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-

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

<Begin Segment 1>

RP: This is an oral history for the Manzanar National Historic Site. This afternoon we're talking with Laurie Sasaki. And our interview is taking place at the Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park in Richmond, California. They're located at 2566 MacDonald Street. The date of our interview is April 16, 2010. Interviewer and videographer is Richard Potashin. And we'll be talking with Laurie about her experiences before, during, and after camp at the Poston War Relocation Center. Our interview will be archived in the Park's library. And Laurie, do I have your permission to go ahead and conduct our interview?

LS: Yes.

RP: Thank you so much so much for coming down here and sharing some of your important memories with us today. First of all, a few personal questions. Your birth date and where you were born?

LS: My birth date is January 31, 1932. I was born in Imperial, California.

RP: And that's located how, how close to the Mexican border?

LS: It's right on the border and inland from San Diego.

RP: And can you give us your given name at birth?

LS: My name, Laurie Nakazono.

RP: And do you recall how you received the name Laurie?

LS: My mother and father had very dear friends who had a daughter named Laurie who was absolutely perfect. So they decided that they should have a perfect daughter, and they named me after this Laurie. That's how I got my name.

RP: Your Japanese name, do you, were you ever told what it meant?

LS: No, I don't have a Japanese name. It's just Laurie.

RP: Oh, it's just Laurie?

LS: Yes.

RP: Okay. And do you know if you, were you born at a hospital or born at home?

LS: No, I was born at home. Yes.

RP: By midwife?

LS: Probably my father delivered me and then apparently took me to the doctor and everything was fine. I think that's how it worked in those days.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

RP: Talking about your father, what was his name?

LS: My father's name was Yaichi Nakazono. He was from Japan, Kurume Hoshinomura, Fukuoka, Japan. And he made his way to Hawaii and lived in Lahaina for many years on the pineapple fields. And then, and then came over to California. And I guess landed in San Francisco and worked his way all the way down to Imperial.

RP: Was he, he wasn't the oldest son in his family was he?

LS: I don't... no, I don't think he was the oldest son in his family, no.

RP: Were there other members of his family that migrated to the United States?

LS: I don't think so. I think he was the only one.

RP: And so he came from Fukuoka?

LS: Yes.

RP: Have, have you had a chance to go back to his village there?

LS: Yes I did. I did visit and the remaining relatives were very, very kind and they took me to the home where my mother was born and where she grew up. And we took this journey from her home to Nagasaki where she got on the boat to come to America and that was very touching, I guess. I think I cried a lot thinking about how she had to leave home and then taking this trip to Nagasaki and leaving on the boat. And my cousin was very funny. He said to this cab driver, "Now her mother left from here, Nagasaki, and she wants to know where she left from." So anyway, the cab driver takes me to the harbor and says, "The boat probably took off from right there." [Laughs] So, yes, I did trace her footsteps.

RP: And did she, did she come over as a "picture bride"?

LS: Yes, yes, she came over as a "picture bride." Yes. Incredible story about her landing in San Francisco and having to stay there for a week before my father finally came to claim her. So she was probably the last one to have somebody come after her and they were teasing her that she would have to get on the boat and go back to Japan because nobody was coming after her. So that was kind of sweet and sad and kind of funny.

RP: By the, oftentimes the husbands would be right there waiting at the boat.

LS: Not my dad. [Laughs] She said she saw this tiny little person coming up the pier and it was my father.

RP: So did he look anything like the photograph that she had seen?

LS: God, his photograph was so handsome. I mean, he was a handsome man but you know, Japanese, very tiny, like four feet ten or something like that. And my mother was a big lady, so...

RP: Did, and what was her name?

LS: Sakae Egashira.

RP: And do you know anything about her family background in Fukuoka?

LS: She came from a very large family and I think the brothers thought that she had to have a husband so they shipped her off to America. So poor thing.

RP: So, how old would she have been when she made that trip?

LS: Oh, my goodness sakes, you know, I'm so bad on time and age and all that sort of stuff.

RP: A young woman.

LS: Yes.

RP: Maybe still in her late teens?

LS: No, no, no, I think she was in her, maybe twenty-four or something like that.

RP: Did she ever share with you what her first weeks, months, or year of life in the United States was like for her?

LS: Well...

RP: Were there struggles or hardships that she...

LS: Well, the thing was that my father's friends were all small so he had stopped in Los Angeles, he traveled from Imperial to Los Angeles to his friends to pick up some clothing for my mother and brought these women's clothing to her. Well, she was so big that she couldn't fit into any of the clothing. So he had to have everything made for her in San Francisco. And she talks about tennis shoes, there were only white ones and he couldn't think of having her wear white so he dyed them black. And, you know, so I think they had quite an experience.

RP: Yeah, that was her introduction to western clothing too.

LS: Right. I think so.

RP: And so he met her and then they returned to the Imperial area?

LS: Yes, Imperial Valley, yes.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

RP: And tell us about your father's situation down there. What was he, what was his occupation?

LS: He was a farmer and, yeah, he farmed all of his life. And until he went to camp, yeah, he was farming.

RP: You mentioned that he was a very short man. Can you tell us a little bit about his personality?

LS: He was really a cute man, but I mean he was always within himself and he never liked to get out into crowds. And I know if we ever had to get it, get to church, have church gatherings he was, he would take us there but he would always be out doing something or he never wanted to get into the crowds. So he was just... but he was, he always seemed to be rather sickly so... but he was a fun man. He was, he was cute. [Laughs]

RP: What do you remember most about your mother?

LS: Oh, my mother was wonderful. I mean, she always had things to do for me and, and in the summer heat we'd always stay in near the water in the canal and we'd sing songs and play that type of thing. It was very nice.

RP: You kept, she kept life interesting and --

LS: Yes.

RP: -- different for you.

LS: Yes.

RP: Did either of your parents have a creative side, whether it was art or music?

LS: Yes, my mother really loved... my mother had good hands. Is that... they said very good hands and so she was very good at sewing and, and making things and she loved to sing. The whole family loved to sing. So at the church gatherings my brother used to always be the M.C. and introduce my sisters and then my mother and they'd all get up there and sing and they'd have a good old time.

RP: Well let's talk about your brothers and sisters. Maybe you could list them in order of their birth?

LS: My brother Eiichi was born I believe in 1919. And then my sister Michi was born in 1921. And then my brother Hiroshi came along and then there were two others sisters and myself. There were six of us in the family.

RP: Who were you closest with?

LS: I imagine my older sister. I just lost her this past August.

RP: Michi?

LS: Yes, Michi.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

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.

<Begin Segment 5>

RP: How about your upbringing as a Japanese American you, you know, kind of represented two different cultures. How were you raised? In one culture or kind of a balance of both American and Japanese?

LS: It would have to be a balance, probably more American by the time I arrived. Maybe my brothers and sisters may have experienced more of a Japanese type, I don't know. But I just feel that it was more American upbringing for me.

RP: And was there, that you can recall, was there a Japanese community in Imperial?

LS: Not in Imperial, but we always went to Brawley, and the Buddhist church was very important in our lives. So the Buddhist church, we just did everything around the Buddhist church and then also there were different families from the same area in Japan and they would always get together for picnics and things like that. So I do remember those gatherings very well.

RP: Oh, what used to be called the prefectural picnics?

LS: Right, right.

RP: Kenjinkai.

LS: Yes. Yes, yes, right.

RP: What do you remember about the picnics?

LS: Oh, the good food. [Laughs] Always Mrs. So and so made the best sushi or something like that. And we would run around and taste the food and things like that. I remember that.

RP: There was a fair number of people from Fukuoka in that area.

LS: Yes.

RP: So the Buddhist church was kind of the core of community activity, social events?

LS: For my family, yes. That Buddhist church was very important.

RP: Were there specific events that you can recall that you went to there?

LS: Well, we went every Sunday. If we didn't go on a Sunday the reverend came after us so it was, I mean, it was always, we were always there on Sundays. Yes.

RP: There was Sunday school too?

LS: Sunday school, yeah.

RP: Were there other social events like movies, things shown?

LS: Movies, pine nuts... always going to a Japanese movie there and getting pine nuts.

RP: Pine nuts?

LS: You know about pine nuts? They were wonderful.

RP: And was there a language school associated with the Buddhist church in Brawley?

LS: Uh-huh. We used to go to church in the morning and then we would have school, Japanese school in the afternoon, on Sundays.

RP: And so you, how long did you attend language school? Up until the war?

LS: Uh-huh, yes. So I loved to write Japanese. But I mean, I've forgotten a lot of it now.

RP: Many, many Niseis say, "We were forced to go," and so didn't really get much out of their experience.

LS: Oh, I see.

RP: But did you enjoy the writing part of it?

LS: I enjoyed the writing. Yeah. That was very nice.

RP: And plus it was an opportunity for, you know, all the kids to gather and...

LS: Right. Because you know we lived so far... we lived in the country. We never saw anyone. So it was just nice to get together.

RP: Were there other Japanese stores or any type of a district in Brawley that you could go, let's say, to a Japanese store to purchase tofu or rice or that type of thing?

LS: Tofu, incidentally, my sister-in-law's father was the tofu maker in town so we always got the tofu and he had fish and, yeah, so that was great. And he'd come around with his truck to his farmers and sell his wares. So that... and then there was a drugstore in town I remember. And yeah, grocery store, drug store, and the tofu man.

RP: Do you recall other ethnic groups that lived in the Brawley area other than Japanese Americans?

LS: Hindus, quite a bit of Hindus. Quite a number rather, of Hindus. There, I'm sure there were Chinese, I just don't know. I just... yeah, there were other ethnic groups.

RP: And where you lived in Imperial, can you describe the community of Imperial?

LS: Very small. You'd see a sign that says, "Welcome to Imperial." And as soon as you went a block it says, "Goodbye," that's what it would say. [Laughs] It was a very, very small community.

RP: Did you have other Japanese American farms located...

LS: There might have been. Maybe there might have been three other Japanese farm, farmers there in Imperial. You know, they were mostly in El Centro or Brawley or Westmorland. Yeah, there were only a couple of us in Imperial.

RP: Did any of your brothers and sisters get sent back to Japan during the time they were growing up?

LS: My sister went to Japan for two years right after high school. She had a scholarship to come up to Mills College. But for some reason my parents didn't want to let her go. You know, it was just this thing. And so my mother's brother said, "If you want to send her to Japan I'll put her through school here." So, you know, send her over so that if it was Japan, okay, fine. So they sent her to Japan for two years. Yeah, but that was it.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

RP: And what were your interests as a young kid in Imperial?

LS: My interests? My goodness, I don't know. I can't say, I can't even remember.

RP: Did you play? Do you remember what you liked to play as a kid?

LS: Oh, my goodness, I think my mother used to always have to entertain me, my poor mother I keep thinking. Yeah, 'cause I don't think I did very much.

RP: And she used to take you out in the fields, didn't she?

LS: Yes. Yes, in the summer... if we were... well, it was always hot there. But she would take me out in the field and make these little tents so that I could sit under the, you know, tent and then make my mud pies and things like that while she went up and down the rows tending to the tomatoes and things like that.

RP: And of course you had a lot of fresh vegetables and fruit right off the farm.

LS: Right. So now I can't even eat tomatoes from the grocery store. I hardly buy tomatoes or cantaloupe. Because we'd just go out in the field and get whatever we needed and it was so good. And it just, you just can't replace those tastes that you remember. Watermelon, we used to grow watermelon also. So, that's another thing. You'd just go out in the field and crack it open and just get the heart.

RP: Did you have animals out on the farm too?

LS: Yes. We had dogs and cats and couple of horses all the time.

RP: Did, do you recall your dad having a tractor?

LS: Yes, we had a tractor. And, the horse, I don't know why he named the horse Mary but my sister's name was Mary so every time he used to get mad at the horse, my sister would always think that he was mad at her because he would say, "Mary!" This and that. [Laughs]

RP: Yeah. So it sounds like you had a pretty happy childhood growing up on the farm.

LS: I did, only because maybe I was the youngest and I really didn't have to work that hard. I was getting in everybody's way so they just wanted to shove me aside, you know. But my recollection is that I lived a fairly good life.

RP: I know you were young, but how successful was your father with his farming operation? Especially towards the years leading up to the war?

LS: You know, I can't remember that we were ever in need of anything. I can't say that we were ever rich, you know. I mean, we just got by every year. But...

RP: Well, you did have that opportunity to travel to, you know, to the coast every year too.

LS: Oh, that's true. Yes. That was fun.

RP: Do you remember the car that...

LS: Oh, this... Japanese always had to have the latest cars, right? So we always had a car. You know, it was just a normal thing. So we always had the cars and then my brother was very active in church and JACL so he traveled all over the place. He's a very, very well-known, popular person so I just got to see everything through his eyes.

RP: Was there a JACL chapter in Brawley or in that area?

LS: Uh-huh, yeah. And so my oldest brother and sister used to travel to San Diego or Los Angeles and my sister was always in this oratorical contest or something like that and traveled up to Portland and things like that, before the war.

RP: Before the war, let's see, she was what, maybe twenty-one, twenty-two years old? Did either of your older brother or sister attend college?

LS: No, they did not. As I said, my sister was, could have come up to Mills College but because my parents just didn't want to let her get out of the house or whatever, the area, she just did not.

RP: So she never... when she even, when she came back from Japan, the two years that she spent there, she didn't, she didn't attend college in the United States?

LS: No. By that time I think the war broke out or something.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RP: Did your, did your father or mother send money back to family in Japan? Did they...

LS: Not that I remember. But I think that's the reason why my... they might have donated something or then probably my father's name was on some donation before the war. So that's probably the reason why he was taken by the FBI just when the war broke out because he had donated to some organization or something like that. That's what we feel anyway. Because here was this tiny little old man who wouldn't hurt anybody who was just suddenly taken away, and I think only because he had donated something along the way. But, I cannot... I know after the war my mother had sent over packages all the time to the families. But, and before the war they might have too but I don't recall that.

RP: Yes, let's talk about that very difficult experience with your father being taken away. Do you recall of it, the visit?

LS: I do remember the FBI coming in and taking my father. And we didn't know why, but yeah, they did come in and take my father away. And put him in the jail in El Centro. And he was kept there with the other Japanese Isseis who were rounded up at that time. And, yes, I do remember that happening.

RP: Any specific memory or detail of that visit that sticks in your mind?

LS: No, I just remember the two men coming in and taking him away, and that was it. I can't say anything more.

RP: That was right after Pearl Harbor, the attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7th?

LS: Yeah, I don't quite remember the dates, but yes, after that.

RP: Do you recall anything about that day, December 7th?

LS: Oh, I do remember December 7th. That was a Sunday and I was at church. And the reverend's wife told me that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. And I remember grabbing onto her and just thinking, and looking up overhead thinking, "Oh my God. They're gonna come over our heads now." I was so frightened. I remember that very well. And so I couldn't wait until my parents came to take me home. It was very scary.

RP: So he was held at the El Centro jail. Did you have an opportunity to visit him at that point?

LS: I did not. But my oldest sister and my brother went over to visit him. Because when the FBI picked him up he was just, they just took him without any other, I mean, he was just wearing what he had and they didn't give, we didn't, he didn't take anything with him. So I don't know whether it was later in the day or that evening but another man came to tell my sister that they should get some clothing for my father. So my sister and my brother took over some clothes to my father.

RP: Then from El Centro he was taken to another camp.

LS: Yes.

RP: In Tujunga Canyon. And you actually had a chance to go to that camp. Tell us about that.

LS: We heard that he was in Tujunga and that they were, and that he would be moved somewhere so this was the last chance we were going to be able to see him. So we drove to Tujunga but we weren't able to really see him. There was a barbed wire -- not a barbed wire -- fencing between us, like football field length or something like that. So all the men stood on that other side and then all the families were on this side, hoping to see our father. So we did see him at that time but we didn't get to talk to him. Just waved. One farewell.

RP: That must have been quite a scene with all these families.

LS: Yes, I think so.

RP: Okay. Not knowing, you know, where he was going or how long he would be away.

LS: Right, yeah. That was rather frightening. And I think I, my oldest brother had been taken, the selective service had taken him and he was in the army at that time. So, you know, my oldest brother was gone, now my father was gone. So, we were there...

RP: So who kind of took over?

LS: Well, my sister had to take over.

RP: Michi.

LS: Michi. So she did quite a job. You know, thinking back, yeah, she did quite a job to keep us all together. So that was nice.

RP: Especially when you see your father taken away. Did you or your siblings wonder, "Are we next?"

LS: Right.

RP: "What's gonna happen to us?"

LS: I do remember my brother and sisters putting up barbed wire fencing around the house because we were so afraid. So we just made an enclosure around all the houses. Made sure our dog was in there at nighttime with us. Yeah, so it was scary.

RP: And at that time there were, there were several murders of Japanese people.

LS: Yes, yes.

RP: And you knew about that?

LS: Yes. So, that was, yeah that was kind of a scary time.

RP: Were there any incidents in your area of Brawley that... any evidences of racial prejudice or war hysteria?

LS: You know they, everyone in our area was very good to us. For instance at the high school, my sister was in her senior year and they had a special ceremony just for her before we left. So that was nice. And so, in our area, I think everything was calm.

RP: Did you have any organizations or individuals that supported you during that time between Pearl Harbor and when you went to camp?

LS: I can say of an individual, I mean, I can't, I think he was in my class. And so he would come out to see me with his mother. His mother would bring him out to see me. And so when we left he even came to the bus. So that was kind of nice. So yes, and there was a teacher in Imperial who was very close with the Japanese people. So he came to camp even just to make sure that we were all okay. So that was very nice. So I do remember those two people. And the Hindu family that took the dog. I was so sad to leave the dog. We couldn't take the pet with us and so, oh, that was a tragedy to lose the, Queenie, our dog that we had forever. And so we had to leave her. And that was the biggest thing for me. I'm sure that everybody else had everything else to think about but it was really sad to leave the dog.

RP: You never saw her again?

LS: No.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

RP: Was there any thought by the family of relocating out of California before the door was slammed shut by the military?

LS: Should we leave the area?

RP: Right. There was an opportunity that --

LS: Right.

RP: -- the military gave Japanese Americans to leave voluntarily and go somewhere else.

LS: Right.

RP: Utah or Colorado.

LS: Right.

RP: Could be in New York.

LS: Right. No, we did not, because my father was not there and my oldest brother wasn't there. And so, you know, the two leaders in the family were gone. So, no, we did not think about leaving the area. There were several families who did leave like for Denver and things like that.

RP: When we were talking last week you mentioned about a plan to go to Ann Arbor.

LS: Oh, that was after, that was in camp, when we were supposed to leave camp. My sister was teaching at the language school in, at the University of Ann Arbor. So we were going to relocate to Ann Arbor. But that never happened.

RP: You said that your older brother was already in the military. He had joined. Do you know if he was drafted or volunteered?

LS: He was drafted.

RP: Uh-huh. Before Pearl Harbor?

LS: Before Pearl Harbor.

RP: So already in the military. Do you know where he was at the time that you were being removed?

LS: I remember visiting up in... we visited him in San Luis Obispo. There was a camp there.

RP: Camp San Luis? Camp Roberts?

LS: Camp Roberts. He was in Camp Roberts. I remember going up there.

RP: You visited him up there?

LS: Yep.

RP: What was that like, do you recall?

LS: Cold and windy. [Laughs] Yeah, I don't remember very much. It's just that we all got in this car, you know, naturally the car is right... and packed this Japanese lunch and went up there to see him.

RP: And when would this have been? This visit?

LS: It must have... you know, it had to have been after December 7th because when we got there I remember that we couldn't get a hotel room in San Luis Obispo 'cause they didn't want Japanese. I do remember that. Yeah. So, there was prejudice already at that time.

RP: Was that your first experience with that, with prejudice?

LS: Yeah, probably, yes, I think so.

RP: I was curious whether you had visited him or he had an opportunity to take a furlough and come down and help you sort of organize.

LS: No, not at that time. But he did, he was able to come to camp when my father was very ill. So I think he was on, just about ready to be shipped somewhere and, but they allowed him to come to camp to visit my father. But that was the only time that he came back.

RP: When was the next time that you saw your father, Laurie?

LS: You know I'm so bad about dates and years and time, but to me it seemed like he was gone for a long time. He was sent to Bismarck, North Dakota, and we would get these letters from him occasionally and maybe it was only a year. I don't know. It just seemed like it was a long time. But they did send all the men home, so they all came back to Poston, I mean the people who were in Poston. So he did, he did join us in Poston.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

RP: So on February 19th, President Roosevelt signed the executive order and then towards the end of March they began, quote, "evacuating" Japanese Americans from the West Coast. And eventually an evacuation order was issued for your community, your area. Do you remember anything about the preparations and plans? How you prepared to be removed?

LS: It was, I believe it was just like you can only take what you can carry type of thing. We just left everything. And had to go to this, to get on the buses in Brawley somewhere.

RP: The farm, do you know what preparations were made to the farm?

LS: The farm, you know that time I don't know what was going... I just, I know to harvest at one point I had to go into town with my sister to try to find people to come out and harvest. But when we left I don't know what had to be done. I think we just packed whatever we could pack and that was it.

RP: Recall having to, trying to sell items?

LS: I don't think anybody would buy anything.

RP: Or storing items maybe at the Buddhist church?

LS: No, we didn't do that. There might have been people who were storing things but we did not.

RP: Or possibly... you mentioned the Mexican families that lived on the ranch, or farm.

LS: Yes, I'm sure that whatever, you know, if we had anything of value they probably would have taken that.

RP: So, you boarded the buses in Brawley and went directly to Poston?

LS: To Poston.

RP: Any memories of the trip to Poston?

LS: I don't remember very much of the trip to Poston. No, I'm sorry. I don't remember. I just remember getting on the bus and I don't remember the trip.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

RP: Can you share with us any first impressions you had about seeing Poston, being there?

LS: Well, the first thing I remember is having to fill up these canvas bags with straw so that that was going to be our mattresses. I remember doing that. And you know, in recollection, the plan, I mean, it was just all planned out right. I mean all the barracks, all the blocks. Each family had a room and so it was a planned community, now that I think back about it.

RP: Before you left, or the day that you left, or on the journey over there, did you wonder, "Where are we going, Mom?"

LS: I probably did. But, you know, as long as I was with mother and the sisters, I think that was...

RP: Comforting.

LS: Yes, that was comforting.

RP: And so where were you assigned to in Poston? Do you remember your block and?

LS: Block 67-C. See, I remember those little things. Yes.

RP: And that was in Camp I?

LS: That was in Camp I.

RP: And where was that located in relationship to the camp? Were you in the corner, in the middle?

LS: We were at the very end. Block 60 was at the very end of the camp. And we were in with a group from El Centro so they're all El Centro families in there. And we were probably the only Imperial family there. So... and so there were, there were four blocks together. So the next block there were some, there were Brawley people there. So, yeah, so there were familiar faces, which was good.

RP: Some kids really, it struck them, you know, especially coming from the farm and kind of living sort of isolated out there. And suddenly they find themselves in a camp with all these Japanese faces all around them.

LS: I know. Yes. It was, you know, we were sort of out, isolated on the farms. And just see people on Sundays, you know, at Sunday school. And then all of a sudden now you're just right there with everyone. It was yeah, it was...


RP: How did you adjust or did you, to sort of the routines of camp life?

LS: I think I was fine with it. I don't think I had very many problems in... I don't remember school at all, that's the terrible thing. I don't remember what we did in school at all.

RP: You would have been, what...

LS: Nine or ten or... eight or nine or ten, something like that.

RP: Entering second or third grade?

LS: No, I think it was older than that. But I just don't remember... I don't remember school at all in camp. That's terrible.

RP: Yeah, that's a statement there. What do you remember about the barracks? Anything in particular that stuck out in your mind?

LS: The barracks?

RP: Uh-huh.

LS: Well, there were knotholes in the wood so we had to cover up the... we used our canvas that we had and we put that up on the side of the wall so that people couldn't look, none of the neighbors could look through the knotholes. We were able to divide the room into like four sections, one for my mother and father and one for the girls, and one for my brother and one for like a living space. So...

RP: And, and who did that?

LS: I think my sisters did. You know, we just had rope and, and bed covers. And so we would just make these makeshift little areas, living areas. So...

RP: And, so let's see, your father was not there. Your older brother wasn't there.

LS: Right.

RP: So there would have been...

LS: There were six of us.

RP: Six of you, six of you? So you were assigned to your own room?

LS: Just one... we all, we were just... I can't remember how many had to be in your family to have two rooms. So we only had one, one room. So each barrack was divided into like maybe four sections. So families were assigned to the different sections there.

RP: One of the, you know, strongest memories that people have about, you know, barrack living was the lack of privacy. And...

LS: Yeah, for me it was okay because I was young. But I'm sure, I mean you're just right there and it was, yeah. And then like the bathrooms, it was just all out in the open and so people had to go in there and put up the barriers for privacy. And the shower stall... showers were all communal. So yeah, so it was, it was quite something to get used to.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

RP: You mentioned, I want to talk about some of the things that older people did in the camp. You mentioned that you recall seeing older men chopping down manzanita?

LS: Yes.

RP: What did they do with that?

LS: They made charcoal so that we would have charcoal in the winter to keep us warm. Because we lived at the very end of camp and there was this vast area, land, next to us, the men in our block would go out there and excavate the land and then chop the trees down. We had mesquite trees and ironwood trees in that area. So they would chop that down and then somehow put that into this excavated area and then set it on fire and then put something on top of it and kind of smoke it all up so that the charcoal would form. I can't describe it to you. But anyway, they used to make the charcoal. I think the men in our block were the only ones who did that.

RP: Yeah.

LS: Because I don't remember seeing anybody... I used to go out and look for my father a lot. And you'd have to tramp way out there somewhere and then he'd be sitting out there hoping that the fire would be still going because you could see the smoke coming out of the stack. Yeah, so I don't, I think that the men in our block, older men in our block were doing that.

RP: So did you... able to make new friends or just reacquaint yourself with familiar faces?

LS: No, I made friends there. Because I didn't know any of the El Centro people, we were with El Centro families. So yes, I was able to make friends there in camp.

RP: And what did you do for fun?

LS: For fun? I used to love to dance. So there were tap classes and so I used to always go to the tap classes or things like that to keep me entertained.

RP: How about just games and things like that?

LS: You know, we had, the people had leagues. We had basketball games and baseball games and so we'd always be out there watching the games, and the Valley Boys, that's our block, the Valley Boys, the El Centro Valley Boys, they were very good in sports. So, we always went around camp having in the leagues and rooting for them and all that sort of stuff. And there was a Boyle Heights gang that just didn't want to get near and things like that. So it was...

RP: Gangs.

LS: Yeah.

RP: Intimidating people.

LS: Well, yeah. Zoot suits and all and you know, things like that. [Laughs]

RP: You did see... did you see boys wearing those in camp?

LS: Yes, the Boyle Heights people, yeah.

RP: City slickers?

LS: Yes, right.

RP: There was always those rivalries between the...

LS: Yes, yes, yes. We had them in camp. Yeah.

RP: Did you have any playground equipment in your block? Slides or sandboxes or things of that nature?

LS: We had a rec hall. Every block had a rec hall. We had a rec hall and a block manager. So in the rec hall there probably were things there but I don't remember. We probably played volleyball.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

RP: Did you observe any... did you have any wildlife sightings of scorpions, snakes, lizards?

LS: Snakes, scorpions. But see, the things like that, you know, I was used to seeing in Imperial Valley. So that was kind of natural in Poston for me.

RP: And you were already pretty well broken into, you know, heat.

LS: Right. Except I didn't get to go to the beaches in the summer.

RP: I was gonna say, that kind of broke up your summer routine.

LS: Our summer vacations.

RP: How did people cope with the hot summers in Poston?

LS: You know, I don't remember if every family had this, but we, my brother somehow got this fan thing with this great big old fan, you had to cut out this thing in the wall and the fan and the box with the excelsior and the water running through that. So that would keep us cool. But I don't know if every family had that. I don't know how my brother came about that. But we did have that. And I think probably the mess hall had that.

RP: You don't recall ever seeing people building cellars or spaces underneath their barrack to cool off a little bit?

LS: You know, there might have been a couple of at... there may have been a couple of cellars at the end of the barracks. Vague recollection. I don't remember.

RP: Did your, did any of your siblings work in camp?

LS: They all worked. My sisters worked at the hospital and my mother worked in the mess hall. That was awful work but yeah, she worked in the mess hall. Everybody worked. I think they got like fourteen dollars a month or something like that.

RP: Do you have any, do you have any recollections of the food in camp, in your mess hall?

LS: Oh, I don't know... it just seemed like it was terrible. I think we got a lot of lamb, mutton kind of thing. Mutton and liver. I don't know. It was, it wasn't the tastiest of things. I think that what I looked forward to a lot was the chef, the main person, for the kids, he used to always make the cinnamon toast after school. So that's what I used to look forward to was to run to the mess hall after school. I told you I didn't remember anything about school, right. I do remember after school and the cinnamon toast. That was great. [Laughs]

RP: That was your reward for getting through --

LS: Right.

RP: -- school was...

LS: Getting through school I don't remember anything about.

RP: Yeah, sweets.

LS: Right. That was it.

RP: Those were foods that you mentioned, lamb, liver, that you normally wouldn't have eaten.

LS: Right, we just weren't used to that. So it seemed like we were getting a lot of that. But again, that was orderly too. I mean, I don't know who set up all this stuff but I mean, there was always breakfast, lunch, and dinner at a certain time. It was always served at a certain time. When the gong rang you just ran in there and all sat... every family had their own tables. And we would eat and then my mother would have to go up there and clean up everything, the poor woman. Oh gosh.

RP: She, she cleaned.

LS: Yes.

RP: So she'd eat with you and then she'd have to jump up and...

LS: Right, yes. After everybody was through then we'd have to go and move all those tables out of the way and mop up the floor and make sure that everything was all cleaned up for the next day. So that was really difficult, hard labor.

RP: And each family had a table that was reserved for them?

LS: Yeah. As I recollect, it was like one of these camp tables. And, with benches on either side. And so, yeah, so every family sat with their own family and had dinner. So that was good.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

RP: This is tape two of a continuing oral history interview with Laurie Sasaki. And Laurie, we were just talking about life in Poston, especially the food.

LS: [Laughs] And the cinnamon toast.

RP: Yes. Were there other treats that you remember getting? You know, people sending you things from outside?

LS: Oh, when my sisters relocated, I used to always look forward and my, I took packages they would send, like candy especially. They'd send boxes of candy. My god, I used to hoard those things. So I would look forward to getting packages from them. We had a canteen in the camp, and I remember walking there all the time to... I had this thing about music so in those days they used to have these little booklets with all the songs written in them. And I used to have to buy each publication that came out, memorize all the songs, and yeah, that was, that was my thing with the canteen.

RP: So what kind of music are we talking about? Like swing bands?

LS: Right, right, right. You know, the Frank Sinatra type of thing.

RP: You said you were, one of your passions was dancing.

LS: I loved to tap dance and there was this class, and I used to just take tap dance lessons all the time. That's what kept me happy and going in camp.

RP: Did you ever perform?

LS: Yes. And the people in the block used to tease me 'cause that was the only time I used to curl my hair. So they used to call me Curly because whenever there was any, anything going on then I'd have to get my hair curled and go out there and tap dance.

RP: Were there any of your brothers and sisters or your mom that took up any arts and crafts in camp?

LS: My mother did the bird carvings. There was a man in our block who was very good at that and so he would give lessons to everybody, anyone in our block who would like to learn, so my mother went there and she was very good at this. And my father did all the coping saw things initially. And then my mother was good at carving the birds and painting the eyes and the feathers and all. So my mother did all that, yeah, so that was nice.

RP: Can you describe where the wood came from and the process that your dad used to kind of get the rough outline of the bird?

LS: My... there was some sort of lug box that somebody had in camp because they used to collect the end, they used to collect the ends of them, you know the ends of them. And then I think my mother used to trace the outline of the birds and then he would just, with the coping saw, cut it out for her. And then I know initially he would start filing the edges down for her and then she would get the sandpaper and these little cutting knives like and form the birds out of the wood. So she made quite a few of those.

RP: Did you save any of those birds?

LS: I have one, I have one saved. I gave several of them, many of them away to the relatives who visited from Japan. And so I have one left.

RP: You mentioned to me that you actually sold some of the birds?

LS: Oh yes, right after camp we came out to Richmond. And listen, Rosie the Riveter, I want to tell you it's sort of appropriate to have the interview here, because if it wasn't for Rosie the Riveter and Kaiser shipyards, we would not have had the housing to live in. And we lived in the shipyard housing right after the war and there must have been like three blocks of Japanese people who lived there until they decided to do away with the housing. So Rosie the Riveter, here we are. Yeah, that gave us the housing for that so that was wonderful.

RP: You were able to kind of get your feet on the ground here.

LS: Right. So anyway, getting back to the birds. Yeah, so then we came out here, started school. We didn't have any money. And so I would sell the birds to the teachers. I think they used to hate to see me coming with my little box. Because they, "Oh my god, here she comes again with those birds." [Laughs] But, yeah, we did, I did sell a few of those.

RP: You said they were pretty nice birds.

LS: Yeah. I think my mother was very artistic. She was very, very good. She made other things too. In camp they used to do things like raffia, you know, with crepe paper and pull them through this little gadget and then get cardboard boxes and make, cover them all with this different colored crepe paper stuff. Yeah, so she, she went to any kind of class there was to keep herself busy. I mean, to have to think of that mess hall cleaning, my god, you have to do something else, right?

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

RP: Did your father have time for...

LS: He was always sick. My father was always sick. So, yeah, he was not, he was not well, and didn't participate in very many things.

RP: Was he sick to the point of, of being hospitalized in the camp?

LS: Occasionally, occasionally.

RP: And what was, what was his ailments about?

LS: He always had these horrible pains. I think that when he was young he had a terrible case of ulcers and in those days he didn't think he was going to live with the surgery he had. But I don't know what it was but it was just, he was always sick. But he knew how to play Hana.

RP: Laurie, for those who might not know what that game is, can you describe it?

LS: Oh, Hana? Oh my gosh, you've gotta snap it the certain way, right? But it was a gambling game. It was a card game from Japan. And it was, well, I don't know, maybe you would consider it was like Bridge. You had to match up these things. And, but he was very good in Hana. We'd sit there and play as a family and it would just upset me no end because he knew every card I had in my hand. If I played something else he would say, "You should have played that." I said, "How did you know I had that in my hand?" So, yes. So when he died my nephews were so sweet, they put a Hana in his casket so that he would have something to do in his next life.

RP: Was that a popular past time that you could determine at Poston, cards, playing cards, gambling?

LS: You know, I don't think they did in Poston. I know that before the war he used to go into town to play Hana with the men. And we'd have to go to, we'd have to find him. 'Cause he was always, rather than tending the horses and stuff on the farm, he'd just leave them and then run into town to play and so we'd have to go into town, find him. But in camp, no, I don't think anybody played Hana in camp.

RP: How about your other traditional Japanese games that particularly the Isseis liked to play like Go?

LS: Go, yeah they played Go. They played Go in camp a lot I think. Not, I didn't see Hana being played very much.

RP: Do you... we were talking about the heat and trying to cope with the heat in Poston. Was there any type of, of wading pool or a swimming pool in...

LS: You know, we talked about a swimming pool but, as I said to you, I just recollect it being a mud hole. Because I know they came and dug this great big hole in the middle of camp and filled it up with water. But I mean, it wasn't anything like a cement thing, you know, with gradually going down. It was just this big hole in the middle of camp with water in it. That's all I remember.

RP: The Colorado River wasn't too far.

LS: Well, it was a distance and I probably shouldn't say that we used to go there because we probably shouldn't have been going out there. But we did go there. We did have, we did have annual outings there as a block. The men, the cooks used to go out there and set up their cooking things so that we sort of had a barbecue. And, yeah, so we'd kind of swim in the eddies there, and some of the fellows in camp used to have a job somewhere where they had the flatbed trucks. So they'd bring it home and we'd all pile on the trucks. Or, if we were able we would walk. But that's the way we used to get to the Colorado River. So...

RP: And that, that was an annual event?

LS: Yeah, for our block. I don't know if any other blocks did that, but we did that. Should I be saying this at this late date?

RP: The statute of limitations has expired. They can't get you for trespassing. Do you recall or remember anybody who used to go down to the Colorado to fish?

LS: No, I don't recall that at all, no. Oh my god, that current is so strong around there I don't think anything... huh.

RP: It would float right by.

LS: Yeah.

RP: That was the only time that you can recall being out of camp.

LS: Well, we did go one, we did go into town once. I mean, that was quite an outing. Like you tell me about Independence, well, there was this town called Poston, I think. And it was just quite something to think, "Oh my God, we can get out of camp." I do remember going at one time to this town that was right there. And that just seemed to be quite an outing. But, yeah, that was the only time that I left camp.

RP: Do you remember what you did in that town?

LS: No. [Laughs] Probably terrified about what's gonna happen next. Maybe we should get back to camp. Oh, goodness.

RP: Were, there were many camps that had barbed wire fences around them and guard towers. Did you, were you aware of that?

LS: I was not aware of that. Maybe at the very entrance there may have been something like that. But we were pretty far away from the entrance of the camp. So I don't remember seeing guard towers and with guards. Yeah, no, I don't recall that at all.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

RP: Did you visit the other two units of Poston? Two and Three?

LS: I think we went to Two. There was this photographer in Two I believe. Everybody had to go to this photographer to have their photograph taken. I mean, if you see anything, any photograph from Poston, you had to go to this man and he would pose you in front of the tree. So everybody had the same pose. So that was, yeah, that was the thing to do. So, we did all go to I think it was Poston II to have our picture taken.

RP: How about a religious life in camp? Did you or your siblings go to church in camp?

LS: You know they tried -- I shouldn't say they tried -- they were probably successful at forming a Buddhist church. But I was so used to the Buddhist church in Brawley I couldn't do anything else. I went a couple of times. And it was just nothing like my church remembrances of Brawley, and I just couldn't continue. So I just quit. I just completely quit. I thought that I was a very religious person up to that point. But after that, that was it.

RP: So as a kid, did you feel like you had quite a bit of freedom in -- I say that sort of with parentheses around it -- in terms of being a child, being able to wander around and explore around the camp, did you have that sense? Or did you, did your mom and siblings always want you to be sort of stay close and...

LS: No, in camp? We could go anywhere we wanted to. I remember going to the way, to the end of camp and coming back because we used to have friends way down at the end of camp. So I remember walking around all the time. That didn't, that wasn't a problem. And, yeah, so we'd go to the movies that were held in the middle of camp somewhere. We'd have the outdoor movies. So, yeah, we wandered around a lot.

RP: Were you familiar with any gardens or landscaping that was done around your barrack or you block?

LS: I don't remember them doing any landscaping. I think it was, I think it was too hot or something. I don't think... they might... and I don't remember anybody doing any outstanding landscaping. It was just all dirt all the time. Yeah.

RP: What are your recollections about the dust storms?

LS: Oh yeah, there were dust storms. You just had to stay in your barracks 'til it was over with. It was really, really... oh yeah, we used to have these dust storms that were incredible. We didn't have those in Imperial Valley, so this was something new.

RP: Poston was, the camp was actually built on land that was owned by a Native American tribe, the Colorado River Indians or... did you ever see any Native Americans in the camp either working or...

LS: No, not ever. Later on, I can't remember when it was, but I guess it was the government that built a camouflage factory at the end of camp. I remember that, going over there and watching the people making those nets. And I don't know if any of the people from camp worked there but they did have that big factory there at the end of camp. But, yeah, I can't say anything more about that. I don't know.

RP: Medical care, did you, did you have any need to go to the hospital or operations?

LS: I did not but my very dear friend had tuberculosis. So we used to visit her all the time in camp. Which we shouldn't have, but I mean... but, yeah, there was a, there was a hospital that was well run. I didn't have any need to go there but my friend was there for a long time because she had TB and so she was there in bed in one of the wards.

RP: Was that your best friend in camp?

LS: Well, sort of.

RP: Who was?

LS: Pardon me?

RP: Who was your best friend?

LS: Oh, I had, maybe I had two or three that I considered best friend. So we, I saw them several times after camp but now, you know, I just have lost contact with them.

RP: So, from your perceptions and your experiences, did your time in Poston, did you feel there was a sense of break up of that family at all or a coming together? Did it make you, did it make your family unit tighter or did you feel like everybody kind of went and did their own thing?

LS: You know, everybody went off on their own because they had to. But I don't think that that broke the family apart. I mean, we always certainly kept in contact. And they were scattered all over the place, you know, my sisters were all in Minneapolis and my brother might have been in Ogden or something like that, and then Salt Lake City. But we always kept in contact. And then when the war ended and we came out to Richmond, we all got together in Richmond and lived together until they all got married and lived, you know, went on their own way.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

RP: Do you remember the day that your father came back to Poston?

LS: I do remember it. Yes, it was, it was really great to see him and I do remember his coming home. It was, it was quite, quite something. I couldn't tell you the date or anything like that. I just know that he was coming home and it was so good to see him.

RP: The government issued this so-called "loyalty questionnaire" in... I think really in 1943. And...

LS: You had to say the "no-nos" or the "yes-yes."

RP: "No-no" and "yes-yes" and I know you didn't have to personally answer that but did it affect your family at all?

LS: I don't think so. I just remember saying if you're a "no-no" you're gonna go to Tule or something like that and there was discussion about that. But I couldn't tell you what that was all about. We must have said "yes-yes" because we ended up in Poston.

RP: And in the pursuit of that was sort of a prerequisite for actually relocating out of out of camp too so you would have to have those answers if you wanted to go to Minnesota or that type of thing. So who was the first to leave, leave camp?

LS: Probably my brother Hiroshi probably went to work in the sugar beet fields in Ogden. And then probably Michi went to Minneapolis because my oldest brother was at Camp Savage at that time. And so his wife went out to be with him and so then everybody started to go to Minneapolis because they all, you know, one got a job here and one got a job out there. So my sisters went out to Minneapolis.

RP: Where did they find work in Minneapolis?

LS: My sister found a job at the hospital, St. Paul Memorial Hospital or something like that. She was working at the hospital in St. Paul. My sister was doing housework I think in, for a family there.

RP: So that was the sister that had worked in the Poston hospital? She...

LS: Right, yes.

RP: Then she... based on that experience she was able to land a job at...

LS: I believe so, yes.

RP: Did she continue on in the medical, in the medical field?

LS: No, after she came out here, after they came out to Richmond I know she was working at the naval supply. But I don't think it had to do with anything with the medical field.

RP: So your sisters went out to Minnesota, Minneapolis.

LS: Uh-huh.

RP: And then you were next?

LS: And my sister met a girl from Richmond, California. She had relocated to St. Paul, and her family had a greenhouse, flower business here in Richmond. So when the war ended, they came back to Richmond. And then she's the one who found out that there was housing here and told my sister about it so that's the reason why we ended up here. Is that, because of the housing availability.

RP: Right. So you stayed in camp...

LS: 'Til the very end. We were the last ones in camp. We were the last ones in camp.

RP: So for you, as a ten year old, did it feel, did it ever feel like home to you? Or was there that sense of, "Mom, when are we going home? Are we ever gonna get out of here?"

LS: No. Poston felt like home to me. I didn't think we would ever go back to Imperial Valley so you know, we were sort of kicked out of there in mind, so I didn't think we would ever go back there. So, yeah, Poston felt like home to me.

RP: We were talking about this opportunity that kind of fell through the cracks about originally going to Ann Arbor, Michigan. And why didn't that happen?

LS: Oh, my sister had rented a house for us in Ann Arbor but, when the people who owned the home found out it was for a Japanese family they just said, "No, we're sorry, the house isn't available." So I remember my father had made up these things for our belongings with the Ann Arbor address and everything on there, you know, all ready to get on the train to get out there. So that was, that just fell through. 'Cause they just didn't want us there. So that was okay. It ended up all right.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

RP: So do you remember, there was a couple of very important events that took place in the summer of 1945, actually there was the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

LS: Yes.

RP: And later on in August, the atomic bombs fell. And you shared earlier that your mom was from Fukuoka but she had left from Nagasaki.

LS: Right.

RP: Did she, was she directly affected, not directly, but did she have family or relatives or friends who were affected by those, by those bombings?

LS: Yes, the family lived near Nagasaki. And Fukuoka's right by Nagasaki. So yeah, they were without anything. I mean, they didn't have anything there anymore. And my mother would send them salt and sugar and that's what they needed because they didn't have anything like that. And the clothing that we thought was just like next to nothing, I mean, she would send them everything that we wouldn't wear anymore and they just didn't have a thing so that just kept them going. So, yeah, they were... and even to this day all the men have died because of the atomic radiation. So, yeah, it just, you could just feel it. It was... but because my mother had done that, I remember helping her make up these packages and if she would send them a pair of shoes she always put one in one package and the other side in the other package. She never put them together because, you know, in case somebody went through the packages. She wanted to make sure that they got one pair of shoes so she would always put one in...

RP: And you helped her put these together.

LS: Right. Yeah.

RP: In Poston or after?

LS: No, after we moved to Richmond.

RP: In Richmond.

LS: Because at that time Japan had nothing. And so she used to make up these little care packages.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

RP: Do you remember the day that you left Poston?

LS: I remember we had to go to, I guess it was Poston. Was that the name of the...

RP: Oh, that small town?

LS: Small town.

RP: Parker?

LS: Parker. That's it. We went to Parker and got on the train. I remember that. Going through Barstow and coming up to Oakland.

RP: Another very common recollection of folks who went to camp was the shades being drawn on the train when they went into camp.

LS: Oh, so I didn't experience that.

RP: Right. But, I don't know how it was going back from camp to...

LS: We were on a train filled with army people. Just think that all the soldiers were on this train. I don't know where they were going but they were all soldiers on that train. And...

RP: How did that, how did that feel? Did you get special attention?

LS: [Laughs] Yeah, right, we had this whole train full of armed people. Yeah, we had... all of the soldiers were on that train. As I said, I cannot remember why they were on the train but we were, we were kind of, "My gosh, what is this all about?" We're getting an escort out of camp. And that train was horrible. That's the only thing that I remember is that that train ride was so horrible. Just every time it stopped somewhere, I think they were, they had a new conductor on, in training or something. And I mean it would just bang and just shutter all over the place and, but we finally made it up to Oakland. Then we had to stay in the Oakland Buddhist church for about a week. And so, until we found the housing in Richmond.

RP: So the church had been set up as a hostel?

LS: Yes, yes.

RP: And were there quite a few families that were there?

LS: Yes, uh-huh. There were families there.

RP: How did they lay that out? Was it just cots lined up?

LS: Right. Yeah. So that was kind of different to be sleeping in this great big old hall with cots all lined up.


RP: Right, at least in camp you had a wall, a wooden wall between you and...

LS: Right, right. And then later, you know, when everybody started to leave then the apartments opened up and so my sisters got to move into another section of the block. And so they had their own little unit. And then when one of the, the... there's only one sister living over there then I moved in with her. So, you know, as people left and there was more room then we were able to move around the barracks there.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

RP: Can, so you moved into this, called Rosie the Riveter housing.

LS: Yes.

RP: And what was that like? What was the housing like? Were they small apartments?

LS: You know, again, it depended on the number in your family. When we first moved here there were four of us, my sister, and my mother and father. So there were four. So we had a one bedroom apartment. One bedroom, bath, kitchen, and a living room. And then when the others joined us we... the largest one was a three bedroom apartment so we got a three bedroom. And they were fine and that lasted us through a period of years.

RP: You were there for a number of years.

LS: Yes. Right, four or five years I'm sure.

RP: And, other, the other units and housing was also rented by Japanese Americans? Were there other people living in that housing area?

LS: Yes, there were many people living there. As I said, there were three blocks of Japanese. And I know there were a lot of black people living there. And I think that the people who didn't go home again after the shipyards closed, I think that they probably stayed there until they decided what they were going to do with their lives. But it was a lifesaver for us that this housing was available.

RP: Did you have contact with these black families at all? You personally or your family?

LS: No. I didn't. We used to sort of run through there to get to the store or something. But, yeah, I didn't have any contact with them.

RP: So they were, they were their own separate area?

LS: Yeah. They had us all sort of segregated I think, you know, again. The Japanese here and... excuse me.

RP: Again that was, that was the tenor of the times.

LS: That's true. I have to tell you one sort of interesting thing when I was growing up though, in Imperial Valley. They had schools segregated where they had a school for blacks and a school for whites and a school for Mexicans. But we were considered white. So we went to school with the white people.

RP: Caucasian?

LS: Yes.

RP: Interesting.

LS: Yeah, so it was... yeah, so there's a lot of prejudice in the valley already. I mean, I grew up with that, you know. But it was just normal for me then.

RP: So, three separate schools.

LS: Uh-huh. You know, they still might have that. I've never gone back to the valley.

RP: Found out. Again, yeah, that was tolerated and accepted as...

LS: Right, you know, that was dust bowl down there. Everybody coming through from Oklahoma and things like that settled there and that was, that was the life.

RP: How was that, the school situation in Richmond when you went back to school after returning here? Were the schools integrated?

LS: Yes. Yes, it was, it was, it was integrated. It was just that I had a difficult time because, as I told you, I couldn't remember anything in Poston so naturally I... so it took a little bit of time to get used to getting back into school and trying to learn again. But it was integrated.

RP: So, right, school in Poston was just...

LS: I'm sure that some people got an education there. I can't... I can't remember learning anything there except tap dancing. [Laughs] Which was a big waste of time, right. Oh, I guess I could have ended up in some Broadway musical or something like that. Oh my goodness.

RP: So that was, that was a difficult adjustment. One of the difficult adjustments in resettling was getting your head wrapped around school again.

LS: Yes, yes.

RP: And what were your, you know, those first two or three years, what were your, did you have any personal goals or interests? What were you focused on?

LS: Trying to do well in school, I guess. Trying to just... just trying to get through school I guess.

RP: Did your parents place a pretty high value on, on education like most Isseis?

LS: Yes, yes, yes. You know, you had to be number one in everything and if they didn't say your name at first, "Oh god, what happened to my kid?" Things like that, yeah. No, no... yeah, it was very important.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

RP: Let's pick up the thread of your other siblings. Your older brother who had joined the military, did he see action, combat action during World War II?

LS: You know he was in the China, Burma, India war. So I always think of him like the Bridge Over River Kwai, that kind of thing. He was in Siam. It used to be, Thailand was Siam. He was there and in India.

RP: So he...

LS: And so had to interrogate the Japanese so it was dangerous for him because they would think that he was the enemy. So, yeah, but he was over there and in that theater.

RP: Would he, did he first attend the language school in Minnesota?

LS: Yes he did. I think it was Camp Savage or is Camp Savage first? I don't think that it was Snelling yet by the time he left.

RP: Okay. So he attended Camp Savage and then from there he was shipped to China/Burma.

LS: Yes. Right.

RP: Okay. And he served in one of these small teams...

LS: I believe so, yes.

RP: And maybe you could just briefly share the story of Tad.

LS: Oh Tad, my brother-in-law, Tad lived in Nebraska. So he never had to experience the, the camp, internment. But he was also in the China/Burma/India War theatre and he was a paratrooper. And he parachuted behind enemy lines because at that time there were missionaries that had been captured by the Japanese. And when the Japanese surrendered, the Americans were so afraid that the Japanese would go in and kill all the prisoners of war, and so our mission was to go in there and free all of the prisoners. So Tad was in one of the groups that parachuted down behind enemy lines to free the missionaries who were imprisoned by the Japanese. So, anyway, my brother met Tad in India before Tad married my sister. So that was kind of a small world kind of thing. Of all places to meet.

RP: How did Tad meet your sister?

LS: Tad met my sister because he was going to Fort Snelling language school, and it was on a blind date and my sister was going to go out with someone and she looked at Tad and said, "No, I don't want to go out with that other guy. I'm gonna go out with him." So anyway, she went out with Tad and, and I guess since then they just hit it off well and they got married after the war.

RP: And your brother, was he sent to Japan at any point in time after the war was over for linguistic service?

LS: Not my oldest brother, but the other brother did.

RP: Hiroshi?

LS: Hiroshi was at Fort Snelling just when the war was over. So when they did drop the atomic bomb. And so anyway, he went over after as an interpreter.

RP: Was he able to visit any family members while he was there?

LS: No, my mother was so upset with him but, you see, there was no transportation between Tokyo and Fukuoka. And it would have taken days for either side to try to visit one another. And he said he certainly tried but there was no way that he could get down there. And when I talk to the people now they said there was no way they could have gotten up there because you couldn't move. I mean, it was just devastation everywhere. And you know, I just don't realize those things until... well, all you had to do is get on a plane right? [Laughs]

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

RP: Did your parents have any difficulties in resettling back into, quote, "normal life"?

LS: I'm sure they must have. I mean, they didn't, they didn't show it that much. I mean, we didn't have any money but at least we were able to eat and live so they seemed to be okay.

RP: What did they do for work when they got back?

LS: Well, as I said, my father was always sick and he tried to do gardening but he couldn't. And so fortunately my sisters all came home and then my brothers were out of the army and so then we were able to live together and they all got jobs here. So, that worked out.

RP: Brought some income in.

LS: Right, yes.

RP: Uh-huh. And where did you go to high school?

LS: Richmond.

RP: Richmond High?

LS: Right here.

RP: Uh-huh.

LS: Richmond High.

RP: And did you attend college?

LS: No. I was going to but then I got TB so then I was out for like five years recuperating. And I did study while I could, bed studies, stuff like that. But I just never, I was taking college prep courses but I just never got in there because I got sick and then came out and then just didn't get into school.

RP: And did you go on to pursue a career?

LS: I guess it's a career. I do accounting and tax work. So that's kept me going. So it's worked out well for me.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

RP: Did, after camp, Japanese American families typically wouldn't talk very much about their camp experience. You visited an exhibit of Dorothea Lange photos.

LS: Oh, yes.

RP: And what was that like?

LS: That was, it was when I first realized what my mother would have gone through because I think we were probably about the same age. I mean, like when she had to leave Imperial Valley and, and then I thought, oh my God. I saw this exhibit at UC Berkeley and it was Executive Order 9077 and Dorothea Lange had taken all these pictures of us leaving. And I sit front of the pictures and I started to sob. I just uncontrollably started to sob. Because I thought if I had to give up everything today, what I had... I mean, I couldn't, I don't think that I could do that. I mean, it would just be terrible. And it suddenly hit me what my mother had gone through. And that was the first time I realized the terrible experience. Because all this time... I had a good time, I met friends, and everything seemed fine for me. But to have to go through all of that, leave everything you had, my god, I mean, that would be devastating. So, anyway, I stood there and cried and cried and cried. And my husband just walked away from me. He said, "Oh my god, what's going on? We gotta get out of here." [Laughs] He was so embarrassed. But it took me days to get over that. And I told you I was working for a documentary team right now. They're doing a film. [Inaudible] Her granddaughter is one of the filmmakers that we have. She's a photographer.

RP: Following in her footsteps.

LS: Yes, yes.

RP: That's ironic. So you're working on this documentary.

LS: Yes. I mean, I just to do the books and pay the bills. I'm not there shooting like they're out there. But...

RP: Helping them.

LS: Yeah.

RP: Wow, interesting. So have you shared your experiences with your children?

LS: Oh, I don't have any but I have these two nephews who think I'm an idiot anyway but it's okay. I try... they, one is very interested. In fact, one was gonna come along with me today because he said I needed a bodyguard to come to this area, right. So, yeah, one is very interested, the other is probably would, is interested but doesn't want to show that. You know, is very... but, yeah.

RP: So it seems for everybody who went through this, there comes a time when you have to, you confront what you were a part of.

LS: Yes.

RP: You had that moment when...

LS: Right, when I looked at the films and...

RP: Images.

LS: Right, yeah.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

RP: How about another thing that, event that really brought it back to, for people who were in camp, was this redress movement in the mid '80s. Predominately fueled by the, I guess, anger and the sense of injustice that Sansei had about what had happened to their parents and that there had been no justice or no righting of the wrong. So out of that came this redress bill that then President Reagan signed.

LS: Yes.

RP: And issued an apology and a payment. Did you have any strong feelings about that, about getting that letter or hearing that?

LS: I only felt terrible because it, my parents had died. You know, I felt that if it had come to my parents, then that would have been fantastic. But they were gone and I just, that was my feeling is that it was just too bad that my parents had died. It was just... it was wonderful that happened, but I was very sad that it, that my parents weren't here to have that, know about that.

RP: At the time your parents were trying to make a life for themselves and you, they were ineligible to become naturalized citizens of their adopted country. Did... I think the law changed in 1952 or something like that. Did they, did they ever become naturalized citizens?

LS: No, they didn't. I'm not, I don't... no, they did not and I don't know, I mean, I guess they were just used to this life and I don't know, they just didn't pursue that.

RP: Have you revisited Poston over the years?

LS: No, but I've been meaning to get back there just because, and then I have this nephew who's very interested in history so I think that we will visit there one day soon. He's gone to Manzanar and I don't know whether he went up to Tule. But, and then I have another brother-in-law who's visiting all of these places so, yeah, so I'm sure I'll get to Poston one day soon.

RP: Have you attended any reunions?

LS: I did. All of my Poston people are down in Los Angeles. So I did attend a couple of those but not for many years. At the beginning I did but not now, not now.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

RP: Another very shocking event in the history of our country came recently with 9/11. And just a short time after that there was a backlash of public opinion towards Arab Americans and Muslims. Did you, did that sort of bring out a little bit...

LS: It did. I mean, I was really concerned about that. Because even if you have things like these exhibits saying you can't let this happen again, you know, I just felt that it's gonna happen again. It was just, it was just, 'cause when you see what happened to us, I don't think that it would take very much to keep people from feeling that way about something else. So, yeah, I did feel very, very strongly about that.

RP: So you have, you strongly think that you have given an event like that, it could happen.

LS: Yes, I'm sorry to say.

RP: Laurie, do you have any, based on your experience, do you have any advice or insights that you could offer to young people about civil liberties, constitutional rights, based on what you and your members of your ethnic group went through?

LS: Advice? I don't think I could give anybody very good advice. Just take the opportunity when it arrives. That's it.

RP: Uh-huh, good. A couple more questions. Just stepping back just, back into camp. Oh, did your, any of your siblings or your mom or dad ever express any anger or bitterness for, about what was happening to them? First of all, they're forcibly removed from their homes and put in a camp. Some people referred to it as a concentration camp. Their lives were no longer their own. They have no power, no rights. How did...

LS: You know, I'm sure they had very strong feelings. But they don't show that. I think that maybe they were trying to protect us to make us feel comfortable that we're still secure. They never said anything that they were upset. I'm sure they were. I'm sure they were. They had to be. But I think it was more to give us a secure feeling that they, the family was still okay. So, I couldn't tell you that they were out there shouting like, "Oh my god," this and that. They did not do that.

RP: Maybe some of that comes from that cultural value of not bringing any shame on the family or extra tension by speaking out or...

LS: Right, very quiet.

RP: So, have you broken that mold?

LS: [Laughs] I have to be very reserved. Oh my gosh. Just recently I attended the UC Berkeley graduation ceremony for the Niseis who were given the honorary degrees after fifty-seven years or something like that. That was really touching because this Norm Mineta was the speaker. So... but I don't know if anybody realized what had happened to these students who could not graduate at that time and finally got their degrees. I don't know if that made too much of a point except to us. I did shed a tear, tear or two.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

RP: Your brothers and sisters didn't go through that experience, did they? Did they have their high school education? [Inaudible]

LS: They just had high school educations.

RP: But they, it wasn't interrupted like they lost their graduation.

LS: No, right. They had, they had been out of school. Well my, the sister just above me graduated in Poston. So there must have been some school good thing. 'Cause she got her diploma in Poston. But the others had finished school before camp.

RP: You talked about, back on the farm about the ofuro that was moved around.

LS: Right, yeah, that was the most important thing.

RP: That was a real ritual of...

LS: Yes, yes. And every evening you had to build this fire so that the water would be boiling hot for everybody and, and you know it was just, the bath was an important thing. So...

RP: Right.

LS: Yes.

RP: And it, was it a metal tub or?

LS: Yes, it was galvanized tin, rectangular tub and my, and we used to always build this fire for the water. And then mother used to always put potatoes in the embers so that we'd have baked potatoes. It was so good. She'd always put all these potatoes in there. That was wonderful.

RP: Did you look forward to New Year's every year?

LS: Oh yes, yes. We had the mochitsuki where we would pound the mochi. And I don't know why but for some reason the families would gather at our house. So I mean, that was just a, from the early morning, you know, washing the rice and all that sort of stuff. And I think that my mother and brothers were very good at pounding. 'Cause you had to have that rhythm, otherwise you're gonna get your hand pounded on. So, my mother would be in there turning the rice while my brothers would be pounding the mochi so we did that every year at the house. It was, yeah, it was fun. I looked forward to that.

RP: A question about your father's internment. Again, being Issei and sort of holding all those emotions and feeling in, and you being a young child, did you notice any changes or any effects that his incarceration had on him or any lasting scars of that?

LS: I can't, I could not see any of that, no. I think he was glad to get home. But I mean, I don't think that I noticed any changes.

RP: Any additional stories or recollections that we haven't touched on that you'd like to share?

LS: Probably a lot. A lot will come to me and I'll say why didn't I tell him about this and why didn't I tell him about that?

RP: I've got --

LS: [Inaudible.]

RP: -- three more hours of tape.

LS: Oh, no, that's fine. [Laughs] Oh goodness.

RP: Let me just see if I've covered everything. Oh, one other sort of indignity of camp life was the latrines.

LS: Yes.

PR: You talked about, talked about that a little bit, but you don't, do you recall anybody building ofuros inside the shower area in your camp?

LS: We didn't do... no, we didn't do that but you know that, as kids, there was a latrine for the men and for the women and then there was a washhouse. And so in the washhouse there were these double vats. And so because we were kids, we'd just go in there at nighttime and take baths and there we'd fill up both tanks and then put our feet on one side and the body on the other and that was furo. So, and we'd just shut the light off and make sure that nobody else came by there and we'd take our baths.

RP: So it was like a, basically a vat with a large tub?

LS: Yeah, you know these big cement like baths, tubs that you see in garages and things like that with faucets. That's what we had for our washtubs in the laundry, in the laundry house. So there were many of those on either side and so we used to just fill all those up with hot water and just, you know, lounge in there at night.

RP: Did you help your mom wash clothes in camp?

LS: Yes.

RP: Just a washboard?

LS: Right. I think the girls, we used to get together whenever somebody's gonna do the laundry and we'd all get there and, and do the laundry together.

RP: And did your mom have access to a sewing machine? Did she make any clothes for the family while she was in Poston?

LS: You know, I don't know if we had a sewing machine there. But she did all the, she made all our clothes and then my sisters went to sewing school before the war in Los Angeles so I remember they used to make my clothes for me.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2010 Manzanar National Historic Site and Densho. All Rights Reserved.