Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Irene Yamauchi Tatsuta Interview
Narrator: Irene Yamauchi Tatsuta
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Laguna Woods, California
Date: October 13, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-tirene-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

KL: Well, this is tape one of an interview with Irene Tatsuta. My name is Kristen Luetkemeier, I'm a park ranger with the Manzanar Oral History Project. Today is October, I think it's the 12th, 2014, and --

IT: Isn't it the 13th?

KL: It may be. Is it the 13th? Yeah, it is the 13th, October 13, 2014. And we're gonna be talking today about Irene's experiences growing up in Seattle and then being sent to the Puyallup Assembly Center and to Minidoka, and also her life afterwards in Seattle and here in southern California. We're in Irene's home here in Laguna Woods today. And Irene, before we go any further, I just want to confirm that I have your permission to talk to you today and record this interview and make it available to the public?

IT: Yes.

KL: Thank you for that. I'm glad, I'm glad this has worked out. I want to start out by asking you a little bit about your parents' lives. If you could, just kind of introduce us to your mother, tell us her name, when and where she was born, and what you know about the family she grew up in.

IT: Okay, my mother was born in Seattle. She was the eldest of five kids, and I think the, I figure that the family was fairly -- her name was Hatsuye -- was kind of, not wealthy, but better than the average. Because they used to take her to Japan for visits, and I guess she went to school there off and on, but she told me she just got to the fifth grade, but I don't think so, I think she had gone on in Japan and then transferred back and forth. So I really don't know, but she knew quite a bit, so... like she knew about the writ of habeas corpus when she was in camp, so I figured she knew something.

KL: Did you know your grandparents at all, her parents?

IT: No, when we got to Minidoka, our only grandparent that I knew was my mother's mother, and she died right away, so I remember the funeral. But I do remember her in Puyallup, the assembly center, where she was really kind of bossy and wanted us to pay allegiance to her, kind of. We were kind of scared of her. But my father had a sister in Japan, who was older than he was -- and his name was Sunahiko Yamauchi -- and his mother in Japan died a week after my mother died, so it was, and I'd never met them. He rarely talked about his side.

KL: Do you know what motivated your father to immigrate?

IT: I, probably a better life. I think he came here, I thought he said eighteen, but I don't know. I'm not sure, I never did figure it out.

KL: Where was he from in Japan?

IT: I don't know. [Laughs] I don't know too much about Japan. I don't have any more relatives there. But when we were adults, we found out that when we were born we were given dual citizenship, and so my aunt told us, or especially my brother, that, "You better change it, because Japan could call you in to fight for them, because you're a citizen." Well of course, I was angry with Japan anyway, for starting the war, so I didn't want that citizenship, so the three of us, I remember going to -- I was down here already -- I went to a lawyer in L.A. and got that removed. Yeah, but what was I going to tell you about that?

KL: Was that difficult to do?

IT: No. It seems like we went -- you mean to change the citizenship?

KL: Yeah, I've never heard an account of renouncing a...

IT: It seems like we went to a Japanese lawyer. I don't know why. Anyway, and he was not too friendly, and it seems to me, I felt he probably didn't make much money on this deal, so he probably thought he'd rather be doing something else. I don't know, that's just my thinking. But I was really glad to drop that. But my father's sister was still living, and she had a beautiful, she had a beautiful house and property in Japan, and she wanted to give it to one of us three kids, or split it or whatever. And there was something that you have to live there to buy it or inherit it or whatever it is, and I was still angry with Japan, so I said, "No, I'm not gonna go to Japan." So we gave it up because... and so she looked for somebody with the same last name. I think she gave it to a nephew or something. I don't know. I don't know much about Japan.

KL: What did your, switching back to your mother's side, those grandparents who also were in the United States, what was their work?

IT: They owned a place on, what do you call that, where you have homeless, that type of place, down there. And they rented baths and they, the same outfit had a barber shop, so all my mother's side learned how to cut hair, and apparently my dad learned too from them. We have pictures of them with a smock or whatever they wear, wore. Anyway, my mother, yeah, all the women cut hair in her family. She had, the in-law did too, they were all barbers.

KL: The in-laws...

IT: My uncle's wife, she learned how to cut hair. I don't know whether she worked there, but they, I don't even know if it was a school. I don't think so. I think it was just a family thing. But that's the reason they had money to go to Japan to visit and back, because we didn't have that kind of money. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.