Mitsuki Mikki Tsuchida

“Army trucks would pull up and someone would shout down, ‘How many in your family?’ And they would just throw the toilet paper and you had to go pick it up. And that lack of human dignity, it just went on and on.”

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2017 Manzanar pilgrimage

When I first started asking my dad about vivid camp memories, my dad would tell me how the alkaline sandstorms used to force the kids to run and hide, or that the piercing stench of the Santa Anita horse stables has never left him. He used to talk about taking a shower under the the enormous nozzle made for the horses would frighten him, and how he hardly saw his father, because he was arrested so many times for unruly behavior.

And now when I ask about camp, my dad tells me about the deep mental wounds the experience cast upon him: How he was beaten by the Japanese teachers in Tule Lake; how his lack of English skills after camp became a source of shame; how he’s spent his life burying it all into the recesses of his memory. “For a while, I was kind of self-conscious about how I looked. We didn’t know what we were being condemned for. It didn’t take long to know that our crime was that we looked like the enemy.”

My dad’s memories are also the only link to understanding what my grandparents may have gone through, as my grandfather Tom passed away when I was eight, and my grandmother Itsuye and I could barely communicate. Perhaps even if I could speak Japanese, she was the kind of woman that light-heartedly laughed at my questions, brushing them away. My grandfather’s anger at their imprisonment compelled him to be vocal–often confrontational–and he was targeted by the FBI several times over the course of the war. He nearly made the decision to go back to Japan with my dad and grandmother, but after discovering that Japan was actually losing the war (contrary to what he believed), they stayed. He voiced his disappointment with the treatment for the rest of his life and was writing a memoir until he suffered a stroke. But his writings are lost, and this is where I feel indebted to pick up the pieces.

A note about the Manzanar pilgrimage photos: Though our family was not in that camp, it was the first pilgrimage my dad and I attended together. While the scenery may be different from Topaz and Tule Lake, my dad put it best with this observation about the facilities: “You can’t even tell the difference from one camp to the other. They were exactly the same.”

For his willingness to be so open and forthcoming about his memories, I’ll be forever grateful.

How did Grandma and Grandpa meet? 

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Tom and Itsuye’s marriage license

In Loomis where Grandpa was born, they were trying to arrange for him to get married to one of the sisters of the Ito family and to work on a fruit farm. He didn’t want to farm, so he fled to San Francisco. He was attending adult night school where he met my mom. She was only 17 years old and he was ten years older. Seven or eight months after they met, they got married in May 1934. Now that was not uncommon because there weren’t a lot of ladies around to be married. So that age gap was very prominent in the Japanese community. But my dad treated my mom like a young girl.

Do you think there was love in their marriage? 

There was never any holding hands or talking. I’d see my mom cry occasionally, before the war. My mom wasn’t that literate or educated. And my dad was writing like a fiend when we were separated in the camps – he used to pressure my mom to write letters to him. I didn’t see any kind of sweet tenderness. I didn’t want my relationship with a woman that way when I grew up. I used to get examples of how men treat ladies by watching movies.

Was it just a convenience for them to be married? 

I guess my dad proposed to my mom and instead of being all alone, with only her sister in San Francisco, she said yes. But my mom’s sister objected to him. She did not like him, so there was a friction there.

What were they doing for work?

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Grandma Itsuye and Mikki

They were cleaning people’s homes. So my dad was doing janitorial work. One day he was lighting a boiler in the basement and didn’t know the gas was on, and he lit the match. Then he was blinded. He used KIP and always kept a bottle of that, it followed us from camp to camp. Our next door neighbor at Tule Lake, the mother accidentally spilled hot water on the daughter. He smeared KIP all over her.

Do you remember a typical day in San Francisco? Who was watching you while they worked? 

There was a man a couple of blocks down who owned a shoe repair shop who would watch me. Or sometimes Grandma and Grandpa would take turns, or Grandma would take me to her work.

Do you remember the day Pearl Harbor happened?

I got some hint that there was a war in progress and that it involved Japan. That’s where I became aware of my Japanese heritage. I also became aware I was growing up.

There was a Chinese laundry on the corner. My mom would get off the bus and they would see my mom and laugh, or catcall. She would get irritated and yank me along. They were already talking about how the Chinese and Japanese didn’t get along. There were so many bad words they would call each other. Real bad words. Chankoro Shinajin (Chinese people) But they would use chankoro — it’s like saying Jap.

I think I told you when I went to go take a Chinese girl out on a date in high school, her mother wouldn’t let her go out. I go to the house and the girl says, ‘Yeah, you’re Japanese.’ [laughs] And I just say, ‘Yeah, I am. And you’re Chinese.’ And she says, ‘I’m sorry my mom won’t let me go out with you.’ Even that, it goes back to the time when Japan was invading China.

Was there anything else that made you aware something bad was happening? 

One day all the Boy’s Day dolls were out. I came home after we were set to go to camp and the house was already bare.

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Boy’s Day dolls on display

And there was this nice white lady talking to my mother, but my mom was about to give all of my dolls away. And I just had a fit, I was assertive. I said, ‘No!’ They were all stacked up and I put my arm out and said ‘no.’ And the lady said, ‘Oh, it’s okay.’ Then it was wrapped in paper, and we left some of our few belongings in a garage somewhere. I don’t know who, but it was someone in San Francisco. Obviously it couldn’t have been a Japanese family.

You used to tell me the story of grandpa getting his camera confiscated. 

There was a curfew in effect, I don’t think you could be out in the streets at some ridiculous time, like 6:30 at night. There was a map of shaded areas that were restricted to the Japanese. He was in the wrong area.

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Grandpa Tamotsu and Mikki

But how could you tell? You live there and I could see my dad being ignorant of that fact. I know that because he retold that story, never to me. And then my mom used to say that we weren’t rich but he was spending money on the camera and it was taken away.

What about the day you left for the assembly center?

All I remember was waiting at the train station on one side of a line. There were all these ruddy face Caucasians, all just looked red to me. All I remember is that these guys were holding guns. They weren’t pointing them, but what were we going to do? They didn’t even have to carry it. After that I noticed the difference. Why are we standing over here with name tags? They weren’t abusing us but it was still cruel, of course. Herding us into the middle of nowhere.

What are your most vivid memories at Santa Anita?

There were all these insects flying around. There was a horse fly. They were huge, like the size of a dragonfly. The first purchase my parents got at Santa Anita was a mosquito net to cover my bed. The showers were hard to get used to. We used those individual stalls for washing down the horses. So the nozzle was really wide, maybe a foot across and you had to pull this chain. My mother would lather me up and then pull the chain and the water would come down. It was like being drenched by a bucket, so that kind of frightened me as a little kid. And this is funny, well not funny. But army trucks would pull up and someone would shout down, ‘How many in your family?’ And they would just throw the toilet paper at them and you had to go pick it up. That lack of human dignity, it just went on and on.

Did you notice how the adults around you were acting? 

Well one day one of my dad’s friends, Mr. Ota, came over to the stall. He was always around, even in San Francisco. I was playing with my Greyhound bus, like a small model of the real bus. So I’m playing with it in the dirt and Mr. Ota comes and I smile at him. And then he just kicks the bus and breaks it in half. I felt a tinge of, ‘What did I do?’ I felt guilt or something. But the next thing I knew and my dad is arguing with him. He saw it and asked, ‘What’d you do that for?’ So there’s nothing outstanding about that but it’s vivid in my mind. I’m sure he was just acting upon all that tension.

What do you remember about going to Topaz? 

Not much except that it was a desolate, depressing place. Middle of nowhere. Obviously a perfect place to establish a camp. When the barracks were put up and we left Santa Anita, I remember it was hot as heck inside the train. We had to keep the shades down during the daytime. There were a lot of connections made between trains. The anti-Japanese hatred was going around, so when people were looking out from the exit and entrance to the pullman cars, objects were thrown so everyone had to clamor inside.

I didn’t comprehend what crime we were being accused of. But then I realized we must’ve done something, like why am I here? So that part of going into the barracks, it’s funny but after the stables in Santa Anita, it was like checking into the Fairmont Hotel. As primitive as it was. When we first moved into Topaz, there were pinewood boards on the floor but they had a separation. You could see the ground. Inside every room was a potbelly stove but there were cracks between the boards. So when the dust storms came, it would just come up into the room. We were given linoleum to cover the floors but it didn’t really help. There was a lot of white chalk there, and I heard it was alkaline or something. Something that’s unhealthy. So when the wind blew strongly, it would just whirl around the whole camp. And if we were stranded somewhere and blocks away from our home, we would have to hide and wait for the dust storm to subside.

How about Tule Lake? 

Even when it was dinner time and we were waiting, there would be searchlights going around. Just like a concentration camp, these floodlights would be going all around the camp or sometimes they would lock in on a window. So there wasn’t privacy. Sometimes late at night I would go to the toilet and you had to walk in the middle part of the block. And sometimes a searchlight would come on from the perimeter and just follow you. So just like a prisoner, they were just watching you with these floodlights. But my parents eventually purchased a chanba, like a latrine.

In the wintertime in Tule Lake, it would really get socked in with snow. This place was a flatbed of a lake, so there were a lot of seashells. But it was so desolate and arid, you couldn’t grow anything green unless you really took care of it. So years later when I came out to Berkeley when I saw someone’s lawn, I thought it was the prettiest thing I ever saw [laughs]. And the people who were the dependents of the guards lived on the other side of the camp – we would see Caucasian kids playing. The biggest treat in my life in the four years was I went with my mom to see their living quarters. There were couches, it was nice. Our friend Susie Sakamoto was cleaning their houses and she gave us some See’s candy.

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Replica of the bathroom sinks in Manzanar. “I remember brushing my teeth in the trough, draining one way, and you see everyone’s spit go by.”

What were Grandma and Grandpa doing? 

Grandma worked in the mess hall. But that was the problem. Since the administration were hakujins, you had to speak English in order to get a job. So that was the reason all these Kibeis didn’t have anything to do. They sat around. After a while, you’re bound to get radical, and if you have all of your education in Japan, it’s ingrained. All that propaganda and so on. In the beginning, Japan was pretty aggressive. For a while it looked like they would be a threat to the U.S.

How did Grandpa get involved with the politics and upheaval between the Kibeis and the Niseis? 

There were two factions in Tule Lake. There were the radical Kibeis, educated in Japan. And the Niseis, the American moderates. And they were at each other. So the violence at Tule Lake stemmed from all of that. They were beating each other up. Grandpa was extremely angry. He thought the treatment was terribly unfair. And so he’d talk about it in Japanese, the court procedure of the U.S. law. It wasn’t even practiced at all. Two-thirds as you know were American citizens and they were still told to relocate. If you were along the West Coast and if you were of any Japanese ancestry, you had to relocate. They used the word “relocate.” But Tule Lake was a very violent place. Fighting, ganging up on people.

I had a classmate, Diane Tsukamoto, and they went after her father who served in the army and was the head of the JACL. See, the JACL was on the moderate side, advocating to volunteer for the U.S. army if you were the right age. And out of Tule Lake, I think only five or six volunteered. The rest of the 442nd were predominantly from Hawai’i. But because of that disagreement, the bickering was from that. The radical Japanese didn’t like the JACL.

So they were going to go after him, beat him up, but he fortunately wasn’t home at the time. The camp administrator allowed him to leave for his safety. So then he joined the army but he was already an attorney, that’s why he was the JACL president. Then he rapidly climbed and by the time he retired, he was a Colonel. So that was a pretty amazing achievement.

Do you think that the lack of parenting and upheaval affected everyone or just your parents? 

Everyone, definitely. If anything my dad was on my butt quite a bit compared to the other fathers. Maybe because I was the only son. All of my friends had a lot of brothers and sisters.

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The people who really suffered because of that condition were the children. They were the victims of this. And that was because fathers of a family behaved like they weren’t the head of a family. Not having that regimented work schedule; they weren’t doing anything. Sure they’re being fed three times a day, not doing anything. So they had forgotten they were the father figure. They would just sit and dine with their friends and didn’t really care about their children and look to see they were eating properly. Most of them, when they finished, had toothpicks in their mouth. I thought that was the ritual.

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My dad (left) watches a fire with a friend in Tule Lake

Can you tell me about the picture of you and your friend looking at the fire?

My friend and I could see the fire on the opposite side of the camp. It was the auditorium where they used to show movies. We could see the flames and the smoke just billowing in that direction, and of course hear the sirens in the distance. So we were watching and we could see the design of the camp. The man was the from the same block and taking pictures and he said, “Stand just like that.” And we were wondering if we should turn around and he said, “No, no look at the fire.”

What do you remember seeing?

I was impressionable, and I was observing this. Just unhealthy. Adults with nothing to do, it must’ve been all that kind of hopelessness. The men were just doing what they felt. So the propensity of gambling among Japanese was prevalent and they had a casino-like atmosphere. And if you enjoyed drinking, well, they needed something to stimulate them, I guess. So they made this moonshine out of rice but it would make them very sick and they would throw up. You could hear them coming home in the middle of the night. My uncle, he was doing that even in Topaz. He wouldn’t come home for weeks.

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Tule Lake fire

Where did he go? Just wandering around?

Just gambling. Maybe he had a girlfriend, I don’t think so. Everything was out of whack. The negative part of the Japanese really surfaced in Tule Lake, I think. The U.S. government used Tule Lake as an experiment to see what the culture, their education and behavior. They knew they were going to win the war.

What was one of the worst things you remember seeing? 

There were at least three homicides. One was a guard, an American sentryman shooting a truck driver.  They got into an argument. The driver, who was able to go in and out of the gates, didn’t show his pass or badge which was supposed to be clipped onto his pocket. And the guy didn’t talk to him nicely, and the Japanese kid shouted back. So when he came back, the guard was still mad so he just shot him. And there were two or three homicides but they were killings done within the camp. It was a known fact, it was dangerous to walk at night around Tule Lake because you’d get beat up or jumped on.

But this was only a problem between people who were divided along the two ideologies, right? 

Yeah. And you knew where they were from if you got into an argument, pro or con Japanese. There’s nowhere else to go, everyone lives in the same type of barrack, so you’re marked. There’s no security and so people were bursting in and people were beating up the guy or the husband. I heard that going around. And my dad, I think, was involved and that was the reason he was taken away from Topaz. I saw him get handcuffed and taken away as I was coming home from school. He looked at me but didn’t even acknowledge. It was just my mom and I who went to Tule Lake in Block 49 and he either went to Crystal City or Leupp.

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My grandfather, Tamotsu (Tom)

One day he came home and was released. He got into the same mode, teaching Japanese in high school. But there was an argument in the next block, with a crowd forming of people yelling at each other. I remember my dad going out there, too. He was relatively tall back then compared to other Japanese so he stood out.

So, was he going around beating people up?

That part I can’t confirm. But I know he was considered dangerous according to an FBI report.

Where did you read that report?

He had it stashed away at their house.

 

Did he have friends?

Oh yeah, he had a lot of friends. They were all in that Kibei group.

So then from Tule Lake, maybe a year went by after he came home, and here again I came around the corner and he was taken away. So I watched him twice being handcuffed. And this time he was taken to Leupp, Arizona. Years later they would advertise getting this group together and write it in hiragana and katakana. It would be at a Chinese restaurant or somewhere in Japantown. They’re all sitting around, all these pompous looking people, so cocky. The way they posed, just full of themselves. They used to walk around with zoot suit pants and so they brought their own style to the camps.

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The “Leupp Group.” My grandfather (far right) and my grandmother (fifth from right).

Maybe at some point, it became a badge of honor for them. 

They’re fighting their own war in their mind. No one in Japan cares a hoot about what they’re doing for Japan, or if they were. It’s not psychoanalyzing them but maybe it was the only way they kept their self-esteem. They returned from Japan after an education over there, and English skills were nothing. So they felt left out. Then they felt indignant or animosity towards Niseis because Niseis would be fluent in English. So maybe that was their little way of rebelling. But the war they were fighting in their mind was to resist what was happening, which was unlawful imprisonment.

I understand his point of view and see it as something honorable. But you being a child, I think your perspective was different because you just wanted your dad to be a father. Maybe you came away with more resentment?

That divisiveness just carried over after the war. There was the wall between the Niseis and the Japanese. They were incapable of talking because of the language barrier. And Japanese is a hard language to pick up so the Niseis didn’t care to learn to speak Japanese. What for? Their workplace and job was all English. You had to assimilate.

What was school like in Tule Lake? You had a pro-Japanese and Japanese-only speaking experience. 

Although the government provided junior and high school, if we attended, we were called inus, dogs, which was like a traitor. So no one attended. And it was backed by the administrators that they could form their own system, the Japanese language school. So there were eight of them. The format was exactly like Japan. They were preparing us to go back, so it had to be that military style education. We had to put on a headband, hachimaki. White color for the boys, red for the girls, and meet at the undokai, meaning exercise field. So we did our taiso, and then we had to bow eastward and shout Tennoheika bonzai! Long live the emperor ten thousand years.

But I thought about this later, that California was closer if you faced Japan west, where if you face east, you’re almost three-quarters around the world. I thought, “What a bunch of idiots.” [laughs] But we were bowing east towards the sun, tennoheika bonzai!  But when it became radical, sometimes we had to get on our knees and bow. Usually we would bow politely from the waist but sometimes he would make us kneel. Seiza!” And one time after a storm, there was a mud puddle where I stood in formation. So I just moved over like an inch to avoid dirtying my pants, and the teacher came and hit me on the head because I moved. That was a prominent part. I had a lifetime of watching people slapping each other. But you started getting conditioned because we were running, washoi washoi. You’d go around running in formation. There are pictures and it looks just like Japan, preparing for war.

Can you tell the story about being in class and needing to go to the bathroom? 

I raised my hand and I had to go pee. Sensei, benjo ni ikitai.” And he says, Gaman shiro!” He told me to hold it. I couldn’t talk back. And I couldn’t hold it. So anyway, I peed in my pants where nobody noticed, and during recess, I dashed home and changed. But there were punishments if you mispronounced in reading. I remember one time out in the snow, I had to hold my book up straight and read two pages over and over. Because I mispronounced some phrase in there, and there might have been some words or kanji which I didn’t study. So that was my punishment and he said, “Go outside and read it.” And I had to read out loud. And he’d peek out once in a while and say, “Kiko-en zo!” I can’t hear you! [laughs].

Who were these teachers that they got?

All these Kibeis. I just had this total disdain for them. They were a bunch of kooks. If they felt like it they just slapped you around. I wish I was big enough, and if I was in high school, I would’ve just broke his nose.

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Tamotsu and Itsuye Tsuchida

I know. You would’ve been sent away for sure. 

I would have. Because I wouldn’t have put up with it.

Can describe what happened when Grandpa came back to Tule Lake and he decided to go back to Japan?

Basically all the people in Tule Lake were classified disloyal and they all wanted to go back to Japan. So the preparation for us was we packed what little we had and a seamstress made me an overcoat because Japan was going to be cold. The war had not ended yet. My dad thought that Japan was not losing the war, even though there were photos of Japan being devastated. We already saw the aftermath of the atom bomb.

Where did you see that?

It was in Life magazine. But even my dad was telling me that those were not true photos. That’s pretty sad.

He thought it was propaganda?

Yeah, that it was propaganda. So the day before we were going to head out and take the train to the port, a friend of his who was part of the crew on the boat got into the camp. He visited and told my dad to not go back. “Tsuchida-san, ima nihon ni kaettara dame desu yo.” Going back to Japan right now would be bad. The devastation is surreal. He said, ‘Japan is just totally devastated with nothing to eat except jagaimo [mountain potatoes]. And you’re going to be treated badly because they’re so bitter over there. You think you’re going back to be a true, loyal Japanese but you’re wrong, they’re going to think you’re the enemy.’ And my mom started to cry.

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Because she wanted to go back?

No because she didn’t want to go to the depot area and unload the crate. She just objected to that. [laughs] People that did go back anyway, and met my family again later, they all said the same thing. ‘It’s a good thing you didn’t go back.’

So she didn’t care either way, going back to Japan or staying?  

She said, “Go back yourself if you want and I’ll stay and raise Mitsuki by myself.” And which she managed to do, of course. We came out of camp and we disembarked at Berkeley for no other reason except that she said she used to hear the bells chime at the UC campus, at Campanile, and she thought it was pretty. So she got off at the train station at Berkeley, nowhere to go with only $25 in her purse, looking for a place to live.

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My grandmother, Itsuye, and my father at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939. Interesting to note is FDR’s message on the opening, just two years before Pearl Harbor: “May this, America’s World’s Fair on the Pacific, truly serve all nations in symbolizing their destinies, one with every other, through the ages to come.

How did Grandma take care of you? 

We found a Christian church with four or five other families already living there. We slept there for a good two weeks. Then we found this place at 2815 Grant Street. And we were squeezed in like sardines. In fact, it was worse than the camps. Because the U.S. government just wanted to get rid the Japanese. It was costing them a lot of money to feed everyone. They told all the people in Tule Lake, ‘Either go back to Japan or leave.’ So there was this struggle to find a place to live, so that’s how we ended up in Berkeley. That’s where I met all of my surrogate brothers and sisters because we were all clustered in this ten block area.

When did you finally reunite with your dad?

I think it was February 1947.

Wow, really?

When we went to the train station, it was the end of the line in Oakland. My mom and my cousin’s dad drove us to the train station. I could picture him walking down, he had a distinct walk.

He refused to a sign a pardon or write a letter to the U.S. government, apologizing for his behavior. It was just a symbolic thing. And he refused to. So our demise financially was compounded. My mom only, in Berkeley. And everyone came back by 1945 and you know, gardening and working, earning what little money. And so we were poor, just depending on my mother’s income which was cleaning houses. So here again like in camp, I’m running around, no one’s watching me. And I’m running all around town.

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Grandpa and dad in the ’80s.

I can’t believe he was one of the last people out. Did he ever write that letter?

Yeah, someone went to talk to him. “Look, your wife and your son are waiting. All you need to do is confess that you were wrong,” or something. The FBI filed grandpa as hot-tempered in violent, and that supervisor said, “No, Tom is not like that.”

You mean a Japanese friend?

No, the camp supervisor. [laughs]. The supervisor said they would write it for them. He could not write a lick of English.

What happened after you started living in Berkeley? 

My part of being slow to pick up the language was because we didn’t speak at home. And I figured out later that all my other friends were at home with a lot of siblings, and all they did was speak English. So the Kibei or Issei parents were left out. I would be invited over for dinner, and I thought it was a big party. But they spoke among each other in English. I was an anomaly because I was the only child. All my pals picked up English quickly.

And by the time I got to junior high and high school, my interests were different. It was cliquish.

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And then my influence came because of judo, and even though I was a high schooler, I was pretty good so I was beating up college guys from San Jose State, Cal Berkeley or San Francisco State. So my influence was from guys who were three or four years older, hakujins, who instilled on me the value of education. But that’s where I picked up a lot of history and information because they were knowledgable.

So that part among my high school friends, they didn’t really know me. Girls thought I was quiet. But it was my financial situation, too. We were poor. I didn’t have a car. So if I wanted to date, I didn’t have a car to drive to pick up the girl. And so when I went to senior ball, that was unusual. That was the only time I went out. It was a big deal, I rented a white dinner jacket. So here again, I wanted to ask Diane [Tsukamoto] but then I had that lack of confidence. I saw Diane’s father’s once, just this rigid, pure army man. Distinguished looking of course but he intimidated me. I thought if I go to pick her up, “What’s your name again?” Tsuchida. “Where do you live?” And see I’m embarrassed from there. I live down on Grove Street in a rental house with four or five other families. I managed to borrow my dad’s 1942 Roadmaster Buick, sounded like a tank going down. But she lived in a nice house, with the military benefits. So I didn’t want to meet him at the door. “You get Diane back here by midnight, you hear? And by the way, are you going to college?” or something [laughs].

How did you feel about receiving your apology and redress? 

I was aware the movement was ongoing. I personally knew Edison Uno. He helped start the movement. So yes, but I didn’t care. I was apathetic. Because I was so disgusted with the way we were treated, I wanted to forget about it. It’s justified, I thought, ‘Good for them!’ Heck yeah they should be doing it. But it got where I became jaded. How wrong is that? You got an American citizen being treated like an enemy, I was just a kid.

Was Grandpa part of the redress movement? 

Yes. Even though being an enemy of the country, so to speak, he was selected to testify in San Francisco at the Federal building.

Who picked him?

Don’t know. Because he was the wrong guy to pick.

Why do you think it was a bad choice? It seems like he would be the right person to pick.

Yeah, I guess you’re right. He had a confrontation with Hayakawa in the hallway. He said it was like a welcome respite for the farmworkers. Hayakawa did approach him and my dad issued a counter-challenge. Said let’s just set up a forum and we’ll have an interpreter.

To just debate?

Yes to just debate. But that didn’t happen. Hayakawa was a coward.

Did you ever read Grandpa’s testimony?

No.

Do you think you felt apathetic because you were so young?

That’s a good question. I didn’t know which way to go. Here I’m trying to learn English with Kibei parents. I was messed up. Then we went into a place where all these people in Tule Lake who were considered disloyal to the U.S. but loyal to Japan. But they were justified because they were being mistreated. Tule Lake was unlike the other nine camps. They were preparing us for when the Japanese army invaded, we had to help. We had these sticks pointed, like we were going to fight the American soldiers. They were preparing us to go back to Japan.

Why do you think the redress or experience never politicized you like it did other people?

Everyone was feeling sorry for themselves, maybe. I didn’t want to fall into a trap of victimization as to what happened to us. Because my dad just couldn’t forget it. I think he became even more weird, cynical because of that. But my dad had his place in the sun. Four of the major newspapers in Japan came to interview him. They came to the house at different times. So he finally got someone to listen to him. They took his story.

I didn’t want to fall into that trap that I was victimized. I got sick of it. I don’t care.

Except now.  How come you were willing to tell me so much?

It started to leak out here and there. I remember you typing rapidly, it was sputter and go, I remember. I wasn’t as fluid. But the questions started to make me remember. It’s getting more focused. It made me think, this story should not die down.

But when you hear the history of Native Americans, African Americans and what they went through. It’s somewhat cathartic, it wasn’t bad for us. The slave ships, chained. Being lynched without impunity. You know, Manzanar, there was that tribe there. And they’re all forced to walk the Trail of Tears.

It’s all just a pattern of racism. It’s symptomatic of the same problem. 

It’s been happening throughout history. It’s been going on. If you think about what the Americans did to the slaves or Indians, it’s terrible what they went through. So our three, four years, it was nothing.

20604231_1670555799684314_6117049883022617684_n
My grandparents’ ashes at Chapel of the Chimes. My dad is in the reflection.

 

One Comment

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  1. Jessika Albrecht November 8, 2017 — 6:08 am

    Thank you for this , Diana. Very touching interview. I can hear Dad’s voice.

    Liked by 1 person

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