, so it wasn't a big room, but it was large enough. But just imagine, like my family, there were still six -- no, not six, two were married already, so five of them and then my parents. And just a thin wall separating the families. Later on we said, "My gosh, I wonder what we, we sounded like with five kids and parents talking so loud," and the neighbors just maybe a couple. They could hear everything.

MA: You had no privacy, yeah.

NI: No privacy. The bathrooms were, they called it a latrine or, latrine for so many barracks, and it was just a hole, no water. Before you know it, had to redo it again. Those were, that was ugly. And the food, too, wasn't very good because everything was prepared by -- I don't know who prepared it, the Caucasians, I guess. Rice was cooked in great big tubs, I've never heard of it at that time. But we survived.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

MA: And how long were you in Salinas?

NI: I think we went, we were the first, maybe we went end of April and we left there on the Fourth of July. Sixty degrees, it's just like this in the summer in Salinas, too, it's just cool. When we arrived in Poston... well, we got on a train, and they would put us on a train, all the drapes, I mean, curtains, down. No air conditioner, and as we got towards Poston, where's that? What is that, Death Valley or wherever they go through, it was so hot in the trains. And when we got into Poston, it was 120 degrees that day. There were people that passed out. So as soon as we arrived, they gave us salt pills. Oh, jump in the shower with all your clothes on because we just didn't feel like taking it off, it was so hot. You step out, in five minutes you're dry. Never been in heat like that before.

MA: What about the landscape there? Dusty?

NI: Oh, no landscape, it was just barracks. And it was sand-like dust. When there was a dust storm, you couldn't see the next barrack. And as the people settled, the water was there so they would make little trenches or something and put water around there, plant. Japanese were very good, they planted vegetables wherever there was water. It grew because the land was so fertile, it only needed water. Watermelons just grew overnight. The first time I ever saw peanuts grow, and that was in Poston. And it was hot.

MA: And when you arrived, were you in, one of those in Camp 1 or Camp, did you go to Camp 2?

NI: I was in 2. Barrack 213.

MA: And that was with the other Watsonville, Salinas people?

NI: Well, no, it was most, around this area, there were people from San Juan, Hollister, Salinas. I wonder if there were any from Monterey.

MA: And Camp 2 was pretty much like its own isolated camp?

NI: Well, it was Camp 1 and then Camp 2, and then Camp 3, there was another one. But they were all, I guess, I don't know how it was governed or whatever, but we each had a block manager, each block had a manager. Probably block, Camp 1 had the administration, I don't know. But each camp had that.

MA: And then your own, its own mess, Camp 2, or did each block have its own?

NI: What?

MA: Mess hall?

NI: Each block had their own mess hall, each block had their own washroom and shower and bathroom, and place to eat, and a block manager. Yeah, there was a library and a canteen between the firebreaks, we called it. I didn't venture out too much, it was too hot. And besides, I didn't stay in camp that long (...). We only stayed a month, I mean, a year, and then we went out.

MA: So you stayed a year until about 1943, then you left.

NI: 1943, September, we left for Denver.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

MA: So going back a little bit, did you work in camp that year? Did you have a job?

NI: Yes, I worked as a, what do you call it... waitress at first, and then someone said, "Why don't you be a dietician?" So I didn't know anything, but she said, "This is all you do," and so that's what I did, in the kitchen.

MA: And what did you do as a dietician?

NI: Oh, fix food for people who had stomach problem or couldn't have salt, and then made a little snack for the little children in between breakfast and... I mean, was it lunch and dinner? I can't remember.

MA: Did Charlie work also? Did Charlie work in camp?

NI: Oh, yes, he worked in the... what did he call it, anyway? Oh dear, I can't remember. But he worked, maybe helping unload things that come into the warehouse. He worked in the warehouse and then he, at one time, the government wanted people to make camouflage nets, and he worked there until they finished all the job that was required. That paid. The government paid, I don't know how much. But we, we in the kitchen were getting sixteen dollars a month. And I think the doctors were getting eighteen dollars.

MA: So I know that Poston was built on a Native American reservation?

NI: Yes, it was on an Indian reservation, the only camp on an Indian reservation. And as they say, the land was real fertile but no water. Japanese went and built this canal, helped build the canals, and they brought water into the land. They even built a swimming pool there for the kids. As long as there was water, that land was so fertile, that these vegetables just sprouted because of the good, warm weather. So that's what they say, I was gone already, but I know the watermelons that were growing then, that year. My husband would say, "You throw the seeds in the ground, and two, three days you think you hid those seeds, but they sprout right away." [Laughs]

MA: Did you ever come into contact with any of the Native Americans living around those areas? Did they work in camp or anything like that?

NI: I don't, I really didn't go out. In fact, I did go to the Colorado River with the kitchen crew (...) one day we're going on a picnic, and we went to the Colorado River. Other than that, I did not venture out at all. So I, I don't know too much about camp life. But I know they had talent shows, they built a little theater-like, not too far from our... well, what is that place, area, block. And so all that night people would just come marching through, and in the winter, they would bring little cans with coal in it, so they can keep (warm) -- it got cold in the winter. Can you believe that? We had icicles in Poston, I remember that. It got that cold. And so they'd bring blankets and that little bucket of coal and a little stool to sit on, talent show. There were some talented people, but I didn't stay too long, so I'm sorry I can't tell you all those things.

MA: Oh, that's okay.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

MA: So you and Charlie left, right, in 1943?

NI: Yeah, we took my mother-in-law and left.

MA: And your mother-in-law. What was the process like to leave? Did you have to get permission from the government?

NI: Oh, yeah. His brother was, he never was in camp, he was what you called a chick sexer, and he was out. And so he called us, he said he'll vouch, I mean, vouch for us or whatever, that isn't the word. Anyway, so through that, he talked to the people that he was working with, hakujin, Caucasian, and says, "Sure."

MA: Oh, they sponsored you to come out?

NI: Yes, (...) sponsored us. So we had to go there and sign a paper that we did arrive there, and that's the way it was.

MA: And Charlie's brother was in the Denver area?

NI: Yes, he was already.

MA: So that's why you ended up in Denver.

NI: Uh-huh, that's why we went to Denver. I don't think his mother wanted to leave, but we couldn't leave her. She had a daughter there, but she had a family, and she also had in-laws.

MA: And where did you stay when you arrived in Denver?

NI: We stayed in a large house, I think there were about three, divided into about three apartments. He had found a place already for us, so we rented that place, the whole thing.

MA: And what type of work did you and Charlie do in Denver?

NI: Let me see. First he worked on a golf course which was real hard work, he said, mowing around the course, the greens or whatever. And then winter, well, there's snow so he can't do that. So (a) friend said, "Why don't you come and work with me?" and so he worked for McKesson & Robbins, the drug company in Denver until we came home, and he liked it in the warehouse.

MA: And did you also have a job?

NI: I had a job in a bookbinding, a bookbinding, and I stayed there all that time, (...) oh, about three and a half years.

MA: And what did you think of Denver? What were your impressions of the town?

NI: I liked it. I thought they were real friendly, and then I'd ride the streetcar into work every day, back and forth, and then in the winter it would snow. I bought a pair of mittens, I had to then. (...) Wore a hole in the tips, that's how cold it was, and I had to wear it every day, it was for work. And my husband said he used to go a little earlier in the morning so he'd walk, there was a square block of park right near where we lived, he had to catch the streetcar. He said he'd carry his lunch pail and be the first one walking through about so much soft snow. And he said he felt like he was in the north woods and the dogs would come and sniff his lunchbox. [Laughs] He used to tell funny tales like that, but, which is true. But I think it was really interesting, and I liked Denver.

MA: And how were the people in Denver, did you find?

NI: Really, again, I didn't socialize. So what people I met were at work, and they were all good people, you know, working people. And then my boss was nice.

MA: And there was a Japantown in Denver, I know.

NI: Yes, there was.

MA: Did you ever go there?

NI: I did, but very occasionally, wasn't very often I went. And it was called Laramie Street, I think.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MA: And so your mother and father and brothers and sisters, did they stay in Poston?

NI: They went to Poston, yes, my folks and my youngest brother who was sixteen years younger than I, stayed with the parents. All the rest, well, two, two sisters came to Denver, or was it three? Three, and one was married and she went to, Tooele, they called, in Utah, where there was sort of an army depot there, I guess, her husband worked in there. They wanted Japanese from various camps to come, and so he went there. And then my other brother went to Cleveland, so the three, my mother and father and the youngest stayed in camp. But I think towards the end, they were enjoying it.

MA: Your folks were enjoying it?

NI: First vacation they've ever had in their life, 'cause they were elderly, well, in their sixties, I think, maybe.

MA: So it was a, a break where they didn't have to work so hard manually, manual labor, right?

NI: No manual labor, but they were helping in the kitchen, I think, towards the end, too, because all the young people were being drafted -- not drafted, but... well, yes, weren't they drafted?

MA: Uh-huh.

NI: Leaving camp, and others weren't, were leaving camp. So in the end, it was just the elderly and the (young).

MA: And your family, sounds like, really scattered, the siblings sort of went all over.

NI: Uh-huh, we were, but in the end, we all came back, we all came back to Watsonville. Except one sister, she married out of town.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

MA: And you said you stayed in Denver until 1946.

NI: '46.

MA: And why did you decide to leave? Did you always think that you would go back to Watsonville? Was that always the plan?

NI: Yeah, that was it. And then all the camp people were going home, they had to get out, either go east or come home or wherever. And so, and then we had his mother, so she probably wanted to come home, too. So Charlie, Charlie came by himself once on the train, stayed at a hostel in San Francisco, he said, and came to Watsonville. He said (he) looked, people looked pretty good, they're all working, got some kind of a job. We decided, he decided, "Well, we better go home," so we came back.

MA: How did people in town treat the Japanese Americans who were coming back to Watsonville? Was there ill feeling?

NI: Well, it depends on, I guess, I never had that, where people said, "Why'd you come back?" or, "Get out of my store," anything like that. Because I try not to be offensive or talk back or anything when they do say things like that. We were working most of the time. They needed labor, and so we did hard labor. Never worked so hard in my life.

MA: What did you do?

NI: We worked in the fields again. It was harder than berries. But we picked strawberries, too.

MA: What was the other, what was the other crops that you were working with?

NI: Oh, there were, there was lettuce, and I worked in the apple drier in the winter when the apples came. So we had to do something, we had to make a living. And we were not afraid of working. I guess my generation had to.

MA: And when you came back to Watsonville, where did you and Charlie, did you go back to your house that you had bought?

NI: Uh-huh, yeah, we went back to our house, came back to our house. A small home but it was still our home.

MA: And it was in good condition still? It was in okay...

NI: It was in fairly good condition. We had to fix afterwards, you know, but it was all right. It was better than camp homes.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

MA: And during that time, was Charlie also doing, sort of, manual labor, working in the fields?

NI: Uh-huh, he was working in the field, but he did not go back into barbering, he started to do gardening work, 'cause he always liked flowers. And that's what he did, and he enjoyed it. And good people to work for, they were all good people.

MA: And how many, did most of the Japanese families eventually return to Watsonville after the war?

NI: Well, I don't know if I can say most. But this is what my husband said, though. Said he feels like a stranger in Watsonville, there are so many new people. Lots of new people came because we had strawberries, the big bosses wanted... not, yeah, sharecroppers, I guess. So lots of people. And eventually, they went on their own, too, or the kids grew up. You know, I'm almost proud to say that so many of the third generation, the children all went to school, colleges, the parents were in camp and everything, but their children. And I'm sure they're doing well.

MA: And so after a few years, after the war, what did you, what did you do? What type of work after you finished in the fields?

NI: Oh, I finished, well, when we quit field work, I went into, one person said, "I'm not gonna, I'm not going to work there anymore. Do you want to do domestic?" And I said, "Gee, I haven't done domestic." "Oh, you can learn, it's easy." So I worked for a doctor's family for a long time, and they were real good people, the husband and wife were doctors.

MA: What was the name of the, of the couple?

NI: Dr. Taine Bell and Dr. Janet Bell.

MA: Oh, so the woman was also a doctor?

NI: Pardon?

MA: So the wife was also a doctor?

NI: She was a pediatrician and he took care of the older people. What do we call them?

MA: Geriatric?

NI: Geriatric and heart, and real nice couple.

MA: And did you work just with them?

NI: Just for them. I was, at first I was going here and there and then all of a sudden, just this one place, (...) "Oh, it's not hard, go over there." They had three children, too, so it was not bad. Took care of the kids.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

MA: And how did Watsonville, the Japantown in Watsonville, how did that change, or did it come back after the war?

NI: Uh-uh.

MA: No?

NI: No. Because so many of those people probably didn't want to go back into the, anymore, or they did not come back. So oh, it just disappeared. And then there was, some people did, like... no, I can't say that.

MA: And what about the Chinatown? Did that sort of diminish?

NI: It disappeared, too, a little later. It was still pretty active when we came back after the war, the Filipinos, too, but gradually, I guess the younger generation just didn't want to do what the folks were doing. It seems that way. Even the farmers here, Japanese, big farmers, the children just didn't want to go into it anymore.

MA: Are there many Japanese farmers in Watsonville now, presently?

NI: Oh, there's quite a bit, yes. There's big farmers, but they're the bosses, I think. [Laughs] And then, well, it may bring in good money, but there's a big expense, too, in farming now. It's all hired labor. If you have hundreds of acres, you can't just have your family run it. But they're the boss.

MA: And the workers now are mostly Latino?

NI: Latinos, uh-huh. They have, I don't know how many, but they, I think they come back every year, try to have the same people.

MA: So they don't stay, they kind of come during the season?

NI: Some, some stay, and some people take sort of a vacation and go back to their country and come back. But that's the way it is.

MA: When did the Latino workers start coming into Watsonville?

NI: Gee. When my brothers were farming, they were what they called green card holders or whatever, they come for the season and go back. But I don't know when they started.

MA: But it was after the war?

NI: Oh, it's after the war, yeah. They, well, they didn't farm big, but it was much larger than sharecropping, so they had to have these people. And you could just, they come from Mexico every year, and they'll stay with you and then they go home. They had to, I think, in those days, wasn't it called... they had green cards.

MA: And your brothers are farming?

NI: No, they're retired now.

MA: But they were farming in Watsonville after the war?

NI: Uh-huh. It was, it was hard work being the boss, but, because you're not doing any of that labor anymore, you hiring people to work for you. All that work that goes in, getting the supplies and whatnot, is your business.

MA: And what type of farms did they have?

NI: They had strawberries.

MA: And is strawberry farming still the major crop in Watsonville?

NI: It seems like in Watsonville, because Watsonville was called the "Apple City," but not anymore. They're, just cut down the trees and enter strawberries and maybe lettuce, acres and acres. Or, I guess, apples just one time, one crop a year, whereas strawberries you could get more than one, so was lettuce. I'm not good in agriculture. [Laughs]

<End Segment 21> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MA: So you have a daughter?

NI: I have a daughter, yeah, she is in Reno.

MA: And when was she born?

NI: She was born in, was she born in... she's fifty-five, so was she born in '63 or is it...

MA: '53.

NI: '53.

MA: And what's her name?

NI: Nancy Jean Mattson. She married a Swedish boy from Minnesota, (...) Mattson. And she is an RN. First she went to UC Santa Barbara, and then she went to Reno, then she got her nurse's, and she got married. She has two children.

MA: I wanted to ask you about your parents, your mother and father, what they did right after the war. Did they go back into farming...

NI: No.

MA: ...or did they retire?

NI: They helped my brother while they were able, (...) and then they retired because to, when you have a large ranch, you might as well have the laborers do it. And so they retired.

MA: And when your brothers retired, did they sell the land or did their kids take it over?

NI: Uh-huh. I think he sold one piece.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MA: So you're a, you're a Watsonville native, you grew up here, and you've lived here your whole life. What are just the changes over the years that you've seen in the town, and what do you think about the future of the community?

NI: Well, I don't know. The young people are all going to school and have their own profession. They won't come back to a small town, they have to go where there's business. I don't know. That's what I think.

MA: So the young people get education and then...

NI: They get education, well, naturally, you go to a better place where you can find that type of a job, or even open your own business. We do have a few, quite a few Japanese here, though, professionals, dentists, eye doctor. But oh, there's an MD in Santa Cruz. But that's the way I feel, I don't know. We hope there's something for them to come home to, but I don't know about other towns, but it seems that way to me.

MA: So is there anything else you want to share? Any other memories or messages you want to leave?

NI: Oh, no, I don't think so. It was great talking to you.

MA: Well, thank you. This was such a great interview, and I'm so happy that you're able to do this.

NI: Well, I don't know whether to be honored like that or not. I just don't feel that way. I just... I'm a very talkative person, but I'm not a good talker.

MA: Well, it was a great, great interview, so thank you so much.

NI: Thank you for having me.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright ©2008 Densho and the Watsonville - Santa Cruz JACL. All Rights Reserved.