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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-01-0007

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: Well, let me ask you also about, you mentioned that you and the other kids that you played with, some of your friends, that you all spoke English, and I think you had mentioned that you didn't really speak that much Japanese. And I wanted to go back a little bit in your earlier childhood and ask you about that. How did you communicate with your parents?

PB: How did I what?

AI: How did you communicate with your parents, and did you speak some Japanese with them?

PB: Well, you know, you ask that question and it's hard for me to say how did I communicate. I think it was a combination of my parents after all these years trying to use English that would be understandable, 'cause we didn't speak Japanese at all, and we on the other hand, picking up phrases or words in Japanese that they could understand. So it became a language of a mixed thing. [Laughs] I don't think anybody, if we spoke to anybody in that language, they wouldn't understand us. But between our parents and us, at least we were able to communicate because we would use part of the so-called Japanese, mostly English, and they in turn would use English that we could understand. But I remember that because we didn't speak Japanese and they didn't speak English 100 percent. But I think they became more English-oriented than we did Japanese, because Japanese, when we would go out with our friends and in the community, nobody used it. So I think that our parents went the other way, which was try to use as much English as possible. And even in churches, when I mention these churches, the services I remember were mostly all conducted in English language.

AI: I also wanted to ask you about the values that your parents passed on to you, and did they give you any lessons or teach you about particular values, whether that was Japanese values or religious values or just how to live life? Do you recall that from your childhood?

PB: No, I didn't. I think that each time that there was an incident that came up that related to things of that kind, that because of their Japanese background, they would try to tell us, and we would try to accept it on that basis. Because I remember that later on when we were a little older in camp and things of this nature, that that came up many times. Because I remember when the war started especially, that they emphasized the fact that they had been here for many years, I was born and raised here, that the first consideration should be that I am an American. I'm never going to go back to Japan, that I should think in terms of being a good American and serving this country, because this is my country and there's no other country that I owe any allegiance to. So at least they were very emphatic about that. So I think that that had some value on how I would react and what I would do and what my thoughts would be. And all of us, myself, my sisters, and my brother, we all went along on that basis.

AI: I see. So when your parents first came to the U.S., they might have had some thought of making money and going back to Japan...

PB: Right.

AI: ...but then as you and your three sisters and your brother grew older, they made a decision to stay in the United States.

PB: That's right. So I think that they became more American, you might say. And as a result of it, they wanted their children to be the same way that we -- and they emphasized that many times, that we're not Japanese, that you are American and you were, your loyalty, and as I say, when the war came along, that was the time that they really pointed that out to me.

AI: Now, when you were still in school in the '30s, Japanese immigrants could not become naturalized U.S. citizens. Even though that was the case, did they ever talk about perhaps someday becoming American citizens?

PB: Well, they did because they had been here and, as you know, there was a law that prohibited Japanese from giving up their citizenship and becoming American citizens. And for us that were born in this country, we were just naturally that way. So that eventually many of the Isseis, including my folks, decided that they would study, take the test, and try to be American citizens, because they had no desire of going to Japan, that their, their children were all going to be here, their grandchildren were all going to be here, that they should become Americans and not stay Japanese. So I think that took place in many, many households. And as a result of it, I know that there were a lot of so-called Isseis that took the test and became naturalized when the law was passed that they could become American citizens. And I think that was a wise choice for -- that's my opinion. But it worked out good.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2000 Densho. All Rights Reserved.