Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Susan Hayase Interview
Narrator: Susan Hayase
Interviewer: Glen Kitayama
Location: University of California, Los Angeles
Date: September 12, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-hsusan-01-0001

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GK: My name is Glen Kitayama, and I'm interviewing Susan Hayase at UCLA on Friday, September 12, 1997. And Susan, I wanted to start this interview off by asking you, how did you get involved in Japanese American and Asian American issues?

SH: Let's see. I guess I should tell you somewhat about my background. My, my mother was at Gila River and my father was at Amache concentration camps. And after camp, they both ended up on the East Coast in Washington, D.C. and that's where they met and got married. And all the kids -- four of us -- were born on the East Coast. I was born in Washington, D.C. And when I was six years old, in 1962 -- that was twenty years after my parents had left the West Coast -- my dad was finally able to get a job in California. He was an engineer, and it took him that long to actually get a job in private industry in California. And so, he really wanted to come back to be near his family, so we came back and ended up living in Orange County.

Orange County was very segregated, and we lived in a pretty much all-white neighborhood. And this is during the '60s and early '70s and the... well, I mean, people have heard of Orange County as very conservative. But in addition to that, the general atmosphere in this country was very negative with regard to Japanese Americans. I mean, we didn't even call ourselves "Japanese Americans." We, I think that people, other people called us Japanese, if they weren't calling us "Japs." And you know, we insisted we were Americans, but we... I think our identity as Japanese Americans was, hadn't emerged yet, in some ways. My experience as a child in that environment was, it was very racist and I couldn't understand it. It was terrible. And I was lucky in that my parents actually talked about camp. So I knew about camp, although it took me a while to totally understand what it really meant. And I do remember as a child reading my mother's copy of Mine Okubo's Citizen 13660, and just... I mean, looking at what I thought were just cartoons, and slowly understanding like, what, kind of, what was that? And that my parents had been a part of an experience that was similar to that.

Also I remember that there were things that my parents used to do that I couldn't understand. Like, they were very security conscious, in an era where people talk about feeling so safe and not locking their cars and that kind of thing. I remember my parents being very, very overprotective compared to my friends and being very concerned about our safety. And I remember strange things, like I remember my father once kind of yelling at us. He was telling us, "Don't you ever get in trouble like those other kids, because if you do, people don't even have to see your face to know who you are." We were the only Japanese family for miles, right? We were confused, like why would we be getting in trouble? We didn't know what he was talking about. I remember he yelled at us, "You better do your homework, because education is the only thing that anybody could ever -- that can't take away from you." And I didn't really understand... I didn't really understand what... what was the source of his anger. I couldn't figure -- it seemed out of context to what was happening. But I was really angry, too, when I understood, like what the camps were all about. Because I guess, what it kind of told me was like confirmation of the hatred that this country had for my parents and for me and it was... so I don't know, I, I grew up very angry about that.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.