Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Sue Kunitomi Embrey
Narrator: Sue Kunitomi Embrey
Interviewer: John Allen
Date: November 6, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-esue-02-0008

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JA: Some of the... some people in thinking about what life was like there have commented on the lack of privacy.

SE: Right.

JA: Can you talk to me about that?

SE: Yeah, we were all in a room which was only 20 x 25 feet, but the barracks were 100 feet long and they were divided up into four units. Each unit was supposed to have eight people in it. Since there were no partitions, you know, we had men and women all sleeping in one room. We did finally put up sheets and... to divide the room. My oldest, older brother had just gotten married before we had to leave because he didn't want to leave his girlfriend behind and they were going somewhere else. When we got up in the morning we had to go look for them because we didn't know where they were, and they were in a unit with some strangers, so we just picked up their cots and moved them into our room, so we had... one, two, three, we had seven people all together. So we put sheets over in their section so they would have some privacy. My girlfriend and I used to walk every night around the camp, which would be a mile square, so that we could talk because we had no way to talk without people hearing us. People sat on the steps outside the door and they would sit and gossip with the neighbors, but if we wanted to do teenage talk we had to go somewhere else. And our mess hall was communal, we ate cafeteria-style. The restrooms, both women and men, were separated and they were, and we were call, we called them latrines. The toilet seats were not, did not have partitions or doors until much, much later, so, you know, it's just open space. The shower room had five or six showerheads and it was all, there were no stalls or curtains in between. So in the beginning, people like my mother would stay up late hoping to take a shower when her neighbors weren't around, but they all stayed up late. They all wanted to take their shower in privacy. So it ended up in our block we put a... like a Japanese soaking tub made a, they bought the cement and made a what we call a ofuro, and people would wash themselves under the shower and then go in and soak in the tub. And then it pretty soon became sort of a socializing method, you know, for, for our older generation, because they just like -- they were kind of, I guess, taking over the custom that they have in Japan.

JA: That must have been a kind of traumatic thing, to have a total lack of privacy after... particularly given some of the cultural outlooks of the Issei.

SE: Yeah, it was, because all of us lived in separate homes, you know. We had our own kitchen.


JA: The first time you went into the latrines...

SE: Uh-huh.

JA: Tell me what you saw and what thoughts you had about that.

SE: Well, when I first walked in there, I think it was probably the morning after we got there, and we didn't even have any washcloth or toothbrush because everything was in our suitcases. To the right of the door was a whole, a trough the whole length of the wall with hot- and cold-water faucets placed, maybe six or seven of them. But they were separated so you can't wash your hands with just cold water or hot water, you know. Eventually they put the two together like in a V shape. And then all the toilet seats were one after another, I can't remember how many. Back-to-back also. So, you had -- most of us went to the farthest one to try to get some privacy. Later, some people had the ingenious idea of getting these big cardboard boxes to put around a person that was going to the bathroom. They would take turns. Then we went over to the separate shower room in the back and then there were just the five or six showerheads. It was kind of a shock because all of us had lived in private homes with our own separate bathroom, kitchen, and especially for our parents, they had come from a custom in Japan where they all shared the Japanese tub but when they got to the United States they became accustomed to having their own privacy. So it was very hard on them, and I know all of them stayed up late hoping to take a shower by themselves, ended up finding their neighbors there, or either go early in the morning, and they would also find their neighbors. [Laughs] So eventually they decided there was no use trying to be, you know, private about it, and they, they learned to discuss things and socialize in the... eventually the toilets began to be improved with doors, divided and doors, so that people could have some privacy. But it was very difficult in the beginning.

JA: Tell me about the winds and the sand.

SE: Well, that Sunday when we were out looking for luggage that they had put in what they called a fire -- a firebreak, the trucks had gone and picked up the luggage at that station and brought them back and they told us we had to go there and look for our family number. When we got there it was not bad, but then by the time we waited and were ready to come back, there was such a terrible dust storm that we couldn't see where we were going, and we couldn't tell which block because the number they had -- they didn't -- they hadn't put the numbers on the blocks yet. And so we struggled back and tried to locate where our room was, and we all, I think a lot of us ended up in the wrong place. And that was the first sight of the very dusty, very strong wind, and we saw all kinds of things flying around. All of us were from the city so it was very unusual for us to be right there in an area where there was no protection because they had bulldozed all, you know, all the trees and brushes and shrubs that were around in order to build the barracks, with no protection from the wind. I think what we did was we stood at the window and looking out at the tumbleweeds and branches flying by.

JA: Quite a shock. It was quite a change.

SE: Yeah.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.