Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Toshiko Aiboshi Interview
Narrator: Toshiko Aiboshi
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Culver City, California
Date: January 20, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-atoshiko-01-0006

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RP: Let's talk a little bit more about the teachers, because you had some observations about, about those teachers and their motivation for coming to the camp in the first place. Share that with us.

TA: Yeah, I, my feeling is that some of the teachers were there because this was going to be a new experience for them and they wanted to see what this was like. And I think kind of a social experiment of some sort, and they would benefit from it, or they were curious about it, so they volunteered to teach there because it was a certainly, not like a military base school, it may be, but in more prison-like a situation. They had no idea how the Japanese were, and they were there. We also had some teachers who I know could not get a job anyplace else. They were kind of the leftovers of teachers who were non-placed when school started, and so this at least was a job for them. And so we, I think we had either excellent teachers, in some respects, or some very poor teachers who could not have gotten a job anyplace else and, but were glad to have a job. One teacher that I recall was one who lived in Colorado but had moved to Oregon in order to get a job, and then when she was told that she would be hired in Colorado she drove all the way back, and it took her two weeks to drive back. And so she said that she was so surprised when she came back that the children were still sitting in their rows, and she expected them to have spitball fights or something, but she said they were sitting all so nicely that she could not believe that any classroom would have such orderly children. But she ended up being one of the people who helped students get into college, which would've been very, very difficult. I found one letter from her that I have, which I'd be glad to share with you, after the war. So she was very instrumental in making sure that people were going to continue their education afterwards. And so where most of the Japanese stayed in their own area, if they went to college, that was a very unusual circumstance anyway, and if so they would've gone probably either to UCLA or USC, both of which were not even on the horizon for us before the war. So the, in that respect, having gone to camp opened up the United States for the Japanese.

RP: A couple of questions. What was the name of the teacher?

TA: Her name was Katherine Stegner.

RP: And what did she teach at Amache?

TA: And she taught social studies. And I can remember, the first time -- there was another teacher who, I think, was interested because of the social thing, and his name was Robert George, and then I can remember the first time it snowed and we had all gone outside. We had never, ever seen snow before because in Los Angeles it doesn't snow. And so we went to the school and we went outside and had a snowball fight. It was so exciting. And then afterwards, he was standing outside just kind of watching, and then he says, "I think it's time for you to come in." And so we went into the classroom and he says, "You are going to have to stay thirty-five minutes extra." And we were, said, "How come?" He said, "Because you played outside for thirty-five minutes, you have lost all that class time. You must stay after school." We said, "But we were having so much fun having this snow fight." He says, "Doesn't matter. You have to have your education." And so we had to stay after school, so we never had a snow fight during school hours again. [Laughs]

RP: Since we're on the subject of Mr. George, he also had his opinions and thoughts about this whole experience, Japanese American experience, the removal and the detention. Can you share with us his thoughts?

TA: Well, yeah, I think that he really wanted to see what was happening, and he was telling us during class time that a lot of this would not have happened, our being put in camp, had we been more part of the community that we lived in, meaning not all Japanese. Because that was really our main social outlet, we just associated with Japanese. We saw kids at school, but we didn't go to their homes. We, if we went to a home at all it would've been to a Japanese home. And he said that, "You really, if you are going to live in the United States, you are going to have to become more like the rest of America. You are going to have to be part of the community and just be an American, which means that everybody is not just a certain race." And so he said, "When this war is over and you get -- we know that you are not going to be kept here -- you are going to have to change your culture and you are going to have to assimilate." "Assimilate" was a big word in camp toward the end. And so at that point he was trying to say that, "You are going to have to broaden your horizons." So I think in that respect that was very helpful advice.

RP: Which the camp experience was providing that framework, in your opinion.

TA: Yes.

RP: That it was, had broadened your horizons.

TA: Yes. But it, I mean, it narrowed it, certainly, during the war, but we saw the result of that, which kept us so isolated. Had we been so different, because I know that there were Chinese people before the war who were, had little badges that said, "I'm not Japanese," or something of that sort. And so we could see the danger of being ostracized because of race or something, and so even today, I think when certain races are targeted you will find many Japanese who say, "That is not patriotic. That is not the correct thing to do."

<End Segment 6> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.