Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Sumiko Yamauchi Interview
Narrator: Sumiko Yamauchi
Interviewer: Whitney Peterson
Location: Chula Vista, California
Date: July 23, 2013
Densho ID: denshovh-ysumiko_2-01-0014

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WP: So tell me about the job that you did during high school.

SY: I was, it says on the piece of paper, file clerk. No, clerk typist or something. Anyway, I was a file clerk. It was a welfare department, and the case workers would come and take their file out of the cabinet, and then they would place it on top of the file. And after school, then I would go in there and get those files and put it alphabetically back into the drawer, and that was my job for four dollars a month. Which was pretty good because it gave me money to spend.

WP: Do you remember any of the people you worked for or worked with in the office?

SY: No. Because being a welfare, they were in and out most of the time. Actually, there were no boss there, you know. They would complain, somebody would come in and say, "What happened to my so-and-so case? It's not alphabetically in there," or something of this sort, but there was nobody that really told me what to do.

WP: What was school like at Manzanar?

SY: Like any other school. Oh, have you heard about Mr. Greenley?

WP: I don't think I have, no.

SY: The blind man?

WP: Actually, I have heard about... there was a blind teacher, right?

SY: Yes.

WP: I haven't heard any specific stories about him, but I know of him.

SY: He was pretty smart, very alert. He could hear things that you couldn't hear, or we take for granted. He was well-liked. You couldn't sneak anything past him, he was pretty alert. But he knew that dictionary like... it's amazing how much knowledge he had without reading, you know. I had him for... I can't remember what I had him for, but I was in his class. And you'd think you can slip past him, but he was pretty alert. He was another person that, like Mr. Frizzell, you remember because he was so... and you know, we had a five-year reunion, and he was there at our reunion in Los Angeles, which I was surprised. And you know, it was amazing how many names he remembered. I mean, you're blind, but I guess he had quite a memory.

WP: And tell me about Mr. Frizzell.

SY: Mr. Frizzell, he was one of us. He was... he spent more time in camp than he did with the other teachers that he worked with. He got involved with people who played instrument, music instrument, he got them all together and got a little band going. He used to get glee clubs and he used to do a lot of the programming. I remember when we had, when President Roosevelt had died, we had a memorial service. And as I understand that, he had, was there to get the program going, you know, with the music and all this stuff. He was there at the baseball games, he was there at the dances, and he not only was there at the dance, he used to dance with the kids. And he was very well-liked. And he's, to this day, if you mention Louis Frizzell, everybody has a big smile, and I'm sure you heard a lot of stories about him. He came to visit us in Seabrook Farms because he knew there were quite a few Japanese from Manzanar was there, and he spent the day there. We had a lot of fun just hashing over the good times there. That was when he was playing in New York on a Broadway show, I don't know which one it was, but that's what he said.

WP: Do you remember any other teachers that you had?

SY: I think those two are the ones that -- oh, yes, the vice principal. [Laughs] She was Mrs. Potts, Potter or Potts, something like that. And you could not put anything past her because she was teaching in Japan, I don't know what she was teaching. She was teaching in Japan, and they said that they were told, they told her that if she wanted not to get caught in a war, that she should come back to the United States. And she took the job as a vice principal at our school. And let's say you got sick and you had to have a written, from the home saying that you were sick, she says, "If your mother and father cannot write English, it can be done in Japanese because I could read it." You couldn't put anything... so if you skipped the class, you were not there, and you had to go see her, she was there to discipline you. She was another... she didn't teach class, but I remember... and then I remember when I was in Philadelphia and we ran into her. And she pointed, she tapped me on the shoulder and she says, "Weren't you in Manzanar?" and I looked at her and I thought, "Oh my god." [Laughs] I'm in the same town as her. But I remember her, yes, she was very... everybody will remember her because you couldn't put nothing past her. And then if you had a, if you were extra bad, and she had to go talk to the parents, she could talk Japanese. So there was no way you can get away.

WP: What were your classrooms like?

SY: It was in the barrack, hot in the summer, hotter than Hades, oh, I remember that. And there were no two chairs alike. I think what they did was they probably went to a warehouse and took any chairs that were there, and they would put it in the classroom. So there were certain chairs that when you went into the class, unless you were assigned a certain place to sit, you always looked for the good seat, you know, which was always taken ahead of time. Most of the boys would take care of it. And that's about the only thing I could tell you about the room.

WP: Were you involved in other school activities?

SY: Uh-uh.

WP: Were you involved in just other social activities that were going on in Manzanar?

SY: I think I belonged to a club. I was looking through my box there, and I came across a picture of about eight or ten of us, with a picture. And it said in the back, we were called "Funster" or something like this. So evidently I did, but nothing to pinpoint.

WP: Were you involved in any of the music that was going on with Louis Frizzell?

SY: No, no.

WP: And you mentioned that sometimes people go to the recreation halls and play music there?

SY: Oh, yeah. Each block had a recreation hall. During the day, weekdays, it would be a elementary school or whatever. And then in the weekend, it would turn to be a recreation hall, and you could go in there and play, there was a ping pong table, you could play ping pong, you could play backgammon. One of the things that was real popular was Monopoly, and everybody loved Monopoly. You couldn't get to play Monopoly, because that was the first game that was taken. But there were times when we would, somebody would bring the turntable, and we would play our music, and that's where a lot of us learned to do jitterbug, you know. That was a lot of fun, because lot of activities. And then they would have a certain, like, for instance, my mother learned how to do the, they called it shishu, I call it embroidery, and they would have it in the recreation hall. So that recreation hall was very well-used.

WP: Did you play any sports?

SY: No.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2013 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.