Kiyo Sato was born in rural Sacramento in 1923. Kiyo was the oldest of eight siblings and in this hard working farm family she was like a second mother to her brothers and sisters. Kiyo’s parent’s farm produced strawberries and table grapes. The hard work of the family and the quality of their grapes and strawberries brought them great success. After graduating from Sacramento High, Kiyo was looking forward to her future with excitement. She was 18 when the United States declared war against Japan and President Roosevelt sign Executive Order 9066. The Sato family was first confined at the Pinedale Assembly Center and then transported to Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Wyoming. When finally released from the internment camp, the Sato family worked as laborers for one season in Colorado. Unlike most families the Sato’s were able to return to their land.
Kiyo joined the United States Air Force, completed her college education in nursing and achieved the rank of captain. Kiyo set an ambitious path for herself that she has held to throughout her life. In addition, to nursing, she has been a wife, a mother to four children and as a public health nurse. She developed the innovative Blackbird Vision Screening Program for detecting vision problems in young children. Kiyo is an active member of Nisei Post 8985 and along with her fellow veterans spends time sharing the experience of the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII and the accomplishments of Japanese Americans in the military during WWII.
Note: To listen to a specific clip, move the slider on the video to the designated clip time listed below.
00:00 – Introduction
00:18 – Clip 1
Describes her childhood life: born near Florin in 1923. Started first grade with 60 students.
02:15 – Clip 2
Describes the impact of Executive Order 9066: going on the “Big Trip,” how her mother helped the children cope with the situation, often discuss the family plans with her. Her parents were committed to the “children growing up happy and secure” and therefore presented internment as a trip and continued as if everything were normal and nothing changed.
04:27 – Clip 3
Describes the resourcefulness of Father, who hid in one bed roll a hammer, nails, roll of wire, saw, bucket, and a gallon jug. He wrapped an old violin in a blanket, along with bags of seeds (flower/vegetable). Their focus was always “For the Sake of The Children.”
08:08 – Clip 4
Recalls the Pinedale Assembly Center, a difficult time. She describes the surroundings, including community bathroom, through the eyes of a 19 year old.
10:32 – Clip 5
Talks about the 16 assembly centers where the Japanese-Americans were held until permanent camps were ready. Black barracks and brown dirt – but people started planting seeds and gathering around morning glory leaf.
12:47 – Clip 6
Describes transferring to another camp and the train experience (with shades pulled down).
16:41 – Clip 7
Describes her surprise at realizing she was on the Poston Indian Reservation – but in a separate area. She saw the tarped barracks and passed out.
18:16 – Clip 8
Three hours later, she wakes up, but when approached by a man with a clipboard, couldn’t remember her number.
19:28 – Clip 9
She recalls getting into a jeep and riding across the camp to find her family in Block 22. There were three camps in Poston, nicknamed “Post them, roast them, toast them.” They were issued body bags for mattresses.
23:21 – Clip 10
Camp life was not conducive to family life. Her father contracted out to work on sugar beet farm, still keeping the family together. Her father was a good story teller, and the kids always wanted to be near him.
25:39 – Clip 11
Father used tools he hid to make all sorts of things at the barracks.
26:29 – Clip 12
Describes the process of getting a permit to go to the West Coast, their journey west, and the violence people experienced when they returned.
27:45 – Clip 13
Their family farm was stripped, 10 acres sold for war time use. They started over with nothing.
29:23 – Clip 14
Recalls looking for a place to eat in Sacramento. Talks about Heart’s Cafeteria.
Video production provided by the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium – http://www.secctv.org
Primary source images to accompany Kiyo Sato’s story. Images provided by Kiyo Sato – Elk Grove Unified School District.