Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Madelon Arai Yamamoto Interview
Narrator: Madelon Arai Yamamoto
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Independence, California
Date: May 6, 2011
Densho ID: denshovh-ymadelon-01-0013

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RP: Now, your, the uncle that you were very fond of eventually was...

MY: Yes, he came back.

RP: Released back to, he came back here. Do you your remember him coming back, and was he the same uncle that you remember?

MY: Oh yes. I mean, no bitterness, and he didn't say too much about his life there. And I don't, he never said he was mistreated physically, you know. But he fit into the camp lifestyle and was still just as caring and gave a lot of his time in entertaining us, playing games with us. And he lived to be, what, ninety-one or ninety-two. Yeah. His wife, she died at quite an early age. I think she was so, that situation so stressed her out and it was just really very, very sad to see someone that, to become so stressed. I mean, I didn't have to go through such a situation, but she was, became very brittle and little things would upset her. But still, she was a very kind person, and she never got over it, the whole evacuation situation.

RP: On that, on that topic, how did that whole situation affect your parents? Did you see any, ever any visible signs of their stresses, dealing with situations in the camp or removal and that type of thing?

MY: Well, I'm sure that there was a lot of stress on my father, the economic end of not having a business, not having a house, coming back out of camp with absolutely no financial resources behind him. That, I don't know how much they gave each of us to, quote, relocate back to Los Angeles. Fortunately, my father was able to stay with his brother. I know of other families that lived in hostels or they stayed at Buddhist temples, and I know one classmate, she lived at a Christian church, and I said, "Where do you live?" And then you see all the pews, she says, "These six pews, up to here, that's ours." I said, "What?" And so the pews were their beds, and then they had, like, a common dining room, and they had a very, whatever bathrooms, public bathrooms that the church had for their church members. That was their home for, not just a week or two, for quite a while until they were established financially where they could rent a home, or find a job, because many places didn't want to hire, I believe, the Japanese. In fact, when I first started junior high school I was pretty much a loner -- not by choice -- but people weren't openly hostile to me, but they just left me alone. But it didn't bother me, just made me study harder. I had nothing else to do. But when I left camp, I had to find a job too.

RP: What did you end up doing?

MY: It was a term that they used, schoolgirl. You would work in a home before school and after school, doing housework, babysitting, and you earned your keep. I wasn't paid for it, but I took care of the three or four year old son before school and after school, fed him, bathed him or whatever, and then I got my room and board.

RP: And who was that family that you did this for?

MY: It was the Olsens. I don't know where they are. They moved away about five or six years after I left them. But after my father came out I left them and went to live with my mother and father 'cause I didn't want to do that kind of work. I missed my family. But I was not quite thirteen when I did that for, what, two and a half, three months.

RP: And how did you get connected with the Olsens?

MY: What?

RP: How did you connect with the Olsens?

MY: I advertised in the newspaper. When I left camp I took the streetcar and went to the Times building. My chin barely reached the counter and I wrote out the address, but I fudged a little bit on my age. I said, "Thirteen year old junior high school girl would like a position babysitting, a little bit of cooking, before school and after school. No salary required, just for room and board." And I got three replies. The first one looked at me, said I was too short, wouldn't even let me in the house. I understood, so I went back. So the next day I got a pair of shoes just with a half-inch heel, look a little bit taller. [Laughs] And the second job, person I went to, I got the job. And my father waited in the truck for me. He said, "No, you have to get the job on your own 'cause I can't be there with you." So I said okay, and so I went in there, but I told Mrs. Olsen that he had several gardening positions not too far from there, so if there was an emergency they could find him, or also call him at my aunt's place. So I was there, and they were very, very kind to me and even wanted me to take accordion lessons with their daughter. And I turned them down; I said, "I don't want to." I don't know, I already had notions of what I wanted to do, and playing an accordion was not one of my priorities. [Laughs]

RP: Well, speaking of which, did you have any hobbies or pastimes in Manzanar?

MY: My mother spent a lot of time with me. I learned how to sew regular clothes, not just for the dolls, how to cut, use the patterns and cut out pieces to sew a blouse and a dress. She taught me how to crochet, how to knit, how to darn, how to mend. She taught me a lot of basic cooking skills on just a hot plate, and there's a lot of things you can do on a hot plate. You don't need a full stove. And learned a lot of housekeeping, little tricks to do if you don't have too much water or a mop or whatever, how to keep the floors clean. We gave up on clean, keeping the windows clean. It was always dusty. So I learned a lot as far as the handicrafts and basic cooking from my mother, and also how to take care of little ones, 'cause I helped take care of my brothers Kenji and Eizo.

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