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MARGARET OUYE... "Your name is now Margaret"
May 30, 2008 by Mable Yee
On Masako Kitashima's first day at school in Centerville, California in the 1920's, her teacher Miss Diaz asked her what her name was. When she answered, Masako Kitashima, her teacher said "No, no…that's too hard. We'll call you Margaret from now on". What Margaret didn't realize was that it was a sign of things to come which would deeply affect her based on her Japanese ancestry. She didn't know that her life's journey had begun and would entail many twists and turns that led her to speak to us on this warm April day in 2008.

Margaret was raised with 2 older brothers and parents who only spoke Japanese at home. They lived in a community where they associated mostly with Japanese families with whom they felt most comfortable. After high school, Margaret wanted to attend Healds Business College in Berkeley, CA but was unable to attend because World War II descended upon them and the war with the Japanese would change their lives forever.

Initially, all the Japanese families in her community were placed under curfew. Then they were given notice that they had 3 weeks to sort through all their personal belongings and had to evacuate immediately. They could only take their possessions that could fit into two suitcases and everything else would be taken away from them. She remembered her mother telling her that she should only take her clothes. However, she was 19 years old and a huge fan of Dick Paul and Ruby Keeler. She had cut out and saved every article of information about them and pasted them into two scrapbooks. They were her most important treasures. Her mother said that they were going to a "wild country" and she needed to make room for some boots because it was going to be very cold where they were being sent. Margaret refused and packed her scrapbooks which were her most favorite treasures.

Her family was first sent to Tanforan Racetrack to occupy the stables in San Mateo, CA where they were assigned to a small horse stall and told to get burlap bags to fill and use as beds. Each of the families was given numbers and the numbers, not their names, only identified them. Rumors were rampant and no one really knew how long they would stay there and what would happen next to them. After four months living in the stables, they were told to load up on a train where they would be taken to an internment camp at Topaz, Utah. Along the way they were told to pull the curtains down in their cargo trains because they didn't want any of the other passengers to know they were on board so that it wouldn't cause a lot of problems. She said it was a very long and scary ride, with babies crying, sitting in the dark, and not knowing what was to become of them.

When they arrived in Topaz, Utah at camp, she ended up staying there four long years. There were armed guards everywhere constantly pointing guns and watching their every move. She remembered one very scary incident that stood out in her mind. There was one old man who only had one possession in his life, his dog. He didn't pack and own anything else. Just his dog, which he loved more than anything else in the world. One day, the dog got away from him and ran towards the barbed wire fence towards the soldiers. The old man ran to get the dog back from the soldiers. The soldiers however shot and killed the old man under the pretense that he was trying to escape the camp. A horrible silence fell over the camp and produced the intimidation and fear that the soldiers wanted to create on the Japanese families. To teach them a lesson that they would be punished if they tried to escape.

Margaret also recalled another horrible incident that deeply impacted her life. Her husband, Joel Ouye another Japanese American had signed up to serve in the U.S. Army and was a member of the 442nd unit, which ultimately became one of the highest decorated WWII battalions. He was stationed in Mississippi and was suppose to ship off to Italy to fight in the war. On his last night before leaving, he and 2 other buddies decided to go into town for a last drink. When they were through and headed back to the base, they hailed a taxicab. As they got into the cab, a White guy came up to them and yelled at them to get out of the cab. He wanted it. They told him that they needed to report back to base so they could ship out the next day. Then suddenly, the man swung and broke his beer bottle and attacked Joel Ouye on the head. When Mr. Ouye woke up the next morning in the hospital, he heard the doctor say to him "I'm sorry Mr. Ouye, we tried everything we could to save your eye." Joel Ouye woke up to find that they had removed his eye and eventually replaced it with a glass eye that he had to live with for the rest of his life.

While Margaret Ouye has endured many racial encounters, she has maintained a positive and participatory attitude towards being an American citizen. She consistently votes in all the elections. She said "I'm proud to live to be 87 and able to vote in an election where there is both a young Black man and a woman who are running to become the President of the United States." She encourages everyone to vote and quietly remembers that her parents didn't originally have the right to vote when she was a young girl.

We thank and salute Masako Kitashima…Margaret Ouye for sharing her story and her positive contributions. Mable

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