Toshi Ito was taken from her home in Seattle and moved to the relocation center in Minidoka as a teenager. She makes her home in a suburb of Los Angeles.
Jim: Tell me where you were born and grew up.
Toshi: Well, I was born in Seattle, Washington and I grew up there and went to school there until the war broke out.
Jim: Do you ever miss it? Do you get back there much?
Toshi: Not really. One of the reasons I never went back was I don't have any fond memories of Seattle and my childhood or eventually what happened when the war broke out.
Jim: No fond memories because of what happened?
Toshi: Probably I would have left Seattle anyhow whether the war happened or not.
Jim: The rain just drive you out?
Toshi: Oh, the rain didn't help any and the weather certainly didn't as you well know. You know it can be real foggy in the morning.
Jim: Definitely. Tell me a little bit what it was like, where you were, and what happened when you heard about Pearl Harbor?
Toshi: Well, actually I think I was at home and we heard it over the radio. My brother who was going to the University of Washington happened to be home. And when we first heard it, we just couldn't believe it but I remember thinking, Well, even if there is a war between the United States and Japan it wouldn't affect us. We're American citizens. You know, we really had that in our mind.
Jim: You weren't living in Japan, you hadn't just moved here from Japan. I mean, you were Americans going to American schools, speaking English. Did you speak a lot of Japanese growing up?
Toshi: Well, actually my parents spoke Japanese so we had to. So it was more like my parents spoke to us in half and half, you know, mostly in broken English and we spoke broken Japanese. And both my brother and I attended Japanese school all the years that we were there.
Jim: What was that like going back to school after Pearl Harbor because it happened on a Sunday - I think it happened on a Sunday?
One of the worst things I thought was, before we were told to pack up and everything, my father and my brother went to a place where they had to sign up to do this and they gave us all a tag and it didn’t have our name on it. All it had was 17337. I still remember the number. And so we were all numbered. We didn’t even have a name. And to me — you know, a lot of this is the indignation of having to go through something like this and not being a person any more, just being a number.
Toshi: Well actually it hadn't really sunk in yet you know, because we didn't have any fear about any kind of backlash at that time because we felt we weren't Japanese. Fortunately when we went to school no one reacted in that way either. It was only later as the war progressed that the the Caucasians began to react. In the first place when we go to high school you're kind of divided into your own group just like it is today and so you don't really have a lot of Caucasian friends. You'll have the occasional but not a lot and so that became even more evident after the war.
Jim: That split?
Toshi: Yeah, the split.
Jim: As a Japanese American did you feel that when Pearl Harbor happened there was a major difference in the way Japanese Americans were viewed? It's my impression that it wasn't so easy for Japanese Americans even before Pearl Harbor in some ways.
Toshi: Well yeah, there is definitely a lot of discrimination but you know when you are born with that you automatically assume that role as being the second citizen. What I mean by that is, that you know that there are certain things you can't do and you know there are certain people who are not going to treat you equal and that is something you grow up with so you just accept that as part of your life.
Jim: How old were you when Pearl Harbor happened?
Toshi: Oh, I must have been about seventeen.
Jim: It must have been odd to feel like a second citizen. You said you didn't know anything different but still you saw other people who didn't feel that way.
Toshi: Well, how do you mean that?
Jim: What did you think when you would see the Caucasian kids not going through the same things you were going through but in the same community, you're doing the same things. Were you aware of that? You said you grew up with it but at a certain point there must have been a time where you felt, Well, this is different.
Toshi: No, actually no. Because it's like when you are born poor, you know there are certain things you can't do and so it's the same thing with discrimination. There are certain things you know that is not your right and so you just accept that.
Jim: But you weren't expecting to have this happen because you were -
Toshi: No. Actually this part was a big shock and so when President Roosevelt signed that bill to intern us, I felt so betrayed because I thought, This is my president doing this to me and I really you know, felt betrayed.
Jim: In talking to some of the other folks when we did the other World War II show, there's that feeling that when Pearl Harbor happened Americans were united and there was this rallying cry and there was a swell of American pride. Kind of like what we had a little bit after 9/11.
Jim: There was that "We're all Americans, we're in this together." A different experience if you were Japanese Americans when Pearl Harbor happened?
Toshi: It is. It is and it isn't because we know that just by our face we're Japanese and so I remember telling my brother, I said, "Well, what is going to happen to us? What kind of backlash are we going to get?" And that was kind of fearful - that we didn't know how our Caucasian friends would receive us after this happened.
Jim: And how did they?
Toshi: Actually at school like I told you, you know at first it was okay, but as the war progressed then the feeling toward us was not very friendly. My mother did housework for the Caucasian people but there was no discrimination there at all. They were very kind to us.
Jim: Did you find that there were people who treated you differently who you weren't expecting it from? You know, people who had been friends who were Caucasians who all of a sudden -
Toshi: Oh, yeah, there was a lot. One incident that I wrote in my book about and this is true, about this one lady I used to babysit for her. When we knew that we had to go to camp I had this beautiful Japanese doll and I wanted to keep it because it was from my uncle in Japan and so I took it to her home and I asked her to keep it for me until I got back. And she wouldn't open the door for me. She just kind of cracked open the door to speak to me and she said, "You can't be here. You have to leave. My friends around here all work for the FBI and if they see you here they are really going to be angry at me." And I remember taking the doll and just leaving it on her porch and leaving. And I was so disappointed because before the war she was so friendly to me and she accepted me into her family and she trusted me with her children and now it was totally different.
Jim: How did you happen to hear that you were going to be going to the camps?
Toshi: Well, because they had posters all over the place. These huge posters that - you probably read about it - saying that we were going to be interned and of course you know that sort of thing goes through the community like wild fire. And when that happened we just couldn't believe it, you know. They were saying all people of Japanese descent will be sent to the internment camp and we're saying, Well, how could they do that when we're Americans? We had a kind of an understanding of why they would want to do that to our parents because they were not American although they weren't allowed to become American, but that's another story. And so things got pretty heated there and so we had a lot of meetings down at a place called Nikofan. The JACL tried to explain to us what was happening.
Jim: They, the Caucasians or they, the other Japanese?
Toshi: The Japanese.
Jim: You said they were trying to explain what was going on and tell you after you had seen all these posters.
Toshi: There was a lot of controversy there, you know, and we did have a lot of meetings down there. You know the thing is, when you are that age - seventeen and eighteen - you don't think about the political part of this, you know. In fact, we were so naïve. Most of us weren't savvy about the politics of what was happening but all we knew was we were Americans and the question was, Well, why are we being treated like this? But in spite of all this, many of us didn't think that they would go through with it, with internment and so when they said that we would go to a temporary camp we all decided that we would go. Then they sent out messages saying that we'll be sent to a permanent camp which would be better, but it wasn't. It was the same.
Jim: What was it like packing up and leaving? Did you take a bunch of stuff?
Toshi: Well, we were just told to take what we can carry so mine was the bedding that I had and one suitcase full of clothes. See, one thing about being poor is you don't have a lot so that was not a problem.
Jim: What were some of the thing that you had to leave behind?
Toshi: Well, for one like that little doll that I told you about. I had a piano that was really quite nice and we had to sell that and we sold that for twenty-five dollars. And I remember my mother put an ad in the paper and there were three Caucasian adults who came over to look at it and they were from a local school. I can't remember which school it was. And so she told them she would sell it to them for twenty-five dollars. She said, "But before you take the piano away I want you to hear my daughter play the piano," and they didn't want to do this. She made them sit down and then she made me go to the piano and play. For me, I knew how these three Caucasians were feeling and they were very uncomfortable sitting there watching me play the piano but that was my mother's revenge. And so when they left she slammed the door and goes, "Humph!"
Jim: Do you remember what you played?
Toshi: No, I don't. That was the worst five minutes of my life.
Jim: I get these images in my head reading your book and hearing what other people said. We hear about people leaving their homes and getting in trucks or trains or things like that and heading for the camps. Help me understand what that day was like, when you actually knew you were leaving. Was it a truck or a train? What happened? What was it like for you?
Toshi: When we left I remember taking everything down to the corner of East Alder. We had to walk about a block and it was pre-determined exactly where the bus would be and when we got to the bus stop there was a soldier with a rifle. He didn't point it at us, he just had it, you know. He had it slung in the back of him and one of the worst things I thought was before we were told to pack up and everything, my father and my brother went to a place where they had to sign up to do this and they gave us all a tag and it didn't have our name on it. All it had was 17337. I still remember the number. And so we were all numbered. We didn't even have a name. And to me, you know, a lot of this is the indignation of having to go through something like this and not being a person anymore, just being a number.
After we packed what we can carry then, going back to the bus, for some reason we all decided that we're going to make the best of this. We were kind of joking with each other and laughing and got on the bus to the train station. And I thought one of the worst things that I can remember about that was how the soldiers were lined parallel to the train as we walked to the opening of the train to get in, to go in.
And the ride - I don't remember too much about it except that my mother kept telling me, sit up straight and everybody was quiet. No one spoke. It was a really lonely ride all the way to Idaho.
Jim: And then when you got there was it better or worse than what you expected?
Toshi: Well, you mean to Minidoka or to Puyallup?
Jim: When you got to Minidoka.
Toshi: Oh, to Minidoka. When we got to Minidoka, my gosh, it wasn't any different than Puyallup when in fact they had built it in such a hurry that a lot of things weren't done. Like we still had to use a regular outhouse type of thing you know, that sort of thing. And we're still talking about these barracks you know were just tar paper and you could see the slats in the walls where the greenwoods don't match and many times during the sand storms - they had many sand storms in Minidoka - it would just seep right through the wall.
Jim: When we were back at the National Archives in Washington I saw some old films. Old films that I would almost call, almost like propaganda films of the Japanese couples showing up with their suitcases and the soldier would come up and smile and take their bags and walk them to their -
Toshi: Oh yeah, I'm sure.
Jim: Not exactly what it was like?
Toshi: No. No, it wasn't. No. You know a lot of the memories have dimmed but there are certain things you know you do remember. I felt more like cattle being shoved into one area. You know, that kind of a feeling. To this day I hate to wait in line. You know when you have lots of people that's what happens you know. Everything you do you have to wait in line. Wait in line to have your physical, wait in line to sign up.
Jim: Do you remember the living quarters with your family? Were you in a big barracks or what was that like?
Toshi: No, we were in a small room since there were only four of us so we had the end room which was not very large. It had four army cots in there and at that time they didn't have the regular mattress so they gave us a kind of a mattress cover and we had to go to a barn there and fill it with straw. That's how unprepared they were. When you are young you really don't think those kind of things are terrible so you just learn to live with what you have. But I do recall that first night. You know the straw isn't the best thing to sleep on and you can hear it, you know just the straw squishing away.
Jim: What time of year was that when you went in?
Toshi: It was in the summer time.
Jim: In the summer time. It was pretty warm out there.
Toshi: Yeah, it is warm out there.
Jim: What was it like for your parents? You talk about being your age and not being that bad, but what was it like for them? What did it do to them?
Toshi: Well, you know when you are at that age, you're young, you are so involved with your own life. Your parents are kind of the - how would you say it - they are the ones that you look up to and they never showed their feelings about anything. Except that with me, I don't know why, but my father decided he didn't want to stay with us and he moved up to the bachelor quarters. And I think a lot of that has to do with his manlihood being challenged as a person and as a man.
Jim: What was that like for you as a young girl and for your mom and your brother?
Toshi: Yes, my brother was there. Well, actually it was a relief for me because the family no longer had to put up with his rages which he used to go into. You know, looking back now I'm sure that his rage had a lot to do with what was happening and what he could not control.
Jim: Did that happen to many men or was he one of the only married men with a family that ended up in the bachelors' quarters, or was that - ?
Toshi: I don't know of any other. Most of the families that I know, that I'm aware of, stayed together. I know that there have been some suicides. I don't know personally.
Jim: What was day to day life like there? At some point I assume you got into some sort of a routine with things you did.
Toshi: It was boring because there is nothing to do. But eventually we all were able to find some kind of work to do and my brother and I actually ended up in the hospital ward which was very gratifying.
Jim: How old was your brother at the time?
Toshi: My brother was a couple of years older than I was.
Jim: Did you get much news of the outside world, what was going on?
Toshi: No, not really and I don't think I was that - I'm just speaking for myself - but I didn't have that interest because I was trying to deal with every day life you know, in camp. It was a readjustment in learning how to cope with camp life.
Jim: What were some of the hardest things that you had to readjust to and cope with being out there?
Toshi: I think it was more mentally than anything else. Physically, we never had much anyway because our family was very poor. What we had in camp was even worse. But the physical part I don't think is as bad as just the indignation that you feel, the feeling of being rejected and losing your dignity and being rejected by your own country. And that's the kind of feeling I had and so I could not even socialize with my peers. So I kind of cut myself off from my friends although I had a small group of friends that I used to be friends with.
Jim: What was it like for your mom? It sounds like she sort of ended up being the head of the family?
Toshi: Yeah. Actually thinking back now I thought she handled it pretty well. There wasn't much she could do and she found some things to do also. In fact all of us did.
Jim: You talked about not feeling like a person, you were just a number. You had this tag assigned to you and number assigned to you and feeling like it took away your self, kind of like you were a non-person being in there. In talking about the camps some people have used the terms that they were like concentration camps and some people are very uncomfortable with putting that name on it. Do you think that's appropriate or not appropriate?
Toshi: Well, Roosevelt himself called it a concentration camp. I don't know why I can't. And I do call it a concentration camp. No, we were not put to death or anything but it didn't take the guards very much excuse to shoot someone if they wanted to. You know, if they felt they had to. So when the guns are turned into the camp, what do you call that? It wasn't to protect us. The funny part about this is that as time went by the guards also started to relax. I remember the first day at camp I had to go to the latrine and this was probably about ten o'clock and I can feel the flood light following me all the way to the latrine, and followed me all the way back again.
Jim: There's a historical society out there that has pictures and things from those days from the camps. One of the things they had was what I would almost think of as yearbooks from the camps.
Toshi: Oh, yes.
Jim: And everybody was sort of out in front and sitting and smiling. Do you remember that? Taking those pictures and things like that?
Toshi: You know I didn't stay very long and so I think they did that after I left but I do have a copy that my mother had.
Jim: From the outside, like I talked about, these sort of propaganda films they had of everybody looking happy and smiling doing their jobs and all that. Did you ever feel that you were sort of being propped up to look like it wasn't so bad or was there any of that going on?
Toshi: Well, we didn't know that they were doing that type of thing. It was never brought up to us. In fact, this is the first time I'm hearing about it.
Jim: It was interesting, I mean it was funny because we were back looking for film or video tape of the camps and all that we found were these sort of bizarre films with smiling and the guy saying, "And they moved into the camps." It was very like you'd see on the old newsreels or something. How long were you in the camp?
Toshi: I was there about a year.
Jim: How did you end up getting out of the camp?
Toshi: Well that was my main mission in camp, was to get out. So when I heard that as long as you had a job that was not in California that you can apply for it. And I didn't have any skills of course at that time so I applied for a house girl and many of the young girls did that in order to get out and I found one in Toledo, Ohio and that's how I got out.
Jim: What was that like - leaving and heading out and leaving your family behind?
Toshi: Yes. Well actually I was glad to get out. That was my main purpose was to leave camp. By then my brother had volunteered so he was gone and my mother seemed to be satisfied staying there and I knew nothing would happen to her and so like a typical teenager I just went out on my own.
Jim: Thoughts of leaving your father?
Toshi: Yes. I did go to him before I left and I said goodbye to him.
Jim: What did he say? What was that like saying goodbye to your father?
Toshi: Well, he didn't say much. He just said, "If that is what you want to do then you should do it."
Jim: The title of your book is Endure. In reading the book I know there is the Japanese term for that.
Toshi: Yes. It's called Gaman.
Jim: Tell me about that. What it means and why that was so important to you.
Toshi: Well, when I wrote this book I really wrote it for my granddaughter because as she was growing up she heard about the internment camp and wanted to know about it. And like many Nisei, I didn't want to talk about it and I finally told her, I said, "You know, if you stop pestering me I'll write you a book on it," and she made me hold my word you know. So I did. I did write it. It took me a long time. Took me almost eight years. In between time I had, you know, writers block and I didn't want to really write it but I finally did it before she graduated from high school. And so it was for her that I wrote the book. And as I was writing it I realized that you know, she needs to know about this. It's important. And so I wrote it in the third person which was much easier for me to deal with. So I took all the experience I had and also from other people, the experience that they had. I wanted to call the book Endure. Actually, I wanted to call it Gaman but the publisher thought that was not a good word because the Caucasians would not - people that buy the book wouldn't understand it and so I look in a dictionary for a long time trying to find another word but it just wouldn't come up. There was no other word for gaman except endure and that's how endure came about.
Jim: Why is the word "gaman" so important to you?
Toshi: Because that's what we did from the very beginning. We endured. And the thing is there wasn't anything else we could do. It was part of the way I was raised. It was something that you needed to do. That's why it's important to me.
Jim: Part of the way I started working on this show is I was talking to people who had grown up in Idaho during World War II. I wasn't planning on talking to them about the camps and all that was going on, and I started asking them what that was like, did they know of the camps? They all knew about the camps. And today there is a lot spoken about that sense of sort of collective guilt about what happened. I think that people feel bad that we did this to other Americans. However, when I ask these folks during these interviews, "What did you think of these camps and seeing these people sent in there and put away for their own safety, what did you think of that?" All of them said basically some version of, "We felt bad but it was the right thing to do. We were worried. We didn't know what they were going to do to us."
Toshi: It depends on who you talk to. I notice that even my friends - if they were even two or three years, even one year younger than I was, they had a totally different take on what I had. So it depends on where you were coming from and where you were at that time. In fact many of my friends tell me, you know, that are two or three years younger than me, "Oh, I had a blast. I played." And they did. So it depends on the person.
Jim: What do you think of the Caucasians saying, "It was the right thing to do. Well, it's too bad but we needed to send them away. We were scared that they were going to come after us or something."
Toshi: Well, I think they are victims of the politics of that day. They didn't know all the information so I can't fault them for that. It's like anything else you know, I mean you believe whatever the media and the government tells you.
Jim: Someone said, "We didn't know, we were afraid, we didn't know what was in their hearts."
Toshi: Well, I lay that down to discrimination and not knowing us the way we are. It's the same thing that is going on today.
Jim: In talking with Hero Shiosaki, he said that when he was going in the Army and his father took him aside and said that he needed to fight bravely for America, that he was an American and die if you have to but fight as hard as you can. And to hear that balanced against people saying we didn't know what was in their hearts, it's an interesting juxtaposition.
Toshi: Well you know, when my brother George volunteered for the Army - actually the Army came into the camp to find volunteers in spite of what they tell you. And my brother actually went up to tell them off, said, "Well, why should I?" And so when he came back I said, "Well, did you tell them off?" And he said, "No, I volunteered." I was so angry at him. I said, "They do this to us and you are volunteering?" And I really got into it with him but after a few days I realized that he really had to go to prove something. It wasn't right but he had to go. So I had to accept it so I was going back and forth on this. But I knew that I had to support my brother and I couldn't let him leave with him thinking that I didn't approve. So we did make up and he did volunteer and fortunately he did come back. But it was a very difficult time for us. It split up a lot of the families in camp.
Jim: When the sons decided to go?
Jim: Volunteer? Why was there such a split?
Toshi: Because some of the parents, and rightfully so, didn't feel like their sons should have to go - especially to volunteer when they were put in camp. That's where the "no-no boys" come in as you know about them. So you see it depends where you are coming from. There is no right or wrong about this. I don't fault the no-no boys for doing what they did.
Jim: Tell me a little bit about that because I think some folks don't know what that is about.
Toshi: Oh, okay. The no-no boys are the ones that refused to go if they were drafted or they didn't want to volunteer because they were saying, If you want us to go then you should release all our parents from camp. We shouldn't be in camp and that's not the way the government looked at that and so they were called the no-no boys. If I were a young man at that time I probably would have -
Jim: I've heard some people say that their families were very proud of them.
Toshi: You're talking about the volunteers?
Toshi: Well, here again I think it was an individual thing. Remember my husband Dave saying that when he volunteered there were a lot of people that were very angry at him and so they had to kind of sneak him out. Otherwise he would have been attacked and beaten up by these people who were opposing that type of thing. There were a lot that were not in camp they probably will never hear about. It's not all this rah rah thing that you hear. There are a lot of thoughts that are never put out in the open.
Jim: Why is that? Why don't we hear more about that?
Toshi: Because we are Japanese Americans and we don't always say what we think probably. And you are dealing with many, many people who are coming from different backgrounds and of course they are going to have different ideas and the way they interpret things.
Jim: And as you said there's a reluctance from many people who were in the camp to talk about this at all.
Toshi: Exactly. They still are.
Jim: And why is that? Because people go through other things that are terrible tragedies in their lives and things happen and injustices and people talk about them. They go on Oprah you know.
Toshi: Yeah, right.
Jim: We live in a society where so much of that is so out in the open. Why not this?
Toshi: It's probably a cultural thing because I think most of us felt like we were ashamed that this happened to us. That we were ashamed. It's something that we don't want to bring out in the open. That's the only way I can explain this but it is a cultural thing.
Jim: One thing that people have said that it's remarkable how many of the people, the men that were in the 442nd, with the rah rah and the patriotism that we talked about and a lack of bitterness. Do you think that that is genuine or do you think there is more bitterness there than we're seeing or hearing?
Toshi: I think there is bitterness there but I think we've learned to live with it. I know I had a lot of bitterness and I had to work it out. It took me about ten years to get over it before I realized what it was doing to me. The boys that went into the 442nd did it for a good reason and I'm sure today that if they hadn't gone, we wouldn't be where we are today. They had a lot to do with the acceptance of the Japanese Americans being where we are today.
Jim: There were many discriminatory laws back then. There's no avoiding the fact that they were discriminatory. Not everyone saw them as bad back then but things like what kind of property you could and couldn't own and -
Toshi: It's a matter of being equal.
Jim: And that you were equal enough to go fight for the country.
Jim: And that a lot of those laws did eventually get broken down.
Jim: Because of what happened and the 442's contribution to all that. Your husband was in and you certainly know people who served and friends and family. How do you think back on those men who did serve, who joined and fought over there?
Toshi: How do I think back on them?
Jim: Is it pride?
Toshi: Yes, it is. A lot of pride. I think it took a lot of courage to do what they did knowing that they may not be accepted. As it was they were formed into one group, just the Japanese Americans. They weren't assimilated into the different groups. So that tells you there is discrimination there if you want to call it that but in the long run it did work out. Oh yeah. If you talk to any Nisei they are very proud of the 442 and what they did and what they stood for.
Jim: There has been a lot made lately of the Tom Brokaw book The Greatest Generation and talk about all the boys who served back in World War II. Does it feel to you like it was a great generation? Do you have a different perspective on that, do you think?
Toshi: Can you clarify that?
Jim: I think sometimes you talk to people about World War II and it's almost painted with this golden brush of nostalgia. There was wonderful music and people were happy and while the war was hard it was this wonderful golden age for America. People go back and they like to think about. Do you feel like that or is it something different?
Toshi: Well, you have to be realistic about that kind of stuff you know. We lived in another world and the Tom Brokaw of that generation of course lived in their world, so you are talking about two different worlds. So I never even tried to analyze that because my world is totally different. It doesn't belong there.
Jim: That's interesting because people who lived through that who are old enough to remember it, I think so many people hold on to that as if that was their generation. That was the time when they felt the most alive.
Toshi: Well, that's their perspective.
Jim: How is it different for you?
Toshi: Well, I think it was a growing period for me, going through the internment and having to accept it and having to come out and then start a new life again. In a way it was the best of my world too because I'm where I am today because of that.
Jim: What was it like for your parents on the other side of the camps?
Jim: Once they got out.
Toshi: Oh, once they got out. At that time I was living in Chicago so when they closed the camp then my mother came to live with me and we found a small little apartment in Chicago and shortly after that my father joined us and we were a family again.
Jim: What was that like for you and for them to try to pick up again after that many years?
Toshi: It was like it never happened. He just walked in, and nothing was said and they picked up where they left off. At least in my family that's the way it worked. Nothing is ever said. You just pick it up where you left off. It was as if it never happened. As if he never left.
Jim: Did you ever talk with your parents about that?
Toshi: Oh, you didn't do that in those days. We didn't have that kind of relationship that my daughter and I have today where we can sit down and talk things out. You didn't do that with your parents. That was their business, not mine.
Jim: You talk about talking with your daughter, writing the book for your granddaughter. When kids ask you about those days, being in the camp, how do you explain it to them? Other than saying, "Read my book." How do you sit down and tell what it was like one-on-one?
Toshi: Well, I just try to tell them the truth, what it was like to live in those days of discrimination. I try to be honest with her. With her it's a lot easier because she's a third generation and her mind is more open to different aspects of politics, the government and what is going on today. They are much more savvy than we ever were so to me it's a lot easier to talk to her.
Jim: And what about the personal things that you went through as far as what that was like for you as a girl living there?
Toshi: I don't find that difficult anymore to talk about it. It has been a lot easier. My granddaughter and I have a very close relationship and so it makes it a lot easier to talk to her.
Jim: Living in the camp on a day-to-day basis when you think back you said some things have sort of faded away into time. What do you remember? What are some of the things that stand out the most about the time you spent in there?
Toshi: Well, the thing I remember the most was all I could think about was how much I wanted to get out of there. That was my main thing.
Jim: When you say getting out. Did you ever think of escape or just -
Toshi: No. I knew that would be impossible. Trying to escape would have been a death sentence. No. Nothing that dramatic. I just wanted to get out of camp. I was not happy there. I was never a student. Never was in Seattle and I wasn't going to finish my senior year in camp. Fortunately this one teacher, Gladys Gilbertson, talked me into finishing school. So thanks to her I could do what I did later.
Jim: That is an intense time of your life. Seventeen, eighteen years old. That's when a lot of things are going on personally and socially.
Jim: And to go from that and be put in the middle of nowhere Idaho -
Toshi: Yes. I was one very angry teenager.
Jim: More so than most angry teenagers?
Toshi: I think so because a lot of them didn't feel the way I did. I'm just speaking from my experience.
Jim: You said you went back to a pilgrimage a couple of years ago. You said you don't go every year but what goes through your mind when you go back there now and see that country because there's not much there.
Toshi: No, there isn't much there so actually I had visited Minidoka many years ago and it was practically the same as it is now. The reason why I went to the pilgrimage is because I had just written the book and I took my granddaughter to Minidoka. And I was a little bit disappointed that there wasn't more to show her because here she's looking at this lush land there with all this green grass growing there and the farmlands there and I don't think that they gave her a very good you know view of what her grandmother was talking about. But what she did get out of it was the stories that people told and meeting other people who were there. So I don't think that the impact of the visit will hit her until she's a lot older.
Jim: What about for you going back and seeing it? Does it hit you at all?
Toshi: The only time it hit me really bad was when we got on the bus and they have to have that long tag again only this time it had pictures on them you know and I could remember I just felt this real pang of anger that just swelled up in me when I saw that. But other than that, because Minidoka is what it is today, it was just very sort of nostalgic.
Jim: What do people need to remember about what happened out there, do you think?
Toshi: Well, that is hard. There is a lot that you could say but to sum it up, we need to know that people are all the same. They are not really that much different no matter where they come from. We all have the same kind of feeling, we all have the same kind of discrimination and we need to learn to know each other better and to love each other as people. One of the sayings in the Bible says, love one another.
Jim: We talked about the bitterness. It certainly has its place, but do you think it's worth hanging on to that?
Toshi: No, I don't. When you hang on to bitterness it destroys your life, my life. It's not worth it.
Jim: So if you could sit down with FDR and talk to him what would you say to him now?
Toshi: I forgive you. You did what you had to do.
Jim: And no more -
Toshi: No more.
Jim: Anything else we should know? I don't want to take up your entire day doing this. You've been so gracious.
Interviewed by Jim Peck, producer of The Idaho Homefront: Of Camps and Combat