TC: Where were you originally interned during World War II? KS: Well, I was at Heart Mountain, Wyoming. TC: Do you remember if your family answered "yes; yes" or "no; no" to the Loyalty Oath? KS: Our family answered "no; no." So we were sent to Tule Lake, California [after Heart Mountain]. TC: Did you experience any discrimination because you said "no; no?" KS: Well, you know, I was only 15 when I was in camp, so it didn't bother me at all! I'm sure the rest of the people did. I was just a teenager. When I was at Heart Mountain I was 15, and when we had to answer the question, I was 16. So I had to answer that question and my parents told me what to write--to just answer no. My parents wanted to go to Japan, but we didn't because my mother died and the war ended while we were in camp. TC: Were you aware when you were interned that camp was a fundamental infringement on your rights? KS: Well, for me, I kind of liked it because you could see all your friends and play with them! I was too young to work--I just went to school. TC: So you went to school in camp--what grade were you in? KS: When I was at Heart Mountain, I was a junior--a third-year in high school. At Tule Lake I was a senior and I graduated. TC: What was the graduation ceremony like? KS: It was like a regular graduation. We all wore a cap and gown, and the ceremony was mostly the same as we usually have it.
This is the graduation ceremony for honor awards at Tule Lake on June 16, 1944. My great-grandmother (Kazuko's future sister-in-law) is third in line. This was the first commencement at Tule Lake since segregation in 1942. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration (2).
TC: Do you remember how your teachers or enforcing troops treated you? Were they kind? KS: I didn't feel anything, I guess because I was so young. I sure wish my husband was here--he could have told you. I don't remember much. TC: What do remember about life in the internment camp? KS: Conditions, well, at Heart Mountain, school was chaotic because it was the first year there, so I feel that I didn't learn much my senior year.* It was the first year, so they didn't have many resources. At my first camp [at the Los Angeles County fair], just imagine--we didn't have any inside (in our house)--the ceiling was open. We didn't have any plasterboard inside. It was really just a barrack. At Heart Mountain, the homes were a little more finished, and each room had a pot-bellied stove. That was our heating. When I went to Tule Lake it was better. But we were going to Japan, so I wanted to focus on learning Japanese, so the first year in Tule Lake, I didn't go to my senior classes in high school. Instead, I went to Japanese school. *By August of 1942, construction of barracks, mess halls, and educational facilities was completed. Construction workers bragged that it took only 58 minutes to build one barrack. This would come back to bite--many buildings were poorly constructed and deteriorated in the harsh Wyoming weather. It is also commonly acknowledged that these facilities originally lacked adequate materials. More materials came after the government transferred Kazuko to Tule Lake. (1) TC: You mentioned that you were planning to go to Japan. Was this during the war? KS: Yes, the war was still going on. That's what my parents told me, so that's what I planned on. TC: Besides going to school, what did you notice about the conditions in camp. Were they notably poor? KS: I wouldn't say the conditions were poor. At Heart Mountain, it got very cold in the winter and they didn't issue us warm clothes, so we had to buy own warm clothes.* I think the people that worked got a peat coat, but the people like us, who didn't work, didn't get anything that I know of. They gave us a little bit of money. *Temperatures at Heart Mountain sometimes dipped to -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Very cold is an understatement. (1) TC: Since they gave you just a little bit of money, did your parents have to work? KS: My parents didn't work, but my siblings did. My older brother worked with trucks and those things, and my second brother worked in the mess hall. And then, my sister, she just worked as--she put sugar in those little packets. We had rations. And my younger brother and I, we went to school. TC: I'm actually pretty interested in Tule Lake because they had a jazz band there--I love jazz. Do you remember anything about the jazz band? Did you go dancing? KS: Oh! Laughs. I didn't ever go dancing. I don't think my parents would have let me anyways. TC: I noted that a lot of people in camp seem to have wanted to assimilate. Do you remember people wanting to be more American? KS: No, I don't think so. I don't remember feeling that way. There were some people, maybe they did. But I don't remember. TC: Did you feel a strong connection with Japanese culture, then? KS: I wanted to learn the language. I didn't learn a lot. But since then, even after we came out, I didn't use it very much so I forgot it all! TC: Were you a United States citizen when you were interned? Were you born in the United States? KS: Yes. TC: So, did you grow up speaking English in school? KS: Yes. Let's see--well, I was real little before I started school, and I spoke just Japanese. But then when I went to school, we spoke English. We always spoke Japanese to our parents. TC: When Pearl Harbor occurred, do you remember what you were doing and how you felt? KS: Let's see. I think my sister and I were at home doing the laundry. Soon after, the rest of the family came home and told us what happened. TC: Were you scared when that happened? KS: No, well, I'm sure we were scared. I don't really remember how I felt but, I was born in Los Angeles County, so it's different from over here. They thought there would be an attack, so we had to have black curtains on our window--that I remember. TC: Why did you have to have black curtains on the windows? KS: They thought Japan attacked us over here in Southern California. The black curtains would hide any light from coming inside the house so bombers wouldn't be able to target towns and villages as easily. TC: Do you remember when you were taken away from your home? KS: We weren't taken to Heart Mountain--we were taken to to another center called the Assembly Center. They then took us to the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, California. TC: How did you feel to have been taken from your home? KS: I was sad to leave the house, that's about it. TC: Did you have any friends that weren't Japanese? KS: No, they didn't come to see us, so I wasn't too sad. TC: Do you remember if society at that time was highly racially stratified or racially divided? KS: We lived in the country. My dad was a farmer. We lived in the country, and I'm sure that in the city, there was bad segregation. I didn't feel it so much in the country. TC: Do you remember any distinct instances of racism or discrimination against you? KS: Well, my dad farmed with a German woman. She must have thought something about him, because she turned on him! That's all I remember, then we went into camp. TC: What do you think about Franklin Delano Roosevelt? KS: I don't think very well of him because he put us in there. TC: Did you receive reparations--$20,000 from the government--in 1988? KS: Yes, I did. I guess it was better than nothing, but it didn't repay everything that we lost. TC: Could you elaborate a little more on this property loss? KS: Well, we were in Heart Mountain, my dad needed to sell his property. His property was close to a school and they wanted to develop it, so he needed to sell it. I don't know how much he got, but since I was just a child, they didn't discuss it with me. I'm not sure what they did.
June 5, 2018 (Part 2) KS: Kaz Shimozaki, Lodi, California TC: Tilden Chao, Ithaca, New York
TC: Thank you so much for talking to me yesterday. I'm sorry about the weak signal. Hopefully it will be better today! I think we left off on reparations. Did you do anything in particular with this money? KS: I think my husband invested it in something. TC: Do you feel that this apology was legitimate? KS: Well, it didn't pay for everything we lost, I know, but it was better than nothing. TC: Did that change your opinion about the government at all? KS: Well, I think that Ronald Reagan really apologized. I think people changed a lot. There's more discrimination, yes, but you know, I think it's getting better. TC: Have you started to forgive the government for Japanese internment? KS: Not really, not one-hundred percent. We can't--I don't know. When you go by the Constitution, they weren't doing it right. TC: Today, we see with some policies that something like internment could appear again. What do you think the government could learn from internment? KS: To not do it again. We just need to be careful and not do it again. We don't want that again. TC: Did you teach your children about internment? KS: I think they learned from us, and from our friends, and their friends that they know. I'm sure they discussed it. But I'm sure they think the same way we do. TC: Once you got back from camp, what did you do? Were you able to attend college? KS: Oh no, we had to work. But at that time, my dad was sick, so I had to take care of him. My sister was already married, but my brothers all worked. TC: What was the job that you had at that time? KS: After my dad died, I went into Los Angeles and I got a job as a seamstress. I altered clothes--I fixed the clothes that people buy. That's what I did. TC: Afterwards, was life pretty much the same, or was it a little different? Did you experience any racism or discrimination? KS: In my experience, I didn't get any discrimination. I don't know why. It's probably where I went. TC: Today, are you a part of any official organization of survivors of Japanese internment? KS: Not really. I belong to JACL (Japanese-American Citizens League). They support Japanese people--its members. If there's any discrimination, they go out, and they try to find what's wrong, or you know, they go out and support us. I'm not active now. Personally, now, all I do is pay my dues. TC: Are you proud today to be an American? KS: Yes. Because I was born here, and I didn't like any other country as much as I like this one. TC: Did your family still maintain ties to Japan--did you still feel some sort of allegiance to Japan? KS: Yes, my dad wanted to go back to Japan. He came and immigrated to this country. He never went back, but he wished he could. We were going to go with him, but the war ended and my mother died, and we decided not to go. And after the war, in three years, he passed away. So we all stayed here. TC: Do you think that your parents were proud to have immigrated--do you think that they loved America? KS: I think so. My dad was a farmer, a very successful farmer. He was doing real well until we went into camp. I'm sure that he enjoyed this country. TC: I actually read a little bit about Heart Mountain on the internet, but I didn't know it went to -30 degrees! That's incredibly cold-- KS: It did! We were there just one year, but it went down to -30! I was walking to high school that winter, and every day, it was -10! TC: You mentioned earlier that you had to buy all your own things. Did your family manage to buy enough things to stay warm that winter? KS: We had to buy it and use our own money. We were lucky that we had enough money to buy all of that. TC: What were you allowed to bring with you? KS: They said just one suitcase per person, so everyone just filled their own suitcase. So that's how we went. TC: When you left, did you think that it would just be for a few weeks--did you know it would be for multiple years? KS: Oh, no. We knew it would be for the rest of the war, until the war was up. We didn't know what the future was going to be. They could have killed us, or you know. We're lucky that they didn't. TC: And when you came back from camp, were your house and possessions still there? KS: Oh no. When we came back, we didn't have a house because my dad had to sell it when we were in camp. TC: After Pearl Harbor, you mentioned that you might have been doing laundry with your sister. Then your family came back and they told you the news. Did you know what was going to happen to you? KS: When we heard about it that day, we didn't know what our future was going to be. That night when everyone came home, we discussed it, and we really didn't know what to expect. The Executive Order (9066) came out in February. We went to the Assembly Center in May. TC: I remember you talking about the fair in Los Angeles County. Why did they bring you to a fair, of all places? KS: Yes, that was the county fair at Pomona, California. Not too far from where we were living. Well, they built the barracks there. Some people had to stay in horse stalls. It was just like a regular camp--they had barracks there. TC: I see--so it wasn't for enjoyment. It was for internment. When you were at the fair, how close were you to white Americans? KS: There were probably white people in the administration surrounding the place, but I didn't see them. TC: You mentioned rationing and your sister filling up little packets of sugar. Was it hard to live on rations? KS: No, because we didn't cook. We had the mess hall. The sugar packets must have been for the people that drank the coffee--a packet each for the coffee. I didn't know much because I didn't drink coffee. TC: In the mess hall, did you eat American or Japanese food? KS: When we first got there, the American cooks were cooking our food but they were terrible! They would cook rice and it would be like mush. So the Japanese people took over, and they started cooking, because they know what we like--they cook the rice the way we like it. TC: You also said that it might have been almost enjoyable in camp. Do you remember your parents or adults being stressed? KS: I'm sure they were. Let's see--I was just a kid then, so we were happy to play with our friends! The first generation, I'm sure they weren't very happy there. TC: Did you learn American history when you went to school? KS: Yes, we did. At Heart Mountain--I was a junior there--I was taking United States history! Isn't that required junior year? It was such chaos there, and the teachers weren't very smart there, I don't think. I didn't learn anything my junior year! TC: Do you remember if people got very sick in camp--what did they do? KS: Yes, my mother did. Well, my mother and I went to the hospital--this was in Tule Lake. The hospital was on a hill, and we had to walk up to it because my sister had just had a baby. We went to see her and the baby at the hospital. Before [my mother] got to see the baby, she collapsed and had a stroke. They took her away but they didn't do anything I think, and three hours later, she passed away. TC: I'm so sorry to hear that. Did the doctors care about the well-being of internees? KS: Well the doctors, Japanese doctors, only got $19 a month. So, I don't think they really tried to save anyone. Actually there was once an uprising at Tule Lake against the government there. I think it was mostly led by the Kibeis, the people that went to Japan to get educated and eventually came back.
At this point the conversation diverged into non-related topics. For all intents and purposes, this is the end of the interview.
Resources (1) “Heart Mountain.” Roger Shimomura | Densho Encyclopedia, encyclopedia.densho.org/Heart_Mountain/. (2) High School Graduation. Newell, California, 16 June 1944.
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