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-01-0012

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: And so at the time when you were very involved with Nisei Week, was that after you graduated high school? Or had you gotten involved --

PB: Well, yeah. The last year I was in and even after I graduated. After I graduated from high school, I was looking for a job. And as a result, I had my eyes set upon a job with the bank. And at that time I knew, or I went around, and they didn't hire Japanese Americans to work in the bank. So I went to a commercial education school that was downtown, took up machine, bookkeeping machine, things of that nature, to prepare myself. And I made application at all the banks around with the personnel department, the main office, because I wanted to prove to the bank that as a Japanese American that I could do just the job as good as any white American or anybody else, and I wanted to set that as a goal. So I ran around filing applications. I asked several of the personnel officers why they didn't hire Japanese Americans, or for that matter any minority, and his answer was that if we were so visible, especially if we're a teller or somebody in the bank, that they may lose the account because they didn't like the idea of us working there. And I thought that was quite wrong, so I wanted to prove to them and to myself that I could work for a bank and do a better job than anybody else and they wouldn't lose any accounts. In fact, one -- I forgot who it was -- a personnel manager, I told him, I says, "If you lose an account, I'll go out and try to get the equal amount of money for you." Well, that didn't make any sense. But anyway, he listened, so that was it.

But I did get a job eventually with California Bank at that time, which was a pretty good-sized bank. There were two reasons I got the job. One is the personnel manager I got to know 'cause I went back several times, and they had a branch in the produce department where they dealt with Japanese Americans, 'cause the Japanese Americans were in gardening, produce, flower market. The other thing is they had a, going to open a branch in Japanese Town next to Sumitomo Bank, because Sumitomo Bank was primarily a Japanese bank. So I was able to convince them that when they opened the bank in Japanese Town, they ought to hire Niseis, which they did. So we had two or three Niseis. I was one of them. And naturally I started at the bottom doing little, minor work, and then eventually became a teller. But I proved to the banking industry and to the bank that I worked for in particular that even though we were Japanese Americans, we could just do a good job. And as a result of it, I think that eventually other banks decided to hire minority people. And I think that that was an accomplishment that I tried to do, and felt that I helped in getting it done.

AI: Well, clearly you felt very strongly about this, and this was in, you graduated high school in 1938, is that right?

PB: '38.

AI: And so it was at that time that you decided to make this effort to see if you could break this...

PB: Right.

AI: ...this color barrier.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.