Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Mitsuye May Yamada Interview
Narrator: Mitsuye May Yamada
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 9 & 10, 2002
Densho ID: denshovh-ymitsuye-01-0013

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AI: Well, in addition to that kind of impact on the interpersonal relations that are affected, I was also wondering in these years, it was shortly after the ending of World War II and you had just, a few years earlier, gotten out of camp yourself.

MY: Uh-huh.

AI: At that time, do you recall feeling that some injustice had been done there? You were politically aware in some other ways, you were introduced to the ideas of pacifism and Marxism and other concepts.

MY: Yeah, there was a demonstration I remember, on campus, there was a profe-, well, that was during the McCarthy period when the -- I had just kind of moved from, let's see... oh, in New York, when I was in New York, one of the professors, German professors, I think, was fired because Joseph McCarthy, the HUAC, House Un-American Activities Committee, had demanded the administration fire him. And a few of my Marxist friends and a few small group of them decided to make a kind of, do a protest demonstration in Albany. And so I remember all piling into, I don't know, some -- I don't know how long it takes from New York to Albany, it was kind of, quite a distance, driving. We went up there to protest the firing of this professor -- oh, I think we went around to pass around a petition and I was introduced for the first time about the freedom of expression, and the right of a person to petition, because you know, during that time there was some, it made the administration a little bit nervous and they were saying that we couldn't do the petition here, or you had to stay outside the -- NYU, downtown NYU is right in the middle of Washington Square. They don't, literally they don't have a campus. There's a building, you know, the university is -- I don't know what it's like right now -- but there's just tall buildings with classes in it and there is Washington Square with a park outside, which serves kind of like a campus that the students used to sit around there. But it was just a part of the city, in Washington Square, and so they kind of put a boundary around where we could stand to do the petitions and the Marxist students, you know, the GIs, they were really very politically sharp. They said, "No, we have a right to petition on such," and so forth, so I learned a lot about that. And we, so passed around some petitions and the point was, that we would go up to Albany to present the petition to the governor of New York. So we went up there. But actually, I don't know if I told my father about that protest, and that was what made him very nervous, but the idea of, "Don't get your picture taken." I mean, "If there are any cameras around, just make sure that your face isn't in it," and things like that. But I remember going up on this protest.

But years later, you know when, during the Civil Rights movement, during the Free Speech movement in Berkeley, I was thinking yeah, way back then in 1946 or somewhere around there, '47, we did have student protests. But we just went and did our thing, and some people yelled, you know, from a car, "Ah, go home and grow up," or something like that. And we got back in the car, you know, went back to class and then, and resumed our lives the way that it was, and nobody was really threatened by us. I mean, there were no police, you know, during the Berkeley era or during the human rights movement, the National Guard was called out and there were all these police and the government was clearly threatened by the mass of people protesting. But there were just such a small number of students doing it, and we couldn't move too many students for the cause of protesting the HUAC, you know, so that... and I thought God, the difference between the two is that we didn't threaten, we just went -- and so therefore we kind of accepted it. Well, okay, we did our thing, we'll go back to class and then go on to the next thing or whatever. It was never followed up, as a political cause, and, which is probably why it just kind of died out. But, I don't know, maybe this was a precursor, just kind of a groundswell eventually. But I remember thinking years later that the difference between the two was that somehow I learned from that, not about the process of protest, but you do your own thing and nobody pays any attention so oh well, you shrug your shoulders and go back to your class and resume your normal life. That, it was kind of amusing to me when I was thinking about it. Being kind of an ineffectual protester at that time. [Laughs] But I thought that was very funny.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.