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-01-0009

<Begin Segment 9>

KL: Did you work while you were in Rohwer?

JW: Yeah, you know, at first, I worked in the mess hall, in our block mess hall. That was a learning experience. I enjoyed it, we got to meet a lot of people.

KL: What were your tasks in the mess hall?

JW: In the mess hall? Set the table and serve 'em. The men were up there dishing out the stuff. My dad worked in the mess hall. So I kind of enjoyed that and then they wanted a secretary to work in the office, manager's office. Each block had a manager's office, so I took over that, did do that.

KL: Who was the block manager?

JW: Who was he? First it was Mr. Baba, he spoke... and then it was another, a neighbor, Kats Tamura, yeah. He was a good manager. They all spoke Japanese, American, and they had to, they had to speak Japanese, because some of the people in our block were, you know, non-English-speaking. But that was nice, I liked working in the block, that's where all the mail came in, and then we had to distribute it. I think we did, or did they come and pick it up? I think maybe we... oh, we had a messenger deal, yeah, we had a messenger. He might have gotten the job where you delivered the mail, I can't remember that. We had a young man who played the bugle, so at the beginning of our internment there, he would, Taps, is that it? "Da, da, da," you know.

KL: Reveille.

JW: Reveille, seven o'clock.

KL: How did that go over?

JW: Not too well. Some people asked, made complaints. He did it for a while, but not too long.

KL: What was Mr. Baba's first name, do you recall?

JW: Whose father?

KL: Mr. Baba, is that his name?

JW: His first name was Toshiyuki. He was a good, very friendly, very nice guy, Toshiyuki, yeah, Baba.

KL: Were they Nisei, the block managers?

JW: Kats is a Nisei, he's like myself. Mr. Baba, he spoke... I don't know if he was an Issei or a Kibei, you've heard of Kibei. I think he might have been a Kibei, because he was from Japan.

KL: Why the change? Do you know why the block manager...

JW: You know, I don't know. Yeah, at first it was Mr. Baba, or was it the opposite? No, it was Mr. Baba and then Kats, 'cause I remember being Kats's secretary. You know, I don't know why they changed. Maybe Mr. Baba left camp, could have been, because he was an older, not that old. Probably thirties, in his thirties, maybe. Yeah, I don't know why.

KL: You've mentioned the mail, sorting and delivering the mail. What else happened in the block manager's office?

JW: What did I do? Sit there and gaze out of the window. I don't know... what did I do? Oh, I had to sort the mail, of course. Write letters, the manager would want letters sent to different managers. But I did a lot of typing, I wonder what that was for.

KL: Did you have to attend meetings and take minutes or anything?

JW: No, no, I didn't. I didn't.

KL: There were typically weekly reports at Manzanar, at least, the block managers made to the administration.

JW: You know, I don't remember. I don't remember. I enjoyed whatever I did.

KL: Were there any challenges associated with working in the block manager's office?

JW: Challenges? People would come in and I'd visit. But how much were we getting there, eight dollars a month? Sixteen dollars a month? I forgot, sixteen was it?

KL: That sounds likely.

JW: Sixteen, yeah.

KL: Sometimes it was a tough position to be in, to have to kind of be the go-between between the WRA and the residents in the block.

JW: Yeah, I don't think we had much... we didn't have many complaints, we really didn't. I remember one time this couple and their daughter, they had a cat. And somehow people didn't like them having that cat in their house. I don't know how in the world it got into the room, but the cat disappeared, and that was sad because I understand her, I like animals, too. But they found the poor cat out in the forest, and she brought it home. She wanted to have a little service for it. See, and that was sad; that was really sad because we didn't, I don't think they had any dogs, but we had that cat. But she had that cat, I never saw it outside. I don't see how it got out, somebody must have gotten in there out of spite, taken that cat, take it out there and died, killed or something. But anyway, my mother, she asked if my mother would be at the funeral, at her service, and she went, my mom, out of respect. I didn't go, but I remember Mom said she was going. That's, things like that, it's sad when you're out with people who are being naughty. 'Cause we all love animals, you know, but that was one of the sad moments in my life, to find out that somebody did that.

KL: Yeah, a source of comfort for some people, too. When did you start working in the block manager's office and how long did you have that job?

JW: I worked there until I left camp. I worked as a waitress for, I don't know how long. Oh, I worked in the... the office was a friend of mine, in that same block, of course, Mary. She was a block secretary for a while and then she started working in the hospital as a nurse's aide. And that's when I took over, so gosh, I don't know. Half a year, maybe she worked there a half a year until she got that job. But I was there for maybe about a year. I wasn't in camp too long, 'cause I left in '44, January of '44.

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