Norman I. Hirose Remembers Entertainment at the Topaz, Utah, Incarceration Camp
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Norman I. Hirose Remembers Entertainment at the Topaz, Utah, Incarceration Camp

Norman I. Hirose is a Nisei (second generation) Japanese American born in 1926 in Oakland, California. He grew up in Oakland and Berkeley, California. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Hirose family was removed to the Tanforan Assembly Center, California (a converted racetrack), and later to Topaz incarceration camp, Utah. Authorities in charge of the camps organized recreational activities to occupy the imprisoned population. In this interview excerpt, Hirose describes a Fourth of July celebration at Tanforan and the diversions practiced by the Issei (“first generation”). Along with other former detainees, Hirose received a presidential apology and partial reparations in the 1980s for being incarcerated without due process of law, solely on the basis of his Japanese ancestry.

Listen to Audio:

TI: Any other memories of Tanforan, like any fun memories?

NH: Well, we had, we had a Fourth of July celebration, and I don’t know why, but we did. [Laughs]

TI: I mean, did anyone, people must have commented on the irony of Independence Day?

NH: I guess so. I don’t know why, come to think of it, I really don’t know why, but I remember we had Fourth of July celebration. And then was it Friday evening, we would have talent shows, 'cause we didn’t have any movies or anything like that, and so Goro, Goro, what’s his name? I can’t remember his last name, but he was a very talented — well, I thought — singer and emcee. And he was funny and we enjoyed whatever it is that he said. And he must have been about, oh, I don’t know, couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, I don’t think.

TI: So you looked forward to the Friday night talent shows. What were some of the things other people did? You said singing...

NH: Oh, then they went around and, scrounged around and asked people, and so-and-so played the violin so she, the girl came and played the violin for us, and some people played the piano and they played selections on the piano. I don’t know where they got the piano from, but they got it from somewhere. Mostly singing, and that was our show. But then it was fun.

TI: And going back to that Fourth of July celebration or party, what did they do on the Fourth of July? I’m curious.

NH: I don’t remember. All I know it was the Fourth of July, but there were no fireworks, obviously there weren’t any fireworks. But we all went in the grandstand, and I guess we were singing, mostly.

TI: And your parents, what kind of activities did the Isseis have?

NH: Oh, Isseis had... well, my father played go, so they, they played go, all around camp you would see the older men playing go all day long.

TI: And your mother? What would, what would the women do?

NH: I don’t know what they did, but I know that she crocheted a lot and knitted a lot. She was left-handed. I still have her, she made a bedspread for each of us, huge double bed bedspread, all crocheted by hand. And where did her, her thread, our neighbor in Berkeley, she asked, came to see us, and she asked her if she could bring some crocheting thread, and she brought it, Mrs. Lindberg. And she’s since passed, on, too.

TI: And so with that thread, your mom made these bedspreads for each of the kids. And you said you still have that?

NH: I still have mine, yeah.

TI: Oh, that’s, what a treasure.

NH: Yeah, and I think I know where it is, but oh well.

TI: You should, you should take care of that. That’d be a really important artifact for people, something made in camp.

NH: Yeah, it was made in camp.

Source: Norman I. Hirose, interview, July 31, 2008, Emeryville, California. From Densho Digital Archive, http://www.densho.org/. Interviewer: Tom Ikeda, segment, 15, denshovh-hnorman-01 (accessed October 14, 2009).