Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Henry Sakamoto Interview
Narrator: Henry Sakamoto
Interviewer: Jane Comerford
Date: October 18, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-shenry_2-01-0005

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HS: But the living arrangements were lousy. You had no privacy. The bath houses had shower stalls, and I can't recall, I think in the men's they probably had a half a dozen shower outlets but no partitions, so it was all communal. Even the toilets I think probably there were eight, half a dozen or eight commodes lined up and no partitions. And even the lavatories were, was hot and cold water but no partitions, so it was all very communal, and the women's facilities were very similar. So the lack of privacy was pretty devastating for a lot of people that had never experienced that kind of communal living together so to speak, you know. When we were kids, we went to the YMCA and swam in the nude without swimming trunks because it was all men, so it was, it was something that you've been exposed to, but a lot of people had not had that exposure, so it was a very, very difficult time, particularly if you were modest and shy, it'd be devastating.

And well, the eating arrangement was another large communal kind of thing. We had, what did I say, 3,700 population in the assembly center and the eating arrangement, the dining hall, was set up so that they could feed 2,000 people at one time. And the tables were like picnic tables so, seat six to eight people at one time. In order to make it, try to make it more orderly, well, you had to line up and wait, and then the head person would blow a whistle, then 2,000 people at a time roughly would advance toward the picnic tables and sit down and be served. Food was served by volunteer help who were the waitresses, Nisei, that wanted to volunteer to work, so those kinds of things went along pretty orderly. The food was pretty lousy and a lot of strange stuff that we never had tasted before. I never had hominy grits, didn't know how to eat 'em, and we had beef tongue and very strange things. We had rice, that was okay. But having a mealtime situation like that in our life or my life within the assembly center was pretty independent of parental control. So the parental control and the discipline under which we grew up evaporated. It was gone. So mealtimes, we would eat with our buddies, and parents would probably not see us from the time maybe we got up if I left our cubicle and went out and look for my buddies and started playing around, wouldn't see parents until bedtime. Bedtime was I think lights out at ten o'clock, so we had to be in the cubicle roughly after nine.

One of the other, one of the good things I think that happened is the recreational activities that were available to us. We built with volunteer help from the evacuees, the internees. There is a big area outside the Expo Center which is now the parking lot, but that area was all open, and we built, volunteer help built a baseball diamond and softball diamond. And through the generosity of the Portland Bureau Parks and Recreation, they donated a lot of athletic equipment. But we also within the assembly center created the recreation department, and the recreation department had in charge, was in charge of all the recreation equipment, and so we parcel out to the kids that would come check out baseball bats and softballs and gloves if we had them, and we had tennis, basketballs too, which is the arena area which is in the center of the Expo Center or then the livestock center. The arena area which was for rodeos in the old days, I guess, that was all boarded up and converted into athletic areas. They painted two basketball courts and a tennis court and a badminton court. So with all the equipment, you could avail yourself of these recreational pursuits as well as baseball and softball on the outdoor areas. So anyway, Dorothea Lynch was the supervisor, Bureau Parks and Recreation. She even came out to the assembly center a couple times to give ballroom dancing lessons and lessons in calisthenics. There was another gentleman, I think his name was Chappy King. I think he worked for the Bureau of Parks and Recreation. He was out there frequently. But our recreation department played it pretty smart. Whenever there was a highly contested baseball game or a softball game and knowing that there'd be a good attendance, the recreation department would take, seize that opportunity to pass the hat and get donations so we could buy more equipment, and that was a good move. And even though most of the internees didn't have a lot of money, they could be generous. Oh, Chappy King I recall now. He helped get us the phonograph records at that time, the big band music, Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey and all those things. Recreation department with the help of some volunteers was able to put up a good sound system, and on weekends like on Saturdays, I guess, there'd be a dance in the old Henry Theeley restaurant area out there at the Expo Center, and that was a popular event, and we were able to get all the current popular records through Chappy King. He was a good provider. And the, I recall one big event put on by the recreation department which is a, just before we left the assembly center to go to Minidoka, there was a farewell ball, and they hired a live band from outside. That was a good one.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2004 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.