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Tessaku

Fusae Yoshida - Part 2

End of school celebration. (Courtesy of the Dell Family Collection, Densho)

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[To Fusae] Do you remember a conversation that your parents had with you over moving to the camps?

They went with the flow, evidently. They packed up. They closed their laundry business. And we waited for evacuation because we knew it was coming.

Did you ever experience anything negative from school?

Our school wasn’t that bad, I didn’t feel it. I was in junior high school. In fact, the school gave a special farewell assembly. The Mayor of Tacoma was one of the very few people who opposed the evacuation. He later became a U.S. senator. I think he was one of the very few who opposed the evacuation.

So in camp everybody started to separate. Everybody just did nothing. This was the beginning of family getting scattered. Boys went with their group and girls went with their group. My mother would occasionally work in this canteen, they used to bring in fresh tuna from Denver or some place. She would go to the mess hall and bring the food home. Because a lot of people would eat in the mess hall. A lot of people would go and get three meals a day and eat at their own home. Not very many but there were people.

Why do you think they did so?

Well they want privacy and maybe they didn’t want to intermingle with the rest of the crowd.

That’s true. And what was your first impression of Tule Lake?

Just a dust bowl. It was a huge, huge camp. But I was a teenager you got to figure that. It didn’t affect me as much, I had my friends. We palled around together, walked to school together. Ice and snow and everything else.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in poverty but I wanted to have some money to buy things I wanted through the catalog. The Montgomery Ward’s catalog. So, the first summer I was there, I knew there was a waitress job open at our mess hall. I couldn’t get a job because I was too young so I used my father’s cousin’s wife’s name because she wasn’t working. And I got a full $16 check, which was really good. So she would just endorse the check and I would have $16 to spend. And that’s how I made three months of my spending money which was great for me. Then we went to Jerome and I didn’t work there. But when we went to Wyoming, there was a clerk job. It was my first clerical job. And when school started, I should’ve taken college prep but I figured I won’t be able to go to college because my family couldn’t afford it, so I just took business courses and I only had to go to school half day. So I took a job for half a day at the adult education supervisor’s office as a receptionist. I must have gotten $12 a month in the warehouse, and I got $8 a month working part time. I did anything to get some money.

What did you want to buy with it?

Anything, like new shoes, anything for my own personal use.

Were your mother and father working in camp?

Yeah they were working in camp. Then my mother took up sewing and drafting up clothing in camp, so she made all my clothes. My mother made all my skirts. In those days you wore pleated skirts.

You mentioned that your father had finally gone to a dance. What do you remember about the dance and that night?

Learning how to communicate with people. You know you go to a dance and talk to a strange boy and all that. I think I learned my conversational skills by meeting strangers for the first time.

Do you remember anyone you spoke to in particular?

My husband passed away twenty years ago. But a boy who dated me when I was 18 is presently my boyfriend. But he’s not too well right now, he’s getting old. We’ve traveled the last 15 years. Been about ten times to Japan, to Europe, we’ve gone on cruises, gone down the Panama Canal, we’ve done everything. And my husband was a traveller too and he and I traveled. But after he was gone I said, gee…

It’s just nice to go with someone.

But now he can’t travel anymore so now I’m traveling with my older children.

Did you meet shortly after camp?

No, we met in camp because his girlfriend left for Nebraska. And then I came to Oakland and he was living in San Jose and he dated me again. But in the meantime, his girlfriend came back from Nebraska and he married her because he had gone with her for about three years. And I married someone else I met in the flower business.

But you two stayed friends.

We never saw each other, we didn’t even knew who each other married, never communicated.

How did you get back in touch?

They started have camp reunions. And the first camp reunion I went to, someone called me and I didn’t recognize him but I recognized his voice. He had changed so much. Gotten fatter or something. [laughs] People change but he recognized me.

And you hadn’t seen him since-

Right after camp. I hadn’t seen him for 35 years or something like that. It’s fun.

Do you remember anything about your parents feelings towards going to camp? Were they feeling distant from Japan or were they angry about what was happening?

I really don’t know. I never overheard their conversation. They thought they had to somehow carry on in the U.S. They had no intention of going back to Japan.

When he came back to Oakland, his hobby was gardening. He should’ve been a gardener from the beginning because even in camp he had flowers growing in pots and things like that. We always had a garden, wherever we lived, no matter how poor we were. He would have fields of dahlias blooming or plants growing. So he started working for another guy as a gardner. It was natural to him. I used to have a quarter acre beautiful Japanese rock garden.

Why do you think he didn’t pursue that as his profession?

He was not an aggressive man. He never drove a car. I don’t think he was the type of man who would get into something unless he was hired by someone. But he was just a natural gardner.

In your opinion, what would you say was the most difficult part of camp?

What bothered me the most was that I was separated from my childhood friends and we were sent to Arkansas while all my friends were sent to Minidoka where the Seattle group was located. So I was on my own. I had to start making my own friends and that was very difficult.

I felt sorry for a lot of people. They were kicking people out of camp in 1945. And they were looking for translators because a lot of people didn’t speak in English. Somehow I got recruited in translation and I remember interviewing some people, some old bachelors. You know, “Where do you want to go back?” They said they didn’t know where they wanted to go back. They had no money. That’s where I really felt, I guess like an adult: What’s going to happen to these people? They didn’t have a sense of returning, to what? Because there were people like that.

We were lucky we had family. Those who had family were most fortunate. But those single people.

 

*This article was originally published on Tessaku on October 30, 2016.

 

© 2016 Emiko Tsuchida

buddhist church camps Depression heart mountain Pearl Harbor reunions tule lake Washington World War II

About this series

Tessaku was the name of a short-lived magazine published at the Tule Lake concentration camp during World War II. It also means “barbed wire.” This series brings to light stories of the Japanese American internment, illuminating those that haven’t been told with intimate and honest conversation. Tessaku brings the consequences of racial hysteria to the foreground, as we enter into a cultural and political era where lessons of the past must be remembered.