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Leland Inaba - Part 2


The Inaba family at their home in Riverside.

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So do you remember your parents saying anything about this tension or the war that had broken out between the two countries?

No, they didn't talk about it. I think it was easier to handle hidden away or pushed to the background than to talk about it, you know because first of all, my dad was taken away right away because he was considered an alien. And so my mom had to take over everything else, including canceling all the appointments.

And we were fortunate that the land lady who owned the building where my dad had his office, she was a really rich lady from Pasadena. And her chauffeur — and this is back in the early ‘40s, to have a chauffeur, a legitimate chauffeur, she had to be a legitimate millionaire because there weren't that many.

And she came right away when she heard about it. She had a chauffeur drive her to Riverside and she told my dad, “Don't worry about your office.” And she and my mom went to J.C. Penney, bought a bunch of sheets, covered everything up with sheets, the dental equipment, the sofas and tables and everything. And she says, “Don't worry about the rent. You don't have to pay any money until you come back.” She's really nice.

But see, she knew Japanese because her chauffeur was Japanese, her gardener was Japanese. So she was familiar and she was well-educated. So she knew what was going on. She knew it was illegal what the government was doing. And so, you know, she was really nice.

Very. And so was your father's place still intact when you came back?

Oh, yeah. He says it was all intact.

That was very fortunate for your family. Do you know how long the FBI held your father?

He was in jail. He never got home until after the war. He was arrested, fingerprinted, photographed, and then went to Lordsburg, New Mexico as a first place. And then from there he was sent to Texas, Crystal City. And we were sent to Manzanar.

I didn't realize they didn't reunite you before going to camp. So what did you think? Did you assume something awful happened to your father?

No, no. My mother told us what what was going on or tried to explain to us but it was something I couldn't completely wrap my head around.

[Holly]: Did you say he was processed at Santa Anita? I thought you had a story where you guys got to see him through the fence at Santa Anita before he got shipped out or something.

[Leland]: Yeah, that's [where] one of the first emergency center was set up because it was a big area. They put up fencing all the way around. And so we visited him on certain days. Maybe it was Saturday or Sunday, and so we got to see him through through the fence. 

And this was before you yourself and your family had to go to camp, is that right?

Yes, right.

And then where were you sent with your mother and your brothers?

Well, we all moved to Los Angeles. We knew we were going to go into one of the quote “relocation centers” which is prison. And we knew that was going to happen so we wanted to stay together. We all moved to Grandma's house in Los Angeles so we could all at least be together. So we were like in a package when we went to Manzanar.

Is this your mother's parents or your father's?

My mother's parents.

So did you go to an assembly center before or did you go straight to Manzanar?

Straight to Manzanar. They put us on a train and we headed out there.

Do you remember the train ride from L.A. to Manzanar?

Yeah. It was just nothing fancy about it, just an old train with bench seats. And I remember we were stuck. Before we got to Manzanar the train had stopped for refueling or water or whatever. And there were a few people [who] came and brought us water, some juices, you know, citizens that lived around. Or I forgot what town it was, but it wasn't a big town, it was farming community. And we really appreciated that because everybody was panicking and prejudiced. And here, these people came with whatever they could afford.

And they would just hand it up to people in the train?

Yeah, they just came by and the windows would go up and they would hand [things to] us. 

I've never heard of that happening in any other experience of people from these little towns coming up to the trains. And I have to backtrack for a second because I wanted to ask about your home in Riverside. Did you have to get rid of your belongings? What happened with your home?

Oh, I think my folks were fortunate because both being educated, they had educated friends which realized hey, this is not right, this is illegal. And so they looked after us and volunteered to look after their property. So my mom and dad were fortunate having enough close friends that said, “Don't worry about it, we'll look after your property.”

So we took our personal furniture, put it into one bedroom, put a lock on it, and some of the furniture went into the garage part where they had a big room there that we could put furniture and just lock it up. And they looked after it and rented out the house. They collected the rent and put it into my folks' checking account. Yeah, they're really good.

That's amazing.

Well but these were all educated people, so they knew what was going on. There was a difference between our next door neighbor who was uneducated, panicking, emotional. And she testified that my dad at night would go up, climb these great big walnut trees with a flashlight, and signal enemy planes coming by. She testified under oath, this is the truth.

And of course, they believed her. 

Oh yeah, yeah. She was a living witness [laughs].

Do you remember even saying goodbye to your father from Santa Anita?

Not really, no.

And you felt like you would see him again? You weren't afraid that something would happen?

Well, no because I didn't really know what was going on.

So when you actually got to Manzanar, what were your first impressions of camp and you know, moving into this new place.

They're like military barracks. It's just row on row on row of houses hastily put together on lumber that was about one by six with gaps in between because they're in a hurry to put it together so they didn't bother lining them flush, there were cracks about that far apart. They just wanted to hurry up and build these things because they had to build hundreds of them. Fast.

What are some of the things you remember through your 10-year-old eyes of looking at this place? And the geography of it.

We had big mountains on one side and desert's on the other side, and it was all flat desert. Atmosphere, that's all, it's just flat, dusty, windy at times.

Do you remember the month when you got there?

No, I remember it was hot. I remember it was windy, dusty. And yeah, that's about it.

And were you living with your grandparents too in the same barrack? Or how was the living situation?

Everybody, according to the size of the family, got a certain amount of space per person. So if we had a lot of kids, you got the whole barrack. And if you didn't, you got a third or a fourth.

And so what happened when you sort got settled into life at Manzanar? Do you have memories about going to school there or what are some of the vivid memories?

I don't remember too much about school. I just remember it was windy often because we're in the middle of the desert, and dusty. Some days it would be so dusty that these buildings weren't that far apart, maybe 30, 40 feet apart, we couldn't see the building. It was so dusty.

So it's just a lot of the elements, is what you remember.

Yeah that's about all I remember.

Did you continue in school when you were there?

Well, they did eventually build some schools and they had volunteer Caucasian teachers come in as well as people in camp who are teachers. So, yeah they finally did set up a school system.

You mentioned earlier that you thought it was kind of fun, or there were lots of kids.

It was fun because I didn't have any responsibility. I had a bunch of kids to play with every day. Didn't have to go looking for them, just step outside. Kids would be playing soccer or basketball. 

What were some of the things you did with other kids? Were there certain sports you played? 

I don't remember too much of that at Manzanar. I remember more at Crystal City ‘cause I was older.

When was your family moved over to Crystal City?

I don't know when but it must have been a couple of years after Manzanar.

So you were still separated from your father for a couple of years.

Oh yeah. 

Was your mother working in Manzanar?

I vaguely remember her working with something to do with the post office.

Part 3 >>


* This article was originally published in Tessaku on June 17, 2021.


© 2021 Emiko Tsuchida

California concentration camps Crystal City internment camp Crystal City (Texas) Department of Justice camps Lordsburg internment camp Manzanar concentration camp New Mexico Riverside Texas United States World War II World War II camps
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.

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About the Author

Emiko Tsuchida is freelance writer and digital marketer living in San Francisco. She has written on the representations of mixed race Asian American women and conducted interviews with some of the top Asian American women chefs. Her work has appeared in the Village Voice, the Center for Asian American Media, and the forthcoming Beiging of America series. She is the creator of Tessaku, a project that collects stories from Japanese Americans who experienced the concentration camps.

Updated December 2016

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