Densho Digital Archive
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Title: Mits Koshiyama Interview
Narrator: Mits Koshiyama
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 14, 2001
Densho ID: denshovh-kmits-01-0012

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: And so you decided that you would go out and do some farm labor.

MK: Yeah.

AI: Your schooling was over. You had graduated. Could you tell me a little bit about when you went out, where you went, and what you did as a farm laborer?

MK: Well, first we went to Billings, Montana, and did sugar beets. But there was two brothers, two Ger-, the funny thing there, Montana and Wyoming had a lot of German farmers. A lot of German, German families running the cities. We didn't know that until we got there, and they told me that they were, their parents were immigrants from Germany. And we said, "Gee, these people are free people, and the, the, Germany's at war with America, too." And I said, "Isn't that strange?" Lot of things didn't make sense to us. We had guys that questioned a lot of things. They were the kind of people like question anything. So those were the questions, doesn't make sense. But the German farmers were good to us. One of the brothers was young enough, young enough to be in the army, but he wasn't in the army because he was farming -- deferred. But his, his sugar beet crop was the poorest crop you ever saw in your life. This is, his sugar beets were like carrots. But we didn't make any money. Work all day and we didn't probably make a dollar. Worked hard, because the sugar beets were so poor. But he says, "You know something? I might have the poorest sugar beets in Montana, but they got the most sugar contents." He said, "That's what counts," he says. [Laughs] We said, "Well, what about us? We're not making any money." I says, "I'd rather have big sugar beets with the less sugar content so we could make a few dollars." Well, you don't argue with those kind of farmers. [Laughs] But the older brother, he was a pretty good guy. And he took good care of us.

So later we went to Idaho, and we went to work for another German farmer. I remember his name. His name was Hardin, H-a-r-d-i-n. And he, he was a good, pretty good. He was very happy to see us come and do his potatoes and sugar beets. We worked hard there. While we were working there, we heard about this Chinese restaurant in Idaho -- I think it was in Twin Falls. So we said, "Oh, boy. Let's go have a, dinner over there at Twin Falls Chinese restaurant when the crops are through." So we worked hard for about a month, and we went over there, and we sat down at this restaurant, and the funniest thing, this waitress kept walking back and forth, serving everybody else. Totally ignored us. So we said, "Gee, something funny. What's going on?" Where was this Chinese owner, anyway? I guess he was hiding in the kitchen someplace. Pretty soon the waitress about, after the longest time, seemed like hours, she came to our place and said, "Sorry, but you know something? Our boss said he doesn't serve Japs." So two of the guys I was with, oh they got mad. Said, "Hey, you know what? Let's tear this place apart." [Laughs] Well, I said, the other guys who were older said, "No. We'll be the losers. Let's not do anything rash." So we left. But it wasn't only the white people, white Americans that discriminated against us. It was Asians, too. So it's hard to believe, but that's exactly what happened. So we finished the crop there. We went back to Heart Mountain. We were on a seasonal leave. We just had a certain amount of time to harvest the crop. Soon as the crop was over, we were supposed to go back to camp.

AI: And when you got back, was that in about December of '43?

MK: Well, when I listened to Professor Muller, he did state that the government agreed with the governors of the, western states that they had, the prisoners of the camp have to go back as soon they finish their work. That was the understanding. They didn't want any Japanese to settle in Wyoming or Montana. Not that any of them would, but they didn't want that.

AI: So even though Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, were all far away from the western defense area...

MK: Yeah.

AI: still were not allowed to settle there...

MK: Yeah.

AI: that time.

MK: That's right. Well, don't you younger people think it's funny when, say that I, like Utah. There's Salt Lake City. There's lot of Japanese, Japanese Americans living there running around free, doing everything like in American life like a free citizen. And here, I don't know how many miles away, but there's a camp there with barbed wires, and there's Japanese in there locked up with machine guns aiming so they won't escape. Don't you think it's strange? Something's wrong someplace, isn't it?

AI: That's right. That's right.

MK: That's the kind of things I try to put out to the people I talk to, especially hakujin. They say, "Well, it's for your protection." And no, I said, "No, it's not for our protection. How can it be?" And then when I say, "Well, if it's for our protection to be in the camp, how come everybody in California resisted our efforts to come back to California after the war was over?" They had no answer for that. They say, "Oh, well... maybe this, maybe that." You can't go by maybes. They didn't want us back because they feared competition in farming again. So again, I say money, either it's good for you or bad for you. [Laughs] There's, can't believe it. But I think the, overall the effort that Japanese Americans made to return to normal life was extraordinary. In army terms it's "beyond the call of duty," really. They could've just laid down and said, "Government, help me. Hey, help me. You put me in this position. Help me." But no. They went out and worked, did any job they could get a hold of. The girls, they couldn't get nice office jobs or anything. The only jobs they could get is either housework or work in the farms.

AI: Well, I'm going to return us to the very end of 1943.

MK: Yes.

AI: You finished your work leave and returned back to Heart Mountain. And then it was Christmastime. Hard to imagine having a Christmas in camp.

MK: Yeah.

AI: Was your whole family back together again that Christmas of '43? You were back, your parents...

MK: Yeah. And we were, we were back together, yeah.

AI: And then you had said when we were talking earlier that, about some, in some ways, people still tried to have some kind of normal social life...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...even though it was a camp.

MK: Yeah.

AI: And that December and January, you were back in camp. Could you tell me a little bit about the social life?

MK: Things started, started to get a little bit better because the evacuees went to help the farmers and went to the cities and spent money, and people were happy with that. They were making money. I have to tell you this -- Governor Smith of Wyoming at that time, he didn't want the Japanese, too many Japanese coming out to the farms, too. So the director of the WRA, he withheld lot of the evacuees from going out to Wyoming to work. So the farmers got all mad. The city people got mad because they were not making any, much money. So what happened was this governor, Governor Smith, he lost his reelection. But the next governor was just as bad, but he, he didn't try to keep the evacuees from coming out to help, help the harvest. So it's strange. Here's the guy that's so patriotic he doesn't want no Japs around, like he says. And he let, yet he lost his election because the farmers weren't making any money. It's strange, huh? So money has a lot to do with, with politics, too. Even today money and politics go hand in hand. But that's the way it was in Wyoming.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.