Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Frank Yamasaki Interview I
Narrator: Frank Yamasaki
Interviewers: Lori Hoshino (primary), Stephen Fugita
Location: Lake Forest Park, Washington
Date: August 18, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-yfrank-01-0007

<Begin Segment 7>

LH: When you interacted with the Italian Americans and made friendships, did you also interact with other ethnic groups?

FY: Well, I think my experience there was primarily with the Park Board. I used to turn out for basketball, tracks and other events. And they would have also events like camping, going to Camp Denny and then I would be the only Asian there, all the others would be Caucasians and yes, in that respect, the New Dealism was great. Things just start coming, popping up that I'd never experienced before.

LH: Do you feel that that allowed you to make friendships beyond just the Japanese American community, then?

FY: Oh yes. Yes. Just being with the Park Board, playing basketball, we went to areas that we would never had gone to. West Seattle, Green Lake... at that time Green Lake was considered far north. Even in the Collin Playfield in the International area. Rainier, Rainier the playhouse, field there that still exists.

LH: Now were there ever any problems with you being the only Asian amongst a group of other mixed-, mixed-race kids?

FY: Well, I've had some horrendous experience, or shocking experience. I would forget that, you know, there are moments that you forget that we are racially different. And there was a time where Tony's parents had a stall at the Public Market and we would go there after some activities. And then there was one day that Tony and Vito and another fellow, it was hot, said, "Hey, let's go swimming. The pool is right up here." Crystal Pool and we looked, at, it cost a dime so I said, "Hey, that's a great idea." So here we go, we, it was only a couple of blocks from the market, so we went there and they paid and I'm in line and when they came to me, they said no. They just, they didn't say, they just waved their hands and said, "Out." And it just caught me by surprise. And the others, they were shocked. They didn't know, they couldn't understand, but I understood right away what it was about. And they, they start arguing with them, with the clerk there, or the cashier and at the same I was already halfway down the block. That was...

LH: Can you tell me what was going through your head at the time?

FY: Just, just shock. It's just kind of a bitter... like, like being slapped. You're in a state of shock. I know there is discrimination, but we anticipate it, so we either... I don't know if you've heard the expression, "gentlemen's agreement," so there are places that we, we understood we don't go, so there's no encounter like that. The...

SF: I'd like to follow up a little bit on that "gentlemen's agreement" idea. Where did you feel you couldn't go? Like certain restaurants or...

FY: Oh, of course, yeah. You know, there's, even thinking back, if we were to go just downtown area, whether it's, by Bon Marche or Frederick's, or in that area, we would talk to each other, say, "Hey, let's go," or we wouldn't go alone. We would find friends or others to go together. And that makes me think about after the war, I could recall when before the war, the population -- at least I didn't notice -- there was not a very large black, Afro-American population. But after the war there was a tremendous increase. And I could recall the blacks coming into the same area where we hesitated at once, one time, and they would come in a group. And at first, I used to think think, "God, that's a threatening feeling," to see people come in a group, but then I began to think, "This is exactly what we did." It was a fear. At least, I think the fear isn't as intense now as it was before, at least in Seattle, at least in certain areas. [Laughs]

SF: So when you went places with some of your Italian friends, you would not go to certain places that you would go with your Nihonjin friends or Japanese friends?

FY: Yeah, when the, of course, weekends or other days, we would go to the Nihonmachi, that's the Japanese town. The Italians would have their Italian areas and in those days, if you go to another city, the first thing you do, you look for the Japanese community, Nihonmachi, it was standard. And of course the Chinese were -- among the Asian -- were the most discriminated in the early '30s, so as a result, the Chinatown has grown, and there are many generation of Chinese that still spoke very little English because of the tremendous discrimination they encountered. In Seattle, I think, if you're familiar, there was even a race riot. So all these things even when I was growing up, I was so politically naive, I really didn't understand. You know, we grew up almost feeling as if this was normal.

LH: Now Frank, you mentioned about going to Nihonmachi with your friends. Did you ever take your Italian friends to Nihonmachi?

FY: No, no, I haven't. [Laughs] It's strange, that's interesting, why I didn't, I don't know.

LH: Do you think that there might have been some discrimination from Japanese towards the greater community in some way?

FY: When you say "greater community"...

LH: Other non-Japanese.

FY: Non-Japanese. I don't know. I... the, of course, there was tremendous anger; they had a derogatory name for white.

LH: What was that?

FY: There's an expression called keto. That was used as a... I guess you might call it equivalent to a white calling a Japanese, "Jap."

LH: Can you give me an example of when somebody might use that word?

FY: Well usually, well, they almost always used that word keto. There was a hatred toward the white. And it was almost like the Japanese that I had met and known were very prejudiced even with Chinese and other ethnic groups. They used to be, I haven't seen it because we lived out in South Park, but there would be gangs of Chinese fighting gangs of Nisei. And there were discrimination among... and I don't know whether this is a reprisal. You get kicked and so you justify it by kicking others. Or, I don't know.

SF: So there were these fights between the Niseis and Chinese kids. Were there fights between Japanese kids and white kids?

FY: No, when it comes to white kids, it was a little different. Because, no, usually Japanese avoid... because there is a big fear there. And earlier you asked about if I ever invite the Italians as a kid, no. And they had, they didn't invite me either. The social events they had at the Catholic Church in South Park, where they would have a bandstand and yes, then the whole community was invited there. There was no, it was predominantly Italian, of course, but it was very good. They would sing all these songs and they have their musician there on the stage, and a bandstand, I should say, and they have wine. Of course I was too young to drink wine. I didn't appreciate it like I do now. [Laughs]

SF: Did, like when you got to high school age, people must have, like Italian kids must have been attracted to the Japanese kids, I mean, in terms of like girl-boy relationships and visa versa, but was that the case that people used to say, "Oh, she's really cute," or something like that?

FY: Again, my personal experience, Japanese generally dated Japanese. The interracial type or ethnic group type of relationship was very, very limited. The, same with Italians, and I'm sure the Germans, the same thing. There was a strong tie among each ethnic group.

SF: So you'd have never thought of dating an Italian girl or something like that.

FY: No, it just, it just doesn't exist. I would look at some and they looked pretty, but it just didn't... or at least I didn't. I was a late bloomer. It wasn't until my high school junior and senior that I started to date Nisei girls. And even at that, I went to Cleveland High School, and at Cleveland High School there weren't that many Japanese girls, but you go to Broadway, they used to have a lot of dances there. They used to call it the "G.R.," I think Girl Reserves or something like that. Oh, I would make a point to go and then they had other activities in the cities where they had their own band. They had a group called the Mikado and they, of course, played, everybody, all the musicians in those days played Glenn Miller. And there were several places where they used to have dances.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.