Densho Digital Archive
Oregon Nikkei Endowment Collection
Title: Shizuko "Suzie" Sakai Interview
Narrator: Shizuko "Suzie" Sakai
Interviewer: Dane Fujimoto
Date: February 6, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-sshizuko-01-0005

<Begin Segment 5>

SS: I don't remember whether they fed us on the train; but the next morning, we arrived at the Portland Expo Center which was then a livestock exposition. It was a huge barn, and the train came to a jerking stop, and we were herded off and went through some iron gates and into this huge expanse of a livestock barn. And there we were first given some, I don't remember, but I think they were like burlap bags which we stuffed with straw by the front door, and then we went to our assigned cubicle which was a horse stall. It was enclosed by 4 x 8 pieces of plywood with a canvas hanging for a door, and there were five of us in our family unit, my father and four of us siblings, and we, that was our home. After we found our little cubicle, then we were directed to the dining hall which was the main arena of the exposition center, the livestock barn, and here were these rows and rows of wooden tables with benches attached. And I remember for breakfast there was cold pancakes, stacks of cold pancakes. I tried to lift one off, and they were all stuck together, and I think there was some syrup on the table, but that's about all I remember of breakfast. I remember I couldn't swallow it, so I went back to our little cubicle.

Life there was just a noisy terrible confusion as far as I was concerned. We arrived there, I think it was the first week in June, stayed there until probably the first week in September, but people say it was one of the hottest summers in Portland. And of course, they had laid a wooden flooring over probably had been a dirt floor. But since animals had been kept there, I remember one day a gentleman decided that it was so hot that he would hose off the floor, so he connected up the hose and poured water over the floor. I think he forgot that there was manure underneath the wooden planks; and of course, they were not laid real close together. There was probably a quarter to a half inch between the floor boards, and it didn't take long for the water to hit the manure, and the steam started to rise, and we had the largest infestation of flies that I have ever seen in my life. It really was a very miserable existence. We all tried to get outside as much as we could, but there wasn't much space between the outside walls of this huge barn and the metal fence that enclosed it. It was not, not very gracious living, I'd say. And of course, you could hear all your neighbors if you got into your little cubicle, no place to hang your clothes, no chairs or tables. All I remember we had were these cots, so you didn't spend much time in your cubicle. Most of the people went out in that dining area where there was a grandstand surrounding, and you could sit on the steps.

We all were assigned jobs after the first week or so because we had to do all the necessary work to keep that place going, so there were waitresses and house cleaners. Because I had this one year of home economics behind me, they said I could be the hospital dietician. The poor souls who got sick and needed special diets, I don't know what they have would have done if they really needed a special diet. But we were paid... the lowest rate of pay was eight dollars, and then the next level, mid-level was twelve dollars, and professional level people got sixteen dollars; and for some reason or other, I was labeled a dietician, so I got sixteen dollars a month whereas most people were paid eight. So we had a few beds back in the center that was the so-called hospital, and we had a couple of Japanese doctors, MDs and some nurses, and we just did the best we could.

I remember probably the most traumatic day of all was probably in July when, I think he was about seven years old, a boy died of complications from measles. And if I remember correctly, that was our first death, and people, the population in the center became terribly upset; and of course, measles is a pretty contagious disease. So that was probably one of the most traumatic incidents during that summer.

People kept busy with sporting activities. You could check out games or balls, play softball. People in Portland, I don't know whether they were clubs or associations, would bring sporting equipment to the front gate. We would have those to play with. For the young people, there were some dances. I remember there was a wedding. We tried to resume life as normal as could be under the circumstances, but I think that was the beginning of the breakdown of real family life mainly because one, there was no privacy; second, you did everything communally. And I think if you were used to having family dinners together and that kind of thing, the children got so they wanted to eat when their friends ate, and so they would run to the dining room with the rest of their friends. It was not really a good social climate for enhancing family life. There were, there was a library. You could get some books to read. We had a couple of schoolteachers there who tried to have some informal little classes for the kids. Laundry and bathing and toileting was all communal. It certainly was a different kind of life.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.