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

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

JA: Just for the record, to have it on tape, would you give me your name and where you live?

SE: My name is Sue Kunitomi Embrey, and I live in Los Angeles.


JA: I'd be interested in having you tell me about your family when you were young before the war.

SE: Uh-huh.

JA: Where they came from, what they did.

SE: My father came from southern Japan, a place called Okayama, a farming community, which is now part of Okayama City. He came to Hawaii first and worked as an itinerant worker on the plantations, and rather than going back to Japan he came to California and worked his way from San Francisco down to Los Angeles. Actually lived in Hollywood for a while, doing gardening work, work like a houseboy. Then he sent for my mother, who also came from the same area, and they were married in San Francisco, I think around 1910. And then they moved back to Hollywood, and that's where they lived most of their life.

JA: What motivated him to come to the United States in the first place?

SE: I'm not sure. I thought he was the oldest son but he was -- he was the second son in a big family, and I think that he had kind of an adventurous spirit and, and I think he wanted to be pretty independent also. He, when he reached, I think he was sixty, he told his friends he was not planning to go back to Japan, and he died in an auto accident prewar.

JA: What do you know about the history of Japanese moving to America in the early part of this century?

SE: Well, originally they were recruited by agents to work in Hawaii on the plantation, the sugar and the pineapple plantations, and I think they had -- my father had a two-year contract. Then most of them went back to Japan, saving whatever they could save out of their meager wages, but a number of them came, came to California to the West Coast. I've heard stories of men jumping ship in Seattle, coming across the border from Mexico, and also coming across to San Francisco and Seattle and then coming in legally. About a month ago I came across my father's passport and my mother's passport, and they never went back, neither one of them. My mother went back for a visit but not 'til many years later.

JA: What were the attractions for so many people from Japan to come at that time?

SE: I think part of it was there was a lack of food, the jobs, and they weren't getting the rice harvests. Also, many of them believed, like a lot of other immigrants, that you could make money in the United States and go back home and you can build a fancy house and live a better life from the money that you saved. I think that was true of the European immigrants also, they were hoping someday to make a fortune and go back. Many of them did, but my father stayed on.

JA: What were some of the restrictions faced by people of your parents' generation in this country, relative to citizenship, property, whatever?

SE: Well, there was what they called an alien land law where they could not buy property. There were also restrictions in getting licenses for businesses, in the fishing industry especially. And there were restrictions in terms of school segregation. There was a school in San Francisco that had a segregated, Japanese students-only school, and I think President Teddy Roosevelt negotiated a deal with Japan so that they could, they came across with a 'gentleman's agreement' so that Japan would not send anymore people from there to emigrate to the United States. And there were other restrictions, you know. You couldn't live in certain areas, and that's how 'Little Tokyo' and some of the little ethnic areas began to develop, because they could not find places to live.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

JA: Did you yourself experience or feel any kind of racial prejudice in your personal life before the war?

SE: Not as much as some people, but we always knew that, you know, there were certain places that we couldn't go to. And in our high school we would go to dances but no one else would dance with the students. All the Japanese students would dance with the Japanese girls, and the Italian students would dance with the Italians, it was very segregated. Although the school itself was not, no, in terms of classes. But we always seemed to know that there would always be these restrictions, and, and of course those restrictive covenants that we couldn't go live in areas that we wanted to.

JA: Were there public forms of racism, say newspapers, editorially, that kind of...

SE: Yeah, there was a lot of that in the early 1900s, especially during, right after the Russo-Japanese War, and there were public swimming pools where we couldn't go to. Some Boy Scout groups would not accept minorities, so I know the Japanese community had several Boy Scout and Girl Scout units that were all Japanese. And I don't think the people could go to school after high school, go to college, in certain areas.

JA: I've seen a lot of headlines from back at that time, particularly in the Hearst newspapers where they were, I think there was a fear of Caucasians losing jobs to Japanese --

SE: Right.

JA: What was going on there in some of that?

SE: I think that after the first few years, the Japanese immigrants were trying to get into other business areas, other professions, and people were beginning to get worried about what they called the Japanese invasion, the "yellow peril," and they started to put restrictive laws on the books to keep them out of these professions. I know one doctor, medical doctor from Japan, I can't remember whether they sued the State of California or whether they were suing some medical association because he could not go into a hospital for his patients and he was restricted from practicing.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

JA: How old were you in December '41?

SE: I was eighteen. I had finished high school in January and I was helping my mother take care of a small grocery store which she had purchased just a year before.

JA: If there's anybody out there who doesn't know, tell us what happened on December 7, '41.

SE: Well, on December 7th, around 8 o'clock in the morning, Japanese airplanes bombed Pearl Harbor, which is in Hawaii, and destroyed a large number of the U.S. naval ships. And we heard about it, I think it was around noontime. I was listening to a disc jockey called Al Jarvis. He was playing all the popular music of the day, and an announcer interrupted the program to say that Japanese airplanes had dropped bombs on Pearl Harbor. Most of us didn't know where Pearl Harbor was, you know, and when I first heard it, my mother was making lunch next door at our rented house and I was watching the grocery store, it was a Sunday. And I went over there and said, you know, "They said on the news, on the radio that Japanese airplanes had bombed the United States' Hawaiian islands." "Oh," she said, "that's probably not true." She said, "They're always making headlines, wanting to sell newspapers. I don't see how Japan could do that." But as the day wore on, we heard more and more people coming into the store to tell us that the FBI, the army and navy had gone into Little Tokyo and picked up the leaders and took them away. That the L.A. Police Department had put up barricades so people wouldn't come driving by to look at what was happening. And my brothers, who had the day off from their work, came, came home to tell us that things were a mess in Little Tokyo, that the war had really started, and I guess it was hard for us to believe that it was happening.

JA: What did your mother think about that, coming from the country?

SE: Well, she kept saying that Japan wouldn't do that. She said, "America's too far for them to come all the way to Hawaii," and, but she was worried. She said, "Well, maybe they're going to come and get me, too, so I better get ready." And some of our neighbors, the women who were active in the Women's Federation, packed -- actually packed a suitcase to wait, although they weren't taken; most of the men were taken. My mother waited and they never came, you know, for her, but she was not that active in the community, so... but by the time nightfall came, almost all of the leaders were arrested and gone. And Monday morning the Japanese branch banks in Little Tokyo were closed and people couldn't do any business, they couldn't open their stores because most of the bank accounts were in the names of the fathers and there was no way that they could continue business.

JA: How did -- after that time -- how did the Pearl Harbor change the way that Caucasian Americans related to you, and your family and your friends?

SE: Well, we were in an area which was east of Little Tokyo, mostly Japanese Americans, Mexican Americans, and north of us the Chinese who were living around Chinatown. Our teachers were very sympathetic and the papers were fairly sympathetic for a while. We didn't go out very much, you know like going to the movies or anything because we were afraid to get on the buses and the cars, the streetcars, and... but we didn't have too much anti-Japanese feelings aimed to us. We had people in the business around us who were coming to our, my little, my mother's store and buying things and they were all very sympathetic. But as time went on, the different groups, Sons and Daughters of the Golden West, and American Legion, all started to campaign to get the Japanese out of California, especially California and Oregon and Washington, and I guess by February it was pretty evident that they wanted us out of there. The Congress formed a select committee to come out and do some public hearings, and basically they wanted to do it for the aliens because they were now considered "enemy aliens," you know, Italian, German, and Japanese on the West Coast, and so they were going to have public hearings as to what to do with these people. And it eventually ended up that the recommendation was that all of us be removed from the West Coast, and originally it included Italians and Germans. But by the time that President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19th, it was exclusively persons of Japanese ancestry.

JA: Prior to that, had your home been subject to any searches or seizures?

SE: Not our house, but our neighbors' houses were. The FBI just came in and looked through everything, especially if they were going to take the male head of household away. I had a friend whose brother was a truck driver and he was supposed to take different crates of vegetables to different areas, and he had a map with a destination marked from Los Angeles to San Diego, and the FBI found that map and they questioned him about what he was doing in all these places. And they said there are certain areas where there are strategic naval bases and army bases and they thought he was going after those places. He said, "No, I'm just delivering the fruit and vegetables," but he couldn't, he couldn't convince them.

JA: What other things were they looking for?

SE: I think they were looking for spies and people who might be going to these areas to maybe blow up the place or take pictures or whatever, which none of us were ever doing.

JA: And I guess they were looking for certain artifacts that they thought would be associated with that.

SE: Right, yeah. And then of course, I'm not sure where it came from, maybe the government, U.S. government, or from L.A., we had to turn in all our flashlights and radios, shortwave, guns, knives, whatever, that they thought was contraband.

JA: Cameras.

SE: But we never got them back.

JA: Say that again?

SE: We never got those back.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

JA: Tell me about Executive Order 9066 and what that did.

SE: Well, I understand that General DeWitt went to Washington. He had two lieutenants under him who were basically the people who put together the, the whole thing, and they went to Washington. They convinced the Congress, congressional delegation from California and Washington and Oregon and the Attorney General and what they called the War Department, that because we hadn't done anything, there was a possibility that we would do something to sabotage the war effort and that they had to remove us from the coast. And in the meantime, they said that the Japanese submarines had bombed, not bombed but had thrown, had taken shots at the Santa Barbara coast and Alaska and it turned out that they were actually U.S., U.S. ships. And there was a lot of hysteria about that. So the Washington delegation talked to President Roosevelt, and I think only one person, Francis Biddle, who was Attorney General, and the head of the FBI, were opposed to any movement of the Japanese, but the others convinced the President to sign the order.

JA: And what did that order state?

SE: The order stated that the West Coast was to be considered a military area and because of military necessity, persons of... well, originally it was persons of German, Italian, and Japanese ancestry, were to be removed and housed in appropriate areas away from the West Coast. And then by the time General DeWitt put out the order, it became persons who were of Japanese ancestry and it said both alien and non-alien. They used the word "non-alien" because if they had used the word "citizen," they were afraid, he was afraid that they would get sued and that they would lose the case. But they used the term "military necessity." And of course it was later found that there was no military necessity at all.

JA: What can you tell me about the Munson Report?

SE: The Munson Report was, I believe, authorized by the President, and the U.S. Naval Intelligence was asked to study the Japanese community, Japanese American community. And they found that over 90, pretty close to 98 percent of the Japanese would not do anything to sabotage or do espionage against the United States, and that basically we were very loyal to the United States. Roosevelt took the report but he never actually gave orders to any of his cabinet members to check on the report, and so it was never, never used and so it ended up that all of us were sent to camp.

JA: By the time the war was over, how many Japanese or Japanese Americans were found guilty of espionage?

SE: None that I know of.

JA: Tell me that as a whole sentence.

SE: What was that again?

JA: Just repeat my question as a statement to tell me --

SE: Oh, uh-huh. As far as I know, there were, by the end of the war there were no convictions or arrests of any person of Japanese ancestry who was, you know, accused of conspiracy or sabotage or espionage. I believe there were a couple of Germans that were found, arrested and found guilty.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

JA: When the camps were set up -- tell me, give me the overview of the numbers of camps and numbers of people that were affected.

SE: Well, Manzanar was the first one that was built and it was called an assembly or reception center. And I guess they were going to use it originally to put people there, then move them further inland. But then they started to build what they called assembly centers in fairgrounds and Santa Anita racetracks, I think there was a Tanforan racetrack up north, and Seattle they had fairgrounds also. And they were used to place people in there temporarily, and then from there, permanent camps were built and there were ten of them. One in Heart Mountain, Wyoming; two in California, Tule Lake and Manzanar; and Arizona had two, Poston, Arizona, and Gila River; and Granada, or Amache in Colorado; Minidoka in Idaho; Topaz, Utah. And then there were two camps in Arkansas, Jerome and Rohwer. And I think that was it -- Minidoka, Topaz, and the two in Arkansas were called Jerome and Rohwer.

JA: So how many people were affected by the time the war was over?

SE: By the time the war was over, there were about 120,313 people affected. Now, they were not all sent to the ten government camps. There were others that were sent to Immigration and Naturalization centers, the Justice Department camp, places like Crystal City, Texas, where families of the head of the households that were arrested were put. There's Missoula, Montana, where aliens were kept, and Bismarck, South Dakota, is another place. Santa Fe, New Mexico, was another one, and these are places where the original arrested people on December 7th were sent. Then there were two camps called Moab, Utah, and Leupp, Idaho, where so-called "troublemakers" were picked up from the camps and put there. And of course there were a number of other assembly centers and camps that I don't know about, but they were there.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

JA: When you got the order to report, to go to camp, how much advance warning did you have?

SE: The notice that came to our neighborhood was dated May the third, and we had to leave on May the ninth, which meant we had about five days. Most of us kind of knew that it was coming, so we had prepared. My mother sold her grocery store early in April and we lived on what money she was able to get from the store. We started to sell a lot of our furniture and our stove and refrigerator which we couldn't take, and they were almost new because my mother had bought them from the gas company, we were making payments on those. She had a lot of houseplants that she loved and she wanted them to go to people and not abandon those. We gave a lot of our books to the schools that we were familiar with, our elementary school was nearby. And they had to close down because we were all gone, there were no more, no students to attend. And then we finally sold our grocery store to this young couple, Mexican American couple in the neighborhood.

JA: Did you get fair prices for the things you had to sell?

SE: Not really, although I think we got better prices than most of our neighbors. Some of them, you know, people just come and say, "Well, I'll give you a dollar for that; I'll give you five dollars." We had a lot of help from the principal of the elementary school and the teachers. They got their friends to come and look at things and we got a fairly good price for everything.

JA: So, what were you allowed to take, or how much stuff were you allowed to take?

SE: Well, we were told we could take only what we could carry, which meant possibly two suitcases. We were not to bring any furniture, like mattresses, but we were told to bring sheets and pillows. We had to bring a set of dishes and utensils for each person in the family. No pets of any kind. No contraband, no guns, no knives, even kitchen knives. What we carried were two suitcases. We had some duffle bags and some big traveling baskets my mother had brought from Japan. So our neighbors helped us take those to the train depot; we were able to put them on.

JA: Did you have a pet or any pets?

SE: No, we didn't have a pet then. We did have some cats and dogs before, but we didn't have any then.

JA: Tell me about getting to the train depot and the trip to Manzanar.

SE: The train depot was directly under the First Street Bridge and we lived, I would say about five blocks from there, so our Mexican American neighbors and we walked with our suitcases to the train depot. And there were guards with rifles standing guard, and we had to check in. They had given us family numbers so they would call the numbers and we would check, check our bags in, and got on the train. The train was a World War I vintage train, it had gaslights. And we had all our friends, our Mexican American friends and some of the neighbors who came by, were able to say, stand, you know, say goodbye to us. They had us pull all the shades down so we couldn't see outside and people couldn't see inside, and the train took off. It went through the San Fernando Valley, through Palmdale, Lancaster, all the way up to Lone Pine station, and took all day to get there.

JA: Were there guards on the train?

SE: There were guards on the train, yes. My nephew was six weeks old and they had a doctor and a nurse that went through the train to check on everybody.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

JA: What are your first memories of seeing Manzanar?

SE: Well, it was dark when we got to Lone Pine Station. They told us to get off and wait for the buses to take us to Manzanar. We didn't know where, how far it was. It was very dark by the time we got on the buses, and they told us that the suitcases would not be unloaded until the next day so we didn't have anything to change into when we got to Manzanar. My older brother had volunteered in March to go and help build the camp, so he met us at the entrance to the camp and we were put through one of the barracks and we had to register. They gave us some shots, then we were assigned a unit in the barrack. We were all sent to Block 20, which was newly built, and my brother was able to lead us there. We did not have any flashlights, he was the only one that carried a flashlight. And we stumbled through the camp. It was very dark and we didn't... all the barracks looked alike because they had black tarpaper on them. Then we finally got to Block 20, and our unit was, I think, Building 5, Apartment 1, which had double doors that faced the north, and the room was about 20 x 25 feet, had one oil stove in the corner and one light bulb in the center of the room. My brother had stuffed all the mattresses with hay, where all the other people had to go out in the dark and fill their own mattress with the ticking and bring them back to their room before they could go to sleep, but ours was all done. We had eight cots, canvas cots, and no partitions of any kind; we all slept in one big room. When my mother got into the room, she sat down on one of the mattresses and she said, "My, what a place," and she never talked about that for many, many years afterwards.

JA: So you didn't really see the environment you were in until the next morning.

SE: Not 'til the next morning.

JA: But what did you see and what were your impressions?

SE: We went out. It was a very clear day, beautiful. We saw the Sierra Nevada Mountains. And somebody said something about is that where the, that pioneer family coming across in the covered wagon had to go over that, the Sierras? And we said, yeah, we thought that was it. And someone said, "How long do we have to stay here?" and somebody quoted from the order, "to the end of the war and six months thereafter." But most of us were ready -- you know, were beginning to get ready to leave within a year after we were there. We waited until after they rang they bell for the kitchen, or what we called a mess hall, so we could go and eat breakfast. I can't remember what we had, but I was told that they had dried eggs for breakfast, toast, and coffee which had saltpeter in there. And I think that's about it, I can't remember the rest.

JA: So what kind of feelings did you have at this time about this whole relocation, and at your age?

SE: I was very disillusioned at the time because, you know, I kept thinking we're American citizens and they're doing this to us and we have no rights, nobody to speak up for us? I had studied high school history and memorized a lot of the speeches by Patrick Henry and read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and I just, I couldn't understand why it was happening to us and wasn't sure what our future was going to be.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

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.

<Begin Segment 9>

JA: Once you got settled in there at Manzanar, how would you describe the -- what daily life became like?

SE: Well, for those of us who didn't work, or for those people who didn't work, I think it was kind of boring, there was nothing to do. You got up and ate breakfast and then you had all that time until lunch, and then all afternoon until dinner, unless you were, you know, a mother taking care of kids and doing the laundry and everything. For the first time, I think our parents had leisure time that they had never had before. People who had their businesses worked ten, twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Farming people worked every day from sunup to sundown, and all of a sudden now they had free time, and I think a lot of them enjoyed that, that free time that they were having. My mother learned to roll bandages for the Red Cross and she joined an a cappella choir, or a group that sang Japanese songs a cappella, and she took care of her grandson, the first one. I think she really enjoyed life for a while anyway, but it was -- for those people who didn't work, it was kind of boring. The rest of us, we worked and kept the camp running, and I think that helped in terms of our, you know, mental state.

JA: What kind of work were you doing?

SE: Well, a week after we got there, my sister-in-law came and said that the Maryknoll sisters had come in and they wanted to help us put together a school because all the kids were running around and no one was in control. So, they found an empty barrack and we went over there and they gathered all the children together. There were no chairs, no tables, no chalkboard, no materials, no books, and I can't remember what -- I guess we sang songs and we took 'em out and played games, but there was no sports equipment either, so I guess we played tag and things like that. We did that for a couple of weeks, and then we were told that the camouflage net factory had completed building a shed and they were taking only American citizens to work for the war effort and make camouflage nets for the army. So we went over there and got assigned to work to make these huge 10 x 12 nets, weaving different green, yellow, and brown colors, and they used them to cover the tanks and the heavy equipment for the army. And I did that for a couple of months, and a call came out to young men and women to help harvest the beet, sugar beet crop because the young men on the farms had gone to war and they were short of labor and the sugar beets were going to rot in the field if they didn't have people come and harvest them. So a lot of the young men went out for what they called a short-term furlough. And so a call came out that the Manzanar Free Press was looking for reporters and typists and people to work on the paper. So I went over and applied for the job of a reporter, and I got the job, and so I worked as a reporter for about a year, and as the older people left camp to go into the service or to relocate outside of the West Coast, I got the job of assistant editor and then I got the job of managing editor. And I did that until I left in October of 1943 for Madison, Wisconsin.

JA: When did the camouflage net factory close, and why did it?

SE: I'm not sure. It was still going when I was there. I had heard that there was a lot of complaining from the Issei, who were considered "enemy aliens" and they could not work there. They wanted to do something for their, for the war effort. I'm not sure -- I don't think they got paid any more than the other people in the camp, although I had heard in some of the other camps that they -- they got extra pay. But I think eventually because of the tensions within the camp between the different groups, they had to close it down.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

JA: You had just mentioned tensions.

SE: Uh-huh.

JA: What kind of tensions developed, what caused tensions, and what, what was the nature --

SE: Well, as the camp was being organized and developing into a city, there were also divided loyalties among different people. There was a group of very progressive second generation Nisei, and there were some who were considered pro-administration. Then there was a group of men who were raised in Japan, they were American citizens, but part of their childhood was in Japan and they came back, and they were kind of not really part of a community because they had just come back just before the war started and hadn't really been able to, you know, get integrated into the community. So there was a group of them that were very anti-administration. And then there was a JACL group, the Japanese American Citizens League group, which had cooperated from the very beginning with the government, and a lot of people felt that they were spying on the community and turning people's names in because they felt they were not loyal Americans. So all of these tensions began to boil.

There was a, an attempt to form a Manzanar mess hall workers union by a man who worked in the kitchen, and he was going around checking on the supplies that were coming into the camp, and he found that the sugar ration that came to each kitchen was much less than what they had originally started with, and that a lot of the meat that was going for young children and elderly was missing also. He reported that, after making an inventory he reported that to the administration and said that if they didn't do anything about it he was going to report it to the FBI. And so he got petitions signed by people to form this mess hall workers union, and the JACL group was trying to form a citizens group to govern the Manzanar site. And so they were all kind of competing with each other. And the JACL group was considered the ones who were too administ-, pro-administration. Too many people who -- people looked on them as inu, or informers. So when the JACL representative who had been allowed to go out to a national conference in Salt Lake City came back, a group of people went into his barrack room and beat him up, and he ended up in the hospital. And a man named Harry Ueno was arrested as a gang -- as one of the leaders of the group, and, although he was not well-known in the entire community, because he had started the mess hall workers' union, he was supported by a group of kitchen workers, and they went to the administration and asked that he be returned to Manzanar. He was in the Lone Pine jail.

And out of that -- there was some miscommunication between the director, Ralph Merritt, and the group that was demanding Ueno's release. They ended up in front of the camp entrance and the director called out the military police. And I guess the group started to chant and sing and the MPs became worried that they were going to be rushed, and so a couple of them shot their rifles into the crowd. Two young men who were just watching got pushed forward and they were shot and killed, and there were about seven or eight who were wounded. So that night, all the kitchen workers went out and rang the kitchen gongs, and they rang them all night long. Most people didn't really know what was going on because this affected only about 200 people of the entire camp, but Monday morning -- it happened to be December 5th -- and the newspapers played up that this was a group of pro-Japan people celebrating Pearl Harbor anniversary, which wasn't true at all. But it just happened to be a coincidence that it happened a year later.

So, they sent in a crew, MP detachment from Las Vegas to reinforce the others, and the jeeps were, they went back and forth on the streets all night long, and the following day nobody went to work. I guess the word got out that these young men had been killed, so people just stayed in their room in the barracks and would not go out. That went on until almost Christmas and they suspended the newspaper so we couldn't go to work. And I remember the night of the, Saturday night it was, a group of men were walking down our block and it was very dark and they were all wearing their navy blue peacoats, and the only sound you heard was the trampling of their feet on the gravel. And my mother said to me, "You better hide because they might come after you, too, because you're working for the paper." But they didn't, they didn't come there, but they were looking for some other people that they wanted to beat up again, and that ended up in the riot there, and I guess we didn't go to work 'til after Christmas.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

JA: How was your mother coping with this whole experience of Manzanar?

SE: Well, she seemed to be healthy, but after we got, out I noticed she had arthritis and her left arm was kind of useless and when, while we were at Manzanar, we bought her clothes, dresses that button down the front so she could get into them, you know, without raising her arm. About 1940 -- I came back from Madison, Wisconsin, in 1948, her arm was okay, but she had bad teeth and we had to have all her teeth fixed. During the camp, she seemed to be pretty independent and doing a lot of things she wanted to do, but never said anything about how hard it was for her to have lost the store and to have to start over again. And since most all of us in the family had -- were grown up and working, we tried to get her not to work, but she wanted to keep busy so she would go out and do work like sorting walnuts in a small business, or I think freezing was coming in so she would go to a place where they were freezing shrimp into cartons. And she would sort out the shrimp, and we tried to get her to stop that work because her hands were always in water and it was cold water. Eventually she did stop working and she went to work for the Buddhist Temple, which she was a member, and she was a very devout Buddhist, and she went every day to cook for that priest there. I think she enjoyed that a lot. But she never talked about what happened, until many years later when we were talking and she said, "You know, the first couple of weeks we were in Manzanar, I used to walk all the way up to the orchard and I used to sit there and cry, but after a couple of weeks I decided that was not very productive and stopped doing that," and then she started to go to work and doing different things, taking care of my nephew. Even at the time when people were campaigning for redress in the early '80s and we talked about it, she said, "Oh yes, all those people who lost so much money and property, they really should be compensated." Never thought of herself, because she lost the grocery store and a future where she could have been a little bit more...

JA: Tell me again about where your mother went to be alone and why.

SE: She went up --

JA: Instead of saying "she," because my question won't be heard, speak "my mother."

SE: My mother was... I guess -- we were living in Block 20, which is sort of in the middle of the camp. The orchards were up I would say about half a mile toward the mountains, and my mother told me years later that she used to walk up there after we had all left, after breakfast, and go up to the orchard and sit there and cry, and she said she did that every day for a couple of weeks and none of us knew that. And then, then she decided that that was kind of a useless thing to do, so she stopped doing that and she looked around for things she could do in the camp.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

JA: Tell me about the gardens that started to grow up, the flower gardens and the ponds.

SE: The what?

JA: The flower gardens, the ponds.

SE: Oh. When I first got my job as the reporter for the Free Press, I was assigned to go up to Block 6, which is the very end of the camp, and do a report on a pond that had been finished. They had Japanese goldfish in it, and I was kind of intrigued by that. Evidently they had ordered them through the catalog. And it was not just a pond, they had a rock garden around it. And I know that when they were digging up and cleaning out a lot of the gardens they came across the garden at Block 6, which was, I think, the first garden that was built, and then they built another one across, which was Block 12, and that was quite an elaborate one, too. But they used the materials right there that they could find, the stones, the rocks. They bought -- I guess they did get cement to put those rocks into the garden, build the pond.

JA: What first inspired that, do you think?

SE: Well, according to an interview that we did with Harry Ueno, he said he was concerned because everybody lined up for their meals outside the mess hall and there was no shade and no place to sit, so he talked to the mess hall people and the, and the men in the block and they decided they would build this, this garden. His garden was almost the full length of the barrack, the mess hall, which was 100 feet. And they got an order for cement and they brought in the rocks and put together, you know, I guess the yucca trees and different shrubs. He had an order for three sacks of cement and it was not enough, so he asked that they keep the order requisition form and not turn it in, so each time that he was finished with the three sacks he would send someone to the warehouse and get another three sacks. And so we... later on they called it the "three-sack garden," but it really took more than three sacks. And he, I think his garden in Block 22 won the contest for the best garden in camp, and there were gardens all over the place. And I think that they wanted to really beautify the place because it was such a barren and windy place and people wanted to be able to, you know, sit there and enjoy each other's company and not have to sit in the hot sun, or stand in the hot sun waiting for their meals. I don't know whether it was an all-camp project, but they did build an acre of garden and pond for -- they called it Pleasure Park but eventually it was called Merritt Park for the director, Ralph Merritt. There are still remains of that and some people would like to have that restored. But there were gardens everywhere.

JA: That must have had an effect on the mood of daily life.

SE: I think so, and the people also built gardens in front of their unit. They planted flowers, they had vegetable gardens, and it was a real attempt to beautify their surroundings, and I think it really helped the morale of the people.

JA: That's great. Tell me about the attitude called shikata ga nai.

SE: Well, that was mostly a saying among the older generation, and I guess we kind of picked it up, too, but it was like, "Well, you know, it can't be helped so you have to make the best of it." And I think the Issei were very good at that because they had, had suffered so much even before, even before the war. I think in a way it kind of helped them to go through the period of being confined.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

JA: What were the "loyalty questions"?

SE: Well, I guess after the riot at Manzanar and there were disturbances in Poston and Tule Lake also, the government decided that they needed to separate the -- what they called the so-called disloyal from the loyal, and also to reinstate the status of the young men from 4-C, which meant "enemy alien," to 1-A, and then recruit them to fight in a segregated unit overseas. And that was pushed by the Japanese American Citizens League: "If you want to prove your loyalty, you might as well go fight," and they were instrumental in getting the army to change the status of these young men. So they used this "loyalty oath questionnaire," it was sort of based on the questionnaire that they give to young men who go into the, who are inducted into the armed services. So it was a very strange thing to give to people, like those of us in the camp. Question 27 asked if, I think, if you would forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor, and question 28 asked if you would be willing to fight for the United States wherever you are called to serve. It ended up that there were different categories. You could answer 'yes-yes' to the questionnaire, or 'yes-no,' or 'no-no,' or 'no-yes.' It caused a lot of confusion among the Issei who were not citizens, because they were asked to forswear allegiance to the Japanese emperor and that meant that they would lose their Japanese citizenship if they did that, and that they would be people without a country because they couldn't become American citizens. So then they changed that question for them so they could answer it without feeling threatened about their citizenship. I think they were... the government was really surprised when so few people actually volunteered. But it was a year after we had been in camp. We had been confined for over a year. We had lost everything, and then they're asking the young men to turn around and go into the service, and I think many of them felt that they just couldn't do that. They were willing to serve if they could -- if they would release their parents, you know, out of the camp. And in Heart Mountain, Wyoming, they had about eighty-seven young men who refused to go when they were called for induction.


SE: There was a "loyalty oath questionnaire" which was distributed in all the ten camps. Question 27 asked if we would, I guess, male or female over eighteen, would serve in the armed forces of the United States and go wherever ordered. Question 28 asked us to disallow any loyalty to the emperor of Japan, and that question was very hard for people to answer because most of us had no connection with the emperor of Japan. Very few of us had gone to Japan and had any contact with relatives. Question 27 was hard for young men to answer because -- or women also, because we had been in camp for a year, confined within the one-mile square, not having any charges laid against us and certainly no trial or the use of an attorney to fight our cases. It caused quite a big division within all of the camps. I'm not sure about Manzanar, but there are other camps where the young men refused to go for induction when they were called. A lot of them objected to be having a separate segregated unit fighting, you know, in the armed forces. And of course many of them wanted to serve in other areas like the air force, the marines, or the navy and they couldn't do that. So it was also a cause for much tension between the parent generation and the young people, because then the parents decided they want to go back to Japan and ask for repatriation. The children were American citizens and they certainly didn't want to go with the parents. If they were minors under eighteen, they had no choice, and many of them did end up in Japan. I know my mother was pressured by all the neighbors to repatriate. By this time all of us were gone, my three brothers were in the service, I was in Chicago, and she said, "Nobody wants to go with me, so why, how can I go and live there by myself? My kids won't go with me." So she stayed, but she was under a lot of pressure by a lot of people to go back.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

JA: Tell me, so that our audience is clear, what some of the terms mean that describe the different generations: Issei, Nisei, Kibei -- what do these different terms mean? Just very succinctly.

SE: Issei means first generation. Nisei, ni means two, is second generation. Now there are what we call Sansei, the third generation. The Kibei was a group of people that were born in the United States, and at an early age sent to Japan to live with grandparents or relatives and get a Japanese education, and then they came back to the United States. For some reason, I don't know whether it was our parents' generation, they put this generational category so that it's mostly a generational thing.

JA: So, Issei were born in Japan?

SE: Issei were those that were born in Japan and immigrated to the United States, could not become citizens. Nisei are the American-born. Actually, we are the first generation born in the United States, but we're considered second, and then our children would be Sansei, third generation.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

JA: You talked about walking around at night. Alisa's raised a question which I think is a good one to explore, is, what do you remember about camp security? What was the nature of the security at camp?

SE: Well, in the beginning there were no barbed-wire fences. There were sentries that were walking around the boundary line. But after the camp was built, thirty-six blocks of barracks, they put a five-strand barbed-wire fence all around the residential area of the camp. There were eight guard towers, one in each corner and... that's four, and then four in the middle, which is about halfway. Each of them were occupied by an American soldier and a searchlight at night, and a rifle, or machine gun, I guess, with live ammunition. They guarded the camp by day and by night, and at night they would turn the searchlights on and whenever anybody opened the door of their barrack to go somewhere, go out, the searchlights would follow. I remember going out one day, one night, and the searchlights followed me all the way to the latrine. When I came out from the latrine it followed me all the way back to my room. And I think everyone remembers those searchlights in every camp. Now, I had heard that some of the camps, they had both the barbed-wire fence and the searchlights and the guard houses, the guard towers removed after about a year, but I don't... Manzanar was not because we were in a restrictive zone. And so the security was quite tight.

JA: Even towards the end of the camp?

SE: No, toward the end of the camp I heard that the guard towers on the highway, 395, were not, were occupied but the ones in the back were not, and there was a lot less security after about 1943-44.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

JA: At what point were people allowed to leave camp?

SE: Well, originally the people who were allowed to leave camp were those who went out on short-term furlough to harvest crops, to go to another camp if someone, a relative was ill and they had to go visit, or if a woman was engaged to a soldier and a soldier was in an area outside of the coast, they were allowed to leave to get married. And then after the "loyalty oath" program was instituted, then people who had answered 'yes-yes' were considered the ones who were being relocated.


JA: If you would just back up to where you were saying, after the "loyalty oaths," the people who said 'yes-yes,' what happened?

SE: After the "loyalty oath" was collected and people who had answered 'yes-yes' were considered loyal enough to go out, people started to leave. The government office, the War Relocation Authority, started to open up offices on the West Coast and on the, not too far east but around the Midwest, to get businesses to hire Japanese Americans, and they got the assistance of the Quakers and the Baptist church groups to help find housing and jobs for everyone. And so the movement to relocate people started early in '43, and the students who wanted to go to school also were able to leave, and women who were getting, wanted to get married to soldiers outside the area were able to leave to get married. So, it was a very slow effort but it started early, and the government I think was beginning to feel the economic pinch of having to take care of so many people when they could have been using the money for the war effort.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

JA: Tell me the circumstances of your leaving camp.

SE: I decided after the December 7th riot that I did not want to spend another Christmas in Manzanar, and so I filed an application to, for what they called Application for Leave, which was the original title of the "loyalty oath," and I got an offer from the YWCA in Madison, Wisconsin, for a month of board and room and they would help me find a job. I had several friends who had gone to work at the Madison General Hospital and the Catholic Hospital, they were nurses, and they were writing to me to tell me to come out and things are very, much, much better back east. And so when the offer came from the YWCA I decided to take it and go and try to get into the University of Wisconsin because I wanted to go back to school. So that's how I got to leave camp. I took the train from Reno, Nevada, clear across to Chicago. My brother met me there, stayed overnight, and I went to Madison, Wisconsin. I found a job there, I stayed at the YWCA, and some other people started to come out of the camps, and I got to meet them. But Madison is a, is a college town. There are no big industries, so it was very difficult to find a decent job. So, after a year there working for the County of Dane offices, I decided to move to Chicago and be with my brother.

JA: How was your departure from camp processed? Did you have to sign papers or anything?

SE: What happened was after all the papers were processed, I had to have my photograph taken, my finger, fingerprints taken, at least a thumbprint. They gave me a small green card that gave me permission to leave Manzanar with a photograph on it. And they arranged for us to leave by station wagon to Reno. Because of the riot, we left by the back gate to Manzanar. What happened was they came and picked us up in a station wagon and our suitcases, and then we drove to the back of the camp, and there was a guard there and they processed our papers and let us out, and we got on the Highway 395 and drove to Reno.

JA: What did you learn by being at Manzanar?

SE: Well, I think the biggest lesson I learned was that we were a group of people who had no power because we had no representation in Congress or in any governmental agency, and that if we really wanted to get our voices heard, then we had to be an active participant in a democracy. And so after I came back to California I became active in local elections, the mayor's race, city council races, gradually extended to state and national offices. I tried to participate in local government. When I campaigned for Tom Bradley for mayor of Los Angeles, he was the first black mayor to be elected. He promised the women in the city that he would set up a commission to look into the practices of the city to keep women out of jobs that they thought that only men could do, and so he appointed me a member of the commission, it was a seven-member commission. They set up the resolution to start the commission. So I was active there for ten years, and in the meantime got involved with the Manzanar pilgrimage in 1969 when students and community activists decided to go up to Manzanar. After that I got more and more involved in preserving Manzanar as a historic site --

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

JA: Tell me briefly about the movement to achieve some redress for the camp issue.

SE: Well, we were involved in the pilgrimages for a good ten years before some people decided that they needed to at least seek redress from the government. Early in 1975, some people from our chapter of JACL in San Fernando Valley approached me, asked me to be on this committee to try to get the JACL to take a position for redress, which they were not doing. So we talked to churches and got resolutions from them, labor unions to pass resolutions supporting redress, and eventually the JACL took a position in 1976. And then in 1978, a group of people formed the National Coalition for Redress and Reparation, and they formed a nationwide network, and they did grassroots campaigning. And then another fellow in Chicago, who was disillusioned with the JACL position, formed his own group called the National Committee for Japanese American Redress, and he went through the court system. And he got as far as the U.S. Supreme Court -- the U.S. Supreme Court sent it back to the Appeals Court for some technical reason, but recommended that Congress do something about redress rather than have the courts decide. And so it was a kind of -- and JACL decided they wanted a commission to look into the reasons for the removal and have the commission report to Congress. So it was kind of a three-prong battle, one on the grassroots, one through the courts, and one through Congress.

JA: Did courts ever find this situation to be unconstitutional?

SE: Not, not, not really. They had three court cases in '45, but one of the judges said it was on the brink of constitutionality, and the majority ruled that it was within the rights of the government to do it. So those cases were not set aside until I think 1978, when a group of lawyers decided to test the cases on a very rare technical point of what they call coram nobis. That the government was given false information which they presented to the Supreme Court, and that the cases should be thrown out based on that. What happened was the 9th District, I think it was the 9th District Court on the West Coast declared that all cases had to be set aside.

JA: What difference did it make to you when there was a check for redress and apology from the President?

SE: Well, I think it told me that our government was strong enough to tell the world that they had made a mistake and they were willing to amend it. I don't think the money meant that much to many people as much as the apology. It sort of lifted a burden from them and that many more people could talk about what had happened to them.

JA: Try to recap for me and for our audience what you think are the main constitutional issues raised by this experience.

SE: Well, I think the whole procedure ignored the constitutional rights of individuals. We were denied personal freedom, we were denied the right to a trial, right to legal counsel, we were deprived of our property and our personal effects. And it raises a whole question of the whole ten Bill of Rights being ignored by our government and used against its own citizens. And I think that we need to be vigilant about that because even today, we have violations by the government against its own citizens. It may not be an ethnic group but it could be against anybody else.

JA: How does your experience affect your feelings about this country?

SE: Well, at first I was kind of disillusioned about what the government had done, but in the process of working to preserve Manzanar and having testified before Congress and made contact with many legislators, I feel that our government is a very strong government and that all of us need to be a participant and really take part to make it even stronger and even a better country. And I think I probably appreciate it more than I had before. I know that ever since September 11th, whenever I see the flag waving, it really makes me feel very good.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2002 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.