Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Margie Y. Wong
Narrator: Margie Y. Wong
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Glendale, California
Date: January 21, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-wmargie-01-0008

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: Do you recall which block you were originally assigned to at Manzanar?

MW: Thirty-one. Block 31.

RP: And so who... you had your brothers and sisters.

MW: [Nods]

RP: You had your parents. Was there anyone else assigned to your room? Was there another couple or another family?

MW: Well, I mean as you know, there was a whole barrack and we had a quarter of it. No, it was just my mom and dad, my brother, my two sisters. But my brother was gone 'cause he went into the army. So it was just us. And, right. Everything was communal of course and we weren't used to that. We weren't... it was hard to adjust at first. But, we finally adjusted. Especially the, the toilets were just right next to each other and I don't... in the service, from what I understand, that's how the men are like that. But we had, we're such a private family. I mean we didn't have any relatives or any... and so now we're from a very private family, we're thrown into this communal situation. It was quite a shock, yeah. So, as you know, everybody tried to look for cardboard or something and then hold it up. But later on you say, "Oh, the heck with it." And you said, "Oh well. It just stinks. Oh well." [Laughs]

RP: How about eating communally in the mess halls?

MW: It's hard too. It was. Everything was a line, waited in line. Of course at first, I mean, I just couldn't... nobody could eat that food at first because I don't even... they didn't have gourmet cooks. [Laughs] And I don't know why but I can't eat Spam. I don't know why, if that's psychological or what, but I just cannot stand Spam. But...

RP: Did you eat as a family in the mess hall? Would you, would you all eat together?

MW: Yeah. Right. Uh-huh. But I don't remember my dad being there. Maybe my mom brought some food for him or something. You know my dad was elderly, for having somebody my age. He was fifty-five when I was born. Yeah. And so... and then like, the communal bathrooms, I mean, when you get old you have to urinate in the evenings. I mean, it was really difficult. And when it was snowing and everything so I remember my mom had a bottle and she would put it there for them and in the morning it was our, the girls' duties to go and, and empty it out. And then sometimes she would get up like, oh, in the middle of the night because the laundry room was so packed during the day. So she went, we went. I mean... and you had to do everything by hand and get the iron and everything. So I remember sometimes we would go real early in the morning, like one o'clock or so.

RP: You would go too?

MW: Yeah, if I got up. I said, "Well, mom..." and she says, "You want to come?" So I just tagged along. And then sometime other people had the same idea so they were there too. And of course it's those showers, oh my gosh.

RP: The showers, tell us about that.

MW: Communal, yeah. And at first we used to keep our clothes on, my sisters and I, 'cause we said we didn't want to get naked in front of everybody. And so anyway, we're all taking a shower together and here's this lady -- I mean most Japanese do not have breasts, you know we're mostly skinny people. There was this lady with very large breasts and we were so fascinated. My sisters and I went and we looked like that. And she had, she had such a good sense of humor. She would tell us in Japanese something. She'd wash herself and she got her wrist, she'd turned it over and she's washing herself. Oh, we were just flabbergasted. Yeah, I'll never forget that. My mom got so mad. She said, "Get back here," in Japanese she told... Some, sometimes there were funny, you know, a lot of humorous moments and then there were... like the, the guy that, because my sister was handicapped, he'd make fun of her and everything. It's just, it was like any other place, any other group of people. You get 'em together and there's some form of dissention, some form... there's always somebody who gets you together to lead your way. But I think to that respect the, the Japanese, they always respected authority so they followed. So they're, but of course there was dissention too. I remember the camp, the... somebody got shot 'cause I remember when my mom told me that somebody got shot.

RP: Right. So, you, you moved from...

MW: Thirty-one to Twenty-seven.

RP: Thirty-one to Twenty-seven. And why did you move?

MW: 'Cause it was unbearable, that man across the street. My god, my poor sister. She was handicapped and he was so cruel.

RP: Just verbally abusing her?

MW: Yeah. And, and my mom, I remember, telling my dad, "Move." And whatever they did. It took a while but we did move to 27. And what was good is we were right next to the mess hall. And so we lived in one barrack, one part of the barrack and there were three other barracks and they were all men, all men because they worked in the mess hall. And then there was a man next door that worked in the mess hall. And he says, "Yasuko." I said, "Yes." He says, "Come here." So I'd go and he used to carve these little birds and things. I says, "God, that's great." Just fascinated. So next day he says, "Come here." And I looked down and I said, "Oh, that's so pretty." And he says, "I'm gonna show you something really precious." I go, "Oh, boy." And so he unzipped himself and he shows me... and so, anyway I ran home and I told my mom. And she said, "That crazy guy. Don't go there anymore," she told me. But, what I'm trying to point out is that whether you're in camp, you're Japanese, black, I don't care who you are, there are sexual predators around. I don't know what the extent would have been with him. I mean, it was just another community and we had oddballs and smart people and all the diversity of people. But overall I must say, I was a little girl, but I think everybody got along pretty well.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.