Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Ko Nishimura Interview
Narrator: Ko Nishimura
Interviewer: Kristen Luetkemeier
Location: Campbell, California
Date: July 14, 2015
Densho ID: denshovh-nko-01-0011

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KL: I kind of want to do two sections to Manzanar, one of your own memories and then one focused on the guayule stuff. So let's start with yours. What memories do you have?

KN: Well, I remember sandstorms. I still remember the first, one of the first sandstorms. Of course, with the big openings in the buildings, so sand comes in the building. Because between the door and the floor there's probably half an inch, right? And then they were not very well sealed. I got my face down, this muslin sheet you might call it, and it was so dusty you just cover your face and just lay on the floor. And after the sandstorm was over you get up and shake sand out of your hair, I still remember I had a silhouette of sand around me. And it wasn't scary, gee, look at the sand, kind of. I have a vivid memory of that. I have a vivid memory of going to get... I guess it's oil for the furnaces. And I used to think, "What a mess." EPA would never let you do that now. You probably could tell even now where these dispensaries were.

KL: Oh, really? I've never heard anyone talk about that. What do they look like?

KN: There's a tank, and then you just opened a spigot to get it. But when it closes, it drips. So you got oil all over the place around there. I'm going, gee, there's a lot of oil spilled around here. And that's not the only place that dust wouldn't fly. So I remember that. I remember that it was a firebreak. And the reason I remember that is one day we were coming home from school, and I decided I'd jump over this mound, and I forgot there was a, they'd dig a trench for the garbage from the mess hall, and it's rotting garbage. Well, I missed the other side and ended up in it. When I got home, my mother had to clean me all up and take me to the communal showers.

KL: That trench was in the firebreak?

KN: I think that was close to the firebreak, yeah.

KL: Oh, interesting.

KN: That's what I remember, but I remember two things. Boy, we had to go through this, across this firebreak to come home from school, and the other one is, of course, falling in that ditch. Somehow I feel like they were close together. Another one was, kindergarten was taught in Japanese.

KL: Where did you go to kindergarten?

KN: I have no idea. I mean, it was in camp, okay.

KL: Was it in a barrack, do you think?

KN: Yeah, it was a barrack, yeah. And the teachers were all Japanese or Japanese American. So if you didn't speak English they spoke to you in Japanese. And then they say other Nisei, Sansei kids, they spoke to them in English. So it was a real shock to me the first day I go to first grade. I go over there and we have Caucasian civil servants teaching there. So I beat my mother home, "I don't want to go to that school, they speak English." But the interesting thing about when you're that young, I started speaking zero English. But by the end of the year, you're speaking English.

KL: Do you know if you had language instruction or if you just heard it and were a kid?

KN: I don't think we had any language instruction, I don't think so. But young kids pick it up real quick.

KL: Do you remember either of your teachers or any of your teachers?

KN: No, I don't remember any of my teachers. I showed you a picture of my class, and I think there was a teacher standing in there, right?

KL: Yeah. Somewhere I read Mr. Earl might have been your first grade teacher?

KN: This was in, from September of 1944 to June 1945. What's her name?

KL: Earl, E-A-R-L.

KN: Oh, come to think of it, I think that does ring a bell, Mrs. Earl. That was my teacher, yeah. And I thought, yeah, that sounds right.

KL: What was she like?

KN: I don't know, I don't remember.

KL: Tall, old.

KN: I'll tell you what most teachers sounded, even through high school. You know the Peanuts comic strip, you know the cartoon? And you hear this, "Wah-wah-way," "Yes, ma'am." "Wah-wah," "Yes, ma'am." That's what it sounded like to me. You're not listening to them, right?

KL: What were you doing instead when you were a young kid?

KN: What do you mean?

KL: Like what were you thinking about, what were your interests?

KN: I'm not paying attention. You're just not paying attention. You want to know when recess is, when you could do your Crayolas, something like that. Who wants to do arithmetic or something like that? [Laughs]

KL: Do you remember anything about the classroom in first grade?

KN: No, I don't remember anything about the class. I don't remember.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2015 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.