Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Saburo Masada Interview
Narrator: Saburo Masada
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Fresno, California
Date: September 11, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-msaburo-01-0009

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KL: This is tape two. It's September the 11th, 2014, with Saburo Masada, and I was asking if there was any medical treatment that your brother or your father or anyone else received or needed in Fresno Fairgrounds?

SM: I don't recall at all any of that. There was some Japanese doctors in Fresno, they brought their equipment to the camps to try to help provide medical care. I do remember certain things that stand out, and all of us, as soon as we mentioned it everybody laughs if they can remember, and it's the community toilets. They were just holes in a blank, on a plank, I forgot, maybe five or six, and over here [raises arm] was a big tank that's filled with water, and when it got so full it would just tip the tank and the water would rush down, and whoever sat on the last hole there, the water would splash up. And so nobody wanted to sit there, but sometimes I guess they didn't, they didn't think that it was going to unload when they were there, but if it did they made sure they got up. In fact, all of us sitting, when that tank emptied out we would stand up, because the water's gushing down. I remember early on, but then, maybe a couple, three weeks, they had a talent show going on, try to make life as normal as possible, and they had about six chairs on the stage and they pantomimed, these guys sitting there, jumping up and sitting down, jumping up and sitting down. We all knew what they were pantomiming. That was so vivid in our experience. That didn't happen in Jerome or Rohwer; they had a little different system. But then showers were very difficult, especially for the women, since there was no privacy. That was really embarrassing and degrading for the women.

KL: Do you recall your mom's reaction to those?

SM: No, I don't. No, I don't.

KL: What was your living quarters there?

SM: Well, we had two rooms. It was Block F, on the end of the barracks, so we had one, one room and then the next room was a little smaller. I don't remember sleeping with my two brothers, but, and then all the rest of the family lived in a larger room.

KL: In the assembly center, in the fairgrounds?

SM: Uh-huh.

KL: Okay.

SM: Block F.

KL: Was it a new building, or was it part of the fairgrounds?

SM: No, it was a barrack, new barrack. In fact, I didn't know they had anybody living in stables, but I heard there were a few who stayed in stables.

KL: At Fresno?

SM: Assembly Center, yeah.

KL: You mentioned a connection to the Pinedale Assembly Center, when you were a kid.

SM: Yes.

KL: Can you tell us what that was?

SM: Yeah, for some reason, after Pinedale vacated, and most of 'em were sent to Tule Lake Concentration Camp, I was able to get on a work crew and we rode to Pinedale, which would've been, like, a half an hour ride, and whatever we were doing, we were mopping up something, debris I guess, and I looked into the barrack and the steel leg of the bed was sunk into the asphalt about an inch or inch-and-a-half. And I thought, oh my gosh, how could they live in a barrack that was so hot? So years later, at our church in Stockton, we had a church member from Seattle who was sent to Pinedale, so I asked Ruth, "Was I seeing things or was it really that hot in your barracks?" And she said, "No, it was, that's how hot it was. When we dropped our clothes and picked it up, the asphalt would be stuck onto our clothes and we had to get the asphalt off." But fortunately they were there only three months. We were in our Fresno detention center for five months. But everyone must've been, and since they came from Seattle in the Pacific Northwest, it was just outrageous. She said, "I thought we were, we came to hell." I can understand why she felt that way. Like Marion going from Salinas to Arizona, it was awful. The people in Salinas-Watsonville area, many of them passed out because the heat was so hot. Just getting registered, they were passing out.

KL: Mark, do you have questions about Fresno Fairgrounds?

MH: No.

KL: Anything you want to add to the --

SM: Just observation of one of our friends. She was married, had a, I think five year old girl, and she tells about Fourth of July at the Fresno detention center. She said for the Fourth of July celebration, we didn't know what to do, so we had one artist paint a great big picture of Abraham Lincoln and then we decided that we'd form a verse choir to read the Gettysburg Address. And so they did that, and the, she said some people in the audience said, "That's a stupid thing to do. Here we're in prison and you're reading the Gettysburg Address." But she said that's what our hearts wanted, believed that America was, and so we just did what we thought could bring comfort to us. I thought that was really moving, that they tried, they did that.

KL: I've heard various people talk, on occasion, and seen articles about kind of two types of patriotism, one that looks backwards at past accomplishments and one that looks forward with a vision for what it wants to be. It's at work in that story, I think.

SM: And then she said she remembers when we were being vacated from the Fresno detention center. The barracks were covered with morning glories and things like that, and she said, "At least we made it like a home for us, while we were here."

KL: Do you remember gardens in the detention, in Fresno?

SM: Yeah. I guess that's because the Japanese culture loves gardens and flowers and plants, so right away there was a lot of that being planted.

KL: How long did you think that you would be there?

SM: I had no idea. No idea. Now, I don't know if the older ones thought about, much about that. I know that high school, in high school some of the students wrote some very expressive essays, but most of us just, seemed like we just ignored it and just did what we had to do to make life as normal as possible.

KL: The gardens in the assembly centers always amaze me, given that people didn't know how long they would be there, could've been there just a month, but to plant a seed and... what are your, what gardens do you remember in the Fresno fairgrounds, and what do you remember about them?

SM: Well, we didn't have any ourselves, but you could see all around there was flowers planted and shrubs. And they built a baseball diamond in the empty area, and they built a sumo ring and things like that. I think they had some boxing. My friend's brother did some boxing. And I don't know where they did that, but... yeah, they just went right to it and started to do everything to make life livable. And I don't think they even thought of, you know, how long are we going to be here, is it worth setting this up. The baseball diamond was just built because they wanted to start playing.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.