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-01-0003

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AI: When you were living there in Colorado and your folks were farming, you were the first child. You were the oldest child. And I think you mentioned earlier that your three sisters were born in Colorado...

PB: Right.

AI: ...also. Now, when, even at a young age in many Japanese families, the oldest child, especially the oldest son, has some extra responsibilities.

PB: Right.

AI: Was that the case for you?

PB: Well, I remember that I was the first one to go to school. My sisters were younger and they'd never went to school in Delta. But we lived in the country. And at my age, which was six, seven, and eight years old, I did try to help in whatever way I could. I remember going to school, the grammar school the first time, and in this little town of Delta, the only other Orientals, you might say, was a Chinese family. And this is typical. I used to travel later on throughout Middle West and all that, and the Chinese would have a restaurant, a laundry, or typically that's what they did. So when I started school in Delta, there were no other Orientals. And I came from a farm into town to go to school. And they thought I was Chinese. And I had to go the first day, I remember, and check with my folks to be sure that I wasn't Chinese because they thought I was Chinese. But my parents assured me that I was 100 percent Japanese, anyway. [Laughs]

AI: Well, in fact, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about your starting school. Do you recall knowing any English when you started school?

PB: Well, you know I started there in the very first elementary school -- oh, I forgot to tell you. When I was there in Grand Junction, I also took the car and drove over the border into Utah, because we lived in a little coal-mining town called Sego, Utah. That's where my father had the pool hall and where he got injured. It was a town which was operated by a company that did the coal mining. They operated a general store, little store, where we had the post office, where we had to buy everything. And that school was, again, a two-room school, and it was, the school was a church also. It was a meeting place for the community. And I remember that -- I think it was Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, the husband taught the higher grades, and the wife taught lower grades. But that school, too, I went to. And I do remember that when you were at a certain grade and they felt that you learned enough, you were moved to the next room and the husband took over to teach you. But there were no grades. I mean it was just a matter of... but that town of Sego, Utah, went back to visit. I could not go up with my car because the road was blocked off. So I went back to the town near the railroad. It's called Thompson. Thompson, Utah. And I asked, "What happened to Sego?" And they said, "It is abandoned. The company has given it up, and there's really nothing to see there." Which I found out, because when I was going up the road I could see that the little store that they had was completely crumbled, the road was not used. So it's a town that I lived in, but I do remember so well that we lived up the road. This town in the winter months was closed because the road was unpassable. Snow would come down. But going to school, I remember that since it was at the bottom of the hill, what I would do was, I had a sled. I'd get on the sled and go all the way down the hill to school. And I'd have to pull the sled back up the hill, but at least one way I didn't have to walk. I could sleigh all the way down. And I remember that, the enjoyment that we had.

There was very few people that lived in the town. We were the only Oriental, there was another Oriental family. I think there was, the father was a coal miner. But I remember that it was, in the winter months, no communication. We didn't know what was going on in the world. There was no radio, no television, and no newspaper. So we were isolated. So there was three, four months that we were oblivious of what was happening in the world. Not that it made a lot of difference. But I remember that it got so cold that what we did is we'd put water down out in the front. Made a skating rink out there. And we all had skates, so we could skate to pass time. So I remember the good times in all those places, not only the bad but the good.

AI: Uh-huh. So it sounds like even though it was in some ways a hard life for your folks...

PB: Oh, yes.

AI: ...that, as a child that you did have...

PB: Very much so. Income-wise, there was no income. My father had bought the pool hall, and he sold it at a loss the first time because he said that with the very few people that were there, they found other recreations to go to. But one thing that it did is, because he had owned a pool hall I at least knew what the game was so I was going to be a champion pool shark. But it never materialized. [Laughs]

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.