IAmA Japanese American who was imprisoned in the Internment Camp Tule Lake. AMAA
My grandmother lived in the Tule Lake internment camp during World War II. She was 15 when she first went into camp and had just started her Junior year of high school. She was one of the last people to leave (Oct 1945) because she worked at the hospital. She'll be answering the questions and I'll be typing them up.
Someone from the camp posted the yearbook online so here's a link to her senior year yearbook.
edit: This was fun! Thanks. But it's midnight here and my grandma is going to bed. I'll stick around for a bit and answer questions that I can to the best of my ability. I know that there are other Japanese Americans answering questions here too. Thanks! It's really interesting to hear other experiences and your thoughts.
Also, thank you to those who are providing additional information!
No. To me it was just an unfortunate decision by the American Government. And there were probably It was just the western coast that was evacuated because they thought we were helping Japan. And of course there were prominent japanese people in the community who always talked to people in Japan. And we would go to Japanese businesses, but it wasn't to be disloyal, they were just more comfortable speaking Japanese. We banked at Sumitomo bank (which is a Japanese owned bank) to send money back to family in Japan. My father used to take the worker's money to the bank to send back to Japan because they didn't know how to.
I learned that war histeria is a terrible thing.
(my mom then asked my grandma "did you face prejudice after the war?") No. The only thing was that we had to find an apartment afterwards with hardly any money. We had to split up because we couldn't live in the same apartment because they were so small.
Have you been to the Japanese American museum in LA?
I learned that before the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt fearing that Japan would join Germany, had made an official survey to determine the loyalty of the Japanese Americans.
The determination was that they were no threat and were quote "Embarrassingly enthusiastic to be American".
However, President Roosevelt didn't want to make a poor political decision so he left it up to the military to decide so he could defer guilt. Most of the decision came from the local citizens who were either afraid of the Japanese Americans or who had financial gains by eliminating the many successful businesses, farms and land they had created / owned.
However, the Japanese in Hawaii, who made up the largest population in Hawaii "400,000" were not interred because it would have ruined their economy. Yet Hawaii was the site of the of the attack and the Japanese were not feared or put in camps.
My family lost their successful business and home. They rebounded and several were successful afterwards but my great grandparents bounced around from small business to small business afterwards.
Granddaughter talking: We have been to the Japanese American museum in LA. In fact, they interviewed my grandma for a video they have there.
With that assessment thing you're talking about- That's precisely why Fred Korematsu's (the guy who sued the American government about this) case was re-opened like 40 years later. They found a memo where the people who did the assessment said that he didn't recommend the Japanese Americans be put into camps. Anyway, the Supreme Court ruled that internment camps themselves are still legal, but doing it to Japanese Americans was wrong.
Hello. I just wanted to say "Hi." I am reading this AMA and appreciate you doing this. I have studied this topic recreationally, it is nice to hear a first person perspective. My questions:
Was it difficult to get information about what was going on outside the camps? i.e. the status of the war?
What was it like when you heard the war had ended? Excited to leave the camp?
Any residual anger towards the government?
I don't know. i think we had radios. We didn't bring radios in because it was too much to carry. I guess people bought some later and we would find out information from them. Later on we had movies and they would show movies and newscasts so we used to get news that way. We had a canteen and they had newspapers. Not at first though
Of course we were excited. We just wondered when we were going to leave. You know they could say the war ended today, the doesn't mean that we're going to leave tomorrow. And you know we had people in stockades and we had to take care of them, and people in hospitals we had to take care of.
granddaughter: How did you find out the war had ended?
grandma: We were getting news all the time. I think it was the radios. I don't know if we had one. We probably got it from sears or the montgomery ward catalog.
I don't call it anger I would call it disappointment that the government didn't trust us. I think they said after the war there wasn't any sabotage that was done by Japanese Americans.
Please go on more about the people in Stockades?
granddaughter here: She didn't know much about them at all. I personally had never heard of it until I went to the pilgrimage. I was like 14 at the time so I don't remember much, but here's what I do remember. I remember that it was built to only hold somewhere around 30 people and something like 100 people ended up there. It was built using really nice concrete, so it's the only building that remains standing. Someone was really nice and donated a cover that was built over it so it would be preserved. We got to go inside and it was really dark and creepy and there were poems on the wall (and graffiti from taggers). It's not surprising though. If people would go through and dig up a cemetery, graffiti on a wall is nothing.
I have (really shitty) pictures from when I went and if I have time, I'll post it up later. I don't remember much and if anyone has any info to add on, please do!
did you ever see anything cruel happen at the camp? such as military abuse or harsh injuries?
no. I never saw anything bad like that happen.
What are some of the hardships she has faced?
Not knowing where we were going to be sent. We didn't know what kind of clothes to prepare or what kind of equipment. We didn't know how they were going to feed us and if we needed to bring our own pots and pans.
After we got to camp, everyone was ordering from Montgomery ward and Sears catalogs for supplies they needed.
When we were on the trains I peeked out of the window and saw a sign for Dunsmire and I told my dad that we were headed up north. Then they loaded us on trucks and took us into the camps.
When I saw all the barbed wire I thought Oh my gosh. Those Sentry towers had the guns pointed at us. Even when we were all in, they were supposed to protect us from people trying to storm in, but the guns were pointed into the camps. I didn't see those guns, but others said "hey, those guns are pointed at us. not outside".
When we came we had nothing. We didn't even have a table. We had to build our own table and chairs. All we had were cots and a stove. A big black iron stove. They were later replaced with steel beds, but we had to wait a long time for mattresses.
The first day I saw snow it was so beautiful. I woke up in the middle of the night. The sky was a pretty blue. Afterwards we were thinking "When is this snow going to stop. It's so cold!"
Wow. I'm a junior in highschool and I have not once heard about the internment camps.
From my mom: Where are you from? (She's curious because not many people on the east coast are familiar with the camps. My grandma has a neighbor that came from Massachusetts and when she used the word "camp" the neighbor asked "oh what kind of recreation camp did you go to? She was shocked to hear about the internment camps)
I'm from Iowa.
i'm from iowa as well and we learned about it nearly every year from like 7th grade until 11th
granddaughter: This is fantastic to hear. I live in CA where most of the japanese were from, and I remember that there was only one paragraph in my history textbook.
Do you think something like this could happen again in the United States today?
granddaughter here: They're not illegal here, so it's totally possible. After 9/11 the JACL (Japanese American Citizen's League) spoke out to make sure it didn't happen again.
What and how often were they fed? Did the guards invade privacy a lot?
No. The guards hardly ever came into camps. The only time was when army tanks came rolling in. They were searching for something. (my grandma can't remember what they were looking for)
(my mom commented something about my grandma previously talking about mutton stew and that to this day, my grandma doesn't eat lamb) They used to serve us Spam. If we got meat at all during breakfast, it was spam. Most people who were in camp remember spam. The meals weren't too bad. It was depending on the cook and we had a good cook.
The weather was terrible in the camps. Sometimes off in the distance you'd see something blowing and you knew it was a sand storm. So when it came you would duck and wait for it to pass. I don't know how, but the Japanese were able to make things grow in that weather. Some time during my senior year, we all took the day off of school to help pick potatoes. They served us warm milk and grey, smelly, bologna sandwiches. But we were so hungry at that point we didn't care and we ate them.
Was there any protesting at Tule Lake for being wrongly imprisoned?
Yes. If the protest was physical they were put into the stockade. It was such a big camp, you didn't hear everything that was going on. There were no newsletters or anything. Later on there was a newsletter that I think was called the Tulean Newsletter. Every group of 9 blocks had a different section in the newspaper.
Did She ever meet Jimmy Mirikitani? My wife's parents and relatives were all at Topaz in Utah. My wife's father, who was previous to the war in the US Army, got to go to the camp when he was on leave "for his protection". Do you know anyone else that had that experience?
With my greatest respect, thank you for reminding people this happened in recent history.
granddaughter: She never met him in camp. But she did meet him afterwards when we went to the pilgrimage. That was the year his documentary The Cats of Mirikitani came out and he went to Tule lake to tell his story and to show the documentary
Have you read the book Farewell to Manzanar , and how tough is it emotionally to think about what happened in the camps now?
I didn't read Farewell to Manzanar. (granddaughter speaking: I have though.)
How tough was it? I just think it waas a terrible mistake the American Government made. and I hope it's never repeated with any group.
Not a question but an interesting coincidence. My grandmother and grandfather were also interned at Tule Lake and it is where they met. My grandfather passed several years ago and we are planning a trip to bring my grandmother there this fall.
granddaughter here: that's so interesting! Just to warn you, there's nothing left at Tule Lake besides a cement slab from the bathroom, one barack that has been converted into a store (you can't even tell it's a barack anymore) and the prison. After the Japanese left, they sold all the barracks. But you can still see castle rock and the abalone mountain (I think that's what they're called). I would also suggest going to the nearest town. They have a small museum there I think. It wasn't much though.
Someone went a few years ago and dug up the grave yard. So that's not even left there.
granddaughter: corrected it. Thanks. My typing is super terrible so when I type everything quickly as my grandma says it it's really bad. Then I go back and try to correct all the typos
I she going to be answering the questions?
If so what was it like immediately after she left? Could she pick up where she left off or did she have to start all over again?
She'll be the one answering all the questions. I'll add my comments in parentheses where there needs to be clarification.
We had to start all over again. My parents came out first and they found a place before I left camp (the hospital workers were the last ones to leave). They had a small little apartment for 7 of us above a tofu factory. They took in other issei (first-generation Japanese) who wanted to live with us. My father was looking for a place to start a business. But right away he was able to buy a small panel truck and use to take workers to any farm that needed workers.
Do you think the US made the right decision? Were you being threatened before going into the camp?
I'm sure there would've been stones thrown at japanese stores and japanese murdered if we had stayed. But why single us out? Why didn't they put in germans and italians in camp?
At least give everyone notice to tie up their life. It was so unfair. On Dec 7th they took some men in the middle of the night without notice. They took most of the men to Santa Fe without telling their family where they were sent until much later. Wartime histeria can be very bad.
I didn't hear of any evidence of Japanese Americans doing anything disloyal. The government especially suspected people from San Pedro since many of them were fishermen. They were afraid the fishermen were taking supplies out to Japanese submarines.
edit: I don't know how true it is about Sen Pedro. These were just things I heard after the war.
Can you describe an average day in the camp?
What sorts of birds and animals, if any, did you see?
What was the best day and the worst day?
How was the food?
How were the beds/sleeping accommodations?
Please tell her I am ashamed that people were forced out of towns into the camps; that was an unamerican thing to do.
- We have to go to breakfast at 8. I think probably lunch was at 12. In between we went to school or to work. The camp is large, so I had to walk pretty far to high school and the hospital where I worked because they were next to each other.
There was a big field between the last barack and the hospital. In the winter when it was cold, there was nothing but snow.
I don't remember animals. But there were seagulls because there was dry lake and they were still hanging around. They would catch gophers or little mice. That's what they were picking up.
my best day was when i was going to school we used to go to regular school and after we would go to japanese language school.
We had socials and dances. We had them about once every other month. Movies were like once a month. That's when we would get the latest news.
Every block was different. Our block had a good cook. It was not a variety. It was pancakes most mornings, and occasionally eggs.
Terrible. When we first got there they had stacks of cots. and everyone picked up and cot it back to their barrack. at the very beginning we were given a bag and we had to stuff straw into them for mattresses. about 2 weeks later they brought in steel cots and we couldn't sleep on the cots we had to wait for mattresses. They mattresses were maybe 4-5 inches thick. The camps didn't supply us with sheets. so everyone didn't have sheets so most people had to order them from a catalog.
The my sister asked "Was it cold when you got there?". My grandma replied: We got there in June so it was getting hot already. We were evacuated in march or april. We were first at an assembly center. They took us to this newly made army camp in valerga (sp?). They were poorly built, so there were huge gaps in the floor where weeds would go through. The walls would only go up about 3/4ths of the way so you could hear everything your neighbors would say.
My sister then asked about the toilets. my grandma replied: We would have one big box for a toilet with a big holes in it with no dividers. You would look in to see if someone was there. There were 3 or 4 holes in there, but no one wanted to go there when there were people going.
Tule lake there were exposed toilets and they built in dividers afterwards. There were only 2 or 3 toilets I think for a huge block. I think ladies had to wait often. There were around 2 shower stalls for a huge block of barracks. You would know when it got busy so I would avoid it during those times. Walking back from the shower it was so cold, especially in the snow. We would wear these shower sandals and by the time we got back our feet were so cold. There wasn't much privacy because we had to share with the whole block. Young people like us were too shy to go in so we would wait for everyone to leave. The older people didn't care.
Where I grew up there was 2 story high apartments filled with japanese. Around the corner was all these commercial businesses, bathhouse, florist, a large japanese store, a place where they would sell fish...
Did you get angry over what happened at Pearl Harbor which lead to the camps happening?
I was surprised. Shocked that a small country like japan would attack such a big country like the United States with all its resources.
The nerve of them. I couldn't understand how they could feel like they could invade the United States.
Was she an American citizen at the time?
We renounced our citizenship about a year before we left [the internment camps] to stay with our parents. One of the questions was "Did we have any loyalty to the Japanese Emperor?". Many people didn't like that question. We were born in America. Why would we have any loyalty to the Japanese Emperor?
(She's referring to the loyalty questions. She didn't talk about it this time, but she usually tells me that after the questionare came out, they had meetings every night to try to figure out what to answer. At the time there were rumors going around that everyone would be shipped back to Japan. If they said they weren't loyal, they would be alienated in Japan (as well as the United States). If they answered yes, she would probably be able to stick with her parents.)
With those questions, isn't that how men at Tule Lake got the term, the No-No Boys? Those who answered no to both questions? My grandparents weren't interned, but my brother just went to the Tule Lake pilgrimage a few weeks ago.
As a fellow Japanese-American, thank you for this AMA
Granddaughter here: Yup! She's a "no-no boy". I didn't find this out until a few years ago. Up until then she never mentioned it. I think it was because she was so embarrassed that she answered no to those questions.
If you have the opportunity, you should go to the pilgrimage. It's one of the best experiences of my life.
I'm sorry. I'm confused about your answer.
The question was: "Were you an American citizen at the time?"
You answered: "We renounced our citizenship about a year before we went to stay with our parents."
I'm trying to figure out what you meant by that, so here's a question spew. My apologies if it seems a bit much, I'm just trying to get a better idea of what all happened:
When did you go stay with your parents? Was it immediately before the internment?
Did you renounce Japanese citizenship, or did you renounce American citizenship? Did you do this formally through a consulate or embassy? Did you acquire another citizenship upon renouncing (whichever one), or did you become stateless? For that matter, what is our current citizenship?
Hope you don't mind my inquisitiveness.
granddaughter here: I can answer those questions. She meant that she renounced her American citizenship about a year before camp ended through the "loyalty questions". My grandma was never a Japanese citizen. She was born and raised in California. She got to stay with her parents throughout camp and afterwards. She became stateless. She's currently an American citizen.
Did you face a lot of discrimination before you were interned?
No. Like i said my friends were all Japanese. Only time i felt almost like an outsider was when I went to high school and they were 75% non asians.
mom: Were they ever prejudice? Did they call you names?
grandma: no no. They never talked to us or interacted with us. When break would come I would go to my japanese friends. We were very separated. I think it was easy for them to put us into camp because we weren't integrated. We just married and talked to Japanese. There was this filipino family in camp. The children were half japanese so they were separated during the war. The dad would drive up every weekend to visit his family since his wife and children were in the camp. I think it was too much for him because eventually he only came every other week.
What was the lead up to the internment like?
Did you know that it was coming, were you able to pack up your belongings, say goodbye to your friends, etc?
How did the others (non-Japanese) in your community react when you left/when you came back?
My whole community was all Japanese. My church was japanese, my neighbors were japanese and when I went around the corner to go to school everyone was Japanese. My neighbors were Chinese and they never said anything mean to us. The only thing they did was wear these pins that said "I'm Chinese" so others would know that they weren't Japanese. The Caucasians that lived in our hotel were sad that they would do something like this to us.
My mom to my grandma: did you have to sell your belongings? Grandma: The hotel furniture stayed with the hotel business. We had to sell our personal belongings. I remember this beautiful dark pink couch. My dad bought it for my sister and I when we were growing up because he knew we would want to have friends over.
When we came back my dad thought we could get back the hotel again, but another Japanese family had already leased it.
I spend a lot of time in the Presidio, San Francisco, where the base there 1) received first news about Pearl Harbor and 2) where General John L. DeWitt signed the order to intern the Japanese.
Although I was not alive when this happened, this moment of American history sickens and appalls me. Not just because of my Jewish heritage, but because it was an inexcusable event. Extreme "patriotism" that causes the most damage to American citizens. It's an unfortunate trend that still seems to happen.
And here's to the question: Did your grandmother continue to work in hospital after she left the camp?
No. I have no qualification. I'm a time keeper. That doesn't qualify me to work in a hospital. My sister was a dietician in camp. That might've qualified her to work into a hospital. But a camp hospital is not as qualified as a real hospital, so I don't know if that would help her. She didn't plan out diets like my son [who's a registered dietician] does.
granddaughter speaking: She's always talked about wanting to go back to school to become a doctor, but they lost her high school diploma after camp.
Ever meet George Takei?
granddaughter: I think he was born in the camps or was really young while he was in them. He's coming out with a new musical about it. Here's a plug, because he's so cool: http://www.allegiancemusical.com/
What did she do exactly at the hospital?
I was a timekeeper at the hospital. I was a clerk at the time keeper's office in the hospital.
Did you see anything that was nsfl?
The only thing was my friend that got killed in camp. He was killed by some people that thought he was too pro-administration. I don't know whether it was a bad rumor or whether he was helping them or what. That's just what I heard.
How did individual European Americans treat you? Were people sympathetic or cold to the way you were being treated? Also, did anybody help you out by watching over your property while you were interred and then giving it back to you when the war war over?
Edit: Okay, so I read further and see that your family had to start over economically. Do you know of any instances where European Americans helped any Japanese Americans out, either by protecting their property while they were gone or any other way? Just curious. I'll feel better about "the Greatest Generation" if any of them took matters into their own hands to do the right thing for friends or neighbors who happened to be of Japanese extraction.
We couldn't own property. You had to be 21 and an American citizen. (my grandma was too young and her parents weren't american citizens).
We had to sell all our stuff on the street on the sidewalk. My father bought a beautiful couch for 100 dollars and we sold it for 10. We had to sell everything. We only had a week. We could only bring a suitcase full of clothes. And we didn't know whether we were going to a cold place or a hot place. And mothers with babies had to bring baby clothes and couldn't bring much of their own clothes.
We kept some of our stuff in my church and nobody touched it because the neighbors liked us and said they would watch our things. I know a lot of farmers where they kept their stuff in barns were broken into because everyone knew that there was no one to watch their stuff.
This might be a long shot. I know this topic is over 8 hours old at this point and you have more questions than you know what to do with. But there is a question that has burned in me since I watched some stock videos on the interment in high school.
One of the commentaries talked about how interns were fed rice with apricots and an apricot glaze as a dessert at one meal. Apparently from the commentary, this was extremely insulting because in Japanese cuisine no on would ever serve something so sweet on rice. I immediately thought, "Really? He lost his home and business and is disconnected from his family and what he was most worried about was the dessert they served?"
Ever since then I've just accepted it as simple propaganda to assuage the guilt over the internment (e.g. if all they had to complain about was dessert how bad could it be?). But still in the back of of my mind I wonder was mixing rice with sweets really offensive?
Obviously, this isn't a super serious question, and get to the ones that are before this. But if you or any of your family can comment on mine it would be appreciated.
granddaughter here: I remember this story from the pilgrimage I went on. They said that a few citizens from the nearby town were allowed to come visit the camp to see what it was like. When those visits happened, they were served nice food in a nice place and so for years they thought it was some cushy place.
Apricot glaze with rice sounds absolutely disgusting.
From what I've heard from various aunts/uncles/grandparents camps were pretty fun if you were a teen and after you got used to not having any privacy. My uncle tells me that some of his best memories were from camp. He told me about hanging out with his friends all day around the barracks, and during the cold weather, they would put a rope around the basketball court and fill it with water so it would freeze up and they would have an ice rink.
Of course, their parents (understandably) kept most of the terrible stuff away from them, so from a teenager's perspective it was a worry free camp with all your friends of the same ethnicity were nearby. It was probably drastically different for parents who didn't have an american citizenship, could barely speak English, had kids to take care of and could only pack a few bags and sell all your belongings.
My grandfather used salvaged materials from the Tule Lake camp to build his house and barn. The house is still there, barn burnt down.
granddaughter: At Tule Lake now, there aren't any barracks left because they did a program where they sold all of them. I always what happened to them after the government sold them. Thanks
My grandma was at Tule Lake as well! I'm not positive which years, and I'm sure it's a long shot already, but any chance your grandmother knew a Kim Uriu?
Do you mean Kiriu?
She doesn't know Uriu.
My grandparents were interned at Tule Lake! It was a big camp, but did you happen to know Tatsuo Egi? Or the Yagi's?
I know there were Yagi's. I know Elizabeth Yagi. She was very popular in school. Most of those in the camp were from cities near Sacramento.
My grandparents were interned at Tule Lake. I have nothing to ask you, because you have shared so much. I never spoke to them about it because I felt it was something I shouldn't talk about; they raised their family with very little Japanese influence due to being interned.
(They have since passed away.)
Thank you for sharing.
granddaughter here: I'm sorry to hear about your loss.
My grandma talks about it often. She'll just say "In camp we....". I think because she sees it as an event that was part of her past and not something to be ashamed about. My grandfather didn't say much though. Other than him, my whole family was like this, although I know many people never mention any of it. It's weird because one of my professors has had a question about the camps and I've known the answer since I was really really little.
My mom, aunts, and uncle were raised with little Japanese influence too. I was probably raised with more Japanese influence than her (my grandma attempted to teach me Japanese for years, whereas she only knows a few words).
Question to everyone: Did any other sansei or yonsei have a lot of Japanese influence growing up? Did the internment affect how much influence you were raised with? I'm curious.
Thank you so much for doing this. As a mixed Japanese-American, I always wondered if there were any mixed Japanese-Americans at the camps.
I assume not, because of the laws against intermarriage, but I've never gotten to ask someone who was actually in one of the camps. (My obaachan didn't emigrate until after the war.)
granddaughter here: I asked my grandma that while we were doing this interview. She said she only knew of one family, which i mentioned in a previous answer. They were half Filipino. The wife and 3 kids had to be in camp and the dad would drive up every weekend to visit them.
I have recently been researching the camps. One that's puzzling me is one near where Windsor, CA is today. We live near there and our father was always telling us stories about the history of the area, even taking us to where things happened so we could see for ourselves, but that's one I never heard about. My brother insists that there was one there, but researching brings up absolutely nothing. Maybe he heard it from somewhere else? I don't know, but it's set solid in his mind that there was one in that area. I just can't find anything on it. It's not Tule Lake, and I'm not sure if your grandmother would have any knowledge of other camps, but any information would be greatly appreciated. Any info from anyone would be greatly appreciated.
granddaughter speaking: It might not be an internment camp, but one of the assembly centers they were brought to beforehand. While the permanent camps were being built, the Japanese were taken to these temporary places. Tanforan is super famous for having terrible conditions. They had to live in old horse stalls. If your dad was a prominent member of the japanese community, he might've been taken beforehand and I think those men were kept in different areas for a bit. I think.
Did she attend the Tule Lake pilgrimage a week or so ago?
granddaughter here: We didn't attend that one. We went in 2007. If anyone was at the one in 2007, I was the one who performed on stage!
Were there white people who married a japanese imprisoned too?
no. But I think if they wanted to they could come in. I don't remember seeing many mixed marriages besides that one Filipino family I mentioned earlier with the dad with 3 kids.
I find it amazing how loyal and resilient Japanese Americans are after having experienced such terrible hardships at the hand of the government they trusted.
My grandfather and his parents were also interred at Heart Mountain in Wyoming. They lost their business, home and possessions.
They were from California and got moved to Wyoming and had no idea how cold it could get and were not prepared.
It is a major black mark on America's good reputation. Despite the horrible treatment and years of imprisonment the Japanese citizens still remained loyal and also developed the most decorated fighting unit in American military history.
Although my great grandparents lost their business they did bounce back and started several small businesses. It was never the same as it was before bu they did manage some level of normalcy. However, their children all went on to be successful. They went to school, started businesses, and some of their children have gone on to extremely successful careers. Now in the 4th and 5th generation everyone is well adjusted, have strong families and are happy. Just a testament to the resilient spirit of the Japanese people.
Have you had to overcome resentment or hard feelings towards the American country or people for their acts of ignorance?
What lessons did you learn from the experience?
Was your family able to recover financially from the experience?
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