Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Grace K. Seto Interview
Narrator: Grace K. Seto
Interviewer: Erin Brasfield
Location: West Los Angeles, California
Date: March 16, 2006
Densho ID: denshovh-sgrace-01-0009

<Begin Segment 9>

EB: Who were your friends at camp? Were these friends that you knew before you came to Manzanar?

GS: There was... there was really no one that I knew before we went to camp. There were some people in our block who came from Florin. But I did not know about these children when I was in Florin just prior to going to camp. But I guess I gravitated more towards them because, simply because my mother knew this girl's mother from Florin, you know, they had grown up together. Or because there was a girl in the next barrack whose family was from Florin, so you know how that kind of goes, families knowing each other. And then I did develop friendships with some other girls also. But I never went off to the next block or anything to play with other girls, even when I started going to school in Block 16. I know some of my friends did go off to the other blocks further away to play with friends, but for whatever reason, I never did that.

EB: Were your parents insistent that you stay close by?

GS: I think that was partly it. I think they wanted us close by, not meandering off far away. Because even at mealtimes, they were quite strict about us having our meals together as a family. And I couldn't go and sit with a friend to have dinner or lunch like some of my friends did.

EB: So speaking of the mess halls, what impressions did those have on you?

GS: I thought it was awful originally. I mean, it just seemed like, first of all, we had to wait in long lines to get into the mess hall. And sometimes it was so hot, but that was a fact of life, I mean, we had to do that. And once we got in there it was more lines. And I really don't remember what we ate, but obviously the food was not that bad to me at that time. Because I have heard other people say, "Oh, the food in camp was so terrible." But I don't remember that. And if the food were so terrible, I think it would have made an impression on me. But it was new to me because prior to going into camp, we rarely... I can't ever remember a time we went to the restaurant to eat. Our meals were always at home, so I really didn't know anything about a restaurant. And then now to have to face meal service three times a day with all this mass of humanity. In the beginning it was somewhat... it was kind of scary and very different. But gradually I got used to it. And it became such that I think we're creatures of habit. We all started having our little niches as to where we were going to be sitting, so that I knew when I got my food I was supposed to go and sit at such and such a table, and then gradually my parents would get there, too.

EB: Well, that's very, very unique, because so many people, like you said, your friends who ended up eating with their friends and not with their families, and in a sense it was to the detriment of the family unit, so you're very lucky.

GS: The cohesiveness of a family unit was really broken, I mean, it was just lost. At the time, as a young child, I didn't realize that, but as an adult, I could really see that now.

EB: Is there a particular person or event or holiday perhaps that stands out in your mind from your time at Manzanar? Whether it was a neighbor or teacher...

GS: Not really.

EB: Okay. Did you ever get sick at camp and need medical attention?

GS: No. I don't recall ever having to go to the hospital or the doctor. I can't even remember having dental work done.

EB: You mentioned your sister was born there, and you were also, we were talking earlier that your uncle was...

GS: An ambulance driver.

EB: At Manzanar? Did he ever, even later after the camp time, tell you about that at all?

GS: He never talked about it, and unfortunately I never asked him.

EB: Okay. It never hurts to ask. [Laughs] Did you participate in any activities at camp, or were you in any girl's clubs?

GS: No girl's clubs. We did go to church, Sunday school.

EB: The Methodist church?

GS: Well, I think it was known as the Christian church in camp. That's how I remember, Christian, and there was a Buddhist church and a Catholic. But as far as girls, Girl Scouts or girl's club or something like that, no, I was not a part of it. And I wasn't in any sports, I wasn't even interested in any sports at that point. But I did have to take violin lessons, which I did not like. [Laughs]

EB: Oh, so who did you take violin lessons from?

GS: Well, I guess this man was a violin teacher. He lived in our block, and he must have been a bachelor because he lived alone. And obviously my father knew of him. And how or where my dad purchased this violin, I have no idea. But anyway, my parents wanted me to take violin lessons, and I really had no interest in taking violin lessons, but they wanted me to have this opportunity.


GS: So I went for violin lessons, it must have been every week. And to this day, I really... I like listening to the violin, but I have no interest in playing on it. And the instrument that my father purchased, I have no idea how he purchased it, perhaps it was through the violin teacher, but I don't know. And how he was able to purchase it is another thing I've always wondered about with the little salary that he was earning. But obviously he and my mother must have liked that instrument for wanting me to learn how to play it. I would have preferred to learn the piano, and I did years later. But while in Manzanar I took lessons, and I don't remember how long I took it. That instrument we still have to this day.

EB: Really?

GS: What happened is my daughter, my daughter took piano lessons as a child. And then because that violin was at home, she just on her own, simply on her own, learned to play it at school. And then because she was so interested, we thought, well, we better have her take some formal lessons. So she learned to play the violin. And to this day, she still enjoys it, in addition to the piano. But so, of course, my daughter can't understand why I didn't like it. Well, I enjoy listening to the music, but I don't, I really don't like playing it. And now my granddaughter is learning violin.

EB: Do you remember the gentleman's name who gave you lessons?

GS: Yes. The name was either Mr. Tanaka or... I think it was Mr. Tanabe, I think, was the teacher's name.

EB: And do you remember his first name?

GS: No, but he lived in our block. And he lived somewhere near, let's see. It's... one, two, three, four... maybe it was about Barrack 5, because it was somewhere near the restroom.

EB: Okay.

GS: Four or five.

EB: Yeah. Do you know how much the lessons cost?

GS: No, but I vaguely recall my mother giving me coins when I went for the lesson, so obviously I was paying him, but I don't know how much.

EB: Okay.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2006 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.