Densho Digital Archive
Manzanar National Historic Site Collection
Title: Laurie Sasaki Interview
Narrator: Laurie Sasaki
Interviewer: Richard Potashin
Location: Richmond, California
Date: April 16, 2010
Densho ID: denshovh-slaurie-01-0004

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RP: And your father, being an Issei, was prevented by the legal system in California from owning his own property --

LS: Right.

RP: -- not being a naturalized citizen, so I assume that he leased his land?

LS: Yes. He leased the land and we had this one property owner we would lease the land from, he had a strip of land along this one roadway and so we would move from forty acres, every, you know, we would move. This, when I think about it, this fellow was very good because he would one year plant alfalfa, you know, to get the nutrients into the ground. And then he would, the next section he would rent to some people who had a dairy farm. So that would enrich the soil, right? And so we were always rotating down the road here from eight, you know, plots to plots.

RP: Forty acre parcels?

LS: Yes.

RP: So you took advantage of the enriched --

LS: Right.

RP: -- landscaping. And your father grew vegetables?

LS: Yes. Tomatoes, cantaloupes... tomatoes and cantaloupes mostly.

RP: I imagine your older, or your, yeah, your older brother Ichi, would have been helping him too?

LS: Yes, they all helped him. They were all very good at getting out into the field and helping. And they would all make the lug boxes to pack the tomatoes in, so they used to all have a great time and they'd have a contest to see who could make the most lug boxes and things like that. Yeah, so it was, it was a good life, I think.

RP: Right. Yeah, the parents always enjoyed that large labor pool. Large family meant large labor pool.

LS: Right.

RP: Now, do you have any early memories of being out on the fields with your mom?

LS: Yes, uh-huh. Because we used to grow the tomatoes and so like my job was to run the wires and the papers... you know when the tomatoes first were planted and became very little seedlings, is that what... then you'd have to put this covering on then so that they would protect 'em from the weather. And then so they gave me little things to do like that. [Laughs]

RP: Did your father hire any additional labor at peak times like harvest?

LS: Oh, yeah. My recollection was we always had two families living with us, Mexican families. And they just were part of the family, and so if they, if they couldn't handle anything then my father went to town and hired people and brought them in to harvest, just during the harvest time, yes.

RP: Did these families have kids?

LS: Yeah, couple, yeah.

RP: Did you play with them?

LS: Yes. [Laughs] I used to run down there when they used to have their tortillas and my mother used to be so upset that I'd go down there to eat with them. She'd always come after me, "Come back."

RP: So you said that there were two Mexican families on the property. Did your, did your father, was he able to converse in Spanish?

LS: I guess. I guess so. They were very good friends. I don't know whether... my father spoke a lot when he had to, yes.

RP: And what language was spoken in the home?

LS: Japanese mainly.

RP: When do you remember actually learning English? Was it when, when you went to school?

LS: Oh, it was, well, my sisters and brothers spoke English so I mean it was just a natural thing.

RP: And what about... Imperial Valley is one of the hottest areas in the United States.

LS: Hot, hot, hot, hot.

RP: You'd be out there with your mother in the summertime?

LS: No, no, no, no, no. Right after school was out we always went to the coast. So it was very nice. We went to San Diego or Oceanside or Inglewood or something like that. And we'd spend our summers on the coast so it was very nice for us.

RP: All the kids would go?

LS: Uh-huh. We'd all go. My father and my oldest brother would come home, go back to Imperial just to irrigate the lands because it used to get so parched there. So they used to have, they would go back maybe once or twice during the summer to tend to the fields. But you can't grow anything in the heat or any... so yeah, we would just take off and go to the beach, it was wonderful. I mean, as a kid I would remember those things. And it was, it was good.

RP: Did you stay at a motel or you would camp out?

LS: No, my parents had friends in the area, and these friends were farmers and they always had a house available so we'd just go there and stay for the summer.

RP: Tell me about your house in Imperial, where you, your farm, your farmhouse?

LS: The farmhouse?

RP: What was the level of comfort? Did you have indoor plumbing?

LS: Oh, goodness. No plumbing. But we, every time we moved the first thing that was done was to build a bath house, you know, the Japanese furo, that we always had the Japanese type bath. And there was always one main house on the farm that we would go to and so my brother would build the other houses for, you know, my mother and father had a house and he had a house and then the girls had a house and my other brother had a house. So, we just all... I mean, they were close together. But we all had our own room, yeah.

RP: Did you have electricity?

LS: I remember when we, I remember when the electricity first was available. It was just incredible to go there and just pull that string, you know, and that light bulb would come on. Yeah, so initially we did not have electricity but we did finally get electricity. I remember.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.