Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Richard M. Murakami Interview
Narrator: Richard M. Murakami
Interviewer: Larisa Proulx
Location: Los Angeles, California
Date: November 19, 2014
Densho ID: denshovh-mrichard_2-01-0006

<Begin Segment 6>

LP: Did you have any impressions about the high desert, Tule Lake in general? It sounds like Marysville had mosquitoes and all that, but then Tule Lake, the environment is really different. Was that striking to you at all?

RM: Yeah. The things I remembered, good or bad things, I'll talk about the good things. I don't know whether it was planned or not, but the block that I was in, there must have been, I don't know, at least twelve to fifteen kids who were maybe my same age, about a year or two younger or older than I was. So that was really good, so you had a lot of kids to play with, but also lucky. Now I wish I could remember his name, there was one guy, and I think he was about college age, he's the one that got us together. He's the one that built the basketball court, he's the one that taught us how to play basketball, how to play softball, how to play football, how to do track and field, he's the one that kept, I tell people he's the one who kept us out of trouble. Some would ask, "What kept you out of trouble?" I say he kept us out of trouble, kept us busy, but he's the one that did it. And I wish I could remember his name, but he's the one that really kept us going, doing things all the time. So to this day, I wish I could remember his name so I could really thank that man. He was the guy that did it. So that's the good part about it. Luckily we had a lot of kids. And then our whole family except my uncle lived in the same block, we were Block 10. My uncle, who had cancer, lived in Block 9, because in Block 9, they had all the people that had some kind of illness, or invalids, so they lived in Block 9. I had discovered that, so they had some kind of... that's why my analysis is that they had some kind of a segregation, that's what I thought, kids in one block, no, there were no kids in Block 9. That's why we were kind lucky.

And things, bad things I remember is like my mother used to have to sweep the floor two or three times a day, because dust could come up because of the cracks in the floor, like that, and it was built on a lake, wind would blow, dust would come up, and it was terrible.

LP: I'm not sure if you have a visual memory of that area, apartment, but could you sort of walk me around the space that your family had to live in? So what were the spaces that were sort of carved out? How did you organize yourselves?

RM: We were in the end room, I mean, the end room. And so my father had strung a rope across and a blanket to separate the room with a blanket, so the bedroom was one side. See, at that time, it was my parents, and I was the oldest, I was ten, and my younger sister Bernice and Raymond and Katherine, and my youngest brother Daniel was born in Wyoming, so there was the five of us. So since we were all very young kids, little kids, you know, I guess that was the reason why they only had this one room. When we went to Jerome, we had two rooms. But it was separated by a blanket.

LP: Was there a stove or anything for heat?

RM: Yeah, a potbelly stove, coal burning, it had one light.

LP: And how far was the area that you had to live in from the latrines and the mess hall?

RM: See, we were lucky. We lived almost like in the middle of the block, so the latrines were almost close by, and since we were in the middle of the block, the mess hall was just a few steps down. But people that lived on the ends had to walk far for the mess hall and for latrines and all that, especially in the wintertime. It was the first time I ever experienced snow.

LP: What was that like?

RM: Well, as a kid it was fun.

LP: From the interview yesterday, something... this person was in Block 30, and they were there after the questionnaire. And so the barracks had been obviously lived in and there were different things they sort of noticed, he's about eleven years old. And he recalled some of the bathrooms being modified to have soaking tubs. Do you remember anything like that?

RM: No, see, I was there the first year, so we didn't have anything like that. Let's see, the first year we were there for the first couple of months, my father was the man in charge of making sure they the boilers worked, to make sure to add hot water.

LP: Did your mom work at all, or was she just taking care of you?

RM: No, just taking care of a few of us.

LP: What about the food in the mess hall? Some people have really unsavory memories of the food. Is there anything that stands out to you?

RM: Okay, I will not eat white macaroni and cheese. Because I still remember this, that's what they fed us for the first time, I don't know, a couple of weeks. Until... I remember this very distinctly. My father said one day, the adults were having a meeting, and my father said, "You are not to get, go to the mess hall or get close to the mess hall," 'cause they were having a meeting. What they were meeting about, I found later was they were meeting about bad food we were getting. And so then later on we found that, so did other blocks, and what was happening, they found out, was the cook was stealing the food, the sugar and everything else. So shortly thereafter, the cooks were gone. And then the cooks then became from people in the block, and some blocks were, if they were lucky, they had people that owned restaurants or were cooks, they had good cooks. But I really can't remember what kind of cooks we had, but we had better food after that. We got food after that, not just macaroni and cheese. So that's all I remember.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2014 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.