Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Alfred "Al" Miyagishima Interview
Narrator: Alfred "Al" Miyagishima
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Denver, Colorado
Date: May 13, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-malfred-01-0017

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So you said from, from the Stockton Assembly Center, they decided to send you to Arizona, and you were just going to explain why Arizona. Because I'm taking, I take it that a lot of people at Stockton when to another camp, they didn't go to Arizona?

AM: Yes. The reason for that is most of the people that were, had families in the hospitals went to Arizona. And the majority of the, majority of the people went to Arkansas. But just those people that had family in the hospitals, somebody told me that the reason they sent 'em there was because the weather was warm in the event that they would be released from the hospital. And if they're ever allowed visitation or something, it would be close by. Well, closer than going to Arkansas. But that's the only explanation that I heard, and I suppose it makes sense.

TI: So you were sent to Gila River, Arizona. So describe that, what was that like?

AM: Well, when we got there, it was already September, late September, I suppose. School had already started, we got a late start there as far as school goes. It... I had to make new friends there because even those people that had family in the hospital, I didn't know them either. But when we settled in our block, then we all had something in common, so you went around and you met people, of course, in school and this and that, at the mess hall or whatever, you know. Your block is just one big community center, you're in the washroom, you're in the restroom, you're taking a shower or whatever. Later on, just wandering around the camp, just to see what the, how big it was and all that, I met some friends from French Camp, they were all there. So I didn't have to look for any more friends, because all the kids that I went to school with from French Camp had been sent there, too. So it was the beginning of playing football with the guys, and basketball, baseball and stuff like that.

TI: Now, when you're, you're there with your French Camp friends, did you guys do anything that was kind of what you would say as bad, bad behavior or anything like that in terms of getting in trouble, things like, did you do anything like that?

AM: No, I don't think so. There wasn't that much to do, you know. If you went around, I suppose that lot of, lot of 'em went around trying to pilfer pieces of lumber to build things, but that was because they had lumber scraps here and there. And I don't know whether they just allowed anybody to go in there, but they used to go in there at nighttime and take some pieces of lumber to built porches and stuff for their little barracks, maybe build a, a swamp cooler, you'd be surprised at the ingenuity. They'd take a piece of wood and make it into something, they'd find piece here and a piece there and build things with it.

TI: So explain what a swamp cooler is. What's a swamp cooler?

AM: Well, a swamp cooler is, you know, it got to 110, 120 degrees there in the summertime in Arizona. And a swamp cooler is nothing more than a box built on the outside, maybe the box would be a cubic yard lined with excelsior, and they would run water down through the excelsior with a, with an electric motor and a fan inside so that it'd blow the water cooled air through the excelsior into the barracks, and it'd cool you off. And in this dry climate, what you do is cool air with water, liquid, and it dries right, it dries when it comes in. If you was in Seattle doing something like that, you'd invite yourself to an extra handful of mold, you know.

TI: Yeah, so that's why we, I don't know what a swamp cooler was. [Laughs] That's why I had to ask.

AM: Yeah.

TI: Okay.

AM: And there's lots of places, if you look on the outside, it's not the regular, regular air conditioning unit that you see. Some of them are, like I say, they're about a cubic yard, and they're a little bit different. That's what the swamp coolers are.

TI: Describe a typical day in Gila River for you, with you and your buddies, what would you, what would you do?

AM: Well, on a typical day, just too lazy to get up and eat breakfast at the mess hall, and usually all they had was just oatmeal and toast and some dried eggs and apple butter or orange marmalade, never varied. Matter of fact, there was some older guys used to call themselves the "Apple Butter Boys." [Laughs] Anyway, so my mom used to -- oh, they used to have some salted ham, but my mom used to bring some toast and some ham back, and so if you wanted to, dried toast, you put some marmalade or something on it. For lunchtime, they didn't really allow other, outside people to go to different mess halls, and I think a lot of it was quality control, some places you'd have a real good cook, and he could take... the food that came in was all requisitioned from the warehouse and it was all the same stuff. But sometimes the cook could make the difference on what it, what you fed 'em, how they'd prepare it and things like that. But I think that they drew enough rations for so many people in your barracks, and if you went outside of that, why, you created a shortage somewhere, so they always discouraged that. Some places they even had a little things that you had to show 'em that you lived in that block. They had a water container on the... but the faucet used to stick out from the mess hall. They used to have water in there and they'd drop ice in there from the inside so you couldn't get the ice, but you could get the ice water. So that was your water supply. You go in there and get the jug and fill up your water. The boys in the neighborhood, they, in our block, they built a horizontal bar for exercising. I used to work out on there, we had, we used to have one guy in there that was a, quite a, quite a good worker on the horizontal bars, he could flip and do all kinds of things on that. So we used to try to do whatever he showed us to do, work on the bars. Outside of that, we're talking in the summertime, go play football or something like that, baseball. We used to have a block team, and all the other blocks, if they had enough boys interested in it, they would also have a block team and we would go play them. That was about it. The older boys used to have a baseball team that used to play the other teams in the camp, and they were quite good. They had some boys that knew how to play ball pretty good. Most of those guys were probably in their early twenties, you know, all out of school, played good baseball.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2008 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.