Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Paul Bannai Interview I
Narrator: Paul Bannai
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 28, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-bpaul-01-0011

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: So for you, even at the high school age, you were active in your total high school community. You were active in the mainstream of the student body, and...

PB: Right.

AI: were also very active among the Japanese American students.

PB: Right. In fact, when I graduated from school, I was eighteen. And I couldn't vote or anything, but I joined the Japanese American Citizens League, even though at that time you had to be twenty-one in order to be a legal member. But I remember that in 19-, I think it was in '38 or '9 that the JACL had the national convention in Los Angeles. And at that particular time I was active in Little Tokyo, and my one aim was to try to build a community center, 'cause there was no community center for Japanese Americans to meet. I thought that if we had a nice little gym, a place to meet, and social activities, that it would be good. The reason I got involved down there is Nisei Week. I would help on that. I used to introduce the young ladies during the queen contest, emcee the program. Also there was a little hall, Kaiyamato Hall, upstairs where we used to have talent shows. And I would put together Nisei talent and present a show. Well, all these things I was very active in. So I remember when they had the JACL convention that I said I would like to go. Well, there were several people that wanted me to go, but I was not eligible because of age. And that's when I had the help of three individuals. I remember them very well. They were very active in the JACL. One was Mike Masaoka, another was George Inagaki that lived on the Culver City area, and then downtown, of course, Masao Sato. He was running the YMCA, and I was active with a group down there. So the three of them recommended to national convention that even though I'm not a member that I could attend the national convention. So I was indebted to them very much for the opportunity to get involved in Japanese American activities at an age before, you might say, my twenty-first birthday. But these are things I remember. And I remember that the reason I did that is because I wanted to be sure that rather than churches, that we build a multiracial community center in Little Tokyo that we all Japanese Americans could benefit from. It never happened at that time because of the war and things of this nature, but at least that was one of my dreams.

AI: So let me make sure I understand this right, that at the time you were in high school, many of the Japanese American activities were sponsored by the churches, is that right?

PB: Right.

AI: And so you were concerned that rather than being focused on any one church, that perhaps if it was possible to have a community center, it would be open to all regardless of their religion or affiliation with the church.

PB: That's right. That's why I chose downtown Little Tokyo because the church activities were in, as I say, Buddhist church. We had one downtown. We had one in Boyle Heights, a Baptist church. The Tenrikyo church was only up in Boyle Heights. But my feeling was that rather than have it just a church-oriented, 'cause a lot of people may not be that strong on the churches, but it would mean that we could have a area or a social hall, places that we could meet as Japanese Americans and carry on our traditions and activities and goals that we would set, not affiliated with any religious belief.

AI: Well, in fact, could you tell me a little bit more about some of the Japanese American activities that -- from the time you were in high school, maybe there were some things around the New Year's time or maybe summer picnics or club get-togethers.

PB: Yeah. Well, the big thing every year was Nisei Week, and that was one time that we tried to show the community -- not the Japanese American community, but outside community -- that there was a community that was active Japanese Americans. And so we used to have these parades. It was through Little Tokyo, and we would invite prominent people to ride in the parade or come down, and the mayor and the governor, people like that. And the parade was only maybe about, oh I'd say a mile long. And we'd have all the Nisei active people either ride, we'd have a float. At that time, of course, we chose a Nisei Week queen. Every year we would have a queen and a court. There was generally four girls that were, served on the court and the queen. But that was another big event that we had, and the coronation ball, which was held in a very fancy hotel somewhere. And I remember that I used to emcee those, and it was a very, very good experience to see that. And I remembered the queen because last year, I think it is, I went down to Nisei Week, and they invited the queens to a luncheon at the museum. And I met some of them there. There was one lady there, I won't say how old she is, but she's very old in my estimation, but she was there. But each year the one that reigned as queen was invited. And it was quite a show. All these girls are still very pretty. And I can say one thing about myself, I always appreciate pretty girls, and more so the Nisei pretty girls. And so the queen was chosen. It was quite an occasion. And to introduce her at the queen coronation was something. And these are things that I carried on later on when I was in the military and everything else because I enjoyed doing those kinds of things. But Nisei Week was a great event in those days.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.