Densho Digital Archive
Japanese American Museum of San Jose Collection
Title: Dave Tatsuno Interview
Narrator: Dave Tatsuno
Interviewer: Aggie Idemoto
Location: San Jose, California
Date: January 20, 2005
Densho ID: denshovh-tdave-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: So from Tanforan, you already mentioned that you were sent to Topaz? How did you travel to get there, and about how long was the trip?

DT: Oh, I mean, old trains. Old trains.

AI: And do you recall about how long it took to get there?

DT: I think it took about a day and a half.

AI: So Topaz is in...

DT: In Utah.

AI: Okay. And Tanforan to Topaz, Utah?

DT: Right.

AI: And it was a day and a half, approximately?

DT: That's right.

AI: Okay. So after about a day and a half of traveling in this train, you arrive at Topaz. Would you please describe your first impressions, such as the type of weather, the environment, the living conditions?

DT: Well, you know, it was very dusty. Remember now, Topaz is in the desert, and they dug up all, all the sagebrush to build the barracks. And so it was full of dust, and we had dust storms. And as someone said, "Dave Tatsuno said like coating face powder," you see. That's what it was.

AI: So besides dust, what other environmental kinds of things can you say would describe the Topaz experience?

DT: Well, actually, we were in barracks, ate in mess halls, and so there was really no, very little privacy, you see. So it was a regular, living in a concentration camp, that's what it was.

AI: And what was a typical day at camp like? What activities did you get involved in?

DT: Well, see, you can't talk about me, because I was very busy. Not only did I teach Sunday School and help with the church group, I started the YMCA, and then I was a buyer for the camp, camp store. And I made twenty thousand miles around the United States buying for the co-op store. Now, how many people got out of camp to do that? I was in... see, I bought merchandise in Salt Lake City eleven times. I went to Kansas City, Denver, Chicago, St. Louis, three times to buy merchandise. Now, people say, "Gee, you mean they let you out to buy merchandise?" I said, "They had to." Here we had a store in camp, and we write purchase orders out, they say, "It's wartime, a war going on. There's a shortage. Who's this out there in the desert of Utah? Don't send anything." So what happened? They said, "Dave, you have to go out and look for merchandise." So I went out three times. Eleven times to Salt Lake City, and you know, you had to beg, borrow, and steal. You get there and they say, they say, "Where you from?" "From behind the barbed wire. Japanese American." Then they, you start working on their sympathy. Say, "But we're Japanese, we're citizens. We didn't do anything wrong. I had a store in San Francisco that we had to close. We were behind barbed wire, barracks. My family's living in a barrack." And they start feeling sorry. They said, "Gee, if that's the case, we'll give you some of this merchandise." Merchandise that's very scarce wartime, and that's how I got merchandise. And I did that in Kansas City and St. Louis and Chicago. It was hard work. Real hard work. But on the other hand, I got to eat food. In camp they were getting beef heart, kidney, and all that. But outside, there was no cafeteria, and boy, a tray full of food you would get to eat, because...

AI: As a buyer, you said you worked for the co-op stores. What does that mean, a "co-op store"?

DT: It was a co-op formed by the people in camp. They put up dollars and made an enterprise: Topaz Consumer Cooperative Enterprises. So they had the canteen, the dry-goods store, the barber shop, movie, beauty parlor, I guess. They had different, different enterprises. That's what it was.

AI: Do you know if this was unique to Topaz? Did other camps have such co-ops?

DT: Oh, yes, other camps had it, too.

AI: Uh-huh.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2004 Densho and The Japanese American Museum of San Jose. All Rights Reserved.