Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: June T. Watanabe Interview
Narrator: June T. Watanabe
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Anaheim, California
Date: October 15, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-wjune-01-0016

<Begin Segment 16>

KL: And you came back to California then, from Japan?

JW: Uh-huh, we came and lived with my brother, he lived a couple blocks up here, stayed in their house. Oh, I brought... you know, my kids went to this school in Tokyo, Yoyogi, but I get this note from one of Gina's teachers, she was seven or eight years old, eight years old, and she said, "We can't pass Gina because she doesn't speak any English." And I thought, oh my gosh, well, my fault, too, the maid spoke Japanese, and I spoke mostly Japanese, 'cause Richard's not home all day long. And my neighbors, I lived in a Japanese neighborhood, and we all spoke Japanese. So I said, "Well, I got to go to the school and see what this is all about." Here this teacher, she had a classroom of children Gina's age, and they're all, and she's speaking Japanese to them, too. And this class was more or less dependent kids, you know, like Gina, like my children, American citizens' kids, and they all spoke Japanese. So I said, well, she's not going to learn any English, so I told Richard, "I'm going back home." Because I had three of 'em. And he said, "Well, I just signed a contract to go to Korea for two years." I said, "Well, I'm going back." So I did come back, and he stayed, 'cause he had to go to Korea. Then when we moved, I moved into my brother's house, then my mother and dad were living there. I tell you, in about a couple, three weeks, those kids were speaking English, no Japanese. My mother and I should have spoken Japanese, but my mother with her broken English, spoke English to them, you know. So to this day, they can't, they understand a little, but they don't speak.

KL: Did your mom ever change her citizenship?

JW: Yeah, my dad and my mother, they both became naturalized Americans. But it was nice living with them.

KL: Do you have any insight into sort of how they processed or thought about their experiences in Santa Anita, being told to leave home and go to Santa Anita and to Rohwer?

JW: They never talked about it, they really never did. I felt, in a way, for my mother, honestly, I think it was a time of rest, because she worked very hard. She worked very hard, so did my dad. We lost a lot by having to move, but I think, physically I think it was sort of a rest, I really do.

KL: I mentioned before we started the camera that there is a new museum in McGehee that's about Rohwer and Jerome, and this is a question I asked Shig and Frances, too, but I'm curious what you hope that that museum will tell people. What do you think is important that people understand about Rohwer, if they go to visit?

JW: Well, for one thing, the main thing is that you just don't panic and put people in camps. Because we didn't want that, we didn't want to be put into camps, we weren't going to do anything bad like blow up a port or a boat or whatever. I think they have to think twice before they do anything like this, I do. I think the people back east learned from the memorials that they have in these former camp areas. I just can't picture my kids having to go through something like that. Sure, you hear about people having fun sometimes. We did, as teenagers, we had fun. We had dances, parties, hobbies that we attended, learning centers. Christians had their churches, the Buddhists had their churches, and all that. We were given that opportunity to learn to be humans. But it's just not right. But when they have memorials like that, I think people learn that this isn't right, this isn't right.

KL: I see that in visitors sometimes in Manzanar, that people are affected by the opportunity to learn here.

JW: Yeah.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.