Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Katsumi Okamoto
Narrator: Katsumi Okamoto
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Date: November 7, 2007
Densho ID: denshovh-okatsumi-01-0015

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: Kats, can you talk a little bit about going to high school in the camp? Maybe looking at, I know you only spent a little time in high school in Seattle, but maybe kinda compare high school outside the camp to high school inside the camp, and maybe talk about the teachers, how they inspired you or didn't inspire you, particularly the one teacher that you mentioned earlier, Miss Amerman.

KO: Yes, our core room teacher, or you say homeroom.

RP: How did school start there?

KO: I'm trying to recall. A lot of things have faded. We were told the school was starting, we were assigned rooms for homerooms, that's where everything starts, and Miss Amerman, Helen, was our teacher. I think she was a very caring person. She was, her parents were missionaries in Japan, so she had grown up quite a few years in Japan. I don't know if anybody, she told me about that. So she understood, I think, some of the culture. She really cared about people. She was one of those that was really liked, or -- [laughs] -- you know, that always happens. People form their opinions. I thought she was very sincere. In fact, I figured they had to be sincere in order to come share the environment with us. No sane person would come, because, you know. And Mr. Coombs and Miss Gilbertson and Jerome Light, the principal, he had a family, they all lived there. In fact, I think his children went to school with us, if I recall.

RP: Caucasians?

KO: But my brother knew him better, my brother, John. They kept in touch for years and years and years afterwards. Remember going from class to class and it was kind of, rather mechanical. Environment stunk for learning. If I recall, the chemistry lab was in a laundry room. Did you hear about that? Yeah. Where else would you have water, these big laundry tubs and you lay a board across. I remember, if I recall correctly, we had a little fire. We lost some of the chemistry books so we had to share books, and I wasn't a good chemist anyway so it made it twice as difficult. Although I did take four years later, in college. It was tough competing when I first went back to school because our background was so poor, really. And I don't know how some of these guys did it, they just, they seemed to excel immediately. Maybe they were naturals, but I had to really work at it, my mathematics to catch up and I took physics in college and it was extremely difficult because my background was, maybe I didn't concentrate as much because it was just like starting over. Where other people had high school physics, I feel I started with the basics. It was very difficult for me.

RP: So do you feel like camp education set you back a little bit?

KO: I think so, I believe that, I really do, unless you, some people were inspired to study on their own, you know. And I was doing other things, I think, too much, it was difficult, but I made it through.

RP: And you graduated.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2007 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.