Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Shirley Nagatomi Okabe Interview
Narrator: Shirley Nagatomi Okabe
Interviewer: Alisa Lynch
Location: San Jose, California
Date: January 30, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-oshirley-01-0018

<Begin Segment 18>

AL: So you said before that your father, your family was the last family to leave camp.

SO: I think so. Can you check that? We left on the 21st.

AL: That was the last day.

SO: Okay. I remember we were in a station wagon, and I think there was another couple with us, I don't know why they got delayed leaving, but there were not too many people left when we were there.

AL: Why did he want to stay?

SO: He told Mr. Merritt that he wanted to make sure that everybody left camp before him, to make sure they all got out. So we were the last ones.

AL: And where did you go from here?

SO: They took us, they came after us in a station wagon and took us to Gardena.

AL: And was he assigned to the church in Gardena?

SO: Uh-huh, yes.

AL: And did you have a place to live?

SO: Yes, there was an old house, and then in the church, it was made into a hostel, you know, for families who didn't have a place to go. They had bedspreads for partitions, many families lived in the church, and we had a Japanese, there was a Japanese school connected to the church, and many families lived there, too.

AL: Is that the same church that's there today, or is that a newer one?

SO: No, it's a different church. It was an old one, yeah. It's older.

AL: I Just went to a funeral there last month. Was it in the same location, though?

SO: No, it moved a little bit.

AL: How was it for your family to get reestablished? Do you think it was easier because your father had a church and had a important job to go to?

SO: Probably. Because there were some families whose fathers couldn't find jobs. They were there longer until they could find a place, they couldn't leave the hostel.

AL: Was there any kind of... within the church, any kind of community welfare where if somebody... I know like Miyatakes took in over a dozen people to live in their house. Were those things just that people decided to do on their own, or was there an organized...

SO: No, no, that was on their own.

AL: Every person for themselves? Were you afraid to leave camp?

SO: No, I was happy to leave.

AL: What was it like going back to school? Did you go to a Buddhist school, or did you go to public school?

SO: Public. I went to Denker Avenue in Gardena.

AL: What's the school name?

SO: Denker, D-E-N-K-E-R, Denker Avenue, it's still there. Then on to Gardena junior high and senior high.

AL: So how long did you stay in Gardena?

SO: We were there twelve years, so until I graduated from college.

AL: And you went to USC?

SO: Uh-huh, and I graduated in '58, then at that time, my father was diagnosed with cancer, and he was going to get care in San Francisco, so we moved to San Francisco.

AL: How long did he live?

SO: He lived another two years, no, one year, because we got married in '60, so yeah, died in '59, and we got married in '60.

AL: And you had said that your mom died not long after?

SO: Uh-huh, three years after that, same month, in November, about two days apart.

AL: What did she die of?

SO: Massive stroke.

AL: So she would have been only fifty-nine years old.

SO: Sixty-one.

AL: Sixty-one? Yeah, both very young. What was your father's funeral like? He had done so many funerals for some many people.

SO: It was very big. A lot of people from Gardena came to San Francisco.

AL: Did you see a lot of people from camp?

SO: I don't remember, just maybe the ones he was close to.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.