Remembering Manzanar

 

As told by Sharon Ozaki Kadoma.

On April 2nd 1942 my father mother, older sister, Himeko, and I boarded a train in union station LA, soldiers were standing with guns beside the train and all the window shades were drawn. When we arrived in Manzanar it was dusty windy and cold, a new experience for me as it was always warm on the beach where we lived in Venice and long beach. There were no bathrooms when we arrived and we all slept in one room. I heard my sister told mom I can’t sleep because this blanket makes my neck itchy, mom put a towel around our necks and told us to try to sleep. In the morning I saw barbed wire fencing all around us. There were soldiers with guns on guard towers and more soldiers driving jeeps around the fence guarding us. In the distance I saw huge dark almost black mountains covered with snow. Every house looked the same. Long black with the wood step in front of every door. The building we stood in line for breakfast, lunch, and dinner looked just like all the other buildings and we ate at long tables with other people. One evening we attended a stage play. After the final curtain we started to walk toward the building where we lived, my dad picked me up and we walked and walked we could not find our place, because all the places looked exactly alike. It was dark I could not see anything. Our family was really lost out there; dad walked to the very end of all the buildings and counted the number of buildings backward to find our little room there in the desert in this little place called Manzanar. I remember dad and mom repairing our room because it got so hot and dusty in the summer and so cold during the spring and fall. They stuffed rags around the window and nailed tin can tops in the knots in the floor. They hung a wire in the middle of the room and placed a blanket on it to divide the room. Hime and I slept on one side of the blanket and mom and dad slept on the other side. One night in October of the same year I went to sleep in dad’s bed and Hime went to sleep to mom. I woke in the morning in my own cot next to Hime I heard go to over to wake up mom I heard her crying and yelling at mom wake up wake up I got up and jumped on dad to wake him up but he didn’t wake up. There was a rag soaked in blood wrapped around mom’s neck I heard gurgling noises as dad’s chest went up and down I shook him again and again and climbed on top of him but his eyes did not open I heard a knock and the next door neighbor was shouting Open the door. Hime opened the inside door ran back but the screen door was still closed and locked with the hook in the eye. I saw a group of people through the screen my neighbor stood in front of the screen door and told us to unlatch the hook my sister was still trying to wake mom, and I just sat on top of dad the neighbor got a matchbook out of his pocket unfolded it and slip the cardboard part and unlatched the hook. The lady next door came in and told us to come with her I remember the large dark room filled with people the burning smell of incense and everyone staring at us there were loud gongs and someone talking for a long time I was too young understand the significance of any of this we were placed in an orphanage called the children’s village for the remainder of WWII the war ended on august 15th 1945 the day before my 7th birthday. Three long years after my parents death, the decision to sell our house, new car, and business were made by the staff that ran Manzanar my relatives were not consulted I was three when we entered Manzanar, turned 4 when both of parents died in October and the orphans were the last to leave after the war. I can’t begin to imagine how difficult it must have been for my parents and other relatives meanwhile my aunt Buing uncle Joe uncle tom and three cousins were waiting for us to come home to them in Harington Washington where my mother was born 27 years earlier. My dad wrote a letter to my aunt before the murder suicide and asked to take care of us. They were not incarcerated but unable to travel due to government restrictions of Japanese people at that time my aunt said that she cried every day until we came home to live with her. I have always wondered why we have been placed in children’s village for three years while our family was anxiously waiting for us.




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