Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Mary Nomura Interview
Narrator: Mary Nomura
Interviewer: John Allen
Date: November 7, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-nmary-01

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

<Begin Segment 1>

JA: Just for, well, first off, just for identification purposes, just tell us your name and where you live now.

MN: My name is Mary Nomura, formerly Kageyama. I live in Huntington Beach, and I've only been there a year and a half, but before that I lived in Garden Grove for forty-three years.

JA: Tell me a little background. Where did your parents originally come from and what brought them to the U.S., and what did they do here prior to the war?

MN: My mother and father both were from Japan, and my father came over illegally. I guess he's an original "wetback," and my mother came, aspiring to become an artist of some sort. She was a dancer, an instrumental player. She played all different sorts of instruments, and being one of those type of kids in Japan, they just couldn't just corral her. So she finally went to, left Japan and came to America, and then she pursued the singing and dancing and teaching and all. And so from that I think is what our family kind of took after her work.

And my father was a carpenter. He made the Japanese big screens and things like that, and he painted them and so that's why they came here. They wanted to pursue that kind of life, which was not available in Japan for what they wanted to do. They just didn't want to be stifled in what, what their talent was, and there was nothing, there was nothing in Japan to, for them to pursue.

JA: Did the idea of the "American dream" ever have a meaning for them?

MN: I don't know. You see, I was so young when they both died. When my father -- I was only four when my father passed away, and my mother, I was eight when my mother passed away. So I really didn't know too much about their dreams or what, what their thoughts were, but all I knew is that they were into the arts and to things like that, that we kind of took after.

JA: So what happened to you after they both passed away?

MN: My brother who was at... he was seventeen, my sister was sixteen. They both quit high school to raise us, and there were five of us... two, three, four... five or six of us. And they went to, they found jobs and they supported us and kept us out of the orphanage. They came after us, came after us from the orphanage because we had no parents, and my brother said no, we're going to stick together, and so we owe a lot to him. I named my first son after him.

JA: Oh, absolutely. Did you, in the prewar years as a Japanese American, experience any kinds of constraints or attitudinal racist experiences?

MN: Until Pearl Harbor, I'd felt nothing like that. We always got along with the neighbors and high school, everything was done ordinarily. After Pearl Harbor is when we started feeling a little bit of prejudice, even from our close neighbors.

JA: Give me some examples.

MN: Oh, well, one thing, the teacher asked me, whenever they were talking about the evacuation already, she asked me point-blank, she says, "When are you leaving? When are you leaving here?" She wanted to get rid of us, and my next-door neighbors, we used to, we used to pal around with, wouldn't even play with us anymore. Of course, I was only, I was sixteen at the time, but there was only one real good friend that stuck by us, and in fact, I named our first, my third daughter after her. But people just weren't friendly any more after, after Pearl Harbor, but before then, oh, we just did sports and musical programs and stuff, and I was always included.

JA: Interesting.

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

<Begin Segment 2>

JA: Do you remember December 7th?

MN: Oh yes, oh yes. It was a Sunday, and we just heard it on the radio, and we were just shocked, couldn't believe it, that anything like that would happen, and to me, that's nothing, nothing that my country -- my country is America, and for another country which my parents had connections with would do that to America was just something I just couldn't fathom, and it was a big shock to me. And from, it was from that day on that I felt the prejudice in small ways at first, until it got to be towards February when we left, April when we left for Manzanar.

JA: Tell me about that experience of deciding what to take and what to leave and how did your, how did your whole family deal with that?

MN: Those decisions were left up to my brother being the breadwinner, I should say, and he found out that we could only take suitcase, what we could carry and all that. We didn't even have any suitcases, we were so poor. So we stitched together, my sister stitched together duffle bags out of canvas, and we put all our belongs into that, and so we each carried a duffle bag. And I guess he had the notices saying that, what we could take, what we couldn't take, where we were to meet, and where we were going to go, but we had no idea where it was. But we just knew that we were going to be going into Manzanar. I guess my brother knew that. I didn't know that. But then we boarded a bus in Venice and went straight into Manzanar. We didn't go on a train, or we didn't transfer to another conveyance or anything, we just, straight from Venice into Manzanar on a bus.

JA: Were there household articles that you had to dispose of?

MN: Oh, we just practically dumped it, and people came to the door, and they said, "We want this, and we want that," and my brother didn't want to leave a lot of my mother's musical instruments and some of our nicer things like cameras and binoculars and stuff. He just packed those away in a box, and he took them over to the local Japanese school, the Venice Japanese School, and we, all of us stored our things that we could not take into camp there for the duration, for how long. And then when we came back, when my brother went back to go claim it, it was, been pilfered and so many of the things were missing, but things that I said, "Whatever happened to this?" He says, "It wasn't there when we got there to pick it up." And even some of the, my mother's instruments were not there that she had saved, that we had saved.

JA: That's a real loss. What do you remember about this bus trip?

MN: It was a lark for me. I had never been on a long bus trip, it was just taking the bus from high school to my music lesson, things like that. That's all I knew of bus trips then. But that was many, many hours, I forgot how many hours it was, but to me it was just a lark until we couldn't get off the bus. We made the pit stops, and we had these miserable box lunches to eat. So it was a long ride, but not too serious for me because I thought it was a nice little trip away.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

JA: What were the first things you remember seeing when you got off the bus at Manzanar?

MN: Oh, I was in the bus yet when we got into camp to the, where the buses went in, and we saw all these faces looking up at us, and they were all looking for familiar people that they might have known from wherever they came from. And they -- it was dusty, of course, dusty, windy day and people had on World War II -- World War I caps and jackets, goggles, I mean, it was a sight to behold, it was something I'll never forget. It was really scary to see all those dark faces with all that awful khaki-colored uniform looking up into the buses. And we thought, "My gosh, what is this?" And to that... I'll just never forget that experience. And we were sent to an area to get our ticking, mattress, for our mattress, for our bedding, and that was the first day. And that's something that I just -- that's a vivid memory that I'll never forget.

JA: What was going through you emotionally?

MN: I was on the... well, I guess I was on the verge of crying. I did not cry. I did not cry until that night when we got into the bed, into a cot with the mattresses that were filled with straw ticking, and we didn't know what was happening. I was sixteen, my sister was thirteen, and we just didn't know what was happening. We just went there because we were told to be there. We went along, and it was just a shocker for us. And that night is the first night that I just cried because I said, "What is this?" We didn't know how long we were going to be there, but I did have the luxury of having my older brother with me. My eldest sister, she had gotten married right before camp and so she went, went with us, but she went into another barrack from us, but my little sister, my sister older than me, and my brother, four of us were in one little barrack room.

JA: What was that room like?

MN: It was a little room with four mattresses -- four cots, and it was, what, twenty by... 20' x 25', I believe it was, the room, and it had one oil stove. And nothing, no partitions, nothing. Just one bare room where we put our cots and our little gunny -- our duffle sack, duffle bag full of our clothing; nothing else. And from that time on, I don't know how long it took before we were, my brother was able to build a little partition for us so we'd have a little privacy from, from my brother, there's three sisters and my brother.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

JA: A lot of people have commented on how one of the aspects of camp life, at least early on, was the lack of privacy.

MN: Oh gosh, yes, and we were just shocked to find that we had to go take showers with everybody else that we didn't know, and the commodes had no partitions and we could hold hands with the person next to us. [Laughs] It was really primitive and very uncomfortable. But I don't know how long it took, but we got used to it. And eventually, they put partitions in between the commodes and then they -- but the showers never got any better. We all had, I don't know how many showerheads were in that one room, and our neighbors were there with us when we took showers, and it's something we just had to get over.

JA: Tell me about the mess hall and the meals.

MN: Oh, horrid. The first meal that I got that night was canned sauerkraut and canned weenies. It was, it tasted like just horrible Vienna sausages, but only not as nice as Vienna sausages. It was just horrible. That's the first time I ever ate sauerkraut, and it was all served in little metal plates, army surplus things, with metal kidney-shaped cups that they put boiling hot tea in it. You couldn't even touch it, it was so hot. And the children were not allowed milk, only the little babies were allowed milk. So we didn't get milk, we just had hot tea or coffee and that's my very first memory of what we had the first night, was sauerkraut and weenies. [Laughs] And after that, it didn't get much better, but at least it was, we had rice and whatever, nice cold Jell-O on top of hot rice, and it was just worse than what you can imagine, what they fed us at first, but then after a while they started getting a little bit better.

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

<Begin Segment 5>

JA: Did there ever come a time when it settled in that this was started to feel like home, or...

MN: I guess being that I was still in high school and made a lot of friends and stuff, it got a little bit more tolerable and more comfortable for teenagers. It must have been very hard for the adults, the parents, and the older children. As for the little guys and for teenagers, I think it was, became a lark to be able to have so many friends around us, to make new friends, and get to do different things. Maybe that's what you call camp life, I don't know. Camp life right now is, you would say camp, they're going to camp, they're going to do things together at some place far away. But at that time, it was just all confined between barbed wires, but it was just something we learned to accept and made the best of it.

JA: Did you ever give second thought to the towers and the armed guards?

MN: Well, I knew they were there, but I had no intentions of riling them up, so I really didn't. I know my, my nephew said that he and his brother was doing something and something fell over on the other side of the fence, and the boy, my nephew went through the fence to go get it, and a sentry came down and took his bayonet, hooked him up by his suspenders, and put him back over the fence. And my nephew says that was something he didn't have to do, to scare the daylights out of a little kid. He must have been about five or six, five years old or so, and my nephew was about seven. He said, "That's something I'll never forget. "The sentry didn't have to do that. He could have just told us to go back, but no, he came down and took his bayonet and stuck him over the... That's something that's unheard of, uncalled for.

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

<Begin Segment 6>

JA: Tell me about life at school. What was school like for you?

MN: It was fun for me. I... it was just run like a regular high school. We went to different classes for our different subjects. Some of the teachers were Caucasian teachers from out of California or wherever, and some of the teachers were actually the inmates, incarcerated inmates. And we had regular tests and things like that that we had to come through and get graded, and we had to do our regular composing and our sciences and math and all that, just like a regular school. And I understand that Manzanar had one of the highest academic reports in California. The students there were so, I don't know what you call it, they were so adept in everything in whatever they were taught, that it was really one of the highest in California.

JA: Were there any limitations on equipment, like in science classes or...

MN: I don't know. I never took -- well, I took biology, but we just had books and we'd... and physiology you just had books, and we had to draw things, but I don't know anything about the chemistry lab or anything like that. I wasn't aware of that.

JA: Did you have a favorite teacher?

MN: Oh yes, my music teacher, Mr. Louis Frizzell, he was my favorite teacher. He was so good to me.

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

<Begin Segment 7>

JA: Tell me about extracurricular activities that you got involved with.

MN: Well, Young Girls Club, there were so many clubs that were formed, Young Mens Club, Young Girls Club, and we formed a club called the Modernaires, after the singing group. And to this day, we still meet together and we have lunch once a year together, and at the high school reunion in Manzanar, we always have a table together and we just yak it up, and we have just wonderful, fond memories of those days that we did -- we had sports, we played baseball as a team with other teams, and...

JA: So there was a girl's baseball team?

MN: Yes, uh-huh. Then this, they had a men's group and there were so many of them, and my husband, my husband-to-be was the advisor to a group called the Manza-Knights, and that's how we met, from his club and my singing.

JA: Where did your group perform? Where would your group have performed?

MN: Our group?

JA: Yeah, the Modernaires.

MN: Oh no, we didn't perform. It was just a girl's club, we named ourselves the Modernaires. Some of them were called Funsters, and some were called, oh, Star Dusters, and it's just names.

JA: I see. But you did sing?

MN: Yes.

JA: And did you sing in performance?

MN: Yes, uh-huh.

JA: Where would that have been?

MN: In Manzanar or before the war?

JA: At Manzanar.

MN: Oh yes, at school functions and Christmas programs, and I even sang at one of the Caucasian lady's funeral and just whenever they had some kind of program going on, they would ask and I would say okay. And Louis Frizzell would accompany me.

JA: That's great. That's neat, and then there were some bands that played at dances as well?

MN: Yes, there was... they didn't play too much for bands -- I mean, at dances. They just played as a group to play music. The dances were held in mess halls, and it was usually all recorded music, canned music.

JA: What were some of the band groups called?

MN: The group, the groups that played, oh, the Jive Bombers are the ones that were a group that played in Manzanar for different groups. But not for dances so much, but for programs, and we just had all those old big band music recorded.

JA: Sure. What were some of your favorite songs to sing?

MN: Oh, geez, I had "Night and Day" was one, my husband's favorite and my favorite was "Night and Day," and all the old Glenn Miller, and Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman, all those old music, the swings and the ballads. Those are all just fond, fond memory of the music that we had in those days.

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

<Begin Segment 8>

JA: Did the place begin to change in its physical appearance as you were there longer? I mean, you talked about how barren it seemed when you first --

MN: Oh, yes. The improvements that were made by the inmates, the people who went out to the foothills and with permission, they gathered trees and boulders, and they made beautiful, beautiful parks. And in-between barracks, they made little streams -- not streams, but just little ersatz streams to make it look more like a garden, and they did some beautiful work with the talent that they had. So many of them were landscape artists and gardeners, and so some of the things that were constructed in Manzanar were just gorgeous. And one of them was a huge one, They named it Merritt Park in honor of the project director, Ralph Merritt. Oh, it's this beautiful place.

And we lived across the street from the, across the roadway from the orphanage. Those three huge buildings were built especially for the orphans from Alaska all the way down to the tip of California, and they brought all the orphans there who were in the, who had any Japanese blood in them. So they might have been one-sixteenth Japanese, and they could have been some other nationality, but they were all put into orphanages and so we were, we made a lot of friends with the people across the street from us. But they had a beautiful garden made alongside the three giant, beautiful barracks. One huge barrack was for the girls, and then the next one for the boys, and then a huge one for the dining room and their social, whatever. But it was an unbelievably beautiful, beautiful barrack that they built for them. I think it was even better than the administration's lodgings.

JA: Do you have any idea how many orphans were there?

MN: I don't know. I bet my husband's writings that he did would have that information, but...

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

<Begin Segment 9>

JA: So tell me a little more about how you met your husband.

MN: Oh, well, the club that my husband was the, husband-to-be was the advisor for was having their annual turkey trot, they called it a turkey trot. It was at Thanksgiving time, of course, and they asked me to be the entertainer there, and to sing a few songs. And my husband-to-be, being a stickler for formality and all that, he asked the boys in his club, "Who is taking Mary?" And they said, "Well, her boyfriend just left camp, so I don't think she has a boyfriend now to bring her." He said, "Well, then, one of you boys take her. Pick her up and take her." And they all.. hmm, hmm, you know, they all had dates already, and the only ones that didn't have dates were, I think were only 5 feet tall or less. And so they said, "Well, Mary's tall compared to the other girls," and so he said, "Well then, I'll take her this time, but you guys have to make sure the next time you do something like this, you make sure the people you ask to come to entertain for you has an escort." So he told the young man to go to Public Works where I was working and said this person, Shi Nomura, was going to come pick me up and take me up to go to dance as a blind date. And the fellow who came to ask, to tell me, was my husband-to-be's best man at our wedding. But anyway, that was in September of '40 -- excuse me, November of '44, and then from then on, we're a twosome. [Laughs] And then a little over a half-year later, we were married. We had left camp in January of '45, and June of '45, we got married. So I would say, he's a fast worker.

JA: That's great. A fast worker. [Laughs] That's pretty neat. Tell me a little, you started talking about the turkey trot and stuff. Tell me any memories you have of holidays or celebrations there.

MN: Well, the turkey trot was because of Thanksgiving. We didn't have turkey and things like that. Maybe we might have had a little special thing like later on we had chicken, there was a poultry farm in Manzanar. But being asked to go to those things, it was always fun to ask who and who is going someplace and with whom, and it was always a fun thing. And people would try to crash those parties who were not invited. I remember one time when I was dancing with a guy, and one of the fellows who was, who had crashed the party, tapped him on the shoulder and was cutting in. And it was so funny, I was dancing with this young man and his body was just shaking because this guy who wanted to cut in was one of those hoodlums in Manzanar, and he was actually shaking. But I won't forget that, but things like that happened. And, but the dances were always fun, and we always had our last dance, it was always a nice, long, schmaltzy music. Something we, us girls always looked forward to going to and being asked to.

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

<Begin Segment 10>

JA: Do you remember anything -- I guess you were maybe really young -- but anything about the "riot" event there?

MN: I don't remember myself, personally, but my husband told me that he was at some kind of meeting because of that riot coming up, some kind of discord, and he said that a jeep came by, and someone got panicky, and they were all in a big mess hall. And he says from the front of the mess hall where the meeting was being held, there was a swarm of people trying to get out because they thought they were going to get in trouble because the jeep came by. And he says it was amazing that no one was trampled that time, but he said they all tried to get out of the place because they didn't want to be caught at a meeting where they weren't supposed to be. But that's the only, I think, inkling that I know of, of the riot, and after that, the fact that the ones who were injured were taken to the hospital where my sister worked and so she told me about those people who were brought in.

JA: Tell me about whether you knew any boys who went into the military service, who were drafted or volunteered.

MN: Quite a few. Yes, there were a few that were -- we have pictures of them being sworn in by the military as they were -- they were all volunteers. And they just volunteered because it was asked of them. My husband was drafted. He was supposed to go in, but he was a 4-F, he had a bad leg, and so they didn't want him. But, yes, quite a few of them, quite a few of the Manza-Knights, that club my husband was advisor to, had the members going to the service, the military at that time.

JA: Did you ever see any irony in the fact that they were...? [Laughs]

MN: Oh, yes. [Laughs] I heard stories about why would they volunteer when we were put into those camps forcibly and taken our, taken our lives away, but that's what it was about.

JA: Okay.

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

<Begin Segment 11>

JA: Talk to me about what, at what point you left camp and what were the circumstances of leaving?

MN: When the Pacific Coast opened up in 1945, my brother was offered a job at Caltech to work with the professor there, to work with the guayule project that was started in Manzanar. So our family went along with that sponsorship by that professor, and we went to Pasadena, where my brother was supposed to start working at Caltech with this professor. And I enrolled at Pacific, at... what was the name of that college? Pasadena JC to start schooling there, but I only lasted a few weeks. I was not happy there. I was still feeling insecure and feeling that people were staring at me, and I was always kind of a shy, insecure-type person anyway, so when I knew that I wasn't really going to be comfortable there, I dropped out. And then I started working as a domestic, and my husband-to-be started working as a gardener. He didn't have a car, he just took a bus. Went to the different places where he was hired and used their equipment, and got on the bus and went home. And we just, that's how we started out for a while. But I never did go back to college.

JA: So you kind of, because you were getting married, you sort of got a nice way to pick up the pieces of what you'd left behind.

MN: Yes, yes, uh-huh. Being out of camp in January and already being engaged, April's Fools Day was Easter Sunday that year, and that's when we got engaged. We got married in June that year at the American Friends Hostel, which was right around the corner from where I lived in Pasadena, and the people who were invited to the wedding were people who were at the hostel, living there trying to find a job or whatever. And so we had a very nice get-together, and the people who sponsored us at the hostel, the American Friends group, the Quaker group, and the officiate at our wedding was a Reverend Nicholson, who was a Quaker, who went to Manzanar to officiate all the church, Sunday church services there, and he was in Pasadena, and so he was the officiate when we got married. And the lady who played the "Wedding March" on the violin was a violin teacher in Manzanar -- I mean Pasadena -- and so it was a nice memory. We had a regular two-tiered cake, and it was a wedding that I didn't think I would have ever had if it wasn't for the fact that we stayed at a hostel where they were so good to us.

JA: What was the nature of the hostel?

MN: What was the nature of it?

JA: Yeah.

MN: They just, it was called the American Friends Hostel, and they just accepted anyone who came out of camp to help them find lodging, stayed there however long that they needed to have a place to stay and to go to work, find work, and so they were very supportive of us as we came out of camp.

JA: Were there a lot of people who had trouble finding housing?

MN: Oh, yes. They had quite a few different places where they had hostels in Los Angeles, or I think some of the churches had hostels, and some of the places found jobs for them. And from there, they went to different groups where they were... not like a trailer camp, but a group went there to start their life and finding, and that was their lodgings with their family and, but it all stemmed from people who were so supportive of us.

JA: I've seen pictures of trailer camps, and I think some people did...

MN: Yeah, there was a huge one in Long Beach, or was it San Pedro? The buildings are still there, but that's where they housed a lot of the people who came out of camp, to get them started.

JA: In?

MN: In Long Beach or... I believe it's Long Beach. It's near Lomita.

JA: And what kind of dwellings?

MN: It looks like a little nicer barracks, but it's all painted white and people live there in little rooms like we did in Manzanar, and they were able to live there at a real small amount of rent and go to work from there. And then eventually save money to do whatever, go buy a house or whatever.

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

<Begin Segment 12>

JA: What's your fondest memory of Manzanar?

MN: I would say the friendship we made of all these people that were neighbors, and a fact of course --

JA: Say that for me, my question won't be heard, so if you would just say that as a full sentence: "My fondest memory is..."

MN: My fondest memory of Manzanar is the friendship that we made. It was something that, unless you were a hermit, I mean, you just couldn't help but make a good friendship with the people around you, and the good memories that we kept from that. And, of course, the fact that I met my husband there and just... my husband always used to say when he was asked, "What, what did you think about the evacuation?" He says, "So many ugly stories, but I don't dwell on that. I only dwell on the good memories, where I met my wife, and then from there we had a good family, so I can only say I only have good memories. I won't say the ugly part because there's enough of that around."

JA: Do you have any bad memories of the experience there?

MN: No, not really, to say where I absolutely hated the place. It was just the first few nights that I was just so confused and unhappy, but being that I was younger, I was able to accept and go from there and...

JA: Did it have any effect on the way you felt about the United States?

MN: No, I really don't think so. Like I tell everybody, I was only sixteen, and I don't, I wasn't that aware of things like that. I mean, I should have been, but I wasn't. So bad memories, so many people had, but I just try to have the good memories.

JA: Good, that's good.

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

<Begin Segment 13>

JA: Talk a little bit more about the way that the Quakers and similar groups supported people during the evacuation, during the time in camp?

MN: Oh, I'm sure they had so many ways of supporting, just even monetarily, they must have helped a lot of people get started. My memory of that is that they were so supportive of us, being able to get together with people, and we had song fests in the home, it was a huge old home, and the Quakers had ran that. But if you couldn't find a job, they'd try to find a place for you. They even tried to find me a job as a domestic, and they would come to the house and say there's, somebody is looking for someone who wants to take care of children or do housework or ironing or cooking or whatever. And if you feel like you could do that, here's the address, and that's how they did a lot of the work for the people from camp. And I'm sure a lot of them, people who were hiring us, like the gardeners and the housekeepers and all that, must have inquired at the Friends, they must have been more sympathetic towards the group in the hostels. So they called them to find out where we could get these people to help us, and so the people who were hired by, through the Friends, American Friends were, I think, more sympathetic towards the fact that we were out of camp and we needed help. And they were very, very... my husband, where he used to work as a gardener, I mean, we still had nice... I can't say reports or whatever, I'm so at a loss for words. But they were always very supportive of what my husband did, they were always asking me about what this, what was going on, and they would send Christmas cards about their children, they kept it up for many years. We just made good... what is that word? I'm so awful about words. We just kept our friendship going with the people that...

JA: Are you aware of, of support that came from such groups even earlier, during the time of the evacuation or while people were in camp?

MN: No, I didn't know them at that time, know about them at the time.

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

<Begin Segment 14>

JA: What... do you recall that there was a fairly active movement years later to try to get some redress from the government and an apology from the President, which eventually came?

MN: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

JA: Can you tell me anything about that process?

MN: I was not part of that. My niece was very much a part of that, my husband's sister's daughter. And she went to Washington, D.C., and she was the NCRR, NCRR? Whatever it's called. Anyhow, she was very, very into that and helped start that movement. And I think, to this day, she's still into that with Sue Embrey and all. And her mother was very active in that line. My husband was not. He was more laid back, but he wanted to prolong the memory of what happened to this, this stage, and so he got involved with the museum in Eastern California, but for the redress and all that, I was not active in all that.

JA: What do you think that did, though, for the community?

MN: If it wasn't for that, I don't think it would have happened. If it wasn't for their push and their dedication, it wouldn't have happened. It wouldn't have happened. No one was going to come out and say, "Hey, we did this wrong thing. We should do this." Someone had to push them to it.

JA: And how do you think that affected the community of people who had been in camp? That there was redress and an apology?

MN: I haven't heard of too many people saying negative. They all wholeheartedly accepted that, and there are some people who said it was not enough, but I always felt, and my husband always felt, little is better than nothing. And we were very... not receptive, but appreciative of what this group had done for the rest of us.

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

<Begin Segment 15>

JA: Have you talked at all with your children about your experience at camp?

MN: Oh yes, many times.

JA: What is it that you want them to know about it, in particular?

MN: The good times, most of the time. My husband and I both talked about the good times. But the ugly part, too, they know of it because they've heard it from other people. But we didn't dwell on it, and we didn't pound it into their heads that this is something really, really bad that happened, because they knew it had happened, but they didn't hear it from us, the part that they heard from other places or read from other places, at other places.

JA: What do you think that audiences who come to Manzanar and see the exhibits and see this film should come away understanding or feeling?

MN: Oh, they should be more understanding of what had happened and there are so many that didn't know that it happened at all, and there will be some people who will say this is not true. "It couldn't happen in America." But my husband always said that these things happened, it has to be put into the, for people to see and read and so they will never forget what did happen, and we always felt that what he started over there was something for the future. It's... if he didn't do that, I don't know how much I would have gotten involved. I just went along with him at the beginning, but as he went along and he got more into preserving and doing things for the museum, I thought, "Well, this is something that I'm going to have to go along with him, and I didn't want to go up there and live like he wanted to live, but... [laughs].


JA: Tell me just a little bit more about your husband's relationship and what the museum was that he was helping, just so our audience will know that.

MN: Well, we were on the way home from Sacramento, and we just cut through the pass there, because you heard that the Eastern California Museum had a little display of things from Manzanar from people who had done work in Manzanar, the Caucasians who lived in the valley donated some of the things that they were able to get from the Manzanar camp site, and they donated it to the museum. So we wanted to go see what it was about. And so we just dropped in, and we met the museum director there, and talking about different things, and he, the museum director talked my husband into doing some more, you know, putting things in that he might have at home that he could be displaying for them. And so from then on, it was 1972, I believe, that my husband got started, maybe earlier than that, gathering things from his own collection, from his relatives, from friends, and he started videotaping -- not videotaping, recording people on the cassette, and he just started the ball rolling. He wanted to do something for the museum, and it was from then on that he spent almost two years -- twenty years compiling things for that museum.

JA: That's great. That's great.

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

<Begin Segment 16>

JA: You had mentioned earlier the guayule project. Would you explain that, what that is?

MN: That is a plant that is grown in the desert and it's from that plant, it's called guayule, they extracted a sap which was made into rubber. And in those days it was only synthetic rubber because the other regular rubber was coming from Malaysia or Southeast Asian country and they were not able to get it. And so the government okayed this study on making synthetic rubber from guayule, and this professor from Caltech, he spearheaded that. And he came to Manzanar and he started these people working on growing it and extracting the rubber, which is even better than the regular synthetic rubber that was being made at that time. And my brother was always into agriculture and aquaculture, whatever -- not aquaculture, but plant life, and he went to work there and he got very interested in that. And so to this day, he could still get seeds, guayule seeds that he has and grow them if he wants, whenever, if anybody wants to see the rubber plant growing. And they used to have to grow it in Manzanar in a lath house, and try to chase the rabbits away 'cause they would eat it. But this is what the war effort was about in that aspect, growing rubber plants to make rubber for the United States. And then I understand that... oh, what is that company, Chevron or United something, they put a damper on it because it was eating into their profits by having guayule made into synthetic rubber which would, stymied their project. And so that was a very bitter thing for Dr. Emerson to swallow, that something that these inmates had done for the war effort or for the country was not accepted when it should have been.

JA: So what happened to the project?

MN: Nothing. But there are people I believe up north, Fresno area, that can still bring it up to -- and there's also an area, Arizona, I think, that they could still grow the rubber plants, if need be. And my brother has some seeds yet, and his friend who lives in Laguna has barrels of the seeds that he can start, and he checks them every once in a while to see if they'll grow, and it does grow. And so, it could be, if ever it needs to be, but it was stymied. And the fellow, the scientist, the chemist who made the formula for the extraction of the seed, the rubber to be made into good rubber, invented the formula, and he just was to the bitter end, he just was so bitter for the fact that they could not use it for the United States. That he would not give that formula away to anyone. He took it to his grave. He said, "No one has that formula now."

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

<Begin Segment 17>

JA: I've always wondered if there were things you needed, whether clothing or household items and so on, how would you get them? You didn't have a store that had all that stuff?

MN: Oh, there was a canteen. It was a co-op canteen and they had, one was a food co-op and one was a dry goods co-op. And so we were paid, if you worked, you were paid eight dollars apprentice a month, $16 if you were just ordinary worker, and then the professionals were doctors and lawyers and whoever, they got nineteen dollars a month. But with that money, you were able to go to the canteens and buy little yardage or a needle and thread, or, and every block had a sewing machine, and you had to requisition it for so many hours a day, and so we were able to sew different things. And food was brought in from I don't know where, and so they had ice cream once in awhile, and if someone heard that there was ice cream, the whole area just ran to the canteen and by the time you got there, it was gone. And they even had a little fish, fish area. They sold fish once every so often, and they had people who were able to have little frying pans or whatever and they cooked at the, in their barracks. I don't know how they did it; maybe they had electric frying pans. But food-wise and dry goods-wise, there was canteen for each and we were able to -- if we had the money. And we had Sears Roebuck catalogs to send for things.

JA: Tell me about that.

MN: Oh, yeah. There was, a catalog was at each office, each block had one office. That's where you had the sewing machines and all, and that barrack, the Sears Roebuck catalog was there, and you could go through that and you would order things, and it would come through the mail. And we were able to get different things like if we needed a different kind of shoes and in those days, it was pretty dear, but what little money we were able to save, we would send for shoes. And if you had friends that left camp for Chicago or New York or wherever, then they would send it to you. But it was something that we couldn't get in camp, we would be mailing out for it.


JA: There's one other question I wanted to ask you. Do you remember anything about the "loyalty questions"?

MN: No, I don't. It didn't involve my brother or me, so I don't know anything like that. It's just the people who were so adamant about what was being done, and they were given this choice of going to Tule Lake or staying there, I mean, it was -- I guess the majority of 'em did not say "no- no," you know.

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

<Begin Segment 18>

JA: I wonder if you could name for me the names of some of the songs that you sang there. You mentioned maybe what your favorite was, but what are some of the other songs that you remember singing?

MN: A lot of them were Frank Sinatra songs like "All or Nothing at All" was one of my favorites and "That Old Black Magic," "You'll Never Know," "Tangerine," that was the very first song I sang in Manzanar. When we first got into Manzanar, they asked me to sing in a program, and I was just a little snot-nosed kid, and I didn't have a boyfriend, and so my brother took me to that and I sang "Tangerine." I remember that. Oh, there's so many songs like "Moonlight Becomes You," and mostly slow songs. Later on, in my old age, I started singing the up-tempo songs.

JA: I remember we were talking about one earlier that was on this CD I have.

MN: Uh-huh.

JA: Called what?

MN: "Embraceable You" and "I Can't Give You..." -- no that wasn't that --

JA: "Accentuate..."

MN: "Accentuate the Positive," that was during the time of, the camp time. It was a Johnny Mercer song, and it was a movie, the song was taken from a movie with Bing Crosby and Betty Hutton, and it's called Follow the Fleet, 'cause I still have the song music, song sheet from that day, from those days.

JA: Remember "Don't Fence Me In"?

MN: "Don't Fence Me In" I didn't sing but we did sing that in camp. Oh, a lot of songs like, songs that we use to like to dance to like "The Song is You" or "Without a Song" and oh, all those schmaltzy songs.

JA: Can you sing a few lines from one of those?

MN: Oh, geez.

JA: "Don't Fence Me In"?

MN: Oh, I don't think I know all the words to that.

JA: How about "Accentuate the Positive"?

MN: Okay. [Sings] Is that enough?

JA: That's great, that's great. [Sound of applause] That's wonderful. I didn't think to ask you this, tell me the nickname you had there and where that, how that originated?

MN: I don't know who exactly, but I understand somebody told me it was Louis Frizzell who gave me that name, because I used to do all the singing in camp, so, and it stuck ever since.

JA: Tell us what it was.

MN: It's called, I was called the "Songbird of Manzanar" and it's all right. [Laughs]

JA: Did it stick after camp?

MN: Yes, uh-huh, because I was at a function in Long Beach a few months ago. I went to see a thing by a group from Concord, San Francisco area, and somebody said, "Hey, Songbird," and I turned around, of course, and I didn't know who he was. He says, "I know about you 'cause I saw you, and I heard you sing." So that was nice. [Laughs]

JA: That's great. Thank you so much. This has been such fun.

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