Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mits Koshiyama Interview
Narrator: Mits Koshiyama
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 14, 2001
Densho ID: denshovh-kmits-01-0004

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Well now, in 1941, in the fall of 1941, you were seventeen years old, and you were a senior in high school. You were on schedule to graduate the following June of 1942. But of course, that was, the fall of 1941 was just before World War II. As a senior in high school, did you have any idea that the U.S. and Japan might be going to war?

MK: Well, I knew that feelings were bad, because we were getting probably the worst treatment from the white community. So we felt that it was due to the Japanese and the U.S. tension. And we didn't, we didn't, well, we didn't really understand fully what the problems were, only that U.S. and Japan might -- that's the rumors -- that they might have a war. But I, I never believed that it would happen. I said, "Gee, how can Japan fight America?" -- a small country, a small country like Japan? They'd just, foolish. So I says, "No, that'll never happen." But to my surprise, it did happen. The public reaction was right away that we were the enemy, just the same as the people in Japan. White America couldn't tell the difference. Even today, let's face it, we talk about being assimilated. JACL said we're assimilated and all that, but I don't believe that's true. I, I really believe that majority of Americans, white Americans, think that the Asians are somehow foreigners even though they're born in America for three or four generations. They still, they're looked upon as foreigners. And I think that JACL realizes that, too. What else would there be a JACL or a need for it? If we were truly first-class citizens, and integrated, and living the first-class and accepted like some people claim, we wouldn't need a JACL. I think the smarter people realize that it's needed. That's the way I feel, too. [Laughs]

AI: Well, I'm going to ask you to go back in time to that day, December 7, 1941. What happened on that day? It was a Sunday.

MK: Yeah, it was a Sunday.

AI: What do you recall from that day?

MK: My sister and I, we were doing some kind of work, farm work. We had this radio. You know how kids are, we're listen to radio while we're working. All of a sudden, news came out that Pearl Harbor's attacked. My sister looked at me. I looked at her. Oh boy. I wonder what's going to happen now? And well, we feared the worst because there was all this racial discrimination before that. I told my sister, "Oh, don't worry. We're American citizens. The government will speak up for us and protect us." But I was wrong. The American people and the government turned out to be the most racist. Both of them were guilty of, of racial discrimination, racism. They say that we were kicked out of California because, we were, had the farms, and were doing, starting to do pretty good. And a lot of Japanese Americans and the older Japanese Americans were actually doing good on the farms. They actually controlled the agriculture in California and the wholesale produce market. And hakujin, whites saw that. They wanted it. So that, other than racial discrimination, I think economics played a big part, because if you look at it -- I know I'm getting away from it, but in Wyoming, when we were put into Heart Mountain concentration camp, the people in Wyoming just hated us. Cody and Powell, Wyoming, they didn't want anything to do with Japanese. But when harvest time came and we were in the camps and nobody to harvest the crops, they realized that, hey, there's labor there. And they asked for evacuee help. Naturally lot of the evacuees were farmers, so they, said, "Oh, the poor farmers. They need help." So they went out and, like me, went out to help the farmers. And the farmers made money. So I say money can make even the racist people accept you. Later, people in Powell and Cody said, instead of calling us "dirty Japs," they said, "Oh, those Japanese are pretty nice," because we were making them money. So I don't know, I got off the beaten track, but I had to get that in. [Laughs]

AI: Well, I think what you were doing is you were illustrating the point, making the point...

MK: Yeah.

AI: ...about the economic factor.

MK: Economics has lot to do with it, you know -- politics, too.

AI: Well, again, going back in time then, you heard the news about the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7th, and did you have any other -- you were with your sister, your older sister. That night did you have any discussion with the rest of your family, what might happen or...

MK: I think we did talk about it, and our family is kind of subdued, very quiet. My father and mother didn't say much. My older brother, he, he's a pretty smart guy. He, he realized what's, what might happen. And he told us that no matter what, that something might happen, something bad, and that we should prepare for it. And he proved, he was right.

AI: Well, the next day was Monday. Did you go to school that day?

MK: Yes, I did.

AI: And what happened?

MK: Well, naturally these people that don't like Japanese, they, they came and, not openly harassed us, but you know, slyly said, "Oh, you Japs, why don't you go back where you came from? You killed all these Americans." We, to us we were Americans, so what are you talking about, but he says... they say, "Why don't you go back where you came from," and all that. I know what they're talking about, because even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, same thing was happening. So I, I feared for the worst. It did happen. I had many, many fights. Came back with the ripped shirts and stuff like that. So my mother's, she's -- we didn't have much money, so I couldn't go out and buy new shirts and stuff like that. So she felt real bad. I told my mom, "I'm having fights all the time in school, so I want to quit school." She said, "No, no, keep on going." So I went to school about, a few more months. But every day was the same. There was always a fight and harassment. And teachers never speak up for you. I would think that teachers would protect their students from racial discrimination, but it wasn't so. It looked like they, they'd join in, and the class start talking, everything was "Japs, Japs, Japs," and stuff like that. It was unbearable for me. So I finally quit school, and I graduated from Heart Mountain High School.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2001 Densho. All Rights Reserved.