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Carol Cisneros recalls her childhood memories of Chinatown in Salinas, California from the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's. She emphasizes that her memories came from a child's point of view. She begins by telling us about her family history. Carol's father and Mother were born in Japan, but her mother was raised in Sacramento. Her parents got married in 1932 and came to US that same year or following year. Cisneros grew up with twelve siblings, she was number ten. Although her family was poor, Cisneros’s father owned a garage on California Street across the Buddhist Temple. She mentions that as a teenager her father attended mechanic school in Missouri where he learned that trade. Cisneros reflects back on the past on how all their daily activities were centered with school and church, whether it was sports or any other kind of social activity. Overall, she feels her family was fortunate to own a home and a garage in those difficult times. Cisneros remembers Chinatown through a child's point of view. She recalls Chinatown as being a, “forbidden type of a place”. The only places she remembers attending in Chinatown were to the Japanese and Chinese market in Chinatown. As a child she would run right through Chinatown to get to the market because there were bars and sometimes drunk people. She also remembers attending the Republic Cafe with her family to eat or take out. They would usually go to the Republic Cafe after Church activities. Cisneros describes Chinatown as being run down with not many families living there anymore and a lot of empty buildings. Although she saw Chinatown as a forbidden place she was amused by it and never felt scared. Page|2 Carol Cisneros tells us about her family experiences and stories of the internment camps. Although she was born after the internment camp era, her family was sent to the internment camps including the first five children. She also has two siblings that were born in the internment camps. She mentions that her father learned to play Gaul at the internment camps and later competed in the tournaments in San Francisco. Afterward, Carol would hear the horror stories of the internment camps in Arizona where the winters were cold and the summers were hot. She remembers hearing the stories of there being a lot of sand and dust. And that in between the slats of wood there would be air coming through. So, her family had to stuff them to keep the dirt and sand out. Overall, Cisneros mentions that her siblings and parents didn't speak much about that era, but she feels that her family members met a lot of people and built long lasting friendships. Cisneros reflects on the internment camp experience. She feels her family was fortunate enough to own a garage and a home. She knows there were a lot of wonderful people in Salinas who were able to take care of their property, garage, home, and items. Nothing was lost or stolen. After the war ended her family was able to come back to Salinas. But she feels the Japanese lost dignity of being U.S citizens and being incarcerated for things that they had nothing to do with. Overall, the worst thing was to have to rebuild their lives, and rebuilt trust from other people. Cisneros compares Chinatown now to how it used to be. She mentions that Chinatown is now deteriorating and it has become a very dangerous place. She mentions that now she sees “outright prostitution, drug dealing...hypodermic needles...and you see people actually attacking and preying on people...It’s a lot scarier place. A lot more dangerous.” She speaks about the huge problem in Chinatown. About how there are not only drug dealers, but people with mental problems. She explains that there’s not enough state-run hospitals to help treat and accommodate those people anymore. She emphasizes that to solve the problem we will need big cooperative effort from the city, state, and federal. Lastly Cisneros tells us a bit about the history of the Buddhist Temple and her involvement in it. The temple was built in 1924. It was a religious as well as ethnic place to meet social needs. She explains that the new architecture is modem in that it’s a new chapel, but it reflects the architecture of old Japan. Apparently, Cisneros read that during the war there were a lot of ears of Japanese living in the U.S who were going to be helping or signaling Japan through the bell. Therefore, they lowered the bell to show U.S that they weren't going to use it to signal anyone. Cisneros speaks about her father being the only one who owned the heavy equipment to lower the bell. Thus, they were able to preserve the bell for so many years. Cisneros involvement in the Temple started off as a young child attending Sunday school and Youth Group. Once she had children she started taking her kids to Sunday school. Slowly as they needed volunteers Cisneros got more involved with the Temple. She first volunteered to be a Sunday school teacher, then a Youth Group Advisor, next Women’s Group and finally a Board Member of the Temple. Overall, she enjoys giving back to the community and being very involved.

Interview Date



Sara Casillas; Yesenia Flores

Geographic Coverage

Salinas (Calif.)


Chinatown (Salinas, Calif.); Japanese American families; Chinese restaurants; Buddhist temples; World War II--Incarceration camps


Moving Image


Oral histories

Digital Format




Digital Collection

Chinatown Renewal Project


Archives & Special Collections of California State University, Monterey Bay


These oral histories express the personal views, memories, and opinions of the interviewee. They do not represent the policy or views of California State University, Monterey Bay.

Interview with Carol Cisneros



Rights Statement

In Copyright