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

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history interview for the Manzanar National Historic Site, and this morning we're talking with Margie Wong, maiden name Motowaki. And Margie lives at 3156 King Ridge Way in Glendale, California. The date of our interview is January 21, 2011. Behind the camera is Kirk Peterson and Richard Potashin is our interviewer today. And we're gonna be talking with Margie about her experiences as a young child at the Manzanar War Relocation Center and about her family history before and after the war, World War II, that is. Our interview will be archived in the Park's library, and Margie, do I have permission, verbal permission to go ahead and record our interview?

MW: Yes, you do.

RP: Thank you so much. It's great to be with you and reminiscing about some of your experiences during World War II. Tell us where you were born and what year.

MW: I was born in Boyle Heights. That's an area of East Los Angeles, California. And I was born on July 5, 1936.

RP: One day after July Fourth.

MW: Yes, that's why they celebrate July Fourth. [Smiles]

RP: And tell us what your give name at birth was.

MW: At birth my given name was Yasuko Motowaki.

RP: And do you know the meaning behind your first name?

MW: Yes. Yasuko means "abundance" in Japanese.

RP: And how about your last name?

MW: No, I don't.

RP: And do you know, were you born at home or in a hospital?

MW: Yes. My mom told me that she had fourteen pregnancies and only four of us lived to be adults. And we were all delivered by a midwife. And so when my mom felt that I was coming she told the boy next door and he would run to the midwife's house and she would come running and that's how I was delivered.

RP: Wanted to, wanted you to share with us a little bit about your parents.

MW: My parents?

RP: How about your dad?

MW: Okay.

RP: Give us his name and maybe a little of what you remember about your dad, his history coming from Japan.

MW: My father's name was Fusakichi Motowaki. He was born in 1882 and he came to America the first time in 1899 and so he was about seventeen years old. And he told me that he worked for a Canadian couple that owned an egg farm and his job was to deliver the eggs from the farm to the city. And so it was not in a car but it was on a horse and buggy so to speak. And he said it was so boring he made the horse go as fast as possible to see how many eggs he could break. That's why I'm such a rascal. I get that from him.

RP: From your dad.

MW: Yeah. And then my mom was born in 1899 and there's a disparity in age. Well, my dad was married to this lady and, who was my aunt. And they had -- in America -- and they had two children but while she was delivering the second child she died at childbirth. So my dad was left with two children, two infants so to speak, and he had no relatives here, no one. So he bundled up the two young ones and he got on the boat and he headed back to Japan. And he took them 'cause Grandma was there, his mother. And she took care of them. And it was the custom in Japan at that time, if the wife dies, that the next girl in line of that family comes to marry the man. So that's how my mom... at that time everybody in between my aunt and my mother had been married off. So, my mom was the youngest one left. At nineteen she came and she married my dad. And then my dad always wanted to come back to the United States. But then Grandma said, "Oh, I want the children." So he left his two children there and he came to America with my mother and that's how our family started. And they came in 1919 to America when she was nineteen years old. And, let's see, I think my dad was about, almost twenty years older maybe. Uh-huh.

RP: Now the two children by the previous marriage were left in Japan? Did they grow up in Japan and live their lives there?

MW: Yes, one of 'em died of an illness at thirteen. And the other one survived and she lived to be in her eighties. And, about twenty-five years ago, right before she passed away, my husband and I went to Japan and we were able to meet her. So it was very nice.

RP: What was that like for you?

MW: Well, of course I speak Japanese very haltingly, and she didn't speak any English. So, however, the body language we, it was very touching knowing that we were related. So it was nice that we were able to meet.

RP: Where did your, where did your father and his wife settle when they came back to the United States?

MW: They settled in, in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. And my dad had a wholesale grocery store and my mom was the homemaker.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: You told me when we talked last that your father was kind of very pro-American in his outlook. The way he...

MW: Yes, he was.

RP: How, in what ways?

MW: Well, when we went to camp, you had an option of going back to Japan. And, as you know, many of the older generation did go back. I remember, I remember my dad saying, "I don't care if America wins or loses the war, I want my children brought up in America." 'Cause he says there's just no place like America. He liked, he liked the philosophy of Americans. And so that's, that's why we stayed.

RP: Tell us more about his wholesale business. Did he have, did he deal directly with Japan in terms of...

MW: Right, but then he delivered... he had a wholesale grocery store and like he'd, he would deliver to El Monte, which is really close now but back then it took a whole day when he had to deliver to El Monte and West Covina and that way. Because it was nothing but farmlands and then I don't think there was any, the roads weren't smooth so to speak.

RP: And did he do the deliveries himself or did he have...

MW: I think he had a, eventually he got a delivery person because he had in the end when we, he had to close up because of the war, he had twenty-six employees. And I thought that was amazing for a man that started with nothing, and couldn't speak English. And, so he was quite successful. And I found an old dictionary all tattered and torn and I gave it to my granddaughter. But every night I used to see him studying by this little desk we had at the house and he would look up the words and, and ask me what does this mean or whatever. And so little by little he learned English. Not like you and I are speaking but he, he did enough. And then there was Mr. Good, he was the owner of a, on Spring Street here, he owned a warehouse. And so when the war came, everybody, we only took one suitcase, one or two suitcase at the most, but he said, "Mr. Motowaki, bring your things here and I'll take care of it for you." So we left like my mom's Singer sewing machine and the big items there. And, but some of the things I think they left with the church. I'm sure you, you've heard all this from everybody. Yeah, the same thing that all the other Japanese encountered. Yeah, so, we were very lucky. When we came back we had a sewing machine. Yeah, uh-huh. And let's see, what else?

RP: Tell us about your father as a person. How did you see him as a young kid?

MW: My dad? He was very progressive for a Japanese American.

RP: For a Nisei?

MW: Very, very progressive. Because, you know like he... of course he had a business so interacted with Caucasians and different ethnicities. And they, they would even used to come to our house I remember. They'd bring their Four Roses, you know. [Laughs] My mom would say, "Ooh, we don't drink." But you know we're Japanese, and she says, "Don't say anything. Just be appreciative." So we had a bunch of Four Roses. Anyway, yeah. And let's see, what else?

RP: Was he, was he...

MW: Oh religious?

RP: How was he with you, with, with the kids?

MW: Oh, very, very good.

RP: Did you feel close to your dad?

MW: I did. I'm fortunate in that respect. Yes, he'd come from behind and like he'd hit my knees and so I'd fall and he'd say a lot of funny things. He had, had a great, great sense of humor. And so I'm indebted to him for that. [Laughs] Yeah. And they were very religious. The typical Japanese you know, the words shikata ga nai, and they went through countless tragedies. I can't imagine. So, there was two other children. One was, I think about twelve and he died of dysentery. And another -- because this was pre-penicillin -- and then there was an eight-year-old girl and she was killed in a car... these two, they were... my mom and she went someplace and they were waiting for the bus. And on the street corner these two cars collided and it jumped the curb and it slammed her against the brick wall and she didn't, when they took her to the hospital, my mom didn't know how to sign her name. So they had to wait for my dad and they didn't have cell phones or anything. So anyway, she bled to death and, and she died. So that, they just have gone through so much and yet they were very religious. And they would always say, "Oh, it's God's will." And they just went on with life. And I thought wow, that's pretty good. That's admirable because I can't imagine losing a child. And so, right, so my, as far as my background, before the war up to there it was good memories. I have no, we played with the local kids in the area and we did things together.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: What do you, what do you remember about growing up in Boyle Heights? Or, can you tell us a little bit about the community of Boyle Heights?

MW: Right.

RP: And ethnically, it was a very diverse neighborhood.

MW: Right. And so, but there were a lot of Japanese families on my block. I lived on, in East L.A. by First and Soto. And anyway, there were a lot of kids around there and activities and we were, when they started Maryknoll school, that was a Catholic school, for some reason, they came to my dad and my dad gave a donation and we went to Catholic school. [Laughs] So every day I remember the bus would come and pick us up and we would wear our little uniforms and we'd go to Catholic school. But then, when we went to camp, for some reason, I became a Protestant. I don't know... 'cause all my girlfriends were going to this other church, so I went there. But my parents were Shinto, very interesting religion.

RP: Can you describe Shinto for us a little bit?

MW: I mean they, I mean at... all I know is the rituals that they went through. They never forced it upon us and my dad says, "Well, this is America so let the kids go to a Christian church." So that's, my life was encompassed a lot in, in the church. And, but it's kind of nice that the tolerance was there. So I thought that's good. It made a great bearing on me because a lot... most of my friends' parents were Buddhist. My parents were Shinto and then there's Christians and so nobody said, "Oh, you're bad," or anything like that. It was accepted so I thought that was good.

RP: You also had a lot of Jewish friends too, growing up.

MW: Oh, definitely uh-huh, right. Especially after the war. After we came back from Utah, we settled again in, in East L.A. And it was, it was predominately Jewish. 'Cause all the businesses on Wabash Avenue were all Jewish. And anyway, my my girlfriend said, "You want to go to a show with me?" I said, "Sure, I'll go to a show with you." So we went to the show. It's just a block away. And anyway, the teacher said, "Okay, everybody get up. Boy, girl, boy, girl." And we're gonna do the Horah, right, da-da-da-da-da [Singing] and so anyway, said to get up. And so my girlfriend and I that went, we separated and a boy came in between us. And the boy says, "I don't want to hold her hand." So the teacher got really mad at him and says, "Why don't you want to hold her hand?" So obviously I thought I was the only Asian. Everybody else had a white face. So I said oh, here we go again. But he says, "I don't want to hold Fatty's hand." See, the girl I went with was obese. And I thought, wow. I mean, it was the first time I wasn't prejudiced. It wasn't because of me, but because of her physical build. So that stuck in my head forever. But then I did walk home with the kids to the Menorah Center, coming home from school and there was a swimming pool in there. But we couldn't go in there 'cause you had to be Jewish to go in there. So I sat on the outside and they left all their books with me and I'd do my homework. And then we'd go home. But, I mean, I didn't, I didn't think anything of it. Yeah. And then, of course, my Mexican girlfriends, I went to Catechism with them And, yeah, it was a wonderful upbringing and they, they took me in and when they made tortillas, they says, "Come on, Margie, I'll show you how to make tortillas." And so I made tortillas and they were just very... I had a great upbringing. 'Cause then when we went to school and brought our lunches, the Mexican kids would take out their tacos or whatever and I'd take out my rrice balls and the, they Jewish kids would bring out their bagels and we'd sort of taste everybody else's food. So, it, it was a very nice time for me and I'm really sad to hear that now in, even in junior high school and high school, that they young kids, if you're black or Chicano or Armenian that they, they fight amongst themselves. And I said that's so unfortunate because it starts right there. I think my thinking that you should accept people started when I was young. And so I was saddened to hear that.

RP: You mentioned the age discrepancy between your father and your mother.

MW: Right.

RP: You're father was much older and...

MW: Right. Because that was circumstances because his first wife died, which was the sister. And so my mom, she always tried to look old. That was interesting. In our culture, you know America, oh my god, you get Botox here and there and every place. But, and she always wanted to look old and I remember she had three dresses. One, every day she'd wear the same dress and then when she washed it she'd wear the other one. Then she had a black one. But she never wore that except if she'd go to a funeral or to a wedding, and that was it. That was the extent. She had no jewelry, nothing. Yeah. Very, conservative and frugal. But, I think I was interested in psychology probably because my mom was my best psychologist. She never had an education but she would say things like, "You know if there's three people don't whisper in somebody's ears because it would hurt the other person's feelings." And she says, "If there's three pieces of cake and you can divide it," she says, "Give everybody. But if it's not big enough for all of you," she says, "Just put it away for now." So I mean, these are things you learn as a child and I think that although my mom didn't have an education, she was certainly the best teacher.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

RP: Did your mom or dad have any creative outlets?

MW: Have what?

RP: Were they creative musically or artistically or...

MW: Well there's a thing called shigin, and I mean if the Americans, when the Americans hear that they absolutely just go bonkers, including me. I mean it just seems so... not, not, the word's not harmonious, but it's, it's just different what we're used to hearing. I mean you go to South America and their music or no matter what country you go to it's... but that music, I don't know if you're familiar with that shigin, wow. Yeah.

RP: So, your, your mother was into shigin?

MW: My, my dad. So he sang. So then he would take me and that's how I got to learn odori, which is Japanese dancing. So, I did learn to do Japanese dancing. And right after the war this, at the playground at, at the Evergreen playground, they used to have little, like entertainments or something. And so the librarian at the, at the library in East L.A. she somehow found out I did Japanese dancing so she says, "Would you dance for us?" And I said, "Okay." I think she came back and she says, "Well, they said they don't, they're not gonna take you because you're Japanese and we fought, they were our enemies." So I was, I was astounded because it was several years after the war. It was like maybe three years or something. But still the stigma was there.

RP: Did you dance before the war at all?

MW: No.

RP: You started afterwards.

MW: Yeah, I was a little girl.

RP: Did you attend a Japanese language school as a child?

MW: For a little while, just like everybody else, but we just couldn't stand it. In camp they had, they had and I didn't, once we went to camp. They did have it though. But I forgot it all.

RP: You spoke, before you went to camp though you spoke Japanese at home?

MW: Right.

RP: With your parents.

MW: But my sisters of course were older and they, they went to school. Yeah, but I remember I went to school that next week or something and the teacher says, "Well you'd better not come to school. I don't think you should come anymore, Yasuko. Because," she says, "It might be hurtful or somebody might harm you or something."

RP: That was after Pearl, the attack on Pearl Harbor?

MW: Right.

RP: Oh.

MW: Attack on, on Pearl Harbor. That was a Sunday. But my dad came home and said... Oh, you know that, we'd been going to this place. And I remember my mom crying because they said they were gonna separate the aliens from the, from us kids. And she was really panicky. But then she found out that we're gonna all be together. So she said, "Oh I don't care where we go as long as we're together." So anyway, we got on the bus and I remember the bus, the stench. My sister got motion sickness. And so she... and then it would kind of, had an effect... what do you call that effect?

RP: Oh, domino?

MW: Yeah. Everybody... and it was terrible. The smell was awful in the bus. Yeah. But we got there and it was, it was pitch black I remember when the bus stopped and we got off and it was just... and windy. I know everybody says windy. Of course, you know what that's like, living up there. Oh my gosh. I can never forget that wind. And my mother used to put toilet paper inside her nose. I often wondered why. But now I know why. She had an allergy and they didn't have antihistamines back there. And her nose would constantly run. Yeah. So today I go oh wow, we pop our pills if, if this hurts or that hurts. So, in camp I really felt for the older people. I mean, we were young and fortunately our parents were there to take care of us. But it saddens me that they went through that.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: Before we go any further, can you share with us the rest of your brothers and sisters? Who is the oldest in your family?

MW: Well the oldest was a boy and he died of dysentery. And the second boy...

RP: What was his name?

MW: The oldest boy?

RP: The oldest boy.

MW: Ben, Ben died of dysentery. The next boy was Tai. And he, he died at eighty. All my siblings are, now are gone. My mom, my dad, the whole family is gone. I'm the only remaining. I'm the youngest. And Tai went into camp with us but then the next year he, he went into the service. And he was with the MIS. And then after the war he went to Japan and he was an interpreter because he lived in Japan because back then it was a custom of the Japanese to send the number one son back to Japan when they were about ten, twelve or whatever to enculturate them in the Japanese culture. So he went back there so he was, he was fluent. And when he came back he said he hated it because they put him back in the third grade and here he's fifteen or something like that. So that's my brother. And then the next girl, the next one is a sister, my sister Betty, who was Hideko. And unfortunately she had Osteomyelitis. So, when... she was kind of crippled.

RP: One leg was longer than the other?

MW: Pardon?

RP: One leg was longer than the other?

MW: Yes. And then the next one is Judy, my sister Judy. And when she got married to this fellow, well, that was maybe in the early fifties. She and her husband applied for insurance with the auto club. But they were turned down because they said that her husband's brother was a "no-no" in the camp. And so he was branded a traitor and, "So you have a traitor in the family," and so they didn't sell her the insurance. I was shocked when she told me that.

RP: And that was... and then you came along after that?

MW: No... oh, I'm the next one after Judy.

RP: Judy, okay.

MW: Yes. I'm the last one.

RP: The last one.

MW: Uh-huh. But in between my mom said she had fourteen miscarriages, or whatever, stillborn. I said, "Oh my gosh." They had no care. They didn't have prenatal care or anything like that. And so, and she said, oh, she was working at the store sometime and she just felt, she just realized she's pregnant and so they went and got the midwife. You can't imagine that today but it happened.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: Before we get, get into camp a little bit more, tell me, your father's wholesale grocery business, did it deal predominately with Japanese foods?

MW: Right, predominately with, with Japanese food. And then that's the reason there were a lot farmers, Japanese farmers, and they lived out in west Covina or back then all that area was all farming. So he, he would deliver, they would deliver out there. Predominately Japanese food, yes. And, like I said, he had twenty-six employees and I remember the... what is that? The adding machine? Yeah.

RP: So you visited the store as a kid?

MW: Yes.

RP: Do you remember the store?

MW: Yes. And I remember when the war came and they said, "You gotta get out of there." People were there like hawks saying, "Fifty cents." I remember fifty cents. I remember people saying that. And I remember one man saying, "Oh, you don't know where you're gonna go so fifty cents is better than nothing." And of course I didn't realize the impact at that time. And so, yeah, it was the toughest for them.

RP: There were a lot of rumors about, going around at that time just after Pearl Harbor, about if you had anything with Japanese writing on it or photographs or that type of thing that the FBI might be paying a visit. Do you recall that happening in your family?

MW: Right. I remember it was just my mom and myself and these people came. I think they were three men and I don't know, they must have been the FBI. Because you could, I remember... and they said, "You speak Japanese?" And my mom, you know... And they ask me, "Little girl, you translate for your mommy." And I said, "Okay." He says, "We're the FBI and," he says, "We're gonna go in your house and search." So I told my mom, "He said they're gonna go in the house and look." So what could we say? They went through and they rifled through all the drawers and whatever had Japanese writings or it looked Japanese, they made a pile in the back and they lit a bonfire. They lit a fire to it.

RP: So they actually burned...

MW: They burned it.

RP: They burned it.

MW: And I was carrying this little Japanese doll my dad had brought from Japan. And guy took it and he looks at it and he says, "Oh, it's a Jap doll." And he threw it in the fire. So then my mom and I got really scared. We just hung on to each other. I remember that part. Yeah.

RP: And, yeah, so it was just you and your mom. Your dad was at work and...

MW: Right.

RP: Did they, did they question your father or did they visit again to talk to him?

MW: Right. Fortunately, my dad was so busy with the store or something, I guess, he wasn't in any organizations or anything like that. 'Cause he was... Sunday or any day he was constantly working all the time. So they, they didn't take him away like they took the other fathers, some of the other fathers away. And so we were able to go to Manzanar together as a family.

RP: But you knew of... did you have other friends whose fathers...

MW: Yes.

RP: Just disappeared?

MW: Yes, yes, yes. And of course we went directly to Manzanar. We didn't have to go to Santa Anita or any other place first.

RP: Do you recall anything about the time that you were preparing to go to Manzanar? Do you remember packing a suitcase or what you took with you or what your mom told you to take?

MW: Right. And she says, "Well, put everything you want in the suitcase." Of course I was young so I wanted my toys and my dolls and stuff like that. But, and so that's all I remember is, is taking what I liked, some of my favorite dress or something, and the toys.

RP: And do you recall how you felt? I know you were very young but did you have any kind...

MW: Well, I always thought...

RP: ...of overall feeling about what, what's going on?

MW: What going on... yeah right. Because I'm young.

RP: Did somebody, did anybody try to explain to you what... "We're going somewhere else" or...

MW: Well, we're different. I mean, all I know is we used to play with this girl down the street and one day she says, "Well, I can't play with you because my mom, mom said you were bad." So I said, "Oh." So I asked my mom. I said, "So and so won't play with me because she says I'm bad." Of course how could... they had no explanation either. They're just older Japanese and they, they are, as far as authority, they respect authority, they listen to it. I mean, I'm sure you've been told about the Japanese, how they were. So that... and the young kids today, like after I, after I retired, I went to get my masters and my thesis was on Manzanar. And I interviewed several people and they said, the younger kids, some of 'em, "Really?" They said, "Really? It was such a thing?" They didn't know such a thing. Or neither did the, some of the older people. But the, the older people did tell me, "Oh Margie, it was for your benefit because it was a terrible time." They says, "You would have been hurt or something. So it probably was better that you wen," 'cause they would throw balls and cans at the Japanese houses, their windows and stuff. So some of 'em... it was a varied opinion. Everybody had a different opinion about it.

RP: The statement, "It was for your own protection."

MW: Pardon?

RP: That the rationale that was offered was, "This was for your own protection."

MW: Right, right. And the young kids, of course they all said, "Well, why didn't you fight? Why didn't you fight it?" I was just amazed at the difference of opinions. And it was interesting. Because whether you were old or young, white or black, they all had various opinions. So I found that to be interesting.

RP: And so your father basically lost his business?

MW: Yes. Yeah. All I know is my brother, when he was older -- my brother worked for him. He's thirteen years older than I am. And he says, "Oh yeah," he says, "Pa really lost a lot, a lot of money." But we all did. All the people lost their business. And so I... one time I went to a chiropractor and he said, "Oh, I understand you were in camp. You're Japanese are you?" I said, "Yes." And he says, "Well," he says, "you know, my uncle lost all his property too so it's not just you people that lost it." And I said, "I'm sorry but..." I mean, it was ironic that he would bring it up and tell me well, just because you lost it... and, and I understand that. There were many, many Americans that also lost their homes, their jobs, everything because they had to go to war. And, but I tried to tell him, "Well I'm an American. I'm on your side." You know, but they can't, they just don't see that 'cause the, 'cause of our faces. So, that's why we have to educate the people. But it seems you get two steps ahead and one step behind somehow.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: So had you started going to your grammar school before, before you left for Manzanar?

MW: At... I went to Maryknoll.

RP: You went to Maryknoll.

MW: But I thought, I think that was, yeah, maybe first grade or kindergarten, right in there. Because the first grade that I was in in camp was first grade with Ms. Beakman.

RP: What was Maryknoll like, do you recall?

MW: Well we just went there a short while and then the, we had to go to camp. But, I can't really remember that much. All I know is we wore these uniforms and we all got on the bus.

RP: Yes, was that... you mentioned earlier about the teacher who said it'd be better if you didn't come to school after Pearl Harbor attack...

MW: No, she said I shouldn't. She said, "Don't come tomorrow." She said, "Don't come tomorrow. Don't come anymore."

RP: Was that the Maryknoll teacher?

MW: It must have been. I don't recall. All I know is went to school and my sisters came home. They, we heard the same thing. To tell you the truth I don't recall... it must have been because that's the only school that...

RP: Because most of the kids who went to Maryknoll were Japanese American, weren't they? Or were there other...

MW: Yes, uh-huh. Well, all I know is some, a teacher, somebody said, "Don't, don't come back to school."

RP: And you didn't. Did you?

MW: No.

RP: So from the time after, just shortly after Pearl Harbor to the time you left for Manzanar you didn't go to school?

MW: Let's see. That was 1942. And then we went to camp in, in...

RP: April or May?

MW: Right. So I think school was just letting out anyway. April, May, June, right? And then when we got there the semester for the first grade was starting for me at, in camp.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: So, what, what were you like as a kid before you came to camp? And how did, did camp change your personality in any way?

MW: As far as the camp, it was great because we were all Japanese, we all had the same face. And there wasn't somebody that says... or any bullying so to speak because of your ethnicity. So we... it was pretty good I must say. But it was afterwards... yeah, that, when they said we could leave, well, my parents had no relatives whatsoever. So they didn't know where to go and the, one of the friends in camp said, "Oh, my friend owns this apartment, apartments in Salt Lake City." So my dad was tickled pink to move to Salt Lake City. I didn't even know what Salt Lake City was. So we went there and we were one of the few Asians. I mean, there were other Asians, but we were one of the few. And anyway, I just, I had so much discrimination there that I, it's not, it's not the fault of Utah or those Mormons are, I know, they're wonderful people. They're very charitable and they're really good. But what I experienced is, I mean, it was so awful for me at that age and that's unfortunately the formative years. See, my... when we, when I got there I was eight, nine years old. And that is when, I learned in psychology, that that forms your personality and your views. And so nobody would play with me. In school I was the only Japanese in my class. There was another Japanese boy one year older or something. So, like they had birthday parties or whenever we'd have functions I was never invited, and I felt very lonely. Like when there was a pharmacy on the corner, and it sold ice cream. So when my sisters and I would go and wait in line, they'd say, they'd serve everybody first and then so we went up there. And it was obvious there was still ice cream there. And she says, "There's no more ice cream." And she'd slam the, it was like a sliding thing. And so, anyway, we met with a lot of prejudice and when we'd go downtown as soon as we're looking in the windows they'd put a "No Japs" sign and they'd slam the door and it was, it was just a terrible experience. But that was what I experienced, because my other Japanese girlfriend said, "Oh, those Mormons were really good to my family and my dad. So it, it's just, and unfortunately it the hysteria, probably, of the war and... they look at us, they look at us right now, like the Muslims...

RP: As the enemy.

MW: Pardon?

RP: As the enemy.

MW: Yeah.

RP: And how, how did these, how did those experiences make you feel about your, your ethnicity, your Japaneseness? Did...

MW: Yeah, well...

RP: You had, you had a thought or a fantasy that you expressed.

MW: Right. Yeah, I did because we all, we all want to be accepted. Especially when you're young. And so I'd always go home by myself and I'd cry and I'd just wish that I was a blonde girl, a white girl, you know, with blue eyes. But then somehow, come home and see my parents and I said, "Oh, but magically I'd like to remain Japanese again." Because I loved my parents and they were good people. But I wanted to fit into that world also. But I somehow never, never fit it in. So, it, it was, it was just a terrible time for me and when we finally came back to good old East L.A. I go, "Oh, hallelujah." I was happy. Yeah.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: Let's get back to Manzanar and talk a little bit about your school experiences at Manzanar, when you went to school. You started in the first grade.

MW: Yes.

RP: And who was your teacher initially?

MW: Miss Beakman, was a wonderful, just a loving woman. She was like a teddy bear. I remember her. And she was kind and good. But I don't remember learning... I'm sure we saw books and things, but it was in the second grade with Miss Atwood that I remember somehow the books and starting to know how to read, etcetera. It was Miss Atwood.

RP: And how was your, how was your English by the time you got to Manzanar? Were you, did you speak English by that time or you were...

MW: Yes, because my sisters, we were bilingual. 'Cause my parents were still living at the time. So we sort of conversed in like... well, they came from the country and they don't speak the fancy, this fancy stuff. And so yes, I spoke at that time 'cause I had to converse with them and yet in the outside world I spoke English.

RP: What do you, what do you remember most about going to school at Manzanar?

MW: Going, going to school?

RP: Yeah, what was school like for you at Manzanar?

MW: I really enjoyed it. And I guess, well, nobody ever... I mean, I wasn't ostracized or anything like that. I was just a student and it was nice. And I met people like Nancy but I didn't, I didn't like Nancy, my best girlfriend today, because she was so pretty and all the boys liked her. Yeah, but I'm happy for most of the people that were in camp in that grade because what I know of them they all did well. They all did, they all did well. So I'm happy and I'm sure the fundamentals of learning there were very important to them also like it was for me.

RP: And was education a pretty large value for your parents? For their, for you and the rest of the children, did they emphasize education?

MW: Not really. To my brother possibly because he's a boy. But I don't ever remember saying oh, he'd better go to college or anything. 'Cause both of my parents were certainly not educated. My mom didn't have any education and my father just had, I don't know, maybe third grade. I have no idea. But, like I say, those, it was, the teacher were wonderful. And of course the teachers, the non-Japanese, they had to have that special feeling to go into camp to volunteer to be able to teach the so-called "enemies." So they, I thought they were special.

RP: So your second grade teacher was Mrs. Atwood?

MW: Yes. Miss Atwood. And my third grade was Miss Ishida.

RP: Mrs. Atwood was sort of a strict...

MW: Strict, right. She was strict but there was nobody that acted out. I mean, believe me, they were real well-mannered compared to the kids of this generation. We didn't dare talk back. Nobody questioned anything. We just sat there and listened.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: This is tape two of continuing interview with Margie Wong. And Margie, we were talking about some of your experiences at Manzanar, particularly your school experiences. And you shared with me a story about your first grade teacher, Mrs. Beakman, actually got married to somebody in the camp?

MW: Right.

RP: Tell us about that.

MW: Yeah. Mrs. Beakman was just really a sweetheart. I can see where anybody would just love her. And then we had these potbellied stoves I guess they called them. And the, every so often somebody would come and fill it up with is... it oil or kerosene or whatever it is that he, that was his job. And then I heard that after camp they got together.

RP: Really?

MW: Yes.

RP: So this would have been a Japanese American man who was filling the oil?

MW: Oh, yes.

RP: Okay.

MW: That was his job. And, yeah, everybody had some kind of job but I don't remember what my dad did. But, of course, he was elderly by then, at the time we went into camp and got out.

RP: So it's possible he may not have worked in camp.

MW: Right. But I think he did, they all used to get wood or something. And I remember we had a table or somethin' and he built the table. Yeah.

RP: And third grade you had... well, you had two Caucasian teachers in first and second grade.

MW: Yes.

RP: And then you had a Japanese American teacher.

MW: Yes.

RP: Ms. Ishida.

MW: Yes.

RP: And how was she as a teacher?

MW: There, now I'm older. So I'm beginning to, we have to read and we have assignments or whatever. So there I began to pick up more on English. And then, of course, I'm older by then so I remember more things like playing in a band. It's not like a band here, but we'd get these little utensils and bang 'em against a pie plate or something like that. It was very good. And the, I remember interacting with the, all the students, with the other students. But, just like anything else, I used to talk to this boy a lot. Just because he was interesting or I liked him. But everyone used to tease me about it. And so I stopped. I mean, you know. [Laughs]

RP: You also mentioned that you did origami in class. Part of your arts and crafts? You used to fold origami?

MW: Right, uh-huh. We had arts and yeah, it was, it's amazing what even back then we... the teachers were very innovative and creative, I must say. For being locked up there, a lot of imagination and... I owe them a lot compared to... well, when I came out I had nice teachers too but they weren't, I don't... in Utah it was really tough because I could see that maybe the teacher exactly wasn't, I wasn't her pet or anything. [Laughs]

RP: You, were there some other examples of the creativity and ingenuity that you saw in the teachers? Do you have any other stories about some of the other things that you did that you thought were very creative?

MW: Right. I remember Miss Ishida said, "Okay..." our assignment is to make things, folding... it wasn't origami but folding things. Of course paper wasn't plentiful then but somehow it was the loose paper and we would build things. And I was just amazed at how clever you can get newspaper and, and make things. It was just very, very clever. And everybody joined in, and we had a band, we sang.

RP: How about plays? Did you have plays? Little drama plays or skits or things like that that you did?

MW: We must have but I don't remember, yeah, a skit. You mean, are you talking about like a skit in my third grade or are you talking when I came out, out of camp?

RP: Oh, in third grade.

MW: Oh, in third grade. Uh-huh. It was sort of like a pantomime, pantomime. They, they were very, very creative. Now I look back to what they must have, with what they didn't have, what they didn't have, the ingenuity with which, with which the teachers invented these things.

RP: Do you, can you describe what the classroom was like for us when you first started school at Manzanar? Do you remember the classroom? Did you have desks? Did you have...

MW: Right.

RP: Many folks talk about sitting on the floor the first, first semester.

MW: Nope. Every time we went I remember that, in Miss Beakman's class we had one long table and there was a chair, like that. And I remember they gave us a, I don't know, I would fantasize that this was my, my envelope with lots of pens in it. I remember that. 'Cause we didn't have a pencil or anything. I used to fantasize about that. And here now, gosh, they just give it away freely. I'm just, just amazed.

RP: And later on, you, you had a, sort of a reunion. I think it was in 1993 of you... and you and Nancy were instrumental in trying to gather up the kids from the third grade class and...

MW: That was interesting. That was fun. 'Cause we advertised in the Rafu Shimpo. And we said, "Are you here?" And we put the picture there. And several of the students, ex-students, showed up and it was wonderful to see them. I would have liked to seen more but some people just don't like reunions.

RP: Then, then a special guest showed up, Miss Ishida herself.

MW: Yes, Miss Ishida showed up.

RP: Did you know that she was coming?

MW: Yes, we invited her 'cause we knew she was living. And that was in a wonderful thing to think. We were in camp as kids and here's our teacher still alive. We were one of the few groups to have our teacher there. So that was nice. And having a reunion, it's nice 'cause it's, it's a commonality and you see people that, "Oh, you're so and so. Wow." You don't say, "Oh, you got old." You go, "Oh, you look different." [Laughs]

RP: Oh Margie, we have this photograph of you in the third grade class.

MW: Yes.

RP: Would you mind holding that up for us and maybe pointing yourself out? So Kirk can...

MW: Okay. This is me right here. [Points to photo] I'm in the second row, right in the middle.

Off Camera: Can you point it out again please?

MW: Put it down?

RP: No, point, point yourself out again.

MW: Oh, point. Right here, this one.

RP: You've got that, those nice bangs coming down and...

MW: Bangs.

Off Camera: Okay.

MW: Okay?

RP: Okay. Good.

MW: Okay.

RP: Did you know later on about Ms. Ishida, had she been training to be a teacher?

MW: No, I don't. But that would be interesting to know.

RP: Whether she was just recruited to help out.

MW: Uh-huh.

RP: But...

MW: I'm sure she must have had some form of experience. She was an excellent teacher. Uh-huh. And...

RP: Did you, did you take any field trips with your class?

MW: No, you couldn't go out.

RP: Even just around the camp?

MW: Oh, around the camp.

RP: I mean, did you visit other parts of the camp on a field trip or...

MW: I don't remember.

RP: Did you have a recess period where you went outside and played?

MW: Right. But... uh-huh, but the camp, what I remember about the camp was there was a creek but it was outside of the, the wire. So somebody cut a hole in it and so we just went and the creek was running along the outside of the camp. And so my sisters and I went there and I remember the, my sandals, my geta or whatever, was floating down the creek, so this boy got it. So by then it must have been sort of at the end because they got lenient. 'Cause we cut the hole but nobody said anything. And I think some of the men went to catch fish or something, I heard. But nobody said anything.

RP: Did you mostly stay to your own block area or did you, did you have friends in other parts of the camp? Did you get to see most of the camp?

MW: Right, well, now in my school, for instance like, depending on what block they lived in, if you wanted to play with them after school we, we went to visit, we went to visit each other. And so, and then there was a big, that big firebreak. You had to walk through that firebreak to go every place. But, like I said, when it was windy, the government gave us those peacoats and those goggles. I will forever be grateful for those. Yeah.

RP: Goggles too.

MW: Yeah. [Laughs]

<End Segment 11> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: What do you remember about the, the weather, the climate? What do you remember about that at Manzanar?

MW: That it was hot, hot, hot. And it was cold, cold, cold. Uh-huh. The two extremes, I remember that. And the wind. Oh my gosh. The wind. I remember that. That's right... of course, I was young so when you're young it doesn't bother you too much. And all I know is when, well, we'd play and then I used to see these, a lot of these black ribbons, like a wreath, on certain doors. So I went home and asked my mom, "What's that? How come everybody has those wreaths on?" And she says, "Oh, those are the people who lost somebody or their babies died when they were being delivered." So I said, "Oh, well, I never want to have a baby." 'Cause I thought, I connected it with death.

RP: These wreaths would have been on the doors of their barrack rooms?

MW: Yeah, the doors, right. Like, for instance, there were four rooms, so it would be on the person that passed away. Yeah. And we were in the hospital because, went to the hospital 'cause my sister was handicapped. So I remember her being in a wheelchair there.

RP: Did she spend a lot of time in the hospital?

MW: Well we used to go visit her, I remember.

RP: So she was pretty much hospitalized for quite a while?

MW: Right. Well, she has Osteomyelitis before we went into camp and then when we got there.

RP: Did her condition improve at all?

MW: No, she was like that. Then when we came out, I read in the Life magazine that there was this Doctor Watanabe and he did miracles on arthritis people who were all crippled up, he'd straighten it. And I thought, wow. I said gee, maybe he can help Betty, my sister. So, I asked Betty. I said, "Do you want to... why don't we go see him?" She was all excited. And so we went to see Doctor Watanabe and he said, "Wow, that's... I'll have to really study this one 'cause..." See, one leg was shorter so they had to cut a portion of this side and transplant it totally on... so it would even up her legs. And so, but Betty wanted to do it, understandably. If you're different, you want to be normal. So anyway, we went to the doctor and when my mom found out and she goes, "Oh, don't do that." She says, "That's, that's how, why God intended it. That's...." And I said, "Ma," I said, "Why do you think God made doctors? It's to fix things like that." It's sort of old-country thinking. So...

RP: So, what happened to your sister? Did she go through with the operation?

MW: Yes. She was in the hospital wow, for a month. It was major, major surgery. And it evened it up so she just walked with a little limp. She got shorter of course. And, but she was thirty-six at the time. I think she was happier overall. But then three years later she had a stroke at thirty-nine. Yeah. But I think so. I really, I really do think that she was happier.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: So, what about, did you visit the canteen or the store at Manzanar?

MW: The what?

RP: The, the store at Manzanar, they called it the canteen?

MW: Oh the canteen? You mean back then?

RP: Yeah. What about things like candy and gum and you know, what, what kids would like.

MW: Oh my gosh, whenever we had candy we would hoard that thing. And we would, we, in our, our room, you know my mom put these drapes. And so we'd all hide it. My sisters and I we'd have three boxes and, and we'd... oh, you couldn't get gum or candy. It was really a luxury.

RP: You couldn't get it at the, at the store in the camp?

MW: Well, whenever it came it was gone. You know, because in wartime the gum was very scarce and candy too. So we said, "First thing when we get outta camp we're gonna have real butter and chocolate candy." Yeah. And that butter back then, you had to mix it. You put this little capsule in it and make it yellow. Yeah. [Laughs] Yeah, the food, the food needless to say was not good. But I have to give those people a lot of credit because they did try and it got better as time went on. Uh-huh. Yeah. And then, cooking for a group like that is very different than cooking just for a little party or something. But I still, no matter how bad it was I have to give everybody at Manzanar a lot of credit. I mean I was young but, wow, they all got together and, and put their talents together for the benefit of the community. And so I thought that that was very nice. And then of course they had the local paper too. And gee, it was very intelligently written now that, when I get older and I'm able to read that. So... uh-huh. But being in camp was really an experience because it wasn't being in camp per se as after I got out and then I realized now of course about the studying in school about the Constitution and the process... that we were not given our due process. So it educates me today that I did, I learned a lot. And unfortunately I had to experience this. But I will always speak out for what I feel is right no matter if it hurts me. Sometimes it isn't very good but I think that you should.

RP: And that feeling that you just expressed comes from your having experienced the injustice of camp? Is that where that's coming from?

MW: Right, and especially... you know, the slavery, I can't imagine how the lynchings and how awful that must have been and, and today, and about the homosexuality and how they're discriminated against and all the discrimination that's going on. I mean, if you're different, it's really tough no matter what. We've can talk about, oh yeah, this is America. And it is. It's a wonderful place, but there still is discrimination, a lot of it, you know. And I remember this probation officer or somebody wanted this group of at-risk children to go visit these Japanese churches because, or bring them in or be like big brothers to them. 'Cause he had... and show 'em how we lived and how we treated each other. And I thought that was a wonderful idea but the members, the Japanese people turned it down. You know, they're so, they're... the Japanese people are wonderful people but they're so, they're clannish. And I can see if you understand their background that this is traditional. You know, but I think we have to let a lot of that go because we're in America now and it's a melting pot.

RP: That was, that's interesting because you know, the argument that was used about going, you know one of the reasons why people, Japanese people were sort of ostracized in this country was that they didn't assimilate. They stuck, like you said, clannish in their own little communities.

MW: Yeah.

RP: But that, that was still an issue even long after the war.

MW: Right. Well, in my these, when I did a lot of research, in the 2000 census, there were more Japanese/nonJapanese marriages than Japanese/Japanese marriages. So, DeWitt said, "A Jap is a Jap and they will never assimilate." Well, he's totally wrong. 'Cause if anybody, we've assimilated. I mean a perfect example is my, just had a grandson. And he has twelve cousins. And he's the only pure Asian, that baby. The rest of the twelve are all hapas. Hapa is a Hawaiian word meaning mixed race. So that's interesting. And, I hope that'll continue to be like that.

RP: And what was it like to embark on a thesis project and write about your experiences?

MW: Oh, it was wonderful. I mean, see, I was sixty-two when I retired and here I go to... I'm going to college for my masters. And I said, "Ah." I said, "I've experienced life." I said, "It'll be easy." Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. I've never encountered anything so tough. And those young kids are really smart. They know a lot. They're very, very sharp. So I really learned a lot from them, from them. And then writing this thesis was, it was very cathartic. Because I wrote about Manzanar and when I had to watch things like the 442nd and the saddest one was when the Japanese soldier, he receives the, what is that? The medal?

RP: Medal of Honor?

MW: Yeah. When he jumped on the grenade.

RP: Oh, Sadao Munemori?

MW: You're right. And his parents were in Manzanar, you know, they're in camp. And they're giving, on the video, they're giving him the, the parents the award and here the parents are locked up and he's fighting for America. And it's, so it really gave me food for thought. When I did all the research and, and I'm indebted to the non-Japanese also that are very knowledgeable about this and they write about it. There's tons of books out there. I went to all the different libraries. I didn't get my information off the internet.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: We were talking, going back a little ways, to, to camp. You said that you, you were attending Maryknoll school.

MW: Yeah, that's what I'm trying to think right now again. Right.

RP: And then you, and then when you were in camp you suddenly became Protestant or you attended Protestant...

MW: Oh yes, right. I did.

RP: And, so did you attend church regularly? Was that a...

MW: On a Sunday.

RP: ...important part of your experiences at camp?

MW: Right. I mean but every Sunday it's just taken for granted so we went, we went to, to church. And it was, it was a typical Christian, Protestant service. We would sing the songs and things like that. And I enjoyed it. It was another activity. It was another activity to do.

RP: And you met, did you meet people there too, other kids that you became friends with?

MW: Right, the kids, all the kids.

RP: Kind of a social...

MW: Yes.

RP: A social connection.

MW: "Cause at my age it was basically social. A lot of it was social. But, the only thing... I don't know whether they had alcohol in camp or not, right. I really don't know. But I was just wondering that man that always used to denigrate my sister, I don't know whether he was on alcohol or what his situation was.

RP: Was he an older man?

MW: Right, well, at that time I'd say he's fifty or something. And he, and his wife -- no children -- and his wife was always screaming at him. I remember that. But I took my kids... can I jump ahead to taking my kids? Yeah, before I die I wanted to make sure that my children went there, went to camp. So they would know my history. So I took, I took them there. And I think they were all... when you saw the film, I think that was an excellent film. Whoever, you know the film that they show you at first at the educational center?

RP: Uh-huh.

MW: You really don't understand the depth of the camp. You just hear of it. Until you really go there and you actually see it. So I think that's wonderful that the government... is that part of the... I remember when the director of, is it, not parks and recreation. But what does Manzanar come under? The umbrella?

RP: The National Park Service.

MW: National Parks, yeah. That fellow when it became... he was an African American fellow and he spoke at the pilgrimage.

RP: Oh yes, he was the director of the National Park Service.

MW: Right.

RP: Robert B. Stanton.

MW: Stanton?

RP: Stanton, yes. Oh, so you went to that pilgrimage?

MW: Right. I try to go to as many... uh-huh. Yeah. And, I'm just wondering, I don't know, but if he was sympathetic to getting it...

RP: He helped.

MW: He helped, yes, uh-huh.

RP: He helped. A lot of people helped.

MW: Yes. Yes, uh-huh. Everybody... but the unfortunate thing is there's still a lot of people like in Bishop when they wanted to make it a historical site were opposed to it.

RP: There were people, yes. So what was your, your children's reaction when you took them to Manzanar? Were they, were they interested or not?

MW: Very, very much so, yes. In fact my granddaughter, she's only seven, she wanted her picture taken exactly on the block that I was in, right there. [Laughs] And my sons and my other older grandchildren, they were touched. But, 'cause this is, I told 'em, this is their history. It's my history. And at one time I thought, well, when I was younger I said, "Well, why do I, why would I rehash all this? Why would I want to do that?" But then as I got older and now I see all these people that were trying to, like just the other day I read where Fred... I forgot his name, but he was instrumental and he was, they gave him the civil rights awards. And how hard it was for him. He was born an American but they wouldn't, couldn't go into the service. He couldn't... and he refused to go to camp and so there was a lot of litigation and it finally came to fruition and they found for him. Yeah.

RP: Fred Korematsu?

MW: Korematsu, yes. So I thought that was wonderful. And I think he was still living when there, awards so that's nice. And I see where his children are continuing so that's nice.

RP: Right, right, yeah.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: So let's shift to coming back to California. And you settled back into the Boyle Heights area. And, what did your... how was resettlement for your father and mother? Were they able to find work? I mean your father had this very successful business before the war and...

MW: He was like a handyman later on. I remember he would do a lot of work for the neighbors and everything. He was a handyman. And then my mom, of course, was a homemaker. By then I think my dad was in his sixties or something. And I remember he had headaches. But they didn't, they, I don't remember them mentioning camp or anything like that. I really don't.

RP: Did you, were you able to find housing upon returning to Los Angeles or did you have to...

MW: Right. Because, well, we went into East L.A. and that was a very mixed area anyway. Whereas, I mean, we didn't try to go to Beverly Hills or any of the exclusive areas. I'm sure they wouldn't allow it. Back then no Asians could buy in those areas.

RP: Right.

MW: Uh-huh. So we settled in a place that already there were Asians. I feel that after the war if we could have come back to Los Angeles, here to the area that we were in, that I would not have experienced the prejudice because there were a lot of Japanese people that came back here. And there were Latinos and all different ethnicities. But the unfortunate thing was we went to a white area, I mean, at that time, and so that was not a good experience. But, like I say, at that time, that was my formative years and that stayed with me immensely is that year and a half that we were in Utah.

RP: Utah. What was your father doing at that time in Utah?

MW: Tell you the truth, I don't remember.

RP: So do you ever want to go back to Utah or visit?

MW: At one time I definitely said, "I'll never set foot in that state." Which is a ridiculous thing because it's not everybody. Like I said, they're wonderful people. But then, now I think, well that's ridiculous and maybe one day I would really like to go back and see the house we lived in, that apartment. In fact, coincidentally, I met up with the, a gal that lived in the apartments. But she didn't go to camp. She was Japanese but she didn't go to camp 'cause they lived in Washington and they, you had to move away, you had to come inland. And that's why they, they moved to Utah, so they wouldn't have to go to camp. So, whereas on the West Coast... I mean, we were right here in Los Angeles. But my daughter is a deputy public defender, and she's an activist in every, every word. And just a wonderful gal. And one time there was a play on this incarceration and we went to see it. And somehow it just hit me. And she started asking me questions that nobody had ever asked me. And it just really touched a nerve. And I think maybe that might have been the start of where I started thinking, "Well, maybe I should speak up about Manzanar." 'Cause up 'til then I really didn't speak with my boys or, not much. Of course they never asked either. And so...

RP: So that started it.

MW: Pardon?

RP: That, that begun the ball rolling for you.

MW: Right.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: So you went, when you came back from Utah you started high school or were you still, still in grammar school, junior high school?

MW: No, I was still in the fourth grade when I came back here. I was in the fourth/fifth grade, right. So, I, and it was predominately Latinos and a spattering of Jewish kids and Armenian and Japanese when I came back. But it was like night and day for me, just absolutely night and day. And so, like I said, 'course I, being so many Latinos, I did pick up all the bad words in Spanish. [Laughs] And it was just nice to come back. But Manzanar will, as I put in my thesis that we should never forget Manzanar, never ever, because it shouldn't happen, it shouldn't happen ever.

RP: And so you graduated from Roosevelt High School?

MW: Yes.

RP: And then what did you go onto? Did you, did you raise a family or career, or what came next?

MW: What came next? I went to, there's a college here, it's, it's no longer there. Anyway, I went there and then I went to Cal State L.A. And after that, you know, for my bachelors and I went to Pacific Oaks. I don't know if you of Pacific Oaks in, right here in Pasadena. And that's where I got my masters.

RP: In what field?

MW: Human development, which is psychology, psychology.

RP: So that initial interest that you had in psychology early on as a kid followed, followed through all the way to...

MW: Right. And, and really, like I say, but of course then you had to go into like a internship to go to into the field. It takes so many hours and hours without pay. But I wanted to go into the field of geriatrics 'cause I was old and I would understand the older people. But then, in the meantime, my brother had terminal cancer and my sister had a stroke. So I would rather have been with them so I was with them. And I'd pick them up and we'd go out to lunch or whatever. So I did get my degree in human development, but I never went into it as a profession. But my profession, but I had a profession before that.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: A few more questions about camp. How did the environment around the camp, did it affect you at all? The mountains or the... did you have any thoughts about...

MW: I thought... oh, those Eastern Sierras? I always used to look at it and I thought yeah, they were very nice. I mean, that's one advantage, is that the environment was nice. But then it was really cold. I mean, it's just, at that time at my age I didn't, I just remember that those mountains were pretty. But I didn't, as a kid, I don't remember. I just remember the hot and the extreme hot and the extreme cold.

RP: How about, do you recall any of the, some people talked about scorpions or lizards or...

MW: Oh my gosh.

RP: Obviously you have a story to tell.

MW: Huh?

RP: Do you remember any of those creatures?

MW: I was asleep. And I opened my eyes and there was this thing crawling on my face. And so I, of course, I jumped up and screamed and my mom says, "What is it, what is it?" And I put that thing and I shook and that, I was very young and oh, it must have been a tarantula, I think. It had legs and it was on there. To this day, I have a phobia against anything with legs. I can't, and I try to get over it. People said you should go to this, like where you quit smoking. They have this thing. And I said, "What do they do?" They said, "Oh, they show you these... you keep looking at it." And I said, "If I did that I would die right then and there." 'Cause even on television, sometimes they'll talk about look at this, what do they call those people who don't keep up their apartments? Those landlords?

RP: Oh, slumlords.

MW: Slumlords. And they says, "Look at all these." And they show it on the screen. And when I saw that thing I would just pass out. I.... and in camp, of course we had all kinds of... we were out in the desert.

RP: Did you see any snakes or...

MW: Yeah.

RP: You did see snakes?

MW: Sure. All... and then the, what is it, those tumbleweeds, constantly hitting you or whatever, the tumbleweeds. But I remember the Japanese are very clever and they're botanists, like with flowers and things. So I remember there were a lot of places where there were flowers. I mean, I vaguely remember flowers. It's hard because I remember certain things and I don't know really where they play into the scheme of things. I could remember these things. Whereas if I were older I think I could place them at a certain location. But, uh-huh....

RP: Did you ever have a situation where you got lost in the camp trying to find your barrack room, when it got dark or... was it disorienting for you?

MW: Pardon?

RP: Was it disorienting, was there a disorienting experience where you couldn't kind of figure out where you were?

MW: Today, if I went I would definitely be disoriented. But at that time, no, because I was a child and I probably was with my sisters a lot. The three of us...

RP: You were, you were...

MW: Well, my one sister was handicapped so the other sister, so we just, she was always with me or she'd take me, whatever. And so it was, it was okay for me. But I remember how this lady, well, this is this lady's story, so you don't want to hear that, from camp.

RP: Go ahead.

MW: Huh? Well, the walls were so thin that you really could hear anything next door, just like here. And I mean, it wasn't even, just plywood with the holes in it. And so gee, if you had a baby, I mean, you'd better get out of that barrack 'cause you'd wake up the whole neighborhood with the baby screaming. Yeah. So I felt sorry for, for those people. 'Cause it, the walls were so thin and I remember, yeah, my sisters and I we... I remember my sister said, "Go outside and look in..." There was like tarpaper. And she says, "Tell me where the hole is so we can stuff the, we could stuff the hole." And it was really cold because the, when it was windy, the wind would just come right through the holes. Then I remember my dad sitting by that potbellied... we would all just, just gather around that thing. 'Cause it was so cold. Uh-huh, yeah.

RP: Do you recall ever eating meals in your barrack room? Or would you always go to the mess hall?

MW: We went to the mess hall but on certain days I remember my mom said, "Pa doesn't like this so we'll do somethin' else or somethin'."

RP: Was your sister who was...

MW: Handicapped.

RP: ...handicapped, did she, did you bring meals back for her? Did she walk to the mess hall?

MW: Yeah. She walked.

RP: Oh, she would.

MW: Uh-huh, yeah.

RP: So it was a little more convenient when you moved into...

MW: Block 27.

RP: ...Block 27 was right next door so she didn't have to walk as far.

MW: Right across the street.

RP: Do you remember your block address in 27, or your barrack and your room? Was it 27-14?

MW: We were the first ones.

RP: Right next to the mess hall?

MW: Twenty-seven... but I don't know what direction, but we were at the end. Yeah, uh-huh. So, I mean, I wish I could remember more things but...

RP: That's okay.

MW: That, 'cause I was five to eight.

RP: Right.

MW: Yeah, uh-huh.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: How did you feel about the, the redress and reparations movement that occurred in the '80s?

MW: Well, I thought it was wonderful but all the people that really deserved it like my parents, they were dead. All the old people, gee, the rest of us were younger so we were able to form a life again and have an income. But, right, I thought, I totally agree that we should have gotten it. I know a lot of people disagree, but I think that if you don't somehow monetarily, if you don't put money on it, our society says it has no value. So I think that that was good. Not that it compensated for what we all lost. But I thought it was good and I know that these young people that fought for it, well, young people and everybody, have to give 'em a lot of credit. Because there were certainly a lot of people that were against, against it. So, but when my parents, I mean I thought, "Oh boy, wouldn't they loved to have had that." That's, that would have been a lot of, a lot of money to them. So, and of course they couldn't become citizens either until fifty, about fifty-four I think.

RP: Did they become citizens?

MW: Eventually. And then my dad died.

RP: Oh, right after that.

MW: Right. He was really like, like it's written all over, Japanese in blood but American in the heart. I mean he really was. He said this was a great, it's a great country. So, yeah, so they were able to become a citizen.

Off Camera: But not until your dad was seventy years old.

MW: Huh?

Off Camera: Your dad had to be seventy by the time he was, by 1953.

MW: Yeah. And he died at seventy-nine. I think those were, I mean, they didn't, they don't say much. Do you know what I mean? It's so different. My husband's Chinese American and we look alike but wow, there's a world of difference. In certain things it's alike. But in other respects there's a world of a difference. It's interesting. Although we stem from the Chinese, the Japanese stem from the Chinese and the Koreans. But it's very, very different.

RP: Right, and some of the historic animosities that occurred between those two groups.

MW: Oh my gosh, yes.

RP: And I guess, I guess this is a little more of a personal question, but were there any issues that came up between families and marrying, a Japanese American marrying a Chinese American?

MW: Right, yeah. Yeah, well, my first husband wasn't Japanese. And the mother said, "Oh that's terrible." She says, "In the bible it says, didn't you know it said at the Tower of Babylon, it says the races shall never meet." And so she said... but we got married anyway. And, she was a lovely woman. We got, she got to know me. And she realized, hey, she's okay. And so...

RP: Right, in the heart.

MW: It really is. That's where it counts.


RP: Do you have any other stories about camp or, or your feelings or attitudes about camp that you would like to share that we haven't touched on?

MW: Well, as a child, when I went in there I had, my mom just said okay, to get the suitcase and we're going away. And so I was educated there and they fed me. People were nice to me. So from that respect I have no qualms about it. But as I got older and I realized the effect of it, I mean, it's totally wrong. It's just insane that that would happen in such a free country or democracy without any due process, without any, anything. That somebody at the flick of a wrist can do that to 120,000 of us. But because we were such a minority, we were such a minority of people and, and they really didn't, like it says, the Isseis, the first generations, weren't knowledgeable about the American ways and the Niseis that would have known, there weren't too many. So if it happened today I'm sure it would be totally different. But it was a terrible, terrible injustice and I, for all the older people. When I saw they were taking this man in the... he was an invalid. He was an old man and they rolled up a sheet or something. They were carrying him. I remember onto, onto the bus. 'Cause he couldn't walk and they didn't have a wheelchair I guess. So, when I think of those things I just think how could it be so, so awful. And when I heard that they said oh camp, there's too many babies being born and so that in, in Congress they are introduced -- and fortunately it didn't go, it didn't come to fruition -- but that to sterilize the women. I mean that's, that's Hitler. And things like that. That even to think that somebody could even think to do that. So, but if we have to speak up. I know most of us are complacent. So the thing is, we do have to speak up. But most of us we go, "Oh well." We hear it. We look and it and says well that's those people, they're back there. And so I realize how important it is to state your opinion and stick up for what you feel is just. And it, it's made me the person I am today. Camp? It's very unfortunate, but because I was there, that's what formed my personality. That's me. Yeah, and I wouldn't meet you and Kirk. 'Cause you wouldn't be interviewing me. [Laughs] Right?

RP: Yes, right. Well, on that note, we will thank you, both of us and the National Park Service for...

MW: It was a pleasure.

RP: ...sharing your, your special experiences and unique I might add, experiences.

MW: I mean, the guys that you interviewed yesterday, they had more knowledge. 'Cause they were older. I'm...

RP: Right, but just within the three people that we've talked to, just this great sort of diversity of different ways of seeing a similar experience. As a child, as a teenager, as an older teenager, almost a young adult.

MW: Well that's good.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright &copy; 2011 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.