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

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

<Begin Segment 1>

DF: This is Dane Fujimoto interviewing Shizuko Sakai on February 6, 2003. And we'll begin the interview, the oral history interview with Shizuko starting --

SS: Call me Suzie.

DF: Suzie... with Suzie's parents growing up in Japan, and how they met and let's start from there.

SS: Well, it's a little difficult for me to go back and try to remember too much about my parents. My father came from Shiga-ken in Japan probably looking for a better future in the new country. He came over, I think, soon after World War I. He landed in Seattle. He had left my mother, his wife, back in Japan with a promise that he would send for her when he had gotten a little foothold here. He started work in Seattle for a family being a houseboy which turned out to be very nice for us because he learned how to cook, and he knew how to clean house and keep house. And when we, as children, were growing up, that turned out to be very fortuitous because my mother died in 1936 when we were still young children. To go back, he had worked a few years as a houseboy, and then with some friends decided to open up from some farm lands in the Yakima Valley, the land belonged to the Yakama Indian Nation and had just started, I believe, the irrigation project, so that the land became good agriculture land. He first ended up in Union Gap which is not really a town. It's just a little spot in the road in between some hills that surround the outside of Yakima and lead into the Yakima Valley, and that's where I was born, in Union Gap, Washington.

We lived there probably three or four years and then moved further down into the valley in a place called Satus, S-a-t-u-s. Satus was a little crossroad, a little spot in the road. It had a service station, gas station and a small grocery store, and about oh, probably a quarter mile away on the banks of the Satus Creek was a two-room schoolhouse where I went for the first four years of my schooling. This little two-room schoolhouse had grades one through four in one room and five through eight in another room. It was outfitted with a big potbellied stove, and I had the same teacher for the first four years of my schooling. She was a very interesting middle-aged lady, who, when she was unable to discipline the children would go behind the big potbellied stove and cry, and we children got to go out in the yard and play. So that was quite an incentive for especially the young boys to act up, and throwing spitballs was a favorite pastime for them, and then when it got uncontrollable, we all got to go out and play.

One of my interesting remembrances from those days is that we had a family that had thirteen children and some of those children attended this school where I was going, and I remember the oldest son, who was probably in the seventh or eighth grade when I first met him, would bring a large lard bucket full of cold pancakes for the children's lunch, his siblings' lunch, and he would at lunch time flip out these cold pancakes to his siblings, some of whom were in the room that I was attending. The other interesting thing about this family was that of the thirteen children, they had named the thirteenth Enough. His name was Enough Parker.

We all had a good time at that school. I think we were the only Japanese family. The rest were, there were a couple of Native American children because this was a Indian reservation, and I remember my best friend was Elsie whose father was the chief of the tribe. And in those days, they used their teepees, and I used to go visit her in her teepee, and we just all had a great time in this little rural schoolhouse. After I finished the fourth grade, the powers that be decided that they could not support this little school by itself, so we merged with the Granger School District, and beginning with the fifth grade, then I went to the Granger grade school and continued there and graduated from the high school there in 1940. I'm the oldest of four children. I have two sisters, my second sister is now deceased, and then I have a younger brother. We lived on a farm. Our neighbors, of course, were all Caucasian, but we were very close as neighbors. I remember that I used to go over to their house for milk every day because they had a couple of milking cows, and in exchange, we would provide them with potatoes and onions and carrots and melons and that kind of thing during the productive seasons. We lived out on that farm probably until I was in about the sixth grade or so, and then we moved closer to Granger where we were going to school. All this time, we were being bussed there.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

SS: Then in 1936, my mother died. She had cancer, and we were left in the care of my father. I remember at that time some friends of his came down from Seattle and suggested to him that he probably could not raise us, so maybe we needed to be adopted out by some other families, and which he adamantly refused and said that he had promised my mother that we would always stay together. And so my father really was a remarkable person, and he was able to parent, be both parents for us as we were growing up, and we lived on this little farm near Granger until we were forced out by the evacuation. My childhood was, I think, a very happy one. I knew very few Japanese people. I think we had two or three family friends that we would get together on holidays or special occasions, but we did not live in a Japanese community. I grew up with all Caucasian friends all through high school, attended a Presbyterian church in Granger. Let me see... what else I can remember? It was a typical rural setting. We helped my father and his truck gardening during the summer. I can't remember anything very exciting or, just kind of routine, rural farm living.

DF: With your friend Elsie who lived, who was Native American, can you think of any, you know, cross-cultural exchange with traditions that you did with her family and some that she did with your family?

SS: Well, we really didn't interact that much as families. When salmon fishing season came around, of course, they all took off and went salmon fishing, probably, I imagine on the Columbia River, and they would always bring us salmon, and sometimes they would smoke it and give it to us, and we did things like that but never interacted too much socially.

DF: And what was mealtime with your family like, you know, your dad being such a good cook? What did he enjoy cooking?

SS: Well, one of the things I remember about my dad was that, of course in the summer, you didn't have time for, or spring and summer, he didn't have time for much cooking. But in the wintertime when we came home from school, he would always have either like warm donuts or cupcakes for us, and we much enjoyed. Our meals were usually mixed. Sometimes we had, or a lot of times we had Japanese food of course, and other times he would fix American meals because he had learned to cook American foods. I remember one of the big treats was when he would make homemade noodles for us, and we'd have like noodles and soup and that kind of thing. But he would make osushi, and we'd have the regular New Year's feast, and there were about three families that we would get together and go visit each other over New Year's and the days following. We were poor, but we always had plenty to eat because we lived on a farm. My father would raise, fatten two hogs every year, and our neighbors would come and help him butcher, and then we would have the bacon and the hams smoked, and we would share that with the neighbors, and they would butcher a couple of cows, and so we always had plenty of pork and beef. And then of course we raised chickens and had eggs, so we always had plenty to eat.

DF: Do you remember any dinner conversations that you had as a family over mealtimes?

SS: Well, I don't remember other than just, you know, ordinary kinds of things. My mother, when she was alive, always stressed education, and she had always said that when we were, graduated from high school, that she expected that we would all go to college, which we did. All four of us have college degrees. And other than that, it was just ordinary conversation, I think.

DF: But every night you would eat dinner together?

SS: Oh, yes. We always ate all our meals together.

DF: How was your life different growing up without a mom after the age fourteen?

SS: Well, it certainly put a lot of responsibility on me because I was the oldest; but somehow we managed, and my father did very well, you know. He was not a strict disciplinarian, but we, I think, managed fairly well, didn't get into any trouble.

DF: And what kinds of work did you do on the farm? What was your job?

SS: Well, the first job in the spring was cutting asparagus because he raised asparagus, and we would do that before we went to school. We'd get up like four-thirty in the morning and cut the asparagus and put it in the crates and then go on to school. Other than that, it was weeding; and then in the summer, we'd, like, pick beans or pick tomatoes, a lot of weeding, that kind of thing. In truck gardening, there's a lot of just little things to do, harvesting and planting, weeding, that kind of thing.

DF: So what was your relationship like with your siblings?

SS: Well, we're very close. I have a sister now who lives out in Newberg, and my brother lives up in Everett, Washington, and my other sister, who is now deceased, lived in Port Angeles. We've always been very close and very supportive of each other.

DF: So growing up on a farm, you spent a lot of time working together.

SS: Right, uh-huh. We all worked together and played together.

DF: Were you closer to any of your siblings than others?

SS: Not really. There's six years' difference between me and my next sister, so we're probably closer now as grown-ups than we were when we were growing up.

DF: Earlier, you mentioned that your mom had passed away from cancer. What do you remember about her illness?

SS: Well, that was a very traumatic time for us. Of course, we lived on a farm. My father took her to Yakima which was the largest, I don't know whether you'd even call it a city, but the largest medical center; and from there, he was advised to take her up to a cancer center up in Seattle. So my siblings and I stayed with some friends at home so we could continue going to school, and my dad and my mother were up in Seattle for a couple of months. And then it was determined that there wasn't anything more they could do for her, so he brought her home, and she died at home.

DF: What kind of cancer?

SS: Pardon?

DF: What kind of cancer?

SS: She had a form of stomach cancer. Let's see, my youngest brother was only about four when she died, so it was pretty traumatic for us and for my father.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

DF: What was some of the holidays like for you? Christmas, Shogatsu, Girl's Day?

SS: Well, we always celebrated the holidays. I remember we always had turkey at Thanksgiving. I remember my father trying to chop the head off of a turkey when I was a little girl, and we always had Christmas, had a tree, had presents, and we celebrated birthdays, had a birthday cake. I think we had the usual kinds of holiday celebrations.

DF: Do you remember some of your Christmas gifts?

SS: Not really. We usually got mostly clothes because that's what we wanted. I think Christmases then were nothing like, you know, the current Christmases where everybody is, I think, overindulge in gifts and that kind of thing. I think we took more pleasure in the small things. I remember my father would always get a box of Japanese oranges. When we lived out on the farm, there used to be a, I guess you'd call him a salesman that came from the Furuya Company in Seattle, and he would take orders for Japanese food. And so once a month, he would come to our house and usually stay for dinner, and we'd tally up the kinds of things that we wanted him to bring for us, and then he would take our order and then deliver, and that's how we got our Japanese food. And like the soy sauce would come in a big wooden barrel, miso would come in a barrel, and then we'd get things like dashi, konbu, nori, and just staples and rice, of course.

DF: And what was the New Year's meal like? What did that consist of?

SS: Well, we always had ozoni in the morning. Oh, making mochi was a kind of a community affair. And about three families would get together and, at someone's house, and we had this... like a big tree trunk that had been hollowed out to put the steamed mochi rice in, and they had a wooden mallet, and the men would pound the mochi, and then the women would make the small cakes and that kind of thing, and it was always an all day affair and a lot of fun, a social occasion. So on New Year's we'd have ozoni, and then we'd always have some fish and like shrimp, and I think we had kamaboko, and my dad would make sushi. We always had black beans. And he liked, what do you call that, kazunoko, which the kids never ate. We had the general Japanese foods for New Year's.

DF: What was your teenage years like?

SS: Well, I guess it was, you know, I was in high school. I was a campfire girl for about six years. I was on the debating team. I was not athletic. I couldn't hit a ball or bounce a ball if my life depended on it. I don't know, we just would go to movies once in a while. That was a treat because we had to travel some distance in order to get to a theater. I belonged to the Presbyterian church in Granger and would participate in Sunday school and church activities. My parents, especially when my mother was still alive, would drive up to Toppenish, and that's where they had the nearest Buddhist church, and they went to the Buddhist church. And that occurred in the afternoons, so we'd go to the, kids would go to the Presbyterian church in the morning and sing Jesus Loves Me, This I Know, and in the afternoon, on Sundays, we'd drive up to the Buddhist church in Toppenish and sang Buddha Loves Me, This I Know, so we were pretty ecumenical.

DF: During that time, did you identify yourself as Japanese or Japanese American?

SS: You know, I never thought of myself as Japanese because I guess I had no occasion to. There were a couple of years when I was in grade school, there was one Japanese boy that was in my class. All during my four years of high school, there were no Japanese in my high school, so I grew up pretty much in a Caucasian environment, and so going to camp was really an eye opener for me. And I think probably because I lost my mother early in life, I didn't have the advantage of learning a lot of the cultural aspects of being a Japanese. Not that my dad denied being a Japanese, but men just aren't into that kind of thing that women are, I think.

DF: So you felt pretty comfortable at school with other classmates?

SS: Oh, yeah.

DF: There was no ethnic episodes?

SS: No.

DF: Were you able to date in high school?

SS: No. We just went out in groups. I just never really dated.

DF: How did you and your friends get around in the small town?

SS: Well, a couple of my friends had old cars, you know, in those days, and we still went around in that and walked a lot of places. You know, life, if you were to compare it with life today, it probably would seem very mundane and boring, but we kept busy. [Laughs]

DF: What would a Friday or Saturday night look like during that time?

SS: Well, sometimes we'd have school activities. Other times, you know, we might go visit a friend or they'd come visit us and just talk, nothing very exciting.

DF: And during that time, what were your thoughts about marriage as a teenager?

SS: I can't even remember thinking about it, just was out of my realm of things that I was interested in at that time.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

DF: So tell me about what happened, transition from high school?

SS: After I graduated from high school, I had received a scholarship to attend Washington State University, but I decided that I would go to the University of Washington in Seattle instead because there were more employment opportunities, and I needed to have a job in order to go to school. So I did go up to the University of Washington, finished my first year, and was, had started the first, the fall quarter of my second year when I had gone home for Thanksgiving, and my father talked to me and said that he thought maybe I should stay home because things were not looking so good on the international front, and he was concerned that if anything drastic happened, that if I were up in Seattle and the rest of the family was down in the valley, that we might get separated. So I just made the decision and didn't go back to school; and then, of course, December 7th happened. So I was almost glad that I didn't go back to school to finish that quarter. That was a pretty scary period for us. As we were pretty much isolated from the rest of the Japanese community, several of my father's friends, you know, would come and visit; and of course, they predicted all kinds of dire things might happen. And so after December 7th, it was a pretty scary, lonely kind of an existence, and we were wondering what was going to happen. Then of course, the President signed the Proclamation 9066, and we knew that our days as we knew them were not going to be anymore. So by May, I believe it was, we knew that we were going to have to be moved; and of course, signs started going up on telephone poles saying that we're in an exclusion area, military zone.

And pretty soon, we got orders that we were going to have to be moved out. My father turned over what machinery and crops he had to a next door neighbor. We had been neighbors for quite a years, and we stored some of our personal belongings with them and packed up to leave. It was a very uncertain time because we didn't know where we were going or what was going to happen. We had orders to appear at the railroad station in Wapato on a certain day, I think it was the first week in June with only what we could carry. So that was a dilemma when you don't know where you're going to go, you don't know what you're going to need. So we kind of just did the best we could, packed our clothes and some bedding and left most of our personal effects packed away in a shed that belonged to this neighbor not knowing whether we'd ever come back to claim them again.

I remember our neighbors took us to the railroad station that morning and that was probably the most desolate feeling I've ever had. I looked around, and there were other people like me standing on the platform. I really didn't know any of them. I think there were two families that we knew, and then we were herded onto the train by some soldiers who had guns and were pretty scary looking to us who were not used to this kind of procedure. So they finally got us aboard the train. We were told to pull the window screens down so we couldn't look out, and started on our journey. No one told us where we were going to go or how long we were going to be on the train.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<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.

<Begin Segment 6>

SS: And then about August, we started hearing rumors that this was only temporary while they were building other camps for us to go to, so that increased the level of anxiety because there again, we didn't know where we were going or what it was going to be like, how we were going to get there, just life was very uncertain. Then about the first week in September, they started announcing that people would be moving out. The first group, I remember, went to Minidoka camp in Idaho. We, I think, stayed there for, excuse me, a couple more weeks, and then we headed for Heart Mountain, Wyoming, got on the train, and I don't remember how long it took us, but I remember ending up in this bleak godforsaken sagebrush and jack rabbit's hole up in the outskirts of Wyoming. And in the distance, you could see this mountain that they called Heart Mountain for which the camp was named.

That then was then a new, another beginning. We, there were probably over 10,000 people there. Most of the people came from California, from San Anita and some of those places. We were then assigned to a unit in a barrack. Each barrack, I think, had like six apartments. They really weren't apartments; they were just one big room. There again, we were issued some army cots to sleep on. There was a potbellied stove in each unit, and you had to go out to a big coal pile to get your fuel for your stove. I think the camp was divided into blocks, and if I remember correctly, each block, I think, had ten barracks. Each block had its own dining hall and its own laundry room and bathroom facilities. When we first arrived there, the weather was fairly mild. It wasn't bad, but you could look out, and there was nothing but sagebrush and this mountain in the distance and rocks, that kind of thing. When winter hit, we were really amazed because snow fell, the wind blew, and it was cold. These barracks were not insulated, of course, and every time the snow fell, the next morning when you woke up, there were ridges of snow within your unit. The window sills would be piled with snow, and areas around the window and around the doors would all be icy with snow and ice. The problem there in the wintertime was then that you had to run out for the bathroom and go out to the dining room three times. It was pretty rugged living that first winter. I remember they issued us these navy peacoats to wear; but you know, we, at least our family, didn't come prepared for that kind of winter. So the busy place was where you could find the Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck catalogs, and people were busy ordering especially warm coats and underwear for winter wear because if you came from Southern California, you certainly weren't prepared for the kind of weather that we were facing.

Here again, we were assigned jobs or you applied for jobs. I became activities director for our area. My dad became a cook in the dining hall which was very nice because we wouldn't want to go out for breakfast, so he would bring us, after he finished his morning shift, he'd bring us home whatever they had for breakfast, so we had breakfast in bed you might say. [Laughs] Food was, had something to be desired. We had a lot of mutton, I had never tasted mutton before in my life. I can't say that it was my favorite dish. We had horse meat. They did manage to have rice. And of course by that time, things like coffee and sugar were rationed, so they were also rationed in camp, lots of canned food, canned green beans. To this day, I can't stand to look at canned green beans. They had some fruits, some fruit juices that I remember. Oh, the other thing that I remember very vividly was they somehow thought that we'd like squid. Unfortunately at that point in time, they didn't know how to prepare it, so they forgot to take the ink sacks out, and so you got this plate with the rice all black from the squid, the black stuff from the squid. I don't think I'll ever forget that, so when... oh, in recent years, you know, calamari is very popular, and I wouldn't eat it for a while because of that, but I got used to it by now. Minus its ink, it isn't bad at all. We had some eggs. I remember hard boiled eggs for breakfast, had oatmeal or grits or hominy. I think it was hominy. It was something that I'm, I was not familiar with anyway. I'm not, you know, no one went hungry, but it certainly wasn't the most palatable diet.

The one thing that I remember about that first winter was my father's appendix burst, and he got peritonitis, and so he got put in the camp hospital, and he was there about over two months. We thought for a while we were going to lose him, but he did pull through. But of course, medical facilities were very limited in camp, and we just felt that it was fortunate that he was able to recover. But in order to visit him, then we had to walk clear across this camp, and I remember I froze both, both my knees froze. And for years after that when they got cold, I'd get water on the knee, but that was part of the camp experience.

There were, you know, the usual schools. They set up schools. Some of the teachers were from the camp itself, and then they imported some schoolteachers. We had things like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. They showed movies periodically. The young people had dances. They had church services. So life kind of resumed some normalcy at least under the circumstances. But here again, I think we saw the distinct breakdown of the traditional Japanese family because the communal living, eating in mess halls, that kind of thing. It was certainly not the best.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

SS: After we had, I think probably it was the next summer, my timeframes may be a little off, but army recruiters started coming to the centers to recruit for the armed services; and in Heart Mountain, we had some upheaval over that. We had, you know, the "no-no boys" who said that, you know, why should they go serve in the armed services when their parents were behind armed guards in these centers. But of course, some people did sign up and go. One of the saddest days was I was walking down to the front gate, and I don't know for what purpose, but on my way down, I met this lady that lived in a couple of barracks from where we lived, and I really didn't know her very well just from sight, and she was crying, and she was coming towards me. She had been up to the, they had a little office at the gate, the front gate. She was coming from there, and I was heading down towards the gate, and she was crying. And so I stopped her, and I asked her if I could help her, and she said that her son had, who had volunteered for the service had come to tell her good-bye because he was being shipped out the next week. He was going to Europe. And she said that she might never see him again, and so we talked a little bit, and I decided I wouldn't go up to the gate. I don't know, it wasn't anything very important anyway. So I walked her back to her barracks, and we talked. And then I used to go see her, drop by and see her, once in a while. This was an only child, and she was a widow, and so this was, you know, the only family she had. And pretty soon, I noticed that she, you know, had a flag up on her window and signifying that she had a son in the service. And it couldn't have been more than a month or a month and a half, and she got word that he had been killed in Europe. And you know, she was just totally devastated, and it was just so sad because this was the only family member that she had. And I used to think how sad it was that, you know, here she was imprisoned in a camp, you know, surrounded by barbwire and guard towers, and she gives up the only family member that she has to the service, and I'm sure she wasn't an isolated incident. It was just someone that I happened to know.

The guard towers, when we were first placed there, were manned with sentries who had guns pointed in, at the camp residents, but the administration told us that they were there to protect us in case, I don't know whether they thought the Indians would come romping over the hills or what, but anyway, they were there. But after, it must have been maybe six, eight months, they removed the sentries and the guard towers were empty. But while the armed sentries were still up in the towers, and they had searchlights, we were told not to go within 15 feet of the barbed wire fence. And we had a very unfortunate incident where a little boy was shot, he chased a ball. And of course being a child -- and probably even I wouldn't have remembered that you weren't supposed to go within 15 feet of the barbed wire fence. So there were some, you know, there was quite a bit of upheaval, and that was the only instance that I can remember of that kind of incidents taking place. There were some protests over, I think, food. There were certainly some protests when the army recruiters would come in to recruit for volunteers.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

SS: But then after, I think, the first year, life kind of settled down. People would, were making furniture for their units. They were putting in vegetable gardens so they would have fresh vegetables. I think the first spring, they started allowing leaves for people to go out and work on the farms nearby like the sugar, sugar beet farms and that kind of thing, and people were going out to work. Also, they had a program so that college students, if you could get accepted to a college in the Midwest or East Coast, could also go out. So in March of '43, I left to go out to Sterling College which was a United Presbyterian, which is a United Presbyterian School in Kansas, in Central Kansas, and I was sponsored by my original church back in Granger. It's a small church-related school in rural Kansas, very different from our large state university. I remember getting on the train out of Heart Mountain and traveling by rail to Kansas. And as we neared Sterling, I happened to look out the window, and here was this weather beaten painted sign which said, "Nigger, don't let the sun set on you within the city limits." And this was the outskirts of Sterling, Kansas, and I thought my goodness, what am I coming to? But you have to remember that in those days, Kansas, Nebraska were border states and probably maybe worse than the Deep South because in the Deep South, the African American always knew what his place was, whereas when you got up into the border states, it get to be a little iffy, and so here was this sign notifying them. It was kind of unnerving because I thought, oh my goodness, you know, what kind of reception am I going to get here

Well, the school was, the people were very nice. Unfortunately, the roommate that I was teamed up with was a young lady who was... I don't know how you would call her, probably ultra-conservative, middle American. She took one look at me and decided that I needed to be converted; so she, you know, started in on me, and I asked her not to do that. I didn't need to be converted, but I guess she thought I was some heathen from some far off land that needed to be converted to Christianity. The second day, she kept at it. So I finally went to the lady who was the dorm mother, I guess you would call her the dorm mother, and I told her that I would like to have a different roommate because I didn't think I'd be compatible with this one that I was assigned to, and that she was trying to convert me to Christianity, and I didn't need to be converted. I was a member of the Presbyterian church, and that's how I got there to the school. So she said, "Well, let's go back and talk to this lady," this roommate's name was Dorothy, and she said, "Let's go back and talk to Dorothy and see, you know, if we can work things out. If not, we'll have to find you another roommate." So we went back to the room and the dorm mother was explaining to Dorothy how she perceived the problem and what did Dorothy think about all this at which point Dorothy went into an epileptic seizure and fell to the floor and scared the wits out of me because I had never before witnessed someone who was, you know, having a seizure. So the dorm mother decided that maybe this wasn't the right room for me and assigned me to another room, and that was my initiation to this college from which I graduated.

I had a very nice three years there. It was probably more conservative than I would have liked, but then, you know, I could live with it. For instance, we had vesper services every Sunday. Of course we went to church all day Sunday, practically. Wednesday nights, we had some kind of prayer service. But I had a couple of professors there who were very good, and I thought very knowledgeable, and I had a very interesting experience two years ago. One of my best friends at Sterling College, we had corresponded for a few years after we left school, but like all good things, we kind of lost touch with each other, and it had been over fifty years when my sister called me one day, two years ago and said, "I have a letter for you." And I said, "Who's it from?" and she said, "Well, I don't know." She said, "It's got your name on it, but it's in care of our address." So she said, "You want me to put it in the mail or shall I just bring it when I come?" I said, "Oh, just bring it when you come," because we see each other couple times a week probably, and it was very interesting. Lois, this, in fact, she and I had roomed one year at Sterling College, had gone to the National Japanese American Museum in L.A. Louis happens to live in West Hollywood. She said she decided that she was going to make it her mission to find me after fifty, I think it had been fifty-four years since we had last seen each other, and she said that she had gone, she knew that I had been in Heart Mountain, and so she, apparently they have records there at the national museum where you can try to locate people. So she said she found our family and the unit where we lived, but there was no recent address or anything like that, of course. So she took down the names of all the families in that particular barracks at Heart Mountain, and she said she decided that she would start with the L.A. phone directory and see if she could find any of the names in the phone directory. Well it happened that Tom Hide who is from Toppenish and who had lived at the end barrack, end unit in my barrack or our barrack, has a nursery business in L.A., and she was, he was one of the names that she had found at the museum. And so she called, and she got him one day, and he said, "I don't know where she is, but I know where her sister lives," because my sister had gone to a Heart Mountain reunion a couple years before that." I had not gone to the reunion, and Tom had talked to my sister and had gotten her address, and so he said, "I will give you her sister's address and you can maybe get a hold of her," and so Lois had written this letter to me in care of my sister, and we were able to get together. The next time I went to L.A., I have a daughter who lives in Orange County. So the next time I went to L.A. or to visit my sister, I called Lois, and we got together and had lunch and spent the day, and we're going to do it again this year. So that was an exciting kind of remembrance of my college days in Sterling. So you never know what can happen.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

SS: After I graduated from Sterling, I got a fellowship to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and I... they had a specialty there in rural sociology. I was a sociology major in college, and so I was going to study, do something in rural sociology and cultural anthropology at the University of North Carolina, and that was a very interesting experience of course because I had to leave, I left Sterling after school was out because I enrolled for a summer session at Chapel Hill and took the train, I was taking the train to North Carolina, and I had to change trains in Lynchburg, Virginia, and got off the train, and I had a couple hours' wait. And as I walked down the train platform to go to the waiting room, I noticed these two signs and one said "white" and the other said "colored," and I thought to myself, "Which one do I enter? Do I go in the 'white' or do I go into the 'colored'?" And the same for the bathrooms, they were marked "white" and "colored." It really was kind of scary because, you know, from what I had heard, you know if black people went into the "white" areas, you were, you know, it was a strictly a no-no. So I finally asked somebody, somebody standing on the train platform, and this lady said, "Oh, you can use the 'white' bathrooms and go into the 'white' waiting room," she said. So that's what I did. So that was my first encounter with the Old South.

Chapel Hill was a very interesting place. In those days, probably the only real liberal spot in the South. There were a lot of Jewish students in Chapel Hill in those days, and I was told it was because there were quota systems in the northern schools for Jewish students, and so it was rather difficult for them to get in; whereas, down in the South, there was no quota system for the Jewish people, but they just didn't allow blacks in, so they would come to school there. I found the situation a little disconcerting at first because I lived off-campus that first summer, and as I was walking to class, there would be all these black young people just standing, staring at me, you know, and I thought, oh my, here I am, allowed to go to this school. They live here, and they're not allowed to go to school here. It was really uncomfortable for me. And, you know, it wasn't until the Civil Rights Movement, and they then were allowed, you know, equal rights to go to school. I dated an Egyptian fellow for a while, while I was there, and our first attempt to go to the movies was slightly disconcerting because he had to go up, and, he was told he had to go up and sit in the balcony, but I couldn't go up in the balcony. I had to sit downstairs where the white people sat. So we turned in our tickets and decided we wouldn't go to the movies. It was a learning experience, a very interesting experience. It was kind of a hurtful place, you know, when you thought about what they were really doing to the blacks. In fact, for a while, I considered leaving, but then I thought, well, I had a fellowship and that was the only way I could go to graduate school, so I better stick it out and make the best use that I could have. So I did stay, but it was a really interesting experience.

The second summer that I was there, I went up to Philadelphia to work for the American Friends Service Committee and spent the summer writing, actually we produced a book on the National Student Relocation Commission, and that was the group that arranged for scholarships and arranged for Nisei students to attend colleges, leave camp and go to school; and of course, the American Friends Service Committee was very active in that whole arena, and so I spent that summer collecting data and writing the history of that movement. That was a very interesting experience. After two years in Chapel Hill, then I went to, up to Seattle. My family was now relocated in Seattle and -- oh, I forgot to mention that I had met Walter at the Portland Expo Center, and we had kept in contact. He had gone his way, and I had gone my way, and he was a student at the University of Washington, and so we got back together. I worked, I think, for a year as a teaching assistant in the sociology department at the University of Washington, and then I had a friend who was on the faculty of the sociology department at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu. And he said to me one day in almost kind of like a joke, "You ought to go to Hawaii and teach." Well, he knew that I was waiting for Walt to graduate. We were going to get married when he graduated, and he had one year more to go. And so this friend said, "Well, why don't you go to Hawaii? I can get you a job teaching at the University of Hawaii, the Hilo branch." He said, "They're going to open a new branch this next, this fall." So I said, "Okay." I thought that would be interesting, so I agreed to go.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

SS: I ended up in Hilo on the island, on the Big Island on the Island of Hawaii and spent one year teaching there. I taught sociology classes. The University of Hawaii classes were held at the old Hilo boys' boarding school in those days, and the young people either lived in Hilo or were, came in from the surrounding sugar plantations, and they would come in these open air, they're like taxis. That was an interesting experience. First of all, they spoke a very strange English that I had a hard time understanding, and the boys would say to me, "You go, stay go." And I'd say, "I beg your pardon?" You go, stay go, and they talk so fast. I'd say, you go, stay go. It finally donned on me it means you go and you wait for me. And so that was quite a learning experience trying to decipher, and then they would recite in class, and I wouldn't be able to understand them. So between the two of us, it was a learning experience, but I loved it. They were a very gentle, great people. I'm not quite sure that they were college caliber at that point, which concerned me a little bit because, you know, the University of Hawaii, the Hilo branch at that point was only for freshmen and sophomores, and then they had to go to the mainland. Now I've discovered they have a whole, beautiful new campus and have all the facilities for a full four-year program; but in those days, it was just a fledging program. We were trying to get it off the ground. There were... one, two, three, four of us who were teaching there. The, of course it was very interesting. The students for some reason were mainly boys. There were a few girls, but the preponderance were boys, and they would bring rice balls for lunch, and I, onigiri, and I had never noticed that before. And they would go to a classroom, and they'd open up their lunch pails, and I guess if they had different flavorings inside the rice ball, they would pitch 'em to each other, and they would just throw these rice balls across the room at each other, and I thought, "Oh my goodness, this is a very interesting place." One day, I mentioned that I loved gardenias. No too far from campus, there was this place that grew gardenias I think for florists, their shipments, and I just happened to mention that, I don't know for what reason. And the next morning, I went into my classroom and someone had brought in a washtub full of gardenias, and it was so strong that you couldn't stay in there. [Laughs] They were just trying to be kind, so I thanked them, and we pulled it out on the porch so we could resume classes.

I found life in Hilo very interesting. It happened to be the year after the big flood. The downtown area of Hilo was still totally devastated. They were in the process of building this big wall of breakers around the bay to, I guess, help prevent any damage of any further big waves, I guess, that were caused by the tsunami, I guess. Mount Kilauea also erupted that year, and that was a beautiful sight, the red lava flowing down into the sea especially at night and also saw some interesting things. Of course, it was a great tourist attraction. I was down there one evening and here was this tourist, and they were dipping coins into the molten lava to have as souvenirs. Well, this one man thought he'd be smart, and he took a five dollar bill, and of course, it went up in flames. [Laughs] So my roommate and I, we shared a house. She was also a teacher, and she happened to have a car, and so we explored the island. We'd often go down to the Kona side from Hilo; and in those days, it was still almost in its native state. The boys would climb up the coconut trees and throw down coconuts to us. We stayed in a lady's house; I guess nowadays you would call it a bed and breakfast. There were no hotels or anything there in those days. There really was still, the island was very rural. I had an opportunity to fly over to Kona a couple of times and just, you know, we'd get invited out to the sugar plantations and see how they lived, and they'd all have these little company houses that they lived in.

The students were very interesting in that, for instance, the big social event was what they called a "heka party," and you'd go out on the beach, and out on the beach, then we'd get these little snails off the rocks. I think they were called opihis or something, and they would eat them raw. I couldn't eat them raw, but we would do that and dive into the surf, and it was just a very leisurely kind of life. The only problem was that it rains so much in Hilo. Not knowing this was going to happen, I was collecting some phonograph records of Hawaiian music, and I stuck them up on a shelf in my closet because I wasn't buying them to use them, I was buying them to take home eventually. Well, a few months, I noticed they were all warped and moldy, and my shoes got all moldy. It was really something that I wasn't quite used to and, although, I thought I came from a rainy country, but it was nothing like Hilo. It would rain every single day; but of course, it didn't rain too long, and then the sun would come out, and so you didn't realize that there was that much moisture around. So that was an interesting experience.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

SS: I finished my year there and then came home, and Walt had graduated from the university, and we got married and lived in Seattle, that was in 1949, and we lived in Seattle until 1962, and our two children were born in Seattle. I have a son who is fifty this year and lives in Appleton, Wisconsin, and I have a daughter who lives down in Orange, the City of Orange in Orange County, California. And I have two grandchildren who are blond and blue eyed and both graduate this year; our granddaughter graduates from the University of Washington, and a grandson, we hope, is going to finish up at Evergreen in Olympia. And then we have a little guy that's bringing up the tail-end who will be five in April, and he's my daughter's son down in California.

Let me see... so the first, I think until my daughter was in the second grade, I just stayed home. We moved out here to the Beaverton area, and the kids have all gone to Beaverton schools, both graduated from Sunset High School down the road here. But in 1968, I decided I would, I wanted to be a social worker, so I went back to school. I went to Portland State and got a Master's in Social Work and worked as a social worker for next twenty years. I worked at Good Samaritan Hospital; and for the last fourteen years of that period, I was director of social work at Good Sam.

I can't think of anything really exciting. I guess just some comments... I guess I've never really felt that I was an intimate member of a Japanese community; I guess because I didn't grow up among them. I have some Japanese friends, of course, but I guess I've always felt more comfortable among Caucasians because that's where my associations have always been. Since I retired, I've done a lot of volunteer work. I've been on the Governor's Commission for Senior Services until I resigned early last year because of my husband's health, and I've done a lot of work with AARP. I used to travel all over the country doing diversity training for AARP. I've worked, I've volunteered for Multnomah County Aging Services, Elders in Action, always been very much interested in trying to access minority elders into the services that they need, so that has been my main focus in my retirement years. Well, I think that just about rounds it up. Oh goodness me, it's almost 5 o'clock.

DF: Were you active in the JACL in Portland?

SS: Off and on. I wouldn't consider myself a really active participant. My husband was president, I think, in the early '80s, so I helped during that time. I've always been a member, but I can't say that I've been, you know, an active, real active participant.

DF: Have you talked with your children about life at camp?

SS: Some. They always come back with, "How come you went along with that?" you know. They just cannot understand why we, according to my son, "placidly went along," and I try to explain to him that he grew up in a different era. He got arrested once for being a Vietnam War protester, laid across the freeway up in Seattle or some such thing. So he just, it's hard for him to understand the environment of the time, and I said, you know, "We were not raised to be assertive, and we just didn't feel we had a choice." Well, he thinks that's all stupid. [Laughs] We haven't come to terms with that yet. And I can see his point, but we just were not raised that way.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

DF: Going back to camp, what was your understanding of why you were there?

SS: Well, we were told that we were there for our own protection, that this big white world out there was going to get us, I guess. I think we were there for political reasons, for economic reasons and because the war provided an opportunity for a few people who felt very strongly anti-Japanese to get the momentum going and to push for the incarceration of Japanese people. I think, you know, if it had been my son's generation, they would have fought it, we didn't. We just felt that we just didn't have a choice, and we packed up and meekly went to camp; and at that point, I think that was probably the best we could do. I would hope that that kind of decision making would never become necessary for any other group of people. I think we who experienced the camp episodes have an obligation to tell our story and to get it written in the history books so that future generations will know that this did happen. I've met people in the Midwest who can't believe that we actually were herded up and put into camps. So I think there's still opportunities to do education and to make a statement. I had great concerns when the Arab situation and the Mideast situation was becoming pretty chaotic that, you know, they could be rounded up and put away. During the Civil Rights Movement of the blacks, there were instances when it was mentioned that maybe some of the camps could be reactivated, and some of the real active ones could be incarcerated there. I think there's always a danger, and you know, eternal vigilance is necessary.

DF: What was it like for you to be at the assembly center and at camp to be surrounded with Japanese people?

SS: It was kind of startling, at first, to when, I remember coming into the Portland Expo Center when we got off the train, and I saw this mass of black heads and people that look like me, and I had never seen so many and been among so many, and it was almost scary whether it was because I just had never really associated with any. But, you know, I became, it just got a little, had to get used to just being among Japanese people.

DF: How many people were at Heart Mountain?

SS: I think there were over ten thousand. I don't know the exact number, but it was like a city, had all the so-called amenities of a city. Walt and I drove, we were on our way to Yellowstone, and so we decided we'd swing over. He had never been to Heart Mountain, and there wasn't anything there. I think there was one barracks there; and of course, they're trying to form a, I guess there is an organization to make that a national monument like with all the other ten places, but it really looked different because it was so lush and green. The agriculture had taken over where all the camps, the barracks had been. So the only familiar thing was the mountain in the background.

DF: What was your connection to the outside world while you were in camp?

SS: The connection to the... excuse me, I corresponded with some friends back in Granger, and then I had a former Sunday school teacher that I kept in touch with all through camp and the war years until she passed away, and she lived in Spokane.

DF: And how about when you left for Sterling, what kind of communications you had with your family?

SS: When I left Sterling?

DF: When you were at Sterling.

SS: Well, we, you know, wrote letters. That was about it. We didn't make any, in those days, phone calls weren't that, well, they wouldn't have gotten phone calls anyway in camp, so we just wrote letters.

DF: And what happened when they were released from camp?

SS: My family first went back to the valley, and then my father decided that he would like to go up to Seattle, so they all moved up to Seattle.

DF: So what was there when they returned back in the valley to the property?

SS: Well, that was part of the problem. The people that we had stored our things with, the man had died, and people had gone through this shed where he had allowed us to keep our things, and so we really didn't have much left.

DF: So what was life starting over for your father?

SS: Well, it was pretty difficult, you know. He was pretty elderly by that time, so he didn't try to do anything. He was retired by that time.

DF: And what was, what were holidays like at Heart Mountain?

SS: You know, I can't really remember any great holidays. Isn't that interesting? You know, I had never thought about that, but I don't remember, I don't remember even a Christmas tree in the mess hall. They surely must have had one, and they must have served turkey at Thanksgiving, but I don't remember, isn't that strange? You know, I had an interesting incident here a couple years ago. I was talking to a Nisei lady here in town, and she said to me, "Do you know that in all the years that I was in camp, I don't ever remember taking a shower or going to the bathroom." And I said, "What?" and she said, "That communal bathing and toileting was so traumatic for me," that she said, "I just, I don't ever remember taking a shower or ever going to the bathroom," so she just blocked it out completely. And so I guess for me, you know, holidays are always a great thing for me, and they must have been pretty dismal because I don't remember a thing until you just mentioned it. I just never thought about Christmas or anything.

DF: So what would your message be for future generations?

SS: What would my message be? Well, to live and laugh and love, and for everyone to have free choice of how he shall live and where he shall live and what he will do with his life. I don't know. I think every person has to follow his passion and live life to the fullest and always have respect for the other person and what his needs might be. I guess that's what I love for my children.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2003 Oregon Nikkei Endowment and Densho. All Rights Reserved.