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

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: So today is October 9th, 2002, and earlier today we had a group interview with Mitsuye May Yamada and her brothers Joe and Tosh Yasutake, but now we're continuing with an individual interview portion with Mitsuye. I'm Alice Ito from Densho and videographer is Dana Hoshide. And... all this morning we were referring to you as May --

MY: [Laughs]

AI: So maybe you'd like to say a little about your name.

MY: Why my name was -- well, actually my name isn't changed. My whole name was Mitsuye May Yamada -- Yasutake. My father, you know, I think my brothers, when they were little, called me Mi, you know, which was short of Mitsuye, Mitsuye. And my dad says, "Well, actually your middle name is Mei," which is the Chinese pronunciation of the first character of my name, Mitsuye. And so that my name was, my full name was Mitsuye, M-I-T-S-U-Y-E, Mei, M-E-I, Yasutake. And I remember when I first went to high school and wrote my full name down, the teachers looked at this name, this very, you know, the first name is very long and foreign-looking, the last name is very long and foreign-looking, and "Mei" looks very foreign-looking, too, when it's spelled M-E-I. And so I remember thinking at that time, well, I think what I'm going to do is drop Mitsuye. I can't do anything about Yasutake, and I would just change Mei to M-A-Y, which would be then very pronounceable to anybody and it didn't -- May Yasutake didn't seem as formidable, I thought. So, so I became "May" from there on. And then my family has always called me May. They called me Mi and then it was very simple to start calling me May. So, and to this day they all call me May. And they're practically the only people who call me May, I think, except perhaps some old friends from, some really old friends from Seattle still call me Mitsuye because I was Mitsuye as I was growing up. But, so it's kind of all the saga of stories of our names, name change. Actually, I didn't change it like some people -- or take on an English name to Eng-, in order to have an English name. I simply changed the spelling of it. [Laughs]

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: Well, also, at the time that we, uh, finished the group family interview this morning, in the sequence of events and chronology, it was in the 1940s when your father -- you had gone and gotten permission for your father to be released from the Lordsburg internment camp in New Mexico, and he was reunited with your mother and Joe, younger brother Joe, um, the two of them had been transferred from Minidoka camp and the three of them all went to Crystal City camp in Texas.

MY: Right.

AI: And in the meantime you were doing this work long-distance, ah, because you and Mike had gone to Cincinnati, and you were just telling a little bit about how you and Mike had arrived in Cincinnati and at first had stayed at the American Friends' hostel. So maybe that's where we should pick up your chronology now.

MY: Yeah, I stayed at the, the hostel and I was working as a, as a, not a cook but a server, I guess food server behind the counter. And they had a cafeteria or a coffee shop, you know, like they do downstairs where they -- a soda fountain or whatever it's called. And at the end of the day I had worked, it was one of those regular 9:00 to 5:00 jobs, I guess. At the end of the day as we were ready to, to finish, the manager came to me and said, "You know, I'm short of help down at the" -- we had a name for it, you know, as they do -- "at the snack shop downstairs," and so she asked me to go down to help, and so I went down there to help and so that was from 5:00 to 10:00 or however long that, that -- it was a student, one of the student center cafes downstairs. So I went down there to, to help and then I didn't get out until 10:00. I didn't get back to the hostel until about, I think 10:00 or 11:00, until quite late, around midnight. And then, of course, I had to get up the following morning and go to work again at eight o'clock in the morning, and so that went on for some time. And then every day she was saying, "I have to have somebody downstairs." So it became kind of a regular, regular job from eight o'clock in the morning until about midnight or until about ten or eleven o'clock. And I didn't get to know anybody in, at the hostel because I didn't have any, I didn't eat there and I didn't have a chance to talk to anybody.

And one night when I came in, or maybe one weekend when I wasn't working, Kate -- I think her name was Kate Brinsfield, this wonderful Quaker couple who were managing the hostel -- came to me and asked me, "Where do you go after work?" And so I said, "I work. I mean, I come right back after work." And she said, "No, I mean, after your job, you know, after you're finished, quit your job, where do you go?" And I didn't understand what her question was, so I said, "I work in the cafeteria and I come right back." And then finally she figured it out, that, you know, she said, "Well, are you getting paid, you know, for..." And I said, "I don't know." I mean, I was very naive, you know, I just didn't know what, I had never had another, I hadn't had a job like that except for babysitting in Seattle. So I told her I didn't know, and she said, "Well, when you, next time you get your paycheck, let me look at it." And so I said okay. I showed her the paycheck, and apparently -- and then she said, "Don't you know that there is a law against working more than eight hours a day or forty hours a week, whatever, forty hours a week?" And so of course I didn't know, and so she reported this to the WRA, or to -- I guess it was the WRA authorities. And so then they apparently contacted Mrs. Thom-, you know, the manager of the caf-, of the school lunchroom. And so then the first thing I knew, Mike and several -- there were about four or five of us who had come up from camp to -- she called us all into her office and she wrote, just read us the riot act and she said that, "Now, if you're going to snitch on me --" I mean, her language was so awful that I remember thinking -- I never heard a woman speak this kind of language. She started screaming, she was this very large woman, so she was screaming and screaming that, "You know what I can do to you? I could blacklist you forever in the whole city so you would never get a job," and so on and so forth. And so when this was going on, this blond woman came -- she kind of came in because she heard all this yelling and then she started to yell at the boss, and then, and she said, "Well, look, I'm going to take this woman with me and she's going to work for me." And she turned out to be the cashier at that, at the cafeteria, her name was Ada Gory who now lives in Los Angeles. She's quite elderly now and she, but she -- and I just didn't, I kind of looked at her because she was very, very -- she was a small woman but she was very brash, you know. And she said, she apparently didn't take any guff at all from -- she was the only one who kind of stood up to the, to the manager, and the management didn't dare fire her because she would make too much noise.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

MY: And so I started working for Ada Gory as assistant cashier, and she taught me all the things that I knew. And so I was working there and then in the fall I started -- in the spring, I guess, I started school. I was accepted to University of Cincinnati. Oh, she sent me to, I told her my -- I think it was she sent me to the Dean of Women. They used to have Dean of Women and Dean of Men at these universities. And then the Dean of Women talked to me and she said, told me, "Well, why don't you apply for (classes)?" For, why don't you apply to enroll -- and it's getting really late for the next semester. You'd better do it right away, and she brought me the application and told me to fill it out. And I didn't have the courage, and I didn't have the nerve to tell her, "Well, I'm not a citizen and I've been rejected from every university in the country." I don't even know whether I'm... you know, whether I'm -- I mean, I had a lot of doubts about it, but obviously she was being very kind. And so I didn't, I was too afraid to tell her, you know, that maybe I won't get in anyway, but I filled out the application anyway and I gave it to her, and apparently something... I did get in. So I started school, I think, in mid-semester, and in mid-year. And so that's how I got into University of Cincinnati.

So I was there barely into my sophomore year -- oh, and then I was staying at the hostel, but then at the same time -- oh, I know what happened. I was staying at the hostel, I told Ada that I was living at the hostel, and she said, "Look, there's a dormitory on this campus." Or, there's a sorority house. I guess I stayed at the sorority house. I went to the sorority house to -- it was a Greek sorority house. The women had rooms renting on the second and third floors. So I think it was the second floor. So I went to see them and then I had two roommates who were not part of the sorority. And I guess that must have been before, yeah, that was before Christmas. I guess I must have enrolled rather late because I went home with my roommates to, for Christmas. They lived in this very small town in a place called Tiffin, Ohio, I think. And they had cars, both of them were married and their husbands were overseas, and they were going to school. And they invited me to their home in Tiffin, Ohio, so I went and we had, I had a lovely time with their family and spent Christmas with them. Then when we went back to the sorority house, we were met by a group of sorority sisters on the walk and they said, "You can't come in here, you can't come back." And then I looked on the porch and I noticed that all my belongings were on the porch. You know, my suitcase and then a lot of lamps and things like that were kind of loosely... and they said that somebody else had moved into my room. And so Becky got -- the two women that I was with, their names were Miriam and Becky. Just thinking -- I just remember they said, they got very angry and they said, "What do you mean?" And they said, "Well, we're not talking about you, just her," you know. And so they said, so they couldn't, we couldn't figure -- of course, we didn't know what was going on and they started to argue. And then one of the sorority sisters, this young, young woman, she just burst into tears and she said, "It's not us, you know, it's our -- it's the alumni, you know, our sorority sisters alumni who are advisors. They told, when they found out that, you know, she -- that Mitsuye was living in this, they said that we couldn't have a Japanese living in our house. And that we had to, um, to um, ask her to leave." And so then they got very angry and they said, "Well, if she has to leave, then we're going to leave, too." And, which was quite noble, you know, of them. And then Miriam said that she had an aunt who has an apartment upstairs from her garage that was vacant. And so she said, "Well, that's where we will go." And so we just packed her car up and whatever that we could carry, among her, their stuff, because they had more than I did. I didn't have very many things, you know. In the camp I had only two suitcases, and I packed the, I had only two suitcases of belongings. So we moved out, all of us, and -- but Miriam and Becky both had cars and their aunt lived in the suburbs. I don't really quite remember where it was, but it was a little distance from the campus, you know, the dormitory was right across the street and you could walk, you know, to -- not the dormitory, the sorority house was right, right across the street. So it was, I think it was just only a few weeks, I -- you know, Miriam took me to school and then she'd have to wait for me to finish work, because my hours were quite long since I was working in the cafeteria part-time after the classes were over. And it was such an imposition to them as it was, so I went back to the Dean of Women, because I recognized that she was quite a good friend, and told her, asked her if there was a place I could live in walking distance to the campus. So then she found the room in the dormitory where I was staying, where -- across, which was right out, just a little distance down, down the hill from the University of Cincinnati. And I stayed, it was a three-story dormitory, they had a few private rooms down on the second floor. The house mother lived on the first floor, and the large room upstairs was what was called the dorm room and there were eight of us. It was the cheapest room in the dormitory. And so I had seven roommates. We all kind of lived in these -- we had our little nooks, you know.

And then very, very soon after that, I met another Nisei girl by the name of Rose Hiraga. She was an art -- she was from California, Los Angeles. She was an art major and she came through the line at the cafeteria and she said, "I'm Henry Itoi's cousin, you know, my mother is Henry Itoi's mom's sister." And so she said, "I heard that you were here, and that one of my cousins told me that you were here." So she introduced herself, and then we -- and then she told me that she was living with a family and working as a house, housemaid and trying to work for room and board. She was not very happy because she didn't have time to study and so forth. So I told her where I was living. I said, you know, "I just moved into this dormitory and we have," there was space in the dorm room as far as I knew, and I asked, told her, "Why don't you go and find..." So she did, she moved in very quickly, in a matter of a week or two. And so we became very close friends. From there, we lived together for up until the first -- that was my first year. Rose, meanwhile, was not happy with the art department at University of Cincinnati, so she moved to the Rhode Island School of Design and I -- so we, after a year, and then I told her, "Well, I'm not going to stay here for very long, I'm going to try to apply to another school and maybe go to New York." And we said, "Well, okay, if you're going to, you know, let's go live in New York." We both had, New York seemed like a very glamorous place to us. So we talked about that and we thought we'd meet there and that's what we did. Essentially, after I graduated from -- after I left Cincinnati, I went to NYU, my third year and Rose graduated from Rhode Island School of Design. She was a junior by that time and when I was a sophomore, I think, I mean, she was two years ahead of me because she was about a year or two older. And she came to live with me in New York. So we became roommates again, and so she was actually probably one of my closest friends, of the Nisei friends that I had. And --

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Excuse me, before we get too far into New York, the New York experience, I wanted to ask you a little bit more about this time period where you were still at Cincinnati and you had moved into the dorm, with the other women there, and at this time, um, several things were happening at once. I think you had mentioned earlier that Tosh was in the army at this point.

MY: Yeah, but he was injured. I think that was, and he was -- I was putting that in my timeframe in my mind when Joe was talking, 1944 -- that's right, because I left Cincinnati in 1945. And then my mom, you know, we hadn't heard from Tosh and then we thought he was dead, you know, we didn't know. And then we heard that he was injured. And Joe was saying Mom got hysterical, but you know, she -- I think Tosh still has that picture, but he has a picture of himself in a robe. And I think that he had on these boots and he had his foot up like this, I think, with, he was on crutches because he had broken his -- he had a shrapnel in his leg. And the shoe, the boot looked like there was no, there were feet in it. I mean, it looked as though he had just put the boot there under the -- he was standing on one foot and the other boot kind of looked like it was loose, you know, and so my mother thought that he had lost a leg and then they just put the boot there under the robe to show, to make it look like he had a foot in there. So I think she got really very, very upset and then we found out he was just injured, but -- znd then he got a Purple Heart and I think that the newspaper got a hold of it -- I don't know because I know that I didn't contact the newspapers -- got a hold of this. I think that, I think that the army must notify, they must get notification from a general information center or ticker tape information or something. But, so I have a news article about my holding up Tosh's picture and it says something like, "Jap American Student" -- it says "Jap Student Brother Injured Overseas" or something. You know, something like that. Which I thought was kind of weird, but, but that article appeared in the paper. I wonder where it is. I think I do have it somewhere in my, in my album, I think. Or a copy of it, if I don't have the original news -- and I don't really know if I had written down the exact date.

But that was when -- then Tosh then, Tosh didn't come back from the army until I got to New York. So I was in Cincinnati in 1944 and 1945 and Joe said that he came out to Cincinnati in '44, right? In the fall. Oh, he went to Crystal City in '44? No. Somewhere around there he went to Crystal City and then they came out to Cincinnati to join me because I was in Cincinnati. In the meantime, I had, I had applied to go to university -- to New York University. And then my parents came out, and then I got the acceptance. So you know, they had decided on their own to come, when I told them there was a hostel in Cincinnati and of course there was nowhere else for them to go because Mike had just moved out to the, he was living, he was living at the monastery but he was fairly new because he had just moved out there, to Boston. And so the only place that they could move out to was where a family member lived, and they came to Cincinnati. But after they moved, as I said, I heard -- I got a letter of acceptance to univers-, New York University, and there was just no way I was going to change my plans just because my parents were there. And I just thought well, you know, we're not -- they had decided to, the only kind of job my father could get as sort of an ex-con, you know, a person who's released from prison, was to work as a housekeeper for a family. And so we, so they were there, and I was still in the dormitory. And so I remember telling them, "Well, you know, it's not as if I'm leaving you because we don't live together anyway," and it was very awkward for me to go and visit them, where they were working, so I, and so I didn't go to see them very often. Just rarely did I go to see them. So I said, "I think I'm going to go ahead and go to New York," and my dad said, "Yeah, go on, if that's what you want to do." And I didn't -- and one thing, after Mike was, you know, expelled from the university, it just felt -- I felt very unsafe, the whole city felt kind of unsafe to me, and I felt like I needed to leave.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: Well, it sounds like from what you had said earlier, about these incidents, that while you did have some very positive experiences with some of the white people who helped you and assisted you, you also had some very negative ones.

MY: Yes, I know. But the dormitory experience in Cox Hall was just wonderful, and for the first time I became very, I became part of the women's, the group. There were some Southern women, you know, and they were full of, full of pranks and so forth. Actually I didn't, I didn't have that much time to spend with them because I worked so much. I didn't have enough money, I was always short of money. I had, you know, Cincinnati was a private school, a private university, I think, and so I had to pay my tuition and I didn't have clothes, I didn't have winter clothes, and I remember Mother -- somebody told her that I didn't, I was wearing about three sweaters I think when one of her friends came to visit me, came through to go to, going East, and she apparently wrote to my mother and told her that I was freezing in the winter in Cincinnati because I didn't seem to have a coat, but I had all these sweaters I was wearing. So she sent me some money to buy a coat. And it arrived just in time for me to buy some textbooks. [Laughs] I was wondering how am I going to buy textbooks, you know, because I didn't have any money, and when the check came, I thought oh, I can buy, I had enough money to buy textbooks.

So, but I did -- I had met at NY -- I met some really good friends in Cincinnati in camp, in the dormitory, and I kept in touch with them through all these years. And just about two years ago, two of the women, who were my roommates, and I got together. Let's see, when -- oh, I was invited to speak at Miami University in Ohio, which is right outside of Cincinnati. And so I contacted the University of Cincinnati and I did a reading there. And so I contacted my roommates and said, "Are you free?" They were both retired, you know, practically, so we, we got together and there was a funny experience. We decided to drive over to Cox Hall, there was just three of us and the fourth -- there were four of us, actually, but Bea had some, her son's wedding or something, and she had to, the fourth person had to leave. So the three of us decided to go over to Cox Hall, you know, where we used to live in the dorm, find out what it was -- to find out if it was still there. We walked up, and sure enough, it was still there. It has this dome and we were walking around it. And it turned out to be a fraternity house. There was a bunch of guys. So we went up the stairs and the door was open and we walked in, and... and then, it was a mess. [Laughs] I mean, the boys, you know, and they weren't very good housekeepers, obviously, they didn't have very many -- I don't think they had anybody managing the place. We walked in the kitchen and there was dirty, you know, dirty dishes and old dried-up food and pots and pans in the kitchen. [Laughs] And I said, "Oh, this is where I used to work. Remember there was a pantry right here?" And we were walking around and in the meantime a couple of young men came down and they -- who are these three old ladies, you know, walking around? So we told them we used to be, we used to live here almost fifty years ago, we had, you know, and they were really sweet. They were so, they were so curious, you know, they really thought that it was -- oh God, that's really a kick, you know, and so they took some pictures. Obviously we didn't, unfortunately we didn't have any pictures of, taking -- we took, one of the boys had a camera but I don't have any pictures of that. But, and we were standing outside and then one -- her name used to be, was Lila Lee Peterson and we used to call her Pete. And I said, "Pete, look, there was your room right there," and it was just around the -- and she said, "See," she told one of the boys, "look at the fire escape." She said, "You know, one night after -- I didn't get in the house, we were supposed to have curfew," I think that curfew was ten o'clock and she went on a date and she couldn't get in. You know, the door was locked and she didn't want the house mother to find out that she was out after curfew. So she said, "And so I stood right here and I pitched the pebbles up on the window to see, and then Mitsu opened, and looked down, and I walked, I walked up the fire escape and my room, my bed was right by the fire escape," and she, and they thought that was so funny, these old -- because we were obviously, you know, old women in our seventies talking about these funny incidents. She said, "Yeah, I had this date," and I said, "Pete, that's right," I had forgotten about that incident, and then she remembered that pretty vividly. But so we went back, and that period -- I have some pictures of that period in Cox Hall, that was just delightful, because I, and they told me about our other roommates and the women were just, just great. You know, some of the women, as I said, were Southerners, but...

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: You know, I wanted to ask you: you had written about an incident in, I think it was in the dorm, about race relationships that you weren't aware of --

MY: Oh yeah. That was when the house mother had -- well, these people were there way before I was, I think. Susie and George, it was a couple, African American couple who worked -- Susie worked there as a cook, and her husband worked there as a janitor and a handyman around the house. And she, of course she, in the weekends, when the house mother took one day off on a weekend and -- or weekday, I guess it was a weekday when they were... because on weekends we were all, many of us are there, or on the week-, and she would come upstairs, you know, to the third floor and ask us if we had any laundry, and the women would give them their dirty laundry and pay her a dollar to do their laundry. And then she said, "How about you, Missy?" She used to call everybody Miss -- Miss Mitsu -- and I said, "No, that's okay." I didn't, I couldn't imagine giving my dirty underwear to somebody to wash for me, because I just never had done that before. So I told her that's okay and my roommate, my bunk -- the woman who had the bunk next to me, her name was Ginny, said, "Yeah, give her your, you know, she likes to do it." You know, it was one of those things that, "She likes to be" -- and I said no, that's okay. So I didn't give it to her. And then a couple days later I was helping in the kitchen to earn my keep, you know. To, I got a discount on my, my rent, you know, so I was helping to wash dishes at night. And Pete and I were washing dishes together, and my mother had given me this pearl ring that I treasured quite a bit. So when I was washing dishes I didn't want it to get -- I don't know why I took it off, I always took it off when I was washing, had my hand in soap water, and I had it on the windowsill and after we were finished, I ran up the stairs and when I got to the top of the stairs, I just, oh, I don't have my ring. So I ran downstairs to pick up my ring, and I went to the windowsill and it wasn't there. So I ran over to Susie, and I said, "Susie, did you see my, did you see my ring I left?" And so she kind of smiled and she reached into her apron and took it out and gave it to me, and I thought, "Oh thanks, God," you know, I found it. And I went up, took it and I went upstairs. And then the next day, Mrs... Mrs... isn't that funny? I don't remember her name. She called me into her room, the house mother called me into her room and she said, "You know, it's really hard getting help nowadays, you know, with the war on," and da da da -- and that she was very disappointed that Susie had told her that I accused her of stealing my ring. And so I said, "What?" I just, I couldn't imagine -- of course she could not tell her about the laundry thing because it was not, she wasn't supposed to be doing this. She was trying to earn extra money. She wasn't supposed to be doing that. So then when this second thing happened, she reported it to the mother, to the house mother. And I kind of suspected that she was very upset about my not giving her my laundry and so the second thing with the ring was kind of concocted, you know. And so -- oh dear, I said, I just, oh, I can't imagine that... I didn't tell anybody there except I talked to Rose. And in Seattle I had never had any encounter with black people. I didn't realize their sensitivity -- oh, and then something else happened. I asked one of my friends, one of my classmates who was having trouble in English... I think she -- an African American student -- and so we were studying in the library, but I think one day the library was closing early. And so I told her, "Why don't you come to the dormitory and the living room is almost always empty, nobody is down there. And I have all these roommates and we can't study in my room, but we can stay downstairs and study in the living room." So she came to the dormitory, and it was after that, that Susie said -- Mrs. B, I guess we used to call her Mrs. B. I don't know even know what her last name was -- she said, "Susie told me that she was very upset," because she thought that I should have invited my friend to come in the back door. And she was furious that this young girl, black girl -- well, she called -- you know, this Negro, Negro girl came in, that she had to open the door for a Negro girl, and she thought that she was being very uppity and she should, you know, have come in the back door like the rest of us, you know, Negroes. And that really shocked me, you know, and then with the ring incident, with the laundry, I was... you know, the whole thing, I thought, oh gosh, I didn't know. I just felt like God, you know, what am I doing? I was doing these things that were unconsciously and totally unaware of white/black relationships or where we, as Asian, you know, Japanese Americans fitted into the color spectrum, right? And so, yeah, you're right, I think it's probably some of those incidents that made me feel like this is not a very safe place for me. I don't even know how to behave in this atmosphere, you know, so I, and of course I didn't tell my parents. They were pretty, very comfortable in the home that they were working in, away from the social intercourse with anybody else, so... [Laughs]

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

AI: So you were accepted at NYU and you made the move to New York.

MY: And then my two years in NYU was exhilarating. I think when I got to New York City I had never, you know, just such a liberating experience because New York City was just -- oh, it was during that period, 1947, when the U.N. was just being formed, and there was just so much news going on about the U.N. and the world government, and I was living in the dormitory -- living in an apartment. Tosh came to -- I was living with my mother's friend, a Mrs. Nomura. She was, she was a very interesting Issei woman who was there since before the war and she had this apartment where Lincoln Center is right now. And she had one of those long, what they call railroad apartments, where there were all these little rooms and then a long corridor and then a bedroom in the front. My oldest daughter Jeni remembers, she used to remember her as that lady who... oh, "Remember Grandma's friend who lives in a house that doesn't have a living room?" or something like that. Because she had, the front room had been converted to a bedroom and she was sleeping in there, and each of the other rooms were rented out, and that was how she was making a living, since her husband died and then the kitchen was right by the entrance. And so she had, one room was empty so I lived in there for a while. The men who were there were workers. I think they used to work at Coney Island. One of the very few Japanese who were there from before World War II. And so it had been a long time since I heard Japanese spoken, you know, Mrs. Nomura and all the Issei guys were all speaking Japanese and she cooked for them and she had this little, she had this bathroom that was just disgraceful, it was just so grungy-looking. And so I went out and I told her, "Do you want -- you know, I want to paint your bathroom." And she said, "Sure, you know, if you want to. Yoroshii desu yo." And I said, "No, I'll paint it," you know, so... I went to the store and I got some glossy paint and I was standing on -- it was a very small bathroom and I was painting it and then I heard one of the men come in and they were sitting in the kitchen which was right next to it. And he was saying, "Oh, kanshin da ne," you know, that, "just really admirable for a young person like her, and for a Ni -- " oh, he said, "That's really admirable for a Nisei, you know, to be such a hard worker," or something like that. And Mrs. Nomura said to her, "No, kono hito wa Nihon umare," you know, "She was born in Japan." And the guy was saying, "Oh, doride, yeah, no wonder she's such a hard worker." [Laughs] And that struck me as very funny right after, this is almost right after the end of the war. These Isseis, you know, they were just so totally untouched by the conflict of any kind, they were still very pro-Japanese. It was really kind of amazing. Because my mother, by that time having experienced -- you know, they hadn't experienced evacuation or anything, they probably were somewhat isolated just among themselves. And that struck me as very interesting, because I think my mother would have had by that time, had been somewhat -- she would say things like, "Well, now this is my country because my children are here," and things like that. And then these Isseis, you know, acted like they didn't know the war -- Mrs. Nomura, you know, thought that the picture of the Emperor and MacArthur, it was front page news, right, in 1945, when the war ended and then the Emperor and MacArthur had gotten together. They had a picture of the two of them, I don't know if you've seen those pictures of them standing very much at attention. And Mrs. Nomura said, "You know the way they're standing? I know that they cut the picture in half," and it was a composite picture, that there was no way that the Emperor of Japan would pose with an ordinary white man and that kind of thing -- and this is in New York City, you know. It was really amazing, in Manhattan. [Laughs]

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: Well, speaking of the end of the war, what was... do you recall about when you heard the news and how you felt about that?

MY: I recall very distinctly, because I was sitting in a dentist's chair. I had to have my wisdom, I had to have my wisdom tooth removed and they, I went to this surgeon, oral surgeon. And I was sitting in the dentist's chair and he had the radio on all the -- because he said, "Did you know that, you know, they're signing, it's the end of the war," and all that was going on in Times Square and so forth, and of course in those days hardly anybody had a TV set so the radio was blaring away. And I'm sitting there with my mouth open -- [laughs] -- on the dentist's chair listening to this, to the news, that the war is, you know, "Did you know that the war is over?" And that was, so that must have been, what, August? After the Hiroshima bomb was bombed, was dropped, in August 9, 1945, and I think the surrender papers were signed around August 20th or something like that, I don't know if you remember the exact dates. But it was, you know, that day, I think, when the, when the news came out, the war's over, Japan has surrendered. And it was soon after that, that I left for, I left for New York, but I was in Cincinnati having my wisdom tooth, my wisdom teeth removed. And I was in so much pain for a couple days, I think he left a tooth, chipped tooth inside my gums, and it had become infected and so I just don't remember very much, for a couple of days I was in this agony. And there must have been a lot of things going on during those two days.

So, but I was getting prepared to leave for New York and so when I got to New York City, you know, people were just about ready, about even, let's see, September -- October when classes started, the GIs were already coming back from overseas, being mustered out of the army and coming out. My brother came soon after that. And I had moved out of Mrs. Nomura's -- no, Tosh came and I was still living in Mrs. Nomura's and we decided to get an apartment together, and so we found this little apartment for $35 a month, right outside of Greenwich Village in Manhattan. And we moved into the apartment and so that was quite an adventure. And I loved New York City and I loved -- the students were, of course, there were just droves of GIs coming back, which gave the whole student atmosphere, very different. And I felt older than most students, you know, because I had missed several years of, after high school, graduating from high school in '42, '41 or '42, and this was in '47, so you feel -- then before I went to University of Cincinnati, so it just made me about two or three years older than the average college student. But then with the GIs who were coming back, were about my age, they had lost several years of school years, too, and they were just coming back to school on the GI Bill. And so I felt like I had a lot in common with them. You know, we talked a lot. And I think I had written at one point that the first time that anybody asked me about the camps -- nobody ever asked me in Cincinnati or, you know, as I was traveling through -- but one of these returning soldiers from Europe, from the European field, asked me, "Do you know anything about this -- I heard that there was a concentration camp for Japanese Americans here?" And I thought, oh, that's -- and I said, "Where did you hear about it?" And he said, "Well, I heard about it in Europe." And the thing is, we were criticized, you know, at the end of the war when the Nazi concentration camps opened and you saw the horrible things that were happening to the Jewish people, we were criticizing the (Germans) for letting this happen and there was a lot of discussion about that, and he said, and the Germans said to them, "Well, you people, your people, the Americans, put people in concentration camps, too, you know." And he said, "That's ridiculous, we'd never do anything like that." And then he came back to New York and he asked his parents and they said, "No, nothing like that ever happened here." They talked to some, you know, their relatives and nobody knew anything about it. And so he was asking me -- he didn't ask me, "Were you in one of those camps," he asked me, "Did you know anything about..." and I go, "Yeah, where did you hear about it?" So it was kind of a shock. And I said, "Yeah, I was in one of those camps." And he'd go, "Oh, tell me about it." We were at a cafeteria talking and he picked up his chair and sidled closer to me, and was really very interested in knowing about it. And that was the first time that anybody even showed any interest.

And, I think the difference -- I remember I had this feeling when he was asking about it, but there was always this comparison between what happened to the Jews and Holocaust and what happened to us, and the sense... we were trying to, I was trying to examine for the Last Witnesses, you know, the article, why that we didn't tell the children about it, we didn't talk very much about it. It was that, we just had a sense that it wasn't that bad, you know, I mean, we didn't get gassed or tortured or anything like that. And that, that was a very much of a kind of a sticking point. You know, where you felt like the unfairness of this comparison, and I didn't know exactly why it bothered me, but it did bother me that we were making -- that you were sort of compelled to say, "Well, it wasn't that bad, you know, we didn't suffer very much," and so forth. And you had this sense, you know, that, that the United -- this democracy wasn't as bad as the Hitler's regime and as bad as the Nazis were in Germany. But I found that to be a very interesting period, readjusting to not talking about the Japanese American internment and then to talking about it, but just in such a way to minimize the -- not even the importance of it, but the impact of it on our lives. And I've had to really think very hard on it later on, in years.

So that was -- so anyway, on the whole, I loved New York City, I loved the theater, you know, I always loved theater. I loved the Shakespearean plays, I loved the experimental theater that was going on at Columbia University. So I saw a lot of plays by Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson, you know, brand new operas that were being written at that period, and Rose and I went around, we went to museums in New York City. Great museums there, as you know. Whatever time we had, you know, when weren't working, we had -- and I was doing freelance work for a publishing house to earn some money to pay our rent, our $35 rent, which we were sharing, and after -- and then Tosh left to go to the University of Washington while I was, I think the first year I was there. And then my friend Rose graduated from Rhode Island School of Design and she came to live with me, and so then we acquired a third roommate and we lived at this little two-room apartment in New York. And it was a very, and as I said, liberating experience for me. That was the first time I think since leaving camp that I really felt like I could explore and become, you know, in the cultural milieu in New York.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: And you had an independent life. You weren't at the boarding house where the Japanese Issei were living and kind of watching over you --

MY: [Laughs]

AI: -- you weren't, your older brother had left for Seattle. You were there with your peers, other young women.

MY: Yeah, right. Yeah, it was really a wonderful period for me. Then I left there to --

AI: What were you, you had decided that you wanted to continue on with your studies, and to continue on...

MY: Yeah, I decided to -- I think it had something to do with my peer group, too. Many of the fellows... one of my classmates became president of Rutgers University. I think it was Rutgers? Cornell? Something like that. Many of my classmates went on to rather serious academic lives, and were applying to different graduate schools. I wasn't really interested in teaching but I had heard, somebody said, you know, a master's degree from University of Chicago is -- I just couldn't imagine going on to getting a Ph.D. It just didn't seem like, oh, four more years of school. But a master's, you can get a master's degree in one or two years and I thought that I would like to, to do it, work in a field of concentration in something. I wasn't quite sure at that point what that would be. It was in maybe the literary field of some sort or other. And so, and I heard that University of Chicago had the best graduate school in the English department and so forth, so I just decided to go to Chicago. And then it just so happens that my dad was offered a position at the Chicago Resettlers and was going to move there so we, my mother, I think my brother went to Seattle and lived in our house, the one that eventually was moved. Mike came to Evanston. He graduated from Boston University, had decided to go to seminary to become a priest, and he came out to Evanston -- I don't know whether he chose Evanston because we were there or he just happened to go there, but it was kind of -- well, that's a lot of coincidence, isn't it? [Laughs] We must have, my parents decided to go there and I had already decided to go to University of Chicago, it seemed quite appealing to me, appealed to me. Also I was tired of working and I was just happy to be home and not have to worry about paying rent or food because my parents, again to go home and live at home with my mom. It was kind of an adjustment. It was sort of an adjustment for my mom, too. Because she thought I was, had become a little bit too brash so... [laughs] You know, "You weren't like this when we left," that kind of thing. But I changed a lot in those years, and Joe was in high school and Tosh was still at, was coming -- I think he was going to University of Washington at one point and -- yeah, he was already in Washington, I think. And so everyone was there, the whole family, all five of us again and so Tosh was the only one who wasn't with the family so we were all together again in Chicago.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: And that was in 1947 when your parents and Joe moved there and you moved to Chicago.

MY: Yes.

AI: And then did you say that that was also the year that you met your future husband?

MY: Yes. He happened to be a friend -- the Chicago Resettlers was in Clark Street, downtown Chicago, and the Catholic Youth, CYO -- Catholic Youth Organization, I think, owned this house that the Chicago Resettlers was in and so the office of the Chicago Resettlers occupied the whole first floor. There was a kitchen in the back and the reception room and the offices, and the second floor was occupied a group of Niseis who had come out of camp and they were renting rooms up there and were working in town. And my husband -- my future husband then -- was a friend of one of the fellows who lived on the second floor. And he was going to Purdue University, had come back from the army, and was getting his Ph.D. in chemistry and so he came from Hawaii, he had no family around. So he used to come to Chicago to visit his friend for a weekend, you know, R&R, he came, he came often, and that was when I met him, at my father's office, I think it was. Actually I met him at an arts exhibit -- my father had invited Taro Yashima, who was a rather, who became a rather well-known Japanese artist. He was living in, he was living in New York so my dad was a good friend of his, so my dad tried to encour-, was trying to encourage him because he was a quote/unquote "starving artist" and they had an exhibit for him in the recreation room on the second floor. They had an exhibit room there, they had an art exhibit for Taro there and Yosh came to the art exhibit, and I remember looking at the paintings and I met him there and Taro was a friend of Yosh -- I don't know how they met, but he was making some comments about, he was talking to Taro about the paintings. And I remember, my dad had said, I was introduced to him as a, this fellow who's getting a Ph.D. in chemistry and then he was talking to Taro about something or other, and I thought, "What do you know about art? You're only a chemistry major." [Laughs] You're only getting a Ph.D., you know, you're a chemist or something like... I made some kind of a smart alec remark like that, and Taro looked at me and said, "Don't kid yourself, this guy is probably more talented than I am. He is the most talented artist I have ever known in my life, and I don't know why he's wasting his time getting a chemistry degree, but..." or something, some comment like that. And so I kind of laughed -- but that was kind of, I was kind of curious about that because Taro had thought that he was a very talented artist who was wasting his time getting a Ph.D. in chemistry. And it turned out to be true. [Laughs] But he did finish getting a Ph.D. and then that was 1947, right when I met, and then we kind of dated off and on through the time when I was writing my, taking my course. I finished my coursework and I was, started work doing advertising copy writing for National Dairy Council in Chicago and he used to, I would come out of my work and he'd be waiting for me out there, so we went out to dinner, and so we met quite often. And then during that time my parents moved in to Chicago and then they met him and I got married, we got married in 1950.

AI: What was his full name? Your husband?

MY: Yoshikazu Yamada. Yeah, he was, he was in World War II, he was not an MIS but he was a translator and he translated the Z plan with the Z, so he became quite well-known in his own right in that area. He was from Hawaii, and I think that we, the place where we meshed, you know, was during the time he was getting a Ph.D. He was very poor, poor as church mice, as they say. He wasn't working and he was struggling along, getting a Ph.D., and we were dating, but we couldn't afford anything, you know, so we went to a lot of museums. [Laughs] They were free at that, you know, these days after, what do they call it? A use tax or something. The museums charge, you know, a lot of museums charge. But in those days a lot of, there were many, many museums in Chicago by the lakes, Great Lakes there. Beautiful, Chicago had some great galleries and great museums and so we spent a lot of time in museums, partly because they were free. And we liked, you know, he was kind of, we were both sort of museum junkies and so we had that in common, and then we got married.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: Today is October 10, 2002. We're here in Seattle at the Densho office with Mitsuye Yamada. I'm Alice Ito with Densho and videographer is Dana Hoshide. And the last two days, Mitsuye, we were doing a group interview with you and your two brothers, Joe and Tosh Yasutake, and also yesterday we began individually interviewing with you, and at the point that we ended yesterday, it was 1950 and you had gotten married in Chicago. But I wanted to go back in time just a little bit before that, back to still 1945 or so, '44, '45, '46. In those years, your parents, your father and mother and Joe who was still in high school, were living in Cincinnati. And I wanted to ask you about that time, and some of your interaction with your father and his, some of his fears and concerns and remembering also that at this point you also are still a Japanese alien, not eligible for American citizenship.

MY: Yeah, my father had changed quite a bit. You know, he used to be quite a, I think we, in our family history, we talked about what a happy, he was just a happy person. Really such an optimist that my mother, it used to just drive her crazy because my mother was sort of, tended to be the opposite view. And he always never saw the bad side of anybody, he was very, very -- had this sunny disposition. So I think which is why he collected so many friends, you know. People just sort of clustered around him, a social lion, I think, most of his life. And so suddenly he could not get a job. He did get job offers to teach in University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania, I think those two universities, to teach English because he was a Issei, he spoke fluent English. But the INS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, would not permit him, give him a travel permit to go for a job, interviews to these places. So, and being a person who had become, was an ex-prisoner, he was not able to get any kind of a job except as a gardener. And so my mother, as a housekeeper, and my father was hired as a gardener and handyman. And, which is kind of laughable because he didn't know a single thing about gardening. So my mother had a double burden of doing his job as well as hers, because she used to garden all the time when we were in Seattle. Aside from that, he was -- I think he was in a state of depression, probably, because we didn't -- my mother told me that he would flare up with the smallest little things, you know, would have these temper, temper episodes, tantrums, you know, which was unusual for him. And I remember having a little thing with him, and my mom said, "Well, you know, it took him four and a half years to get this way, and so it might take four and a half years for him to get out of it," you know, was my mother's point, that we just have to -- in other words, you have to be very patient.

And so during this time, I think around 1945, I had struck a correspondence with the brother of my boss who was Ada Gory, the cafeteria manager, she was the manager of the... she was the head cashier at the University of Cincinnati cafeteria. And her brother was a prisoner in a conscientious objectors camp in Trenton, North Dakota, for being a draft resister. He refused to go because he was a pacifist. And so, and they were going to let him out for a couple weeks on what they call a furlough, like the soldiers. So I was talking to my parents, I had to get back because of, I'd been corresponding with this friend of mine and Ada had written to her brother and her brother started writing to me, so we had this really running correspondence before he came, and then we -- so my parents said, "Well, who's this friend of yours?" And I said, "Well, he's coming on furlough." So Dad said, "Oh, he's a soldier," you know, because furlough, soldier. And I said, "No, actually, he's a prisoner at this conscientious objectors camp." And I really didn't have to give them all this information but I was a little naive and I was telling him that this person is really very inspirational, you know, he's very wise and da-da-da. And my dad just blanched, and he said, "Do you mean that you are corresponding with..." you know, and, "You can't, you have to stay away from people like that." His memory of having spent most of the war years, up to that point was very fresh in his mind and also he remembers how he got there. Having associated with certain people and was being questioned, grilled almost, at every hearing about so-and-so who was anti-American. Well, and then he asked me, "Is he hakujin?" You know, "Nihonjin or hakujin?" I said, "No, he's hakujin." Of course, that kind of set them off so my mother was -- my dad thought being hakujin wasn't too bad, but my mom thought that was terrible. So I just was getting it from both sides.

And, but I continued my relationship with Adrian for a very long time after that, but I met him when he came to the dormitory and when I was in Cincinnati, and then when I was in New York City to -- well, I -- were going to on to New York City to NYU, all the GIs were coming back from overseas and taking advantage of the GI Bill to go to school, and they, having missed a few years being in the army, or being in the military. And I had missed a few years being in camp, so we were more contemporaries rather than the seventeen-, eighteen-year-old students, the freshmen in my classes and so forth. So I really hit it off with a group of GIs that, we used to eat in the cafeteria all the time. And they were trying to start a Marxist club and they were trying to get a charter, they were trying to get petitions to show that, you know, enough students on the campus wanted this club and so forth. So my dad came to visit me from Cincinnati, they were still in Cincinnati at that point, my mom and dad came on a sightseeing tour. And so one evening I was telling them that, you know, they were asking me what I was doing, and I told them what courses I'm taking, and I said, "I just met this great bunch of," you know, and I just thought that he would be very happy because these are GIs, they were, they served in the war unlike Adrian, and they're trying to start this Marxist club. [Laughs] And my dad just went through the roof. He said, "Marxist club? Karl Marx! Do you realize what this man stands for? They're Communists." And I'm going, "No, they're theoretical Marxists." I was kind of naive too, they were kind of -- they were philosophical Marxists, they don't have anything to do with the Communist Party, blah-blah-blah. I'm not sure that that was true, but I thought that would kind of assuage his anxieties. But he said, "You don't have your American citizenship. If you want your American citizenship" -- and at that time it was just sort of still in process, of people trying to make it possible for a Japanese to become American citizens -- "You just have to keep your nose clean. You cannot, the kind of people that you associate with, and then the one thing, don't sign your name to anything, no matter how innocent it looks like. Even if it looks like some kind of a petition for some innocent cause or whatever it is, it might, you can get fooled into signing something," because he had gone through all of that with the FBI for years, himself, of things that he had no idea that the FBI was tracking his activities and made a very sinister twist to the most innocent of associations that, friends that he had dinner with and things like that. So he was very conscious of that, so he kept warning me that -- so I think I wrote a poem called "Warning." And, but I didn't sign my name to anything, not even to CODs. [Laughs] I had to go, I just got into this thing where I shouldn't sign my -- write my signature, put my signature on any piece of paper that I didn't know exactly what it was for. So he kind of made me paranoid about that because I did want my American citizenship when it happened. And so I think that was, and I did get my American U.S. citizenship in 19... in nineteen fifty... soon after, well, my dad got his American citizenship soon after the Walter McCarran Act was passed, I think in 1952, and I didn't get my citizenship until several years later, after I got to New York City.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: But in the meantime, his talk with you did have an impact on you.

MY: Yeah, right, I just really thought oh, that's right, you know, I really -- and then of course I had not gotten all the, his FBI files at that point. But I recognized the fact that he, I mean, I believed him, you know, that he was being questioned for every acquaintance that he had met, or even talked to. You just have to be very careful of who befriends you and things like that. And it kind of makes you paranoid, about some reason why people befriend you and so forth. I had a roommate, my friend Rose, whom I met in Cincinnati came to live with me, and we had a third roommate who came out from Seattle. And she kept telling me that, you know, "Some of your friends -- your friend, you know, your relationship with your friends" -- she was kind of perceptive, you know, she said, "In your relationship with your friends, you never make the first overture and you never initiate meeting them, that it's always they have to make the first step and then they have to keep doing it, and then you finally relent." And I thought, oh... the analysis was kind of interesting because it was probably true. You know, I just kind of kept my distance until, and if a person kind of persisted in trying to make friends with me, then I would... but she kept saying to me, "You never initiate," you know, you never look -- Jo Ann would say you know, "When I see somebody and I just feel like yeah, that person seems like the kind of person I would like to get to know," and she said, "You never do that. You know, you just wait for the other person to like you," was her impression, and I thought that was kind of interesting. I think that probably has had an impact on having lived through World War II, of not being quite sure of people's, you know, whether they're being friends with you because -- and then there was kind of a double-edged thing there. There were a few people who could make you really very uncomfortable by liking you because you were a victim. "Oh, you poor thing," you know. "Oh, I heard about those, I heard about the camps and I just think it was horrible," and so forth. That kind of patronizing attitude that some people had, that that makes you uncomfortable. So you were quite wary of people, I think, for a long time. And it does affect your relationship with people, I think.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

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.

<Begin Segment 14>

MY: So we had gone on to New York University, I guess. And then I got married and... let me see, then I was in University of Chicago and the HUAC there -- it was kind of interesting because the administration did refuse, unlike NYU, I was really quite impressed with this at University of Chicago, the university president who was at that time Robert Hutchins, but he didn't stay very long, in 1945 I think he left, that, the first year I was there, so I didn't really know him, to get to know him as a president. Well, how does one get to know a president of a university? [Laughs] But he wasn't there very long, but I remember that his influence on the administration was quite strong, because Joseph McCarthy fingered, as they used to call them at that time, another professor at University of Chicago, and the administrators at University of Chicago refused to fire him. And I thought hmm, that's, that was really impressive. Because I just didn't know anybody who had the courage, the guts to defy, you know, the House Un-American Activities Committee. Everybody was just shaking in their boots at that time, and they were quite powerful. Until Eisenhower came into office, I guess.

AI: Can you say a little bit more about that, for people who don't know about that era, and when you say "shaking in their boots" and that the committee was quite --

MY: Well, McCarthy, Joseph McCarthy, you know the thing about Joseph McCarthy was he was such a foolish man. But everyone was scared of him because he had power, you know, he was a congressman and he -- it kind of works in poisoning the well, that everybody thinks that he was quite reprehensible. I don't think there were very many people who really liked him as a person. His tactics were reprehensible in the way that, and then he without any basis in fact would charge a person with being a Communist. And in those days, being a Communist was, being charged or being called a Communist was something that... in years later it became, you know, like if you were called -- I remember when I asked my students, we were talking about language, when I started teaching my freshman English class, and we got into the linguistics of the different epithets, you know, what you call people. I asked my students at one point, well, being called a Communist at one time was just something that just could ruin you, you could lose your job and so forth. And therefore they did pass, I think there was a law that made it against the law to call anybody -- you know, you could sue a person for libel if you were called a Communist. And so, and it wasn't true. And so I asked the students, what would be, what could people say to you that would be, what they call "fighting words" -- what would make you, what kind of words in your life? And the students thought about it and a boy said, "Fag?" You know, and so we went through that period. And then during the Iranian prisoner, I remember kind of every year I would ask, and it would change. Like if you were called an Iranian -- the fighting words changed, but at one time during the Joseph McCarthy period, being called a Communist was reason, they were called fighting words, it was something that could ruin your career, ruin your life. And so when Joseph McCarthy came out with -- and he often did, it was during also in the very beginning of the television era, I remember the whole, the hearings, you know, the committee hearings, congressional committee hearings were being put on television, but he was often seen, you know, waving, "I have in my hand such and such, a letter written by so-and-so saying" -- and some of it was not true. And so then somebody would say, oh well, you know... so it's like it is a libelous thing to do, is to call somebody -- but once, once you are called, like, a child molester, it's really, and then it turns out that it's not true, it's extremely difficult to erase it completely out of the consciousness of people's minds. And I think that was a great deal to do with what happened during the McCarthy period. And people were really afraid of sticking their heads out, of raising their voices and so forth. It was a very extraordinary period, I think.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: Well, and at this time, did you feel that personally also? Were you somewhat fearful of what could happen to you?

MY: Yeah, of course, because the thing is, and then I was worried about the fact that I may not get my American citizenship if I got mixed up with Communists, that kind of thing. And in my father's case it turned out to be quite true, because I think in 1952 -- he died in '53 -- in 1952 he applied to go to Japan. And you know, he got out of prison and then he was applying for American citizenship, U.S. citizenship. And he applied to take a -- he thought well, "I'm going to become an American, get my American citizenship soon," and he applied to visit Japan because he hadn't been to Japan since before the war. And he got a letter from the Justice Department denying him a visa. They said they would give him a visa to leave the country, but they would not give him permission to reenter the United States. And so essentially he was not able to visit his relatives after World War II, and he died -- then he got his American citizenship in March, the early part of March, I think it was March 7th or something like that, and he was celebrating and about two or three weeks later he died of a massive, a massive stroke. So he was not able to enjoy his U.S. citizenship, which he had coveted for such a long time, for very long. But the ironic part about this is the U.S. government thought that he, deemed him worthy of getting a U.S. citizen, but they wouldn't grant him permission to leave the country. And after perhaps he got his American citizenship, it would have been interesting, after his U.S. citizenship, whether he had applied, reapplied again to go to Japan, whether he would have been permitted to leave and then come back. But he didn't have an opportunity to test that.

AI: It is so interesting to me that he did ultimately get American citizenship after all those years of being incarcerated and being under suspicion and having these hearings and rehearings and then really it was only not that many years after he was released from incarceration that he was accepted as a U.S. citizen.

MY: 1953, yeah. And so we thought, oh, that's really strange, they wouldn't let him leave the country but they thought that he -- they said it was, I think the reason was for the sake of national security or something like that. But at the same time, you know, he was able to get his U.S. citizenship. So, I mean, it just kind of shows that the various, because my mother was very astute about this, is that the various departments in the government do not work hand in hand. Like the Immigration, the INS was under the Department of Commerce I think, at one time. I'm not quite sure what the rationale of that was, and then it was not under the Justice Department. I think that it became part of the Justice Department only during World War II and so when my dad was arrested and his colleagues, his coworkers were working for the Department of Commerce, you know, and then the FBI were working for the Department of Justice, they just got head to head in kind of a power struggle about -- well, "This is our prisoner," and they said, "Well, he's our guy," and they were trying to get him out and so forth. So my mother was saying that -- I forgot exactly what it was in Japanese -- I remember hearing her say this and I thought, that's quite astute of her to recognize that Dad was kind of a victim of these American people who were fighting against each other, you know. Were fighting for power, you know, in the government over Dad, and Dad just became sort of this symbol. "Poor Papa, he was just sort of this victim of a power struggle between these two departments," and I thought well, how did she know that? [Laughs] This Issei woman, you know, who people thought, uneducated. She used to tell us, "I don't have any education, I'm not very bright." But she was very bright.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: Well, now also, what you're holding there is a copy of a letter that you found later.

MY: Yeah, I was reading it. It was a letter written in Japanese to a very close friend of his from Seattle. His name was Mr. Sekiguchi and I'm still a friend of his son's, a son who lives in Los Angeles now. But I think that we got this letter from Tad Sekiguchi, it was a letter, his father had died and I think he has his dad's papers. It is a letter and the address on it is addressed in Cincinnati, so it was soon after my dad... let me see, there's a date on here, it was in 19-, yeah, it was November 1944, and so it was actually only a few months after my dad was released from Lordsburg, New Mexico, that they came to Cincinnati and my dad couldn't work, couldn't get a job so he got a job as a gardener. And it was a struggle because he was very, didn't know very much about it, and this first family that they worked for, the woman was a little bit strange. She recognized that my dad didn't know very much about gardening, and she would play these little tricks on him, you know, she would hide tools or something and accuse him of losing it, and then my father, because he was just so totally disoriented by what he was doing and so forth, and he was becoming very absentminded about things because he had just not gotten adjusted. And so she would move things like from one place to another, and then tell him, oh, "Where is it?" and so forth. And it just made him very insecure about himself.

And so then they changed to another home. They went back to the hostel because they, to visit their friends, and the Friends, the American Friends, the Quaker couple who was running the group -- and I guess they must have told them the hard times they were having with this family and so they said, well -- Mrs. Brinsfield, I think her name was -- said, "Well, you don't have to work for people like that. We can have, we have some other families," so they were placed in another home and they just loved it. The couple just appreciated them a lot, in spite of my dad's inexperience and so forth. And so they were there and they must not have, it must not have been very long after they went to the Coles' place, he wrote a letter to his friend who was still in Lordsburg, New Mexico, in the Justice Department camp. And it's kind of... and then there's a stamp of "Detained Alien Enemy Mail Examined," and there's a little stamp on there. And it's written in Japanese so they had people reading in Japanese. And we were, I was reading this to my brothers last night, as I said, with a great deal of difficulty, and it doesn't really say very much except it is very uncharacteristically sentimental. You know, Isseis didn't write this way. You know, very personal about, "Well, we are, I'm sorry I didn't respond to your letter, but I am working from morning until night and I have been reduced to this station, being a gardener." [Cries] And it's really touching. And then he's saying that, he's talking about you know, "My son Seiichi is now at Boston University and my daughter is in" -- so he's talking about us, but also he's saying that, "I don't really know what future there is for us," that, that, "I might have to be doing this kind of work for the rest of my life." Yeah, we were really very touched reading this last night. And he said, "Of course, muron, saki wa, you know, of course there's no way of knowing what's going, what holds, what there is in the future." Of course in 1944, he had no -- and the reason why we came into possession of this letter was that Tad Sekiguchi, we're still in touch with his son in Los Angeles. And we're not quite sure, I think, my brother thinks that Tad saw this letter and it was written by my dad in his handwriting, and so he said, and his dad died and he was going through his dad's things and he found this letter from my father, and so he returned it to us. And we were really, it really kind of surprised us because we don't see -- my father has written a lot of senryu which is very personal, but they're not, they don't really talk about... you know, senryu is talking about the condition of the Isseis and their adjustments, but they're kind of a bantering, you know, he had a sense of humor and he was always kind of laughing at himself or laughing at my mother, you know, kind of a bantering, jovial, jocular attitude towards life, which comes, you know, some of it bawdy, about the life of the Issei in Seattle. And so this voice is really quite unusual.

AI: That must have been such a painful realization for him that, here had come as a teenager to the United States and struggled and had worked as a domestic houseboy, putting himself through school --

MY: Yeah, that's right. My mother was saying that this is what he started to do, and this is what he -- then he started work for, in a domestic, and so she was kind of, you know, and the thing is that his personality was such that... it could have been that he was hiding, that he was quite sensitive, [coughs] excuse me, but he, it kind of reveals his deep-seated, [coughs] kind of vulnerabilities that he had never permitted anybody to see before, you know. Anyway, that was that letter that we kind of cried over last night.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: Well, to return back to the scene of Chicago, in the meantime here you're continuing your graduate studies at Chicago and was it this point that you were -- excuse me.

MY: Let me get a tissue, yeah. Thank you. Yeah, right, I was in Chicago and we kind of reunited with my parents, my family reunited again with our parents and so we... I went to, was going to University of Chicago, I met my husband who was getting a Ph.D. from Purdue University in chemistry and we were introduced by some mutual friends. And we got married about three or four years later, in Chicago in 1950.

AI: And at that time you were, for a while you and your husband lived in the same house with your parents. Is that right? In Chicago.

MY: Yes. My father bought a house in... let's see, when my parents moved to Chicago was 19-, they bought a house... that's right, I wasn't married and I was living with my parents in their apartment on the first floor. They bought this house that had several apartments, had two apartments upstairs, and a basement apartment. And so I was living with my parents on the first floor. My brother Joe was going to high school and Mike was going to a seminary in Evanston, and Tosh was on his way to the University of Washington to go to school there. And we, my parents were really very happy to be together, the family to be together again, because both my parents were such family-oriented people and we, so we lived together for a little period of time and Yosh used to come to visit quite often. And then when we got married, we lived in the basement apartment with -- in my dad's house. And then when I got pregnant with Jeni, my mother thought that the basement was not too healthy for me as a pregnant person, so they evicted -- this is terrible -- they evicted the tenants on the second floor and then we moved into the apartment on the second floor. And then when Mike got married, which was only about a month later, to my sister-in-law Ruth, they evicted the people in the third floor apartment and so that, we became a family, kind of an extended family all living in the same house. My older brother and Joe were still living with my parents and we lived on the first floor -- the second floor apartment.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

MY: And then we, my husband had then got a job at Chicago University -- no, he got a job at Mergenthaler Linotype in New York. We were in Chicago then. And I, I was taking my master's comp exam, I was going to be taking my master's comp exam in April, I think, and so I -- and I was studying for it, so my husband went to New York and he was living at the Y for a long time, and I said well, I would take my exams before I joined him. And Jeni was a couple years old at that time. And so, and then my dad died at the end of March, a few weeks before I took my comps, and I went to take my comprehensive exam and failed. Which was kind of understandable because the subject matter for the comprehensive critical analysis part of the examination was Tennyson's -- oh, I don't even -- "In Memoriam"? You know, about the death of his friend and it just kind of goes on and on and on about the death of his friend, and I guess I just couldn't get past my recent -- I think the funeral was just over and my mother was a mess, you know, because she was just absolutely helpless since my dad was again taking care of everything. And so after I failed the exam, I just decided there was really not much point in my hanging around in Chicago, so I moved to New York to join Yosh there.

And we lived in an apartment in Long Island city in New York, and I have these little kind of chronology here. I lost my second child. I had another miscarriage that year, I guess all the turmoil was a little bit too much, in 1953. And then in 1954 Yosh got a job in Evanston. So he was going back to Chicago, you know, but this is during the period when in order to be upwardly mobile, the upward mobility people who were working in corporate America had to change jobs about every two or three -- I don't know if this is true now, but, and going back and forth. So my husband said that actually he -- Bell & Howell sought him out where he was working at Mergenthaler, because I think he had written a couple papers or something. So they offered him a job to work in the Research & Development Committee, in development. They wanted his particular expertise in chemistry. So he said, well, and I said, "Well, I'm not going to move back to Chicago. I'm going to stay here. I love New York," because I got my undergraduate degree in New York. I didn't really care very much for Chicago and so -- as a city, to live in. So I told him, "Well, if you want this job, you could commute." Of course I was kind of half-joking, but before he, he went to apply for the job. So he went to Evanston to apply for the job and during the -- and he just thought they would say well, "Don't call us, we'll call you." And then they offered him the job on the spot. So he said, "Well, I have to go home and ask my wife," -- [laughs] -- "because she refuses to move to Chicago and therefore, I might have to commute from New York to Chicago." They asked him how, and that he would take the job on condition that they'd pay for his transportation. And so they said they would do that.

And so he took the job, he moved into the Y, like before when he was in New York, in Brooklyn, he was living in the Y while I was... So all this time we were always living, people would often ask at our 50th anniversary, "How did you stay married so long?" And I'm going, well, as a matter of fact -- [laughs] -- maybe because we always lived apart, so much of the time. But anyway, he came home on a Friday night to New York from Chicago. And then he, and then because of the time change he was able to take the first flight out on Monday morning and get to Chicago, you know, in time to get to work. The only problem with that during the winter months -- I think he did that for about a year and a half -- during the winter months, when the second winter was coming along, it was just getting to be a little bit much because if you know Chicago weather, and New York weather, and I was, and if my mother hadn't been living with me, I could not have left my children at home to go to the airport and sit there for hours waiting for his plane to come in and he was getting snowed in or iced in or whatever. Chicago was so cold during the winter, and the flights were always being canceled and so on. So that was the only part of it that was kind of hard. And I suppose there was a lot of wear and tear on him, but I really didn't care very much about that. I just felt, you know, I just was going to stay in New York. And then one day he came home and he said, "You know, I got... the Research & Development department at Bell & Howell, they're going to, they bought out this company in Pasadena, California, and they're moving the whole department to California." And he said, you know, "California's a little bit far to commute to from New York." [Laughs] So I had to kind of say, "Oh, okay. Guess we'll have to move," so we moved. And so we went to New York, to New York City.

It says here that I passed, that I took my comprehensive, third comprehensive examination which, on Alfred North Whitehead. Oh, I was in, let's see, I was in New York, Yosh was in Chicago and I was studying for my comps and the subject at that time was Alfred North Whitehead, who is a philosopher or scientist or something. He wrote a book called The Philosophy of Modern Science [Ed. note: Narrator is referring to Science and the Modern World] or something like that. There's a whole paragraph on the quantum theory. I have no idea why an English major, that book was chosen, you know. I didn't understand the quantum theory and they were using the quantum theory as a metaphor, you know, for some literary works and so forth. If you didn't understand the theory, you know, how are you going to be able to understand what the metaphor, how to do the comparison in the metaphor? So we spent, I don't know, hundreds of dollars worth of long distance phone calls. My husband bought a copy of the book -- [laughs] -- in Chicago, studied the book and we were on the phone for hours and he was trying to explain the quantum theory to me. And I went to take my exam and I passed it. And so my husband said, "Gosh, that was the hardest exam I never took." [Laughs] And I said, "Well, you passed." So then after that, after I got my... I did take the exam through a proxy. I happened to know a professor, a former professor I had at NYU who was living in New York and I asked her if she would be my proxy to administer the test to me. So she, I went to her house and took the exam and I finished, got my master's degree. And then we --

AI: That must have been a sense of accomplishment and completion there.

MY: Well, yeah, that was kind of one unfinished thing that hangs over your head, you know. Gosh, you know, my husband was the one who kept pushing me. It's just this one little thing, it wasn't even a whole exam, it was only a third of the comps that I didn't pass, and he said, "You just have to keep at it," and so I, and then they told me that I could take the test in absentia and so that I didn't have to go to Chicago to do it. So it seemed like a very easy way to do that. The only thing is that we were in different places and he had to explain the quantum theory to me on the telephone. [Laughs]

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AI: And in the meantime, Jeni is a young child and you were still at this time thinking of having more children?

MY: Yeah, I had -- we were just so thrilled with Jen-, actually the reason why I, when I was in New York and my husband, when Jeni was about three -- I think it was kind of foolish in some way when you look back on it, because my health was not the best. I think we, after two miscarriages I... after I had Jeni, my health was fine. After Jeni we said, "Oh, gosh, it's just so wonderful, we have a baby. Let's have another one right away." And so I got pregnant right away, and it was just, the baby would have, that child would have been only -- like Tosh and me -- been just a year apart. But I miscarried that time and then I miscarried the second time, and I bled a lot, and I became quite anemic and that's why I lost my third son. He was born stillborn, and I lost a lot of blood then. And I was quite anemic. And when you're in a weakened condition and you kind of, I was very depressed and my husband was worried about that and he thought that I should kind of go back to, "Why don't you think about getting a Ph.D.?" And I said, "Oh, you know, that just sounds like another grueling thing." But I did enroll in the Ph.D. program in Linguistics at Columbia University and then I became pregnant with my older son. And then with the experience of the three lost, three miscarriages, we, I decided that I would drop out of school. So I became a dropout, and then, and I, the doctor ordered complete bed rest and so we hired somebody for a while to take care of Jeni, who was -- let me see, in first grade or so at that time, in kindergarten, I think. But it was a little bit hard and then my mom in the meantime was very lonely in Chicago after my dad's death. So we invited her to come out to New York, which was really great because my mother came, she needed to be needed, you know, and it was just a great match. She was a better housewife than I was, a better mother, you know, she took care of my children, she, and I, and then when I got a job, you know, several years later, she would get up in the morning and she would make their lunches and she would make my lunch, and she would make my coffee and she'd have all the laundry in the washing machine already, she'd be all dressed, and I'd take off to work. [Laughs] And she cleaned the house, the house was always spic and span, it was cleaner that it's ever been, you know, when I was cleaning house, so it was wonderful to have her there. And then because of her I think I became very much involved in outside activities and things like that. But it was wonderful having her. [Laughs]

AI: So, now was it after Stephen was born that you moved?

MY: We were, Stephen was born in New York, it was after the birth of my third -- the son that we lost that, oh, you mean how we moved to New York, when did we move to New York? We moved in 19... '55? Let's see, '55... well, actually we moved to California in 1960. And my two sons were born in New York City. And we were very, so happy to have a live child that we had another son, and so...

AI: So Stephen was born in 1957 --

MY: Yeah, and then Kai was born in 1959, and that was in New York, and Yosh was still in Chicago, working in Chicago. And so Yosh returns for a few days. When Kai was born he was still in Chicago. So he didn't know until the following day that he had another son. He came back for a few days to see the baby and then around 1960 his company was bought out by another company in Pasadena, and so we had to move in 1960 to California. I just reluctantly moved from New York City to California.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AI: So we're continuing our interview with Mitsuye Yamada and just before our break we were just on the point where your husband had been transferred to Pasadena and you had reluctantly agreed to leave New York, move to California and your mother was living with you in New York at the time and she was --

MY: She moved out to California with us and then my daughter, Hedi, my youngest daughter Hedi Yamada was born in Pasadena in 1961. And so, and my son, the following year my older son started kindergarten at -- and I put him in, we were members of the Episcopal Church, the local Episcopal Church that had a, elementary school, parochial school that was being run by the sisters of, the convent was next door of the Episcopal -- the Sisters of the Episcopal Church. And so I was quite active in the school board and tried to, I felt like I needed to do something with my education and I was trying to help with the curriculum change in the school. They were still using rather old books in the school and I just really felt like they needed some, I knew there were some new theories of linguistics and so forth that I had kind of picked up in the meantime, in New York and Columbia University when I was taking linguistics. So I said yeah, there were all kinds of changes going on, you know, you have to keep up with that. So that was fun to become involved in that. And --

AI: You know, excuse me, that's interesting to me because it seems like such a huge change in your home life circumstances from New York to Pasadena --

MY: Pasadena, right.

AI: I was going to ask you about that change and that kind of getting adjusted to being in California and your new home.

MY: Well, I didn't really like -- I didn't, California felt very foreign to me. For one thing the flora, you know, the plants looked different. I mean, everything about palm, you know, the palm trees and so on. I don't know, you just really get, you really -- unlike moving from one part of the eastern seacoast to another, or even Chicago, California feels very different from any other part of the country. Everything about it. And I didn't even, and I don't even know whether the people were different or... but it was just, yeah.

AI: What kind of neighborhood did you move into?

MY: We moved into an all-white neighborhood which was, I mean literally all-white. Except perhaps -- and one of the, one of the... Hedi's, my youngest daughter's classmates, I think by 1965 or so when she started pre-, when she was going to kindergarten at Ascension, one of her classmate's father was black. But I think he might have been the only black person in the whole area. In the whole town there. And so when, there was the issue of the Fair Housing bill that came out as a result of the Supreme Court decision on segregation, integration, in 19-, I believe it was 1963. And I had a couple of friends at the church. There were two women who were very active in the church who -- and the bishop, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, I think at that time had made a speech that all the churches in the Episcopal Church should get behind the Fair Housing bill because it, because it was kind of a controversy about whether or not the Fair Housing bill was a moral issue or a racial -- you know, was a political issue or a moral issue, okay, there (were) two different things. Some of the conservatives were saying oh, that's a political issue, churches should not get mixed up in politics, and therefore the church should stay out of it. But then the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who was the highest authority in the church said no, he believes that the Fair Housing bill is a moral issue and that all the churches should get involved in it and there should be discussion in the church about it and so forth. Which was kind of a liberating thing. So two of the women that I was very close to were very active in the church. In fact, decided that we would try to persuade the minister who was a single man, somewhat conservative and I don't think he's ever confronted anything like this before. But he was very amenable to listening to people's decisions. So he, then he became quite involved -- you know, and then when the, his boss, you know, the presiding bishop -- he was asked to give a, to permit a performance of a play that was written by a Unitarian minister's wife, I think, on interracial relationship and interracial marriage, something like that, in the church, and that just created a great problem. It's, almost, it almost broke the congregation in two. And so at that time we had petitions that the Fair Housing bill that we were going to -- I forgot what the source of those petitions were, but when a couple of my friends decided that we would try to get petitions from the neighbors and so forth to have the church and also the general community support this Fair Housing bill.

And my mother in the meantime was very lonely, because she didn't know anybody in California, but there was a Japanese community in Sierra Madre, a very small community, apparently they were there from before the war. And they were kind of clustered in one area, I remember, and so I used to take my mom up there to visit her friend and so one day I took her up there and I took the petitions and I thought well, I'm going door to door around my neighborhood, go door to door to see if people would sign the petition. And I was kind of astounded, dumbfounded actually, when many of the people were very polite but they said they couldn't sign it because they have tried very hard to blend into the community, they have been accepted by the community, they've been there for a long, long time. I'm kind of a "Johnny come lately," you know, a new person in the community, and they felt that they didn't want to make waves. They thought that it might create dissension, and maybe hostile feelings toward the Japanese. I, I think that I was a little bit taken aback because I was sort of naive about... I had never really lived in a Japanese, you know, this closed community, and I really didn't have any awareness, I guess, kind of intolerant in my attitude towards... I was a little bit shocked actually.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

MY: But as it turned out, the Fair Housing bill did pass. We had some problems with the people in the church and I've had people tell, there was one woman I met at a gas station, and the kids were in the car, and she -- because there were three of us, you know, women, the other two women were white, obviously, and she -- and then my children were all in school, at the Ascension School at that time. And she came up to me and she said, "You know, I'm really surprised, because I always thought that you people were very happy in our church." And she said, "I didn't realize that you were unhappy," you know, and I, "What do you mean?" And she said, "Well, I thought we've always treated you very well, you know, you're the only Japanese, you're in the church." And I thought oh, you know, that "Didn't we treat you well?" Why are you -- oh, I know, and then she said, "Why are you doing this to us?" You know, like, doing what? By supporting Father Smith? He was wonderful, in spite of his personal misgivings about his conservative feelings about it, he felt that he was going to be a good servant of God and listen to the bishop and I guess there were a lot of people there who were the same. But she thought, I don't know, what do you mean? I mean, I didn't say anything because I was just a little bit astonished, but she said, "Why are you doing this, why are you trying to ruin everything? We have such a harmonious wonderful little family, this very small group of people," and so forth. And then Pasadena at that time, which was right, a neighboring, neighboring community, the big threat was, "You don't want Sierra Madre to turn into Pasadena," they had a lot of black people over there. It was just kind of unreal at that time. But we recovered, recovered from this. [Laughs] But you learn, you know, the kind of things that you learn through life is really interesting, I think.

AI: That is interesting because on the one hand, when you were speaking to the Japanese Americans from the area, they were fearful and not wanting to support the Fair Housing petition, for reasons based on their experiences --

MY: That's right, yeah, that's right.

AI: -- of being discriminated against, and at the same time here are these white people who are also not supportive of the Fair Housing --

MY: Because of... yeah. You're absolutely right, I mean, and the, it says something about not... I think one of the things that I remembered about when I saw James Baldwin on TV, when his The Amen Corner, I think -- he wrote a play and it was performed in San Francisco, I think, and it was bombed, the first night. And I remember his face, you know, on television, those big eyes. Even a man like that, you know, was just totally astonished about this. I remember watching this newsreel with, my husband had a colleague, a young man who was working in his lab, who was -- I think it was actually, he was Yosh's lab assistant at Bell & Howell, who, we had invited him over to dinner and were having dinner, and we were watching this together. He was -- oh, and we were watching this and then we were watching all the activities of children being spat on and he was just so, became very emotional and he said... and he was a young man, a little bit younger than Yosh I think at that time, he was probably in his forties or so -- and he was saying that the reason why those kids, these things are happening right now, is because those of us who could have done, who could have been, had more courage at one time could have protested earlier than... like I feel like it's my fault, you know, because we succumbed to the prejudice and the discrimination and endured all of that for years and years without raising our voices. And now there's this backlash, the white, the virulent nature of the, of that was, he was just really... I thought it was kind of interesting because he was really saying, "It's all our fault, my generation was too chicken to stand up against prejudice and therefore the present violence that we, the violent nature of it..." He thought that if they had gradually, from way decades ago started, that now it would be, things would be a little better. And this is, it turned out to be true. Of course it was very violent at that time but the eruption -- and things hadn't totally changed today. But things have gotten a lot better because of it. And I was saying, well, you know, James really, you know, knew what he was saying, very, very astute observation.

AI: Maybe to put this in a little larger context, this period that you're talking about, 1963, 1964, this has followed, of course, 1954, the Supreme Court decision --

MY: The Court decision, Brown and, yeah.

AI: Brown v. Board of Education, opening up the schools to desegregate the schools, and then there had been this whole decade of civil rights activity.

MY: Where would we be today if it hadn't been for that? And also they were saying at that time, well, you can't legislate emotions, you can't, that kind of thing. So you make it illegal that you can't discriminate for housing or for jobs and so forth -- and they're still saying that about gay rights and so forth, that you can't pass a law against hating people. People aren't going to stop hating just because of a law and so on, but it's necessary, necessary to have it on the books there, have the ordinance there.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

MY: So anyway, we're coming to the point in my life that I had a really kind of a very abrupt wakeup call when... I was having trouble with my lungs most of my life, you know, because of congestion. I always kind of attributed it to allergies, to different substances in the air and so forth. And one day when we were in Sierra Madre, after we were there a few years, the drapes that were in the house, we were going to take them down to get a new set of drapes that we were going to order. And I probably should have let -- they were just sitting up there for the longest time -- that you know, I hadn't been very diligent about vacuuming the drapes or anything, they just became very dusty, I guess, and so because I bought these, new set of drapes I was taking them down and I guess it was very, very dusty, so I had a respiratory attack. I just... I couldn't breathe, and my kids were still home. And my little children, of course, they weren't in school yet -- they weren't, hadn't gone to school yet, it was very early in the morning, and Jeni was about twelve, I think, at the time. And so, and I couldn't talk, you know, I could barely talk to tell Jeni, "Call Daddy." So she called Yosh and then Yosh told her, "Well, call the emergency" -- at that time they didn't have 911 I think, so he told her to call the fire department or the police department, I don't know what number... Jeni was just, I was really proud of her because she had the presence of mind to call Yosh and follow his instructions and then she called, called the fire department, because they came with the oxygen and so forth.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

MY: So I went to the hospital, it took a long time to get -- got x-rays and tested and so forth, and the outcome of that was that they told me I had terminal emphysema. And that perhaps it might be another year or... and the doctor was very vague, he said well, you know, "How long do I have?" "Maybe a year, but it's very unpredictable, it's a progressive condition, but sometimes it doesn't progress at all and sometimes it progresses very rapidly. So maybe you might have a year, maybe ten years, maybe longer." And in the meantime Yosh bought a, air filter and built for the bedroom. And we considered moving out of Sierra Madre because it was getting very, very smoggy and we thought that had precipitated this condition and so we thought maybe we'd move out to Palm Springs area, the resort area out there, where the air was clearer. And so I remember taking all the kids, driving out to the desert. Because they were selling land at that time. Palm Springs hadn't quite developed into anything. If we had bought some land out there, we might have been, become very rich -- [laughs] -- by now, but we took the kids out there and at that time Palm Springs and that whole area around it, we met some, we took some picnic lunch and we were eating a picnic lunch in this little park, and we met some kids out there, and their parents had moved out there because their father got sick or something, and it was kind of the sanitarium of people who were going, moved out there for health reasons, or one or the other. And so we came home and thought about it and it just didn't seem to... it was a very unattractive option. You know, what are we going to do out there, what are we going to do about schools or the children and so forth.

So we came back, I had a series of treatments and I got a little better. I had to take an oxygen tank around with me all the time but I just thought to myself, you know, I was thinking that, what do I do with my education? I was going to wait for the children to be grown enough, for Hedi to graduate from high school, to do something with my life, my own life. And I just thought, well, "I might not have a chance to do that. Maybe this is a chance to do it." So I kind of looked around to see if there was something that might keep my mind occupied, for one thing, and so I decided to take a course at Cal State (Los Angeles) which was kind of a half an hour commute from Sierra Madre. I looked at their catalog and I wasn't -- I kind of latched onto this course that was called Community College Teaching. And I had never thought about teaching before in my whole life, but it's like a, maybe an option. And so I was taking that course, and then my kids were going to Ascension, and I thought well, you know, maybe I should practice -- I was reading about the community, it was a whole history of the community colleges and why it was formed, and it wasn't very helpful. But so I thought I'd kind of test my skill at teaching. So I, and I was complaining to the headmaster at the school who was a priest of the church that the children should have more poetry and mythology in the classroom. So he said, "Why don't you teach it, why don't you teach it to the kids?" So I said, "Well, okay." So I started to go to the Ascension Church to teach the little children poetry and mythology, which was kind of fun. And then I started sending out resumes, and in the meantime the professor that I had at Cal State (Los Angeles) called me and she said that she knew of this job opening at Fullerton College. So I thought well, maybe I'll just go down there and see what it's all about. I had no idea how far it was, because I didn't have any sense of geography. It was about an hour away from Sierra Madre to Orange County, way down in Fullerton. I drove down there and then I got the job right away. Much to my dismay, you know. [Laughs] And I thought, "Oh my gosh, you know, I have a job, what am I going to do with it?" I went to the library and got a lot of books on educational psychology. Really, one is totally unprepared for teaching in a -- I was not eligible to teach in elementary school or high school, because I didn't have credentials for teaching those, the lower grades. But here I was eligible to teach to the community college students, and I didn't know a single thing about teaching. It was kind of disgraceful. So I was teaching, actually the reason why I got this job so quickly, I found later, I found out later, was that one of the teachers, regular teachers there, had decided to take a leave of absence because he wanted to go somewhere for a year and he let the school know very suddenly at the last minute and didn't give them too much time to recruit for -- and I just happened to come along, and so I got hired rather accidentally. So, and then the head of, the chair of the department turned out to be a graduate of the University of Chicago, just around the same time that I went to graduate school. I didn't know him. It was a small class but we couldn't figure out exactly why we missed each other. But he took the same kind of, you know, same courses so we really hit it off. And I taught there for about three years and then one day he called me in and I was still going to the hospital to get my lungs cleared out, I still was in this mindset of, I had to prepare my children, so I started writing a lot -- I was teaching, I was writing. Then I thought, you know, I have to leave something visual, tangible, for my kids to remember me by. So I took up sculpting, which was kind of -- I have no idea where my mind was going. I just thought, I thought sculpting was kind of a neat activity to get your hands on clay or whatever, and you mold things. So I started sculpting my younger, Hedi's head. I still have it in the garage someplace. And this sculptor that I had, the teacher, lived in Pasadena and he lived in this huge estate-type thing, was a outdoor sculptor. He made friezes and things like that. He was just, and he was about eighty years old and was just really a very interesting person. So I started taking sculpting from him.

I was teaching, I was thinking that I should write because my children would not remember me and I was thinking, "Well, Jeni is twelve, Stephen is almost six, six plus, maybe seven; my husband's biological father died when he was six years old and he barely remembers his father. The other two kids are not going to remember me," so I thought it was important for me to start writing, to tell them who I was, and so I wrote quite a few things at that time. I went to poetry workshops that were being conducted in the neighborhood and then around (1969), I think around that time -- and then the smog continued to get worse in Sierra Madre, and so I was working but when I got home I just had to hole myself up in the bedroom with the air filter. I had to go to the hospital, you know, it was just one of those things. My children remember me at that period as a person who was always in bed. Because I just came home exhausted from work, and my mother was, my mother -- I hadn't told my mother what was wrong with me. She would have freaked out, so I told her that I was just tired from working, and so she was very, she was very cooperative. She was used to taking care of me all the time. So we, at one point I decided to move to... we just decided, the allergies, actually my lung specialist, the allergist told me that perhaps I should get out of Sierra Madre. But he said, "Don't sell your house yet, try out some neighborhoods and see what places are good for your lungs," and so I got a house near the beach in Huntington Beach. I took my younger kids and put them in the schools there, and I went to work and my husband and my mother stayed up in Sierra Madre. So we were separated again, you know, we were living in two different places, and my kids -- then I think that when they were in junior high, we did, at one point, did move back. Yosh decided that he would retire, that this kind of life was, and living in Sierra Madre was just not good, and that we should move to a better climate, a better air quality. And so he had been wanting to retire, to start his own company for a long time. To start a -- he wanted to invent, he had a lot of ideas for inventions, but he knew that he couldn't invent, he couldn't publish them while he was working for Bell & Howell because as a member of the Research & Development department, anything that he thinks up, it would become the property of Bell & Howell. So that was kind of a good excuse for him to quit his job, for us to move out of the area. So we moved to where we are right now in Irvine. And then around that time I found out that I was misdiagnosed.

AI: That was about 1969 or 1970?

MY: '70, yeah, 1970, 1971.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

MY: At some point in the turn of that year, I had to have a hysterectomy. I was having trouble with these polyps, I guess, I was having -- what do they call it? In my, I was heavily bleeding. So I went to a gynecologist and he said I had to have a hysterectomy. And, but he says, he could hear my asthma, you know, my breathing, and he said, "I'm not going to do surgery on you until you go see a lung specialist, and that specialist has to sit in on the surgery to stand by in case the anesthesia, you know, if you succumb to the anesthesia." So I went to a lung specialist and he was the one, he was an emphysema expert, specialist in emphysema. And he listened to my lungs and took, did all kinds of tests, and he said, "You don't have emphysema. You just have asthma that's been very mistreated," that my lungs were just packed in with all the antihistamines that were packing in all the mucus in my lungs, and so he said it's going to take a while to clear that out, so I had to go to the hospital to get all that gunk cleared out of my lungs. And then after that, I went to surgery and I came out of this like whoa, you know, people, most people walk around the street not worrying about not being able to breathe any second. [Laughs] It was kind of a revelation and it was just... and I at that point, I thought well, when you have that kind of an experience I think you think, "I'm not going to sit around, I have to do something." I mean, who knows when a person is going to die? I just knew because I had this condition, but a lot of people, you know, it might be this year, it might be next year, you know, it could be anybody. You might die in a year, you might die in ten years, who knows? So I just decided that I would do something with my life, and I, so I got involved in different kinds of things like the women's movement.

AI: Wow, that is just... what an amazing series of events in your life, in your emotional life, too.

MY: Yeah, right.

AI: Just thinking that you're going to die, perhaps at any time of the year, and then having this, changing your life and then finding out that that diagnosis was wrong.

MY: Yeah, and my children -- Jeni and I have talked about it and we have written things together about it, because it was very traumatic for her. Because I didn't, we didn't tell the children anything about this. Jeni said she knew somewhat but she... she was old enough to understand, I could have talked to her about it. But she said, "You know what you did, essentially, is you distanced yourself emotionally from the children," which I probably did. I don't remember that too vividly because I was too caught up in... I worried about the children getting along with each other. And it's great, all four of them really love each other. My two sons live (together) with their wives; and my two girls, my children are all very close. And I remember thinking that if I die, they need each other, you know, and I used to get livid when they fought or they argued and that, I was very, very scrupulously attentive to the fact that they were, that they had to be close to each other. But other than that it's probably true that I didn't pay much attention to their schoolwork or what they were doing or what they were getting involved in. But somehow, my kids just grew -- [laughs] -- like Topsy, they just, they just grew. And it was just incredible luck, you know, and I have had incredible luck of having wonderful men in my life.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

MY: And one of -- my first publisher was Alta who was a radical feminist, she founded the Shameless Hussy Press which published my first book, Camp Notes. She was, in the 1960s I discovered her poetry, I discovered Marge Piercy and the poets actually, the white women poets actually, awakened me to possibilities of the way to write. Up until then I was writing, the kind of writings I was doing at University of Chicago, nothing was in the first person. Everything was like the objective correlative of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, the New Criticism period. And even when I got into linguistics, that was a period of when they were analyzing language as if it was a disembodied ob-, like an archaeological object. They were, they were analyzing the components of the language as if it were an archaeological object, and they used carbon 14, they dug up -- they tried to date carbon 14, date the civilization by carbon 14, they tried to apply that to language. And so the whole movement, the whole discipline was trying to, treating language as if it had nothing to do with the human being that was expressing those words, and so the poetry, the kind of poetry -- Shakespeare, we'd spend a couple of semesters counting the number of commas, and counting the number of prepositional phrases in Shakespeare to find out how dense the prose was, things like that. And applying, translating Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn" [Ed. note: Narrator is referring to "Ode on a Grecian Urn"] by algebra, you know. A + B = C and that kind of thing. And all of the mathematical symbols, all the pluses were ands and the buts were minus sign, ifs were minus sign -- well, you get the picture. And so it was kind of like studying literature as if it were a disembodied body of work, as if there was no human being behind it. And of course that whole thing had to be turned around, but the women -- and then Alta, you know, she has a poem about, that, "I'm not going to write any more metaphors, because if I don't say something's, if you don't call a trump a trump, the men misunderstand it." So it was quite a revelation for me because the way I was writing, I thought, "Who knows what you were talking about?" The seven levels of ambiguity -- it was just this very abstract ambiguity poetry.

So it took me some time, I think, to divest myself, you know, of this training. That very, very strict training that I got at University of Chicago, and for me to finally get my camp poems out of mothballs, out of the shoebox, and look at it and say, this is not bad. [Laughs] So I wrote it as a teenager but -- so I just thought, okay, and then Alta read it and she said, "This is tremendous, do you have any more?" We were kind of dredging up all the poems out of the shoebox to publish it, and so finally, in 1976, I published Camp Notes and Other Poems. But until then I just really didn't even value my own expression, my own writing, my personal writings. I just really didn't value it. And when I wrote all this stuff -- I thought, well, gosh, this is really melodramatic drivel, you know, the things that I was writing after I was diagnosed and I thought I'd better, you know, write then. And it just sounded like melodrama to me. And so I threw them out.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

AI: So you were writing those things in the mid to late '60s.

MY: In prose, yeah.

AI: But at that same time, was that about the time that The Feminine Mystique came out?

MY: Yes.

AI: And then some of those early feminist poets, Marge Piercy and Adrienne Rich?

MY: Carolyn Kiser. Adrienne Rich was still sort of an academic poet, she's the same -- let's see, Adrienne and I were somewhat the same age, I think. Carolyn is a little bit younger. Muriel Ruykeyser is a little bit older, she's already, she already died. Tillie --

AI: So had you -- oh, Tillie Olson?

MY: Yeah, Tillie Olson. I just saw her last week, a couple weeks ago, she's in her nineties and we were having lunch. I always knew that she was about ten years older than I, so she's in her nineties already. And I could see, you know, she was this highly intellectual, wonderful human being. She read my first, the first manuscript on Shameless Hussy, the Camp Notes, and we've been -- she claims that I wrote her the first fan mail she ever had, in 1963 or 1964, when she published Tell Me a Riddle. I wrote to her while the kids were little and I just went to the library and I read that story and I just, oh God, this is really incredible, and I wrote to her through the publishers. And she didn't respond so I had no idea she got it, but... so she's become a great friend and supporter. I met Audre Lorde who was ten years younger than I. She is now, she died of cancer, a really great loss, actually. But she, when she said, in the 1970s I think she was speaking somewhere and she, I was sitting in the front row and she said, "My silences have not protected me. Your silence is not going to protect you." And I thought, oh gosh, that is so great -- it was just a great line. I used it in one of my poems. I looked her up, and she said that I had sent her my po-, when she was an editor of the Amazon Quarterly at University of Chicago, I think. I don't know if I have my chronology properly, but that I had written to her and she wrote back and I was really quite flattered, but I got to know her quite well right before she, about ten years before she died. But many, the women who were in the vanguard of the women's movement are just aging now, but they really -- I think they just turned the world around. I think we have a great debt that we owe to the black liberation movement in the (1940s), going way back to the Supreme Court decision on desegregation and the progress that we made. And the women suddenly became aware that hey, I have a voice, too, and that came after the black liberation movement, I think, and all the other liberation movements that has come, the gay liberation. Most of the gay people that I knew in the 1960s and '70s were men. I didn't know the women, I didn't know there were any lesbians at that time. But, so it's been a wonderful exhilarating experience for me.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

MY: And my children by that time were growing. My brothers, I think I started to say that Alta said to me -- we were gathered together in a room one day. She had gathered together her "shameless hussies" together, you know, we were sitting around a table talking, and we looked around, and every single, you know, I looked at Alta, Mary Mackey, everybody had been married but they were divorced. And they looked at me and they said, "Look, she's the only one who's married to the same man for years." [Laughs] And so, and then Alta was telling the group, well, you know, "The thing about Mitsu is that she's never, that she's had her experience, all the men in her life have been wonderful nurturing men." Beginning with, both my father... and then she said, you know, I had two brothers who were just wonderful, and my younger brother now, and my husband. So I just really didn't have the anger against men per se, men, individual men. But my brothers and my husband, there was a lot of teasing going on, you know, about my involvement with the women's movement. I think I wrote "The Silver Anniversary" -- when was that, 1975, in the middle of all this, where Alta thought that was pretty wonderful because I'm going, it sounds like a threat, that if you -- shall I read it?

AI: Yes.

MY: [Laughs] Let's see, if I can find it. I think it was in Camp Notes, the first... let's see, oh yeah, there was one that says "Punch Bag," called "Punch Bag." When Yosh was always making these little cracks that -- "I flaunted the spectre of my liberation and Yosh said, 'A good insurance policy in widowhood, you will do well.'" And then there was another one. On silver -- actually, this was literally on our silver anniversary. We got married in 1950, so it was 1975. And we were talking, and Yosh was eating, oh yeah, he was eating rice and nori, he just loved Japanese food. And he was eating this and he was talking about, I think he was saying something about, "I don't understand what the women are complaining about," da-da-da, that kind of thing. "What do they want anyway?" So I wrote this poem and it was called "Silver Anniversary."

On the surface you hardly noticed
a ripple
you never suspected that
with every stroke, so much
would drip from your fingertips.

I have been busy
these last twenty-five years
feeding barnacles
with sharp teeth,
filling castaway bottles,
greening rocks
and covering your undersides
with chains of nippled beads
and warm moss.

If you put me out to dry
my verdant handwriting
will stretch wide across
the beach.
I will crunch beneath
you at every step
and then
when the tide turns
I will come alive in the water
like an involuted Japanese flower.

At night we work
to loosen our tangled limbs
leave trails of
phosphorescent sparks.

Now I remember what the occasion was. He, we were talking about the number, you know, we were married for twenty-five years, the number of people who were getting divorced after many years, the children have grown up. And I was telling him, "You wouldn't dare divorce me because we're tangled up, you know, like the seaweed you're eating over there." [Laughs] All that nori, the nori is kind of the thick, I don't know, the way the seaweed collects on the bottom of the ocean, and I said, "like the seaweed you're eating, we're probably all tangled up and we probably wouldn't be able to separate ourselves from that," and so anyway, that was the result of that, of that conversation with... my husband laughed and we... [Laughs]

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

AI: Well, I wanted to ask you more about -- you had mentioned Alta's comment about the men in your life. And maybe you could tell a little bit more about Yosh, your husband, because he did not have the same kind of background and upbringing as you.

MY: As a matter of fact, I think my mother saved me because my husband was the oldest son of a very traditional mother in Hawaii and he had very, very specific dietary needs, you know, he didn't like a lot of things. He loved Japanese food and that was before you could go to the corner and get sushi, and so when the children were growing up, I used to tell him, okay, your mom used to make -- if he didn't like something, like if the children were eating macaroni and cheese, you have to eat macaroni and cheese. He hated macaroni and cheese. He, but his needs were very simple. He just liked ochazuke, if I bought, if I made some otsukemono with cabbage and so forth, he was very happy eating that. And then when my mother came to live with us, she said, "Maa, kawaiso ni," she would say. [Laughs] She was mortified that I was treating my husband like one of the kids, and she said -- so she started cooking separately for him. And then she started to wait on him and she would make his coffee, and she would pour it in a cup and then she would put the sugar in it and she would take a spoon and she would stir it, and then give it to him on a saucer. And so I remember one day my mother went to visit one of my brothers, which she often did, and Yosh said he'd like a cup of coffee so I just poured a cup of coffee and handed it to him. And he was, "Ah, this doesn't have any sugar in it." And I said, "Well, I'm sorry, the sugar is right there, you could put it in yourself and you could stir it. I'm not going to be like my mom." [Laughs] And then, or eating oranges, you know, he never ate oranges because, he loved oranges but he wouldn't eat it because it was too much trouble to peel it. So my mother would peel it, she would divide it into little sections, she would put it on a little platter and you know, like a silver platter. And I'm going, oh -- and then she should, and then she saw Yosh, he was going on a lot of trips on his business trips and so he, the night before, got the little shoe shine thing out that we had, which he had bought and he was shining his shoes, and my mother looked at that and she looked at me and she said, "Mo, what is the matter with you? I trained you better than this, as a housewife. You shouldn't let your husband polish his own shoes." So she started polishing his shoes. I said, "Well, he used to do that in the army," you know, he was kind of an orderly for his officer, you know, he used to, and I said, "He knows how to do it better than me." [Laughs] And, so on and on, my mother in the sixteen years she lived with me, with us, she waited on him, and they loved each other. They just got along so well, better than my mother and I. So I thought that was, so we were really a wonderful trio of people, and she was like my wife, you know, she'd get up in the morning and make my lunch and make my coffee, and I'd take my lunch and go to work. And I would have to, of course, pick up some gro-, you know, she didn't drive so I'd have to pick up the groceries and come home and plan the meal, but she would cook it. But we, and then she had the house cleaned and so forth. And sent my husband, we had a laundry, dry cleaning person to come to pick up the dry cleaning so she would gather his dirty clothes. He had to do that before, by himself.

But, when I was, so I was working, I was getting involved in the women's movement, and my husband, as I said, made a lot of jokes about it. So did my brothers. But he never, he never interfered with the things I wanted to do. If I wanted to go to a rally or a protest march against, against the anti-abortion people or something like that, he was right there and he was willing to take care of the kids and stay home, and do that. We did have funny little things going on because one day he wanted to, he had to go on a business trip for the American Chemical Association meeting when he was giving a paper. And I said, "How long will you be gone?" He said, "Well, I think I'll probably -- I have two sessions and I'll probably be gone for about four days," because it was in Philadelphia or something, and when you go to the East Coast it takes a whole day to travel and then come back. And I said, "Why don't you take Hedi with you?" Hedi was about five or six years old at that time. I said, "Why don't you take her with you?" "Why would I take her?" I said, "Well, because I have this thing going on," and she was in kindergarten or first grade and she came home in the middle of the day. You know how that is where the first grade and kindergartners, they don't go to school for the whole day yet. And I, we didn't have like after school daycare the way that my daughter has. So I have to get a babysitter and Mom was gone, and because she was with us so much, we had no person, I didn't want to call just anybody to take care of her. And so I was telling him, and he said, and I said, "Well, look, when I go to a conference in the women's movement, they always have child care. Now why doesn't the American Chemical Association encourage their men to bring their children and have daycare so they could -- [laughs] -- to free their wives and so that they can bring their small children and put their children in daycare, and then you can go to your meetings." He said, "Well, I'm afraid they haven't gotten to that point yet." So I was just trying to make a -- I didn't think he would do it -- but I was just trying to make a point. And so my husband was telling, telling my brothers, you know, "Your sister is something else." [Laughs] And my brother said, "Well, it's your own fault. You're the one who married her." [Laughs]

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

AI: Well, you know, also in the period of the late '60s, so much was going on in the late '60s because there was the Civil Rights movement was still going strong, the anti-Vietnam War movement had risen up and then also at that time you were, it sounds like, doing quite a bit of reading of the feminist poets, and at that time you were --

MY: Yes. It was also, I think I had written an essay about the Asian American women. I had become so involved in the white women's liberation movement, because in fact that's what it was. And I was usually the only "token," you know, and I got tired of being the token. And then there was a period when I thought well, okay, it's okay to be a token. At least there's a token, you know. But then after that period, past that period, you said, "Well, okay, it's time that there was more than a token." And so we had a meeting. I think Nellie Wong and a few of us met, and we invited some young people, young Asian women, who were younger than us, who were somewhat disillusioned with the women's movement because it seemed to be a white liberation, women's liberation movement; that it didn't include the issues of the, of Asian Americans. And they were being constantly asked, "Are you an Asian first, or are you a woman?" You know, that kind of... and so we thought that we should deal with that question. And then when I started to... I joined the Multiethnic Literature of the United States group and they had a component, they had a few workshops -- there was a white woman by the name of Katharine Newman who had written a book of Asian American women's short stories, I think -- edited it. She was one of the few, first people to become aware of the need for this segment within the women's movement. And so she was the one who, from MELUS, from Multiethnic Literature in the United States, she was sending me to the Modern Language Association conferences which were going on in New York and Chicago, and on the East Coast and the West Coast. And I was doing that every year for about two or three years, giving papers. And I'm not a scholar, I'm not a... maybe I was trying to be, but I was not a very good one. But I was writing these papers about Asian American women writers' awareness of their writings and there were few writing. And Katharine actually had to twist my arm because the conference was always in between Christmas and New Year's. And it totally ruined my Christmases because I was very insecure about my papers and I had to write it over and over. Because I felt I was -- and there were going to be all these scholars in the audience and they're going to find me out, whatever... [Laughs] I don't have a Ph.D., I only had a master's degree so I just, so I just had all these insecurities about doing this, but Katharine said, "You're the only one, you're the only one who can do it." So I was doing that and then I noticed that there were always about 600 some workshops at the MLA about all different kinds of things that were going on, and the Asian American Women Writers segment that I was doing was like 641st session, the last day at eight o'clock in the morning or something like that. By that time half, most of the people are leaving... I'm sure you've been to these conferences. In the morning, it was at the Sheraton Hotel in New York, I had my sheaf of paper, I was going to my workshop, to give my paper, and I passed by the lobby and there was this long line of people checking out. "Why am I doing this? There's not going to be anybody there," there were just a few people there, but -- I mean there were quite a few people there but -- I remember thinking, you know, "Why am I doing this?"

So then the following year, I think it was about 1981, we -- I don't know if I have it in here -- [referring to written notes] I, Katharine and I and another friend, Helen Jaskoski got together and we decided to have a separate Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States conference, and have people of color, and their writings, gather together. And never mind the MLA, we just were always being treated like stepchildren with them. So we decided to do this and so now, the MELUS has a conference about every two years in different parts of the country, actually. In 1992, a few years ago, I think about two years ago, my writing group that I have, went to do a reading there and things like that. So it's been kind of gratifying to see this organization growing and having that part of, something that you kind of thought about, to grow in the way that it did.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

MY: And so, and then, of course, my writing. I organized the... at first I, I was getting tired of always being the teacher in the classroom, and always being a teacher and the only, with one Asian student, I mean, it was mostly white students at Cypress College. And I felt like I needed some colleagues, and most of my friends, colleagues were writers and poets were up in San Francisco. And so I thought there must be something around in Orange County. So I started sending out kind of a position paper to say I would like to start the Asian American women writers group here in Orange County, and I asked if people would be interested. I'll have my first meeting at my house at such and such, and several women showed up, and that was sort of the core group. About six of us started as an Asian American writers group. And we were, we just made kind of a mission statement that it was just going to be a group of women, we will bring our writings to the group. And then that didn't work because we were all professional women, we were too busy, and so then we decided, well, why don't we do this: why don't we meet all day Sunday or Sunday afternoon for about four to six hours and we will do our writing there. I mean, it was just shut out the whole world and we just stay in the room together and write. And that worked out quite well because we didn't have, you know, took the telephone off, it was just my husband and me at home at that time. And we holed ourselves up in the dining room and we started to, we gave ourselves topics. And I remember... another one, we, the six of us turned around and they said, "You know, every one of us were married to a white guy. Mitsu's the only one who's married to an Asian, to a Japanese American, and why is that? Why does this happen?" And so then, so we said, "Okay, that's our topic," and so we start writing on "why I married a white man," you know, and that was quite interesting. And then we came back, we read each other's papers. And one of the women did something with it, published it, but most of the time it was just sort of rambling. We didn't worry about structure, we didn't worry about whether it was a poem. We just thought it was important to write about these issues. Like a journal entry. And so we started meeting, we were meeting twice a month but that got to be a little bit much, so now we meet once a month. And we have been together for almost twenty years. The composition -- we only have two members of the original group left, but it is no longer an Asian American writers group, it is called a multiethnic -- MultiCultural Women Writers because we decided, we thought well... we were having trouble with being exclusive, because one of our things was that we kind of resented the exclusivity of certain white organizations, that we got excluded from getting published and so forth. And so when some of the women like Italian American women or Jewish women, Hispanic women wanted to join our group, we talked about it and -- what shall we do? And we just decided that it was not politically correct. It just didn't feel right to tell anybody no, you can't join us because of such and such. So we changed our mission to any woman who is writing from the perspective of a feminist ethnic and multicultural perspective is eligible to join the group. And so we have one woman who is a white woman, who was, she is an American Indian literature expert. She's been a scholar and isn't an American Indian. She's written a lot and published material by American Indian women, and so we thought well, Helen was eligible. So we have quite a range of people in our group.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

AI: Before our last break, you were just on the point of, your husband Yosh had retired from Bell & Howell, and you were then going to be moving to Irvine.

MY: Yeah, okay.

AI: And what were you doing at that time with your writing?

MY: You know, I collected a lot of, you know, during the time I was in bed a lot, I was working, too, but I had to get my lungs cleared out in order to be able to breathe for a day or two, and so it's a very tiring process. And so I, after work I was just exhausted so I would go to bed and do a lot of reading or resting and writing. And essentially the stuff that I wrote during that time, I think I -- actually I threw it out because it just sounded a little bit too melodramatic. I wasn't really feeling sorry for myself but it just sounded really very personal in some ways. I wanted my children to get to know me, as a person, and so anyway I just decided that was not too publishable so I threw it out, I think. And my children later were saying, "Why did you throw it away?" They thought it would be kind of interesting to read. But I also had a kind of superstition about it, you know, that now that I'm not dying -- I had to get used to the idea of not dying, dying anymore -- hanging onto this thing at that period felt like, you know, once I've finished writing this thing, that that was sort of the end or something like that, and since it hadn't been quite finished, that it felt like I didn't want to have it around, and so I, I threw it out. And then I gave up my little stint with sculpting which was actually very funny because my husband is very artistic. He is not only, was not only artistic but he was a very fast worker, because he was a watercolorist. So he would get painting, and he would just whip up this gorgeous painting in fifteen minutes and I had never seen him sculpt before but I'd be sitting there, I'm kind of a tedious worker, like there's a difference between the Beethoven and the Mozart method of writing, of composing. Supposedly Beethoven, Mozart ever since he was a small child was able to have a whole symphony, musical composition in his head and he would sit down and write it all out. And that Beethoven was the kind of composer who plodded along. He wrote and then he rewrote. And so I was sort of a Beethoven more of sculpting, and I was sitting there with a glob of clay and I was just kind of working at it and working at it every day, and my husband one day couldn't stand it any longer. He was watching me, it just got too painful to him, so he said, "What are you trying to do?" And I said well... he said okay, and he sat down and he went b-b-b-b-b-b and he composed this beautiful little bird, you know? I'm going, oh.... [Laughs] I don't think that I have the talent. I don't have it, there's something wrong with my fingertips.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

MY: So I said okay, that's a phase of my life that I should put aside and I started to write. I belonged to, let's see, what was that group? Belonged to... it was not actually a group, a group of Orange County poets decided that they wanted to put together a collection of poems, and Jeni was still, let's see, 1975 she was about twenty-five years old, we asked her to design a cover and we called it Noon. So we just published a few poems, and then subsequently, later on when I belonged to this Orange County Poets that used to have open meetings in Laguna Beach, and during the Vietnam War there was a lot of political stuff, lot of political writing going on. And then the Orange County writers were being charged with being apolitical, that we were just a bunch of conservative writers who weren't doing anything significant. So we got together and said, actually the stuff that we're reading at the readings, you know, some of it is really very good. So we decided to show the world that Orange County was not full of John Birchers and we were, that actually we are very much aware of what's going on in the world. So we decided to counteract the reputation of Orange County poets and publish an anthology. So a fellow by the name of John Branden and I put together an anthology called The Webs We Weave and we published that, we self-published it. It turned out to be, it was quite successful, within the circle of Orange County writers. Some of the people, my friends used the anthology in their creative writing classes because there was quite a variety of writers in that collection.

So, some of that kind of activity I think kept me in touch with some of the poets of that period. And as we talked about my becoming, being introduced to some of the feminist poets, women like Alta who called herself a radical feminist, and she, and of course Nellie Wong came a little bit later in my life, but Nellie called herself the working-class poet. But they were a different brand of poets, you know, who were writing about actual, very elemental experiences right out of their own lives, which, in political poems. It was also a period when the academic world thought of political poems as being something less than aesthetically correct, you know, that poetry should not make a statement. Okay, if you want to make a statement you'd write an essay or write a political pamphlet or something like that, you don't do that with poetry.

But that, and I remember thinking back on my father's senryu period and the kind of comments my mother used to make about the difference between senryu and haiku. That senryu, that's just for men. I mean for men who are, they don't have anything better to do except write senryu, but that women, women should write haiku because it's a much more elegant form of expression. It's not abstract actually, because some of the senryu poems are very -- that the haiku poems are very descriptive of the seasons and so forth, but much more metaphorical in many ways. And so, and I remember thinking, that's right, that's the kind of poetry my father was writing, right out of his experience, you know, and many of the immigrant men and a few women who were writing about the condition of the immigrant lives, and their pain and their difficulties of surviving in a world that doesn't seem to understand them. And during that time in the 1960s, in the 1950s when my dad was meeting with the poets because he, well, he had this compulsion to form groups all the time. He couldn't help himself. [Laughs] So he organized the Senryukai in Chicago after the war and they used to meet again in our house. And by that time I was going to graduate school and I had kind of adopted my mom's rather, what, arrogant class-conscious attitude. And not only that, but then I was also listening to the New Criticism at University of Chicago. So the senryu type of poems that my dad was writing then seemed like second-class poetry, so I didn't really listen to it very much during those -- the way that I was very fascinated with them when I was a child in Seattle. And I thought oh, those guys, you know, they're writing all these little ditties, or something like that. And I really regret that I didn't sit down and take it seriously and talk to my dad a little bit more about this interest, you know, he just had this really consuming interest in expressing himself in poetry. And so towards the end -- well, he died in '53 -- that I had a few years there, like about five or six years that I could have taken advantage of our relationship, and reestablished some kind of a relationship that we had had when I was a child. But so much has happened to me during that time, so much has happened to him, and he was a little bit distant because of his war experience, he was very disapproving of my political activities and so forth, so that kind of kept us, kept a wedge in our relationship.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

MY: But as I said, so in the 1970s when I was thinking about publishing my writings, the way that the Camp Notes, my, the writings that I did in camp kind of came out of the shoebox was when I was in these writing groups, and you're working full-time and, "Oh my gosh, tonight is my poetry workshop, I don't have anything that I have prepared," and so you start going through your papers. I'd take out the blue shoebox and was going through the stuff that I wrote long time ago. And I remember kind of dredging that up and taking it to my poetry group and then kind of realizing that, they had no idea what I was talking -- I mean, I didn't explain what it was or anything. But I went to a weekend retreat that was being conducted by a New York poet by the name of Edward Field. And he is a very down-to-earth poet, one of the Beat poets from way back. He's a little bit younger than I am. He still lives in New York, he lives in New York City. And he, and I took my whole manuscript of Camp Notes. And at that time, I think when Alta said, you know, "I'd really like to publish these poems," and I looked at her and I said, "I don't really know if they're poems. I don't even know if they're good" -- you know, how can you tell? I remember asking her, "How could you tell that they were any good? How do you tell? How do you evaluate your own writing?" So when I heard that Edward Field, whose work I had admired for many years, was having a... conducting a workshop down by Ocean -- this little place in Oceanside, I applied and I went down there. And I spent the weekend there with him and many other poets, and he said to submit the manuscript to him beforehand and he would go over them and so forth. And he kind of handed mine back to me and he said, "This is incredible." And I go, "Really?" And that he -- and then he told the rest of the group that, you know, true poetry should come right out of the experience of one's life. And that really gave me a boost, to look at my poems in a kind of a new way.

And then Edward, I still see him off and on, we're both getting on in age so we don't travel as much as we used to, but... and then I showed my manuscript, told Alta that I'm kind of ready to -- and she asked me if I would like to revise it and I said, "No, I don't think so, I think I'll just leave it, them the way they are." There were a couple poems in there where I, when I took it to -- for instance there was one poem in there, in that book, that uses the word "biodegradable," and it had something to do with this old man who got -- I forgot the title of it but it was a story about -- "The Search and Rescue" I think it was called. An old man had gone outside, in Idaho, got outside the fence and I guess he was looking, the men used to look for the sagebrush and they would polish it up and they would become little artifacts on the coffee table. And he apparently went out to look for sagebrush, and he apparently got lost and he was missing, so we were told... so the group of us went out, you know, the way you kind of take, go in a row to look for -- obviously they thought maybe he was dead I guess by that time, but we all helped in searching for him, and of course they found he had died out there. I don't know what he died of, but... so I wrote this poem about search and rescue because it kind of, the irony, you know, of this man who kind of buried himself out there. And then the American Indians used to have their old people, you know, I don't know if you know the ritual of how they used to have old people wander off. And I thought, well, he had kind of wandered off and buried himself, because he was covered up with sand. That's why we had a hard time finding him. And they had to kind of dig him up and bring him back and get cremated or whatever it is they were doing, and they have a funeral service and so forth. I found that image, you know, the whole process kind of ironic. So I decided to write a poem about it. And that was one of the poems that I had taken to the workshop, and I thought well, they're not going to understand what this poem is about, so I put the word in, "biodegradable," you know, is he biodegradable? You know, as he goes into the ground. So that poem is kind of out of -- I forgot the word is when it is out of context of the history of the time -- because I don't think the word "biodegradable" was even a word in the 1940s when I was writing it. [Laughs] It was probably not even, maybe it wasn't even an idea in our mind, in anybody's mind. So anyway, that word is sort of out of context of that period. But most of the writing I think is pretty much intact except for the phraseology, I put the words in breath, breath units, you know, I wrote it down in breath units to make it look more like a poem I suppose, or something like that.

And that was in 1976 when Alta and Angel, her then-husband, decided that they would like to publish it. And they asked me if I had any more and I did have some but they were rather not intact so there were only about twenty poems, I think, in Camp Notes, and the rest of it -- oh yeah, I know, she asked me if there were any more camp poems and I said, "You know, going into camp wasn't the only, by 1975 going to camp was not the only thing I did with my whole life." [Laughs] I did other things with my life and I didn't want to publish a whole book of poems about camp life as if that was the only thing that ever happened to me. And so I said, "I have a whole bunch of poems about my mother," because I'd become -- because of the women's movement I've really come to appreciate who she is. I've come to appreciate the Issei parents and their, and my father's education and his training of all of us. And I wanted to sort of acknowledge their part in my life, and so the first part of Camp Notes has poems that I had written about my father and my mother, and some poems that I wrote in my mother's voice, through the period between camp and 1975. And then of course I wrote a few feminist poems about my relationship with my husband and some poems, other of my poems about awareness of my environment. And so that's what, it's a very small book because Shameless Hussy Press was a garage operation in Alta's house. And up until that time she was only publishing stapled books, they didn't have any spine, and I remember telling her, you know, "I would kind of like to have a spine." Because you know what happens to these books that are folded with the staples in, they kind of disappear on the bookshelf. Whereas a book that kind of sits on the bookshelf and you could see the spine and you have the title, then at least you can recognize the book is there. I was, had the discussion with Alta and she said... and so that was the first book with a spine that was bound that she published, but it was very, very small, so it still disappears anyway on the bookshelf.

And then in the meantime Alta was diagnosed with MS, multiple sclerosis, and so she has had to give up the Shameless Hussy Press. She's doing fine now, which is kind of amazing, but she -- so I needed another publisher for my second book so that took a long time. Twelve years is a long time between books. 1988 I published Desert Run. And then 1987 I got involved with Amnesty International and with the political prisoners movement, with my brother Michael Yasutake. And I have really not written that much poetry. But I have, I have enough of a collection maybe for a memoir, my essays. And you saw some of them, you know, the stuff that I had written about my growing up period and so forth, little bits and pieces. I should probably try to get those together and prose writings, and I have quite a body of poetry that, if I can get my act together and try to put that together, but...

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

MY: During, during the time in Irvine, I think, after I discovered that I wasn't dying any more and my health got better, I found a wonderful allergist who was able to help me with my, control my asthma, and so I felt a real surge of energy. And people often asked me, "How can you write and be active in Amnesty and teach full-time?"

Of course I, then I retired in 1989, but before that, I don't sleep very much, you know. The first, when I started writing was when I thought I was dying, and then my problems with, my breathing problem was asthma, I couldn't sleep very much. So I kind of get along with about five or six hours of sleep every night, and so if I go to bed at midnight, if I go to bed about eleven, after the eleven o'clock news and go to bed, I'm up about four or five o'clock. And so when I started, when I was teaching, I asked -- by that time I was pretty much of a veteran teacher, to start teaching later rather than eight o'clock classes. I asked for ten o'clock or eleven o'clock classes and I didn't mind teaching in the afternoon, because I found that I was just too mentally exhausted to write after I came home, after reading these creative writing, student writings, critiquing their compositions and so forth, it was just too much to come home and put my mind in -- so what it -- Jeni and I often say that we're kind of newspaper junkies, you know? You get up, get up in the morning and you get the paper, start reading to find out what's going on in the world, get the New York Times -- I used to read the New York Times and I'd read about five different papers. So I cut that all out, and so in the morning, your mind is fairly clear, you just really have to write while there isn't, you don't fill it up with all kinds of information before you do that. And so the night before you go to bed and sometimes I think of things that I'm writing during the night. And I used to tell my creative writing students that sometimes I write on the freeway while I'm driving, but, and I'm not very good in dictating to a tape recorder and so I often think, well, when I stop I'm going to write it down, compose a poem in your head and then you're going to write it down. And so I'd then drive into the parking lot, you park your car, you fumble around, and get your notebook out, and get your pen, and it's gone. And so I said, "Very often what I do is I just kind of pull by the, by the side of the freeway, and I just sit down and write it down when it comes to your head." And the students were going, wow, that's kind of weird, you know? [Laughs] "That's really heavy," one of the students said. [Laughs] And then they said, "Well, how about getting a..." "Fine, if you know how to get a tape recorder, but I'm telling you, when something comes into your mind about writing, you do have to write it down right away, and sometimes I have a pad and I'm trying to write it while I'm driving but that's kind of dangerous, so don't try that." [Laughs] And so forth, but they're the kind of things you have to figure out on your own that you're going to write.

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

MY: And so I think that when I published Desert Run I finally applied to Yaddo, which was a artist colony and they have musicians -- composers, supposedly Aaron Copland composed his symphonies there, and musicians', artists' and writers' retreat where you go. And I spent, I took a half year sabbatical, and I spent about four months there and I put together, I had all the writings from Desert Run so I kind of put those together. The problem with Desert Run was it starts out with a desert scene, you know, in California. I used to take students. My friend, biology friend and I used to take students out to the desert to teach an interdisciplinary course to biologists and to artists. And the thing that I began to notice was that at Cypress, the buildings start going up and the science building is there, and the art building is there, and the humanities building is there, and none of these students really communicate with each other. They become this very single-minded people. And so Flo and I -- she was my neighbor so we used to carpool together, and for years we'd be carpooling back and forth talking about our problems with our students and so forth. So we kind of hatched this idea of taking the biology students and the poets, my poets and her biology majors out into the desert, and put them together and talk about the humanistic condition, connection between science and art. And my husband was writing a book on science and art at that time, and so that was very helpful in getting, writing my Desert Run. And as I said, the problem was that I went to Yaddo which is way up there in Saratoga Springs. It was in April and it rained every day and these ferns were growing, I mean, growing five feet high, there were mosquitoes around, I mean the whole environment was tropical. I mean wet and damp. [Laughs] And I'm sitting in there trying to imagine Desert Run. [Laughs] Sand dunes, you know, and trying to... fortunately I had taken some slides. I was trying to put, when I do the lectures to students, Flo and I had taken a bunch of pictures with a 16-mm camera, and we had made some slides and I was lecturing about, and reading my desert poems before they were published and I had pictures of the desert. And so I went into town in Saratoga Springs to pick up, they had a little instrument rental place, so I picked up a slide projector and I brought it back and I just sat there and watched, looked at these slides of the desert and then I just... I think that was 1984, I had just bought my first computer. It was called the Atari Writer? It was like a toy, and I had gotten kind of used to it after a few months, it was just wonderful, you know, you could make your corrections and move text around which you can't do even in an electric typewriter. And so, of course, I couldn't take that with me because remember how -- I don't know if you remember how big computers used to be. It was no way portable to anywhere. And so I called up my husband and I said, "I can't write anything up here because I don't have my computer." [Laughs] I've had it for all of like two months, and he said, "Well, Shakespeare didn't have a computer, and how many plays did he write?" [Laughs] So I'm going, "Well, thanks, thanks a lot. And the reason why I'm not producing anything up here is because the whole place is... I can't write my Desert Run." I was just whining and complaining.

But I kind of, it was wonderful being in this retreat and not having the telephone ring. In the morning the cooks make you each a breakfast, they make your lunch and they put it in this little, like a factory lunchbox type, with a thermos bottle on top. You take it into your studio and you're in there for eight hours. You eat your lunch and then you finally come out, and it took a little while, I just had too much time, you know? [Laughs] I mean, nobody was interrupting me and there was no refrigerator. I mean, you do all kind of things to keep from writing and it was just totally distracting because there was no distraction. And so it took me, it's a good thing I was there for four months or so, because the first few weeks I was just... and then I got to the dinner table and everybody's writing about all this stuff they were writing and I thought, there must be something wrong with me. I'm not writing anything. [Laughs] I didn't dare tell anybody. I did find one woman who was kind of, was getting the same feeling. She had just come in from, she was from San Francisco -- Odette was roaming around in the forest one day and she finally came to my cabin because my studio cabin was way deep inside the forest, in the woods. And she was walking around and she saw my cabin and she came in and she said, "I know we're not supposed to visit each other" -- you know, that was one of the things against the rules, they discourage, no writers getting together and gabbing because, of course, you can't get anything done. That was why the, telephoning was forbidden during the day and so she said, "I know we're not supposed to visit but just wondered how you're doing." She said, "I really -- I don't know what to do, I just can't get started." And I said, "Oh my God, I'm having the same problem." So we sat down and kind of commiserated which was helpful.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

MY: So I came back to Cypress after my sabbatical and there were, some other things I did at Cypress, was I tried to initiate a women's -- one of the things I noticed about some of my students, older students who were coming back to school in the 1980s as a result of the women's movement, when their children grew up and they finally didn't have anything to do. And I started a half-unit course called Women in the Community which was taught, it was a lecture course once a week, and I asked -- by that time I had quite a large group of women who were professional women. So I asked, women who had become a lawyer and a doctor, to come and talk to the women who were trying to come back to school but they were afraid to because they felt a little bit strange going, becoming a freshman. You know, they were thirty-five and the students are eighteen years old, and they feel out of place. And so I thought that if some of these women could be encouraged to come on the campus to come to this lecture, to hear older women talking about their experiences, and that many of those women also went back to school and got a Ph.D. or whatever. And so the first semester I had, I think I used up all my friends, every week, to come and lecture. And at the end of the semester I had the women write evaluations, and I was kind of devastated because half of the women wrote that it was very discouraging, because there was just no -- "Now I'm thirty-five years old and if I went to medical school I'll be fifty by... and these women are just really high achievers, this woman is a lawyer." And they just felt like there was just no way they could achieve the kind of things -- and I thought oh, I made a mistake. So the following year I called around and found a group of women who became paramedics, who went back to school and did, and got real estate licenses, who, kind of made, makeovers -- "Well, I've been home for fifteen years as a housewife and mother, just right out of high school and I haven't done anything with my life and I want to, now what do I do? My kids are in high school right now," and so -- and then many of them just didn't feel like starting from scratch and becoming a doctor, you know, surgeon or whatever. So that was kind of an object lesson for me. I thought ooh -- I don't know why I didn't think of that. When I read the first paper, it said, "I found this course to be very discouraging," and I thought my God, it had the opposite effect of what I thought it was supposed to do. And so, and there was one woman who was a great swimmer in high school, and she raised her kids and she taught them how to swim and everything, and they had a home with a swimming pool. So she started a swimming school, and so I had her come. And then there were a couple of women who started a housecleaning business between the two of them, and they went to various women's houses. We Do Anything, I think they called themselves. "We do anything; we'll clean your refrigerator, we'll clean your garage or whatever." And they got a very -- of course they would be wonderful today. A lot of professional women, working. Of course, they now have professional cleaners, but they were so, they were so cute, that's a kind of sexist expression but they came and they were just wonderful. And then some of the feminist health clinic women came and talked about how they came to do that. So that was a very eye-opening experience for me, because you don't have to become a professional. You can fulfill your life with whatever interests and talents that you have, and so that was a very successful year.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

AI: Excuse me. Speaking of eye-opening experiences, I wanted to back up a little bit in time because you had your own incident regarding job and career and discrimination where you actually ended up bringing suit. When was that, in 1977?

MY: It was in 1977.

AI: Or you filed grievance.

MY: Against my boss. I started working at Cypress in 1969, I think, yeah, 1969, and about ten years -- you know, I'd been working there ten years, I was supposedly a pretty experienced teacher. Well, part of it was I was not -- I was not, no, I was sort of not aware of other people's reactions to what I was doing. My daughter, who's worked with autistic kids, that's part of their problem, they just keep -- you do what you do and you don't watch other people's reactions to what you're doing. I was kind of doing that, because I had become, having a missionary zeal to do with the women in the community. That was in 1977, introducing these things and trying to change the department, and trying to introduce -- why don't we have a course in, you know, let's see, what was that? Women's role in literature, and why don't we have a course in Shakespeare, you know, The Taming of the Shrew and that kind of thing, the Wife of Bath stories. And so I was getting kind of a reputation in my department of trying to counteract the patriarchal structure that was really what we were living in. And I had no idea that I was threatening the chair of the department so much. And he, my office mate was the one who was telling me that, "And then you correct his language and that makes him, really freaks him out." But he was, he was making statements like, "Well, I don't know what you're complaining about, I gave you World, you wanted World Literature so I gave you World Literature." And I'm going, "World Literature is not yours to give me." You know, I mean, it's there. [Laughs] That kind of language, which is very patriarchal and patronizing language that he was using. And so my office mate said that that was kind of not politically correct thing to do, because men hate those kinds of things, you know, being corrected for their gram -- especially in the English department.

And so anyway, he tried to get rid of me by transferring me to Fullerton College temporarily. And he had an excuse by saying that it was because of the necessity, because of the changes in enrollment patterns and so forth. And then I went home and I was thinking about this, and I called one of the other faculty members to find out if this was right, and he said, well, actually he doesn't have a right to transfer you to another school, it was to another sister college in Fullerton. That was where I came from, you know. Because I think there's a board policy that says if you ever move a faculty member into another school, or out of the regular position or even another department, that you have -- when that becomes necessary there has to be a faculty meeting, and you have to ask for volunteers, and if no volunteers are forthcoming, number two, you have to go in order of seniority. And the fact is I was one of the senior teachers there. And so I went back to school and I confronted my chair about that, and he said that couldn't be helped because it was a matter of emergency. I said, "Well, that's what they said, you know, during World War II when they evacuated Japanese Americans, that it was a matter of emergency or national security or something like that." And so I thought about it, I thought, this is very strange.

But it really, it turned out that he was not only a sexist, but he was a racist in some ways, I think. And I don't like to find racist people under, you know, everything that people do because they don't like me or... of course, I have my faults and they might not like what I'm doing, but after I filed the lawsuit, the grievance against him, one of the other women who was Asian American, Japanese American woman who was working in the nursing department said, she had met my chair at a meeting and she had just come in from another, from Fullerton. She had been transferred into our school because they moved the nursing school. And she said that he, she had not met me yet, and didn't know what was, hadn't known the history of what was going on at that time, and that was just in the middle of my grievance and he was still smarting from that. And so he met this faculty member, Japanese American woman, and he said something about, you know, "You people," da-da-da. So she said, "I didn't know what he was talking about, you people who? You people, nurses?" Whatever it was. And then, he really meant "you Japanese American women" or something. It was a couple years later when she got to know me she said, "Now I remember when I first moved to Cypress, you remember..." So you recognize the pattern, you know, of the scene and of course I had a very difficult time having people support me. Members of my committee, of my faculty, my fellow faculty, and sister faculty members, were afraid of losing their jobs. Jobs were becoming very scarce in this college circuit altogether. We had many part-time workers teaching. And so I kind of felt very alone in fighting this, and of course when I won, everybody came by and congratulated me, and thought that, "It was very brave of you to do that." And you know, "Where were you when I needed you?" But I found that this would be like a prize fight. People like to sit around the ring and watch these two people duke it out, to see which side is going to win. I mean it's a kind of -- it's a very good image, you know, because people are afraid of getting, they don't want to get into the ring and get involved with getting bloodied and so forth. They would rather see which one is stronger and which is going to win. But it was kind of discouraging to me for a while. I just thought... but I did have a few very strong supporters, my office mate, a few people were really very supportive. But I thought I was doing it for everybody. It was the first lawsuit, grievance, that was ever filed in the history of the school. No faculty member had ever filed a grievance against an administrator. And I just thought, you know, they think they can do anything they want to because they're your boss, but they really can't. And when your colleagues are not supporting you, it's kind of -- it's disillusioning, actually, and disappointing. And sometimes things like this happened to my children, among their classmates and so forth, and I really understand, you know, how damaging it is to the, but I suppose you can say well, that's human nature, but it's very hard in the beginning. And then I had -- I think I had my older -- Mike in me a little bit, because I kind of got up and dusted myself off and went on, went on with my life. It didn't really destroy me. So that was one part of teaching. And then, and then I retired, actually, in 1989. And after that I've been doing mostly political prisoners work, which has been very interesting for me.

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

AI: Excuse me, before we get into that, something else that happened in the '80s was that you went back to Japan.

MY: Yes, I did. That was interesting. It was the first time since 1935 that I went there. And I had a cousin who was the president of a publishing house and he used to come out here. I mean, he was trilingual, he had a publishing house where he translated Japanese -- English novels like John Steinbeck and Faulkner and so forth into Japanese. And he was publishing Camus into, and Colette into Japanese. So that was, it was a very unusual and wonderful publishing house. And so he used to come out to California to visit occasionally and I thought, oh, this is just great. A liberated Japanese man who just seems so worldly, and he spoke fluent English, he spoke fluent French and then I went to, he lives in Tokyo with his wife and three children, with two girls and a, his son. And I went there and he was just a totally different man. I mean, he was just like any other husband, who never came home at night. I never had dinner with his family because he went out after dinner and he came creeping home about two or three o'clock. And because of my time change, I was up in the middle of the night and he came in -- I thought gosh, Kazusuke, what time is this, three o'clock, you know. What are you doing? I said, "What time, what time does your company close?" And he said, "Oh, about six." And I said, "Well, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, one, two," I said, "That's eight hours. What are you doing?" He said, "Oh, I go out to dinner and entertain, you have to have business meetings after working hours to talk to clients, and to talk to writers and to translate their work and things like that." I said, "Well, that's eight hours -- that's like a whole 'nother working day, you know, and what do you talk about for eight hours?" [Laughs] And then I was talking to his wife and his wife would always say, "Matta ku, Mitsuye san ga ii koto iutte kureru," she's absolutely right about this, you know. So he thought I was kind of ruining his family life but he...

And then one day I went to his company, he asked me to come to his... he had a chauffeur and he was driving me around and then he was sitting in the front seat and I was sitting in the back, with his wife, Yoshiko and I were sitting in the back and he said, "Do you want to see my office?" And I said, "Oh yeah, that would be" -- a publishing house? Really great. So we stopped and he told the, his chauffeur, and he told his wife, he told his chauffer, "You stay here." So I said, "Come on, Yoshiko, let's go out." You know, so she kind of giggled and started going out, and we got -- he told her to wait in the car, and I said, "You don't have to wait in the car, you can come with me." So we got into the elevator, because his main office was up on the fourth floor or whatever, and we got in the elevator and I saw her looking like this. And I said to her, "Have you ever been here before?" And she said, "No." So I said, "Kazusuke, how many years, how long ago did you move here to this building?" And he said, "Oh, about four years ago," or something. And she's never been here. [Laughs] And so then we got into his office, and it was just sort of like the big press room with all the editors, there were all different editors, you know, in different languages that were sitting in... and so we got out of the elevator and stepped out and all of a sudden all the editors got up, and they bowed. They were bowing as we walked down the corridor -- his office was way in the back. And I thought whoa, this is really something. And so we got in, because he's a shacho san, he is the CO, the commanding officer. So we went into his room, into his office and he had to make a couple of phone calls. So Yoshiko and I sat down, and suddenly there was a knock on the door and she came in, and she came in with some tea, she had this little tray, and she kind of bowed and she set the tea down on the table in front of the two of us, and then she kind of sidled backwards. She didn't even, she kind went, kind of shuffled backwards and -- now when is this? 1980, yeah, it was 1979. She, and then she kind of fumbled for the doorknob behind her back, to get out, and then she got out, you know, and then my cousin was talking and I said, "Did you train her to do that?" [Laughs] I just could hardly believe that she was -- well, first of all I asked him, "Who is she?" He said, "Oh, she's one of my editors." And I said, "Well, do any of the men do that?" And he said, "Do what?" And I'm going, you know, serve tea to everybody. And then, in the meantime his wife who doesn't understand English is saying, "What did she say, what did she say?" [Laughs] Was asking what am I talking about, so I translated it for her and she said, "Oh yes, she's one of the editors." And so we, and then my, and then my cousin said, "If you're going to mind everybody's business all the time, Sonna," -- the Japanese was -- "Sonna irankoto bakari." You know, "You're don't have to be, you might be kind of a busybody all the time -- go back to (U.S.)." [Laughs] I mean, he was kidding, you know, but it was just sort of like, "Why do you have to comment about everything, single thing that's going on around here?" So after I came back, I had this little postcard that said, "If you want the job done, hire a woman." They used to have that little, so I sent that to him. [Laughs] But it was interesting... and then when I came back, my brother, who used to lecture in Japan, looked up Kazusuke-san of course. He came back about a few months later and he said, "What did you do in Japan? They're all still talking about you over there." [Laughs]

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

AI: Well, many things happened in this period of 1980, '81.

MY: Yeah, right --

AI: You also were involved in the production of the film Mitsuye and Nellie, and that sounded like a quite significant --

MY: That was. I think it was partly because I worked with Nellie Wong, the two of us, which we had worked very closely together. And we, of course we filmed separately, but we also filmed together. She came to Minidoka with us, and that experience was very eye-opening for her as well.

AI: Had you been back to that site of the Minidoka camp?

MY: That was the first time, and one of the mistakes I think that we -- it took us too long to film that. It was very expensive for them because I couldn't get through some of the poems. It was the first time that I -- the thing is, the whole area was very, very different-looking. You know, when we first got there in 1942, it was very barren, really felt like the end of the earth, you know, like Mars or someplace. And so when we first got, when we first arrived, and drove up there, it looked so different. It was very green, I mean, there were trees -- it wasn't very green, but it was trees and there was vegetation and farmland and then of course telephone wires and so forth, so you didn't get the sense right away. But then once I started reading my poems in front of the camera and kind of recreating that moment, it was very hard for me. I kept breaking down and I'd have to say, "Oh, let's cut," so it just took about, something that should have taken a few hours took two days.

AI: It sounds like it was a very emotional experience.

MY: Yeah, and what I should have done, in retrospect, was to have gone there in advance a day before, and kind of absorb the scenery, and thought about my poems and thought about that period and got that out of my system, and then done the reading. So poor Allie and Irving, they kind of had a hard time trying to record it. But for them, too, and the people who were living there, it was very interesting, because there was a woman who had said that she'd been digging in her garden and she found marbles, she had this little cigar box. Wooden, they used to have these little wooden cigar -- a box full of, sort of artifacts. And she was digging in the garden and she found some marbles and rusted equipment of some -- a rusted barrette or something. And some, a teacup and things like that. Broken teacup. And she brought them out and she said, "I found these. Must have belonged to the people who used to live here, in one of those camps." You feel like gosh, like some kind of a, archaeological artifact, you know, that was dug up from the earth. A piece of history, you know, that she -- but the people who were there, the farmers who had -- the homesteaders there, were somehow very aware that something very his-, they were quite conservative because in 1979 and '80 they had Reagan stickers on their car bumpers, bumper stickers. And so we kind of knew where they were politically. But they were also very aware that something rather momentous, historical had happened on this, on this land. And they were very curious about us. And so -- and then one woman said that they were, yeah, "I remember my parents were German, and we kind of understood what had happened here," you know. That was quite interesting. So I think the making of the film itself touched a lot of lives. And the film was by Allie Light, who's a feminist poet herself, and Irving Saraf, whose parents were in concentration camp in Poland, because he's Polish. And so they had, there's a whole history behind their experiences. And it was just, I mean, they are, they have become very close friends of mine. We have a lot in common and they have made some very significant films since then, that one that won the Emmy award and so forth. So I've been very lucky in meeting some great people in my, because of my writing and because of my poetry, and it has been kind of an in to finding wonderful friends that I've been able to become close to.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

MY: I was not involved in the NCJAR. NC, let's see, National Council for Japanese American Redress, and let's see. William Hohri's group was NCJAR, right? And the other group was what? NCRR.

AI: Right. National Coalition for Redress and Reparations.

MY: Reparations, yeah, right. So this NCRR was a legislative, was through the legislative process of going through Congress and so forth.

AI: Right.

MY: And the NCJAR was the thing that Shosuke Sasaki and I were supporting, and my brother, were supporting and trying to give money to. It was the court case, and so I don't know if you want me to explain that a little bit?

AI: You don't really need to explain the court case itself.

MY: Because everybody, yeah --

AI: Because that's fairly well-documented. But you know, I wanted to mention how I've been told by some folks that when the idea of redress first came up, that many Nisei didn't think that was such a good idea. And in fact some Nisei even felt that it was --

MY: Yeah, I heard about it like in the 19-, late 1960s, right when it came up. And then I've been really closely in touch with Shosuke. And I remember distinctly when it was because I was in bed a lot of the time at that time, and I was talking to him on the phone a lot. And so I followed it like, vicariously. There was no way I could get involved with anything else except my children and my job at that time, but... and as I said, your husband's book was wonderful, you know, because -- oh yeah, that's the way it was. [Laughs] That was absolutely, you know, and he captured it so well in that book, it's wonderful that he was able to write it. Somebody needed to write it.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

AI: Well, you know in those beginning days of redress and even into the '70s, the mid '70s, there were many people that didn't think that redress would ever happen, and even very close to, it wasn't until 1980 [interviewer meant to say 1988] that the redress legislation passed and was signed. Did you, what did you think? Did you --

MY: Yeah, I don't know, I felt when, when William came up with the idea of a court case --

AI: William Hohri.

MY: I was talking to Aiko, too, Aiko Herzig. My feeling was that it's not going to go through Congress, it's not going to pass through Congress. You're right, you need to -- and this is why, you know, I didn't have much money in those days. My husband had quit his job and we were kind of in a, was very constricted as far as going from two salaries to one salary when I was just working and I wasn't even well enough to work. But, so William needed money so I sent him money. That was a very interesting, having kind of a distant perspective of watching -- Mike used to, belonged to the JACL so he used to send me material from the Pacific Citizen that was going on, and then Shosuke kept me in touch with what was going on with Henry Miyatake. And so it was kind of interesting to see that two perspective. And my point of view, I thought, I think the court case needs to, that's absolutely right. That's the way that we should go because it's the only way that we are going to get the redress issues publicized. If the court case comes up and then there would be, it would become like a public record. With the redress, after you pay off the inmates, the internees, it's going away, it's going to go away. And even then, there were a lot of people who were objecting to paying the money. There were all kind of problems on whether or not the money should be used for community service of the general Japanese American community, or whether it should go to individuals. And I thought that it should go to individuals, but I thought the JACL position was kind of crucial, that they would... I thought it would go their way, you know, because their organization is quite large. But I'm glad it went through, you know, and then once when it did go through, William called me and asked me if I was thinking of accepting. "Are you thinking of accepting the money?" And I said, well -- and then Mike, my brother Mike, they were kind of both agonizing about whether or not -- shall we turn it down for the sake of, for symbolic reasons. And because of my personal situation at that time, I thought, "Now I guess I'm going to have to accept it, I have my children to look after and so forth," so we did accept the money, but... and the year that, that redress bill was signed, was 1990, wasn't it? 1989?

AI: I think what happened is -- well, in 1980 is when the first commission of --

MY: Yes.

AI: -- the federal commission, the bill was passed before that and then the commission was established.

MY: In 1981 was the year that they came to Los Angeles to, they came to Los Angeles for testimony and that was just exactly the time I went to Japan, because I had already made prior arrangements to do that and so I didn't appear. I think Mike did in Chicago or someplace. That was 1981, right? And then finally when the legislation was passed was in 1990, I think.

AI: I think 1988.

MY: '89?

AI: '88 is when it was signed, and then 1990 the first payments were given out.

MY: Okay, yeah, so that's the sequence. Okay, 1988, 1990. Because I was in Washington when they first had that first... I was in Washington for an Amnesty International board meeting in 1990, and then I saw Aiko and she gave me a pass, she got me a pass to get in -- you have to have a pass to get into the Hall of Justice and I was able to be there for that, which was interesting.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 42>

AI: What did you feel was the significance of this redress actually occurring?

MY: Well, I was very happy that it, that it passed. And it was wonderful the Isseis were finally getting it, but it just seemed a little, too little too soon to me at that time. Part, well...

AI: Too late?

MY: Too late, too little too late. Because the Isseis were, like, many of them were in wheelchairs, they looked as though -- you know, I thought, why couldn't they have done this sooner? I mean it was just, it was rather sad to me because most of them, you know, if they had asked my mother, in 1988, my mother was eighty-nine. 1990 she was ninety-one -- she was very clearheaded, she was -- but then what did they ask people who were over a hundred or something? A hundred or over a hundred? And by that time, so all of them were just act like, there was just no awareness of what was going on, they just brought their bodies into the Hall of Justice. Which I thought was kind of a sad ceremony. And, you know, what are you going to do?

AI: What about for yourself? When you finally received this thing in the mail.

MY: Yeah, I thought well, you know -- the recognition by the President? It seemed like it was a tremendous, tremendous advance to the recognition of Japanese Americans, I think. And at the same time, there were kind of different -- you had these mixed feelings, you know, because at the same time I was working with Billie Masters, my friend who was this Native American woman who has been going to Washington for years and years and years to try to get redress for Native Americans and not succeeding. But then what I did feel was that perhaps this would open the door for these other groups who are, even for the African Americans who are looking for some kind of redress for historical injustice that had been done to their people. I thought that was, for that reason I thought it would be a, was a good public relations thing, you know, but... I'm not sure that it has done that. From this vantage point, where we're standing right now. What do you think? Do you think it has?

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 43>

AI: Well, here we are, this is 2002, and I think perhaps what's important to consider right now is since September 11th --

MY: Things have gone backwards.

AI: The attacks of September 11th, yes.

MY: So my friend Marilyn Bach, who has been labeled a terrorist, all of the -- you know, her colleague, co-prisoners -- Carmen Valentin who had twenty years worth and she, Carmen Valentin had a ninety-eight-year prison term in 1980. And they were just, see, she was a Puerto Rican, and all the Puerto Rican women got sentences from upwards of fifty to a hundred years and they were pardoned by Clinton and so now they're out. And Marilyn Bach is alone in there and since September, September 11th, it just doesn't look very hopeful for her. And at one time it looks like oh, the Puerto Ricans are out, Susan Rosenberg and Linda got out. Linda Evans got out in January of this year, last year, when Clinton left office, and somehow Marilyn got through the cracks. It just seems like the luck of the draw or something like that, which should not be the way people should be imprisoned, you know? Some of these, all of these fifteen, sixteen other women that I was visiting and supporting through the last twenty-two years are now out, and Marilyn's the only one who's there, and it just, it's heartbreaking, actually. I wish that I could help her, but... I'm trying, but there isn't very much I can do. You really feel helpless at this point. And the political climate is such that, and this Iraqi war, saber-rattling is really very worrisome. And we're having a Minidoka reunion in Seattle this year -- next year, in August. And you were not, your parents were not, your parents were what, from Hawaii?

AI: My father was in Minidoka.

MY: Was in Minidoka. Is he still living? I don't know if you could run this by him -- I was going to write to the, I don't know who the organizers are, I haven't gotten a letter yet. I think I'll probably get it when I get home -- that I think the Japanese Americans should as a group, you know like this group, could come out with some kind of a public statement in support of the human rights of Arab Americans. Now we're getting together because of the incarceration, our incarceration in Minidoka during World War II. And the imminent, you know, the climate of the discrimination against the Arabs is really quite virulent at some times, and I think that Japanese Americans to whom this has happened, but way back in 1942, really were to speak out and we had a press conference and said, "I think that many groups of us should stand out for the support of the human rights of Arab Americans," that it would make some kind of an impact. What do you think your father would say to that?

AI: I'm not sure what he would say. But I know that a number of people have said that the parallels -- and in fact he did say that he had this same feeling that he did after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in '41.

MY: Exactly.

AI: That he felt that what was happening now --

MY: Yeah, so what we have to do then is, we can talk among ourselves and we can say, "Oh well, it's really something, isn't it?" You know, making this kind of observation, that we have to translate that into political action of some kind. And the only thing that I can, you know, we're all scattered, we don't know -- but then we're getting together at a physical space, at a time... we have time to discuss it among us who were in this place, and if we were to make a public statement at that time. And I think that probably in August it's not going to go away, it's gonna still be here. So I thought when I went home I might propose it to the organizers of -- I don't know who is organizing, probably a group of Sanseis, right? I hope it's not going to be too much of a... I hope that there will be some Sanseis in that group who would be politically aware enough to recognize that --

<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 44>

AI: You know, speaking of that -- because there are some Sansei including your own children who have this awareness, and before we go too much farther, I did want to go back and ask you a little bit about your children's awareness, and when did you start speaking to them about what happened during World War II?

MY: Well, my children accuse me, especially Jeni, you know, Jeni was about... what was that, twelve or so when they had the televised thing about -- 1942, so the forty-year anniversary, commemoration of that was something like 1982 or so? When Jeni was twelve, I think. What, she was born in 1950... no, she was younger than that so this had to be the -- maybe it was the twenty-year, 1962. 1942, '52, '62. In 1962, Jeni would have been about eleven or twelve. We saw the newsreel about this twenty year since the evacuation, incarceration of the Japanese Americans. And it was the first time that she had ever heard anything like this. She was watching it without too much connection to herself. Of course, and then my husband said -- and then they showed little snatches of the camps. And then my husband said, "Your mother was in one of those," you know. And then Jeni looked at me and she just said, "How come you never told me?" She started, she was, her eyes were welling up and she said, "How come you never said anything?" Like, I was saying, "Well, it was not as if I was hiding it or anything, it's just that nobody ever asked me, the subject never came up." And that was, I think at that point that we both started thinking about it, about why -- and then, of course, the essay that I wrote for the Last Witnesses was we both got together and discussed that and we said -- and the younger kids, my youngest daughter was two, they were like two, four, six years old, so they were romping around in the living room and they didn't even know what, even if I had explained to them, they wouldn't even understand anything. Probably your seven-year-old child wouldn't understand very much. I think you'd have to be about eight or nine to become aware of these kinds of issues. With teaching human rights issues to, like teaching the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" of Amnesty to small children, which I have done, I've lectured, you have to bring home to them on a very elemental level. You know, "How would you feel if you were accused of something you didn't do, and somebody locked you up for, or somebody punished you for something you didn't do?" Well, they wouldn't like it very much. "Have you ever been accused of doing something you didn't do?" And they all go, "Yeah, yeah, you know, my sister was" -- you know, that kind of thing. So you have to bring it down to that level, and then they understand. And so if you talk about the evacuation, the incarceration, the evacuation of Japanese Americans, it is, they're capable of understanding.

And so I think the education was very important, and I don't think that I did it with my small children, my children. Partly because it's a lot of work. You know, if you start something, you have to end, to continue, to kind of follow up on it. And with my grandchildren, I have bought books for them, and they have children's books now, which are wonderful. And so you read it to them without really making any kind of a point about it, but I think that even about the Hiroshima atom bomb thing, there is a, "something, no Pika," I think, called... no Pika [Ed. note: Narrator is referring to Hiroshima No Pika by Toshi Maruki] I think there are some children's books about that, that was kind of gruesome, but the children understand in their own level, they understand that. So if you start very young and not too heavily involved, political, about it... and so I think that Jeni, the one thing that Jeni says, that she had the sense that something was being kept from her. And so that she had, as a child has fears, you know, when something is being hid from you. And the other thing that we both talked about was that, if you keep secrets from children, no matter what it is -- whether you had been molested as a child, these kinds of things, and you keep a secret from your child and you have to lie about it, then one lie -- another lie has to cover up that first lie, and it kind of mounts through the years. And essentially a wedge is put between you and that child because you have to keep hiding something. If you hide it once then you have to be consistent and keep hiding it. And so if you try to explain to them things that happened to them on their own level, then they might not understand it at that moment, but then as time goes on, they would begin to -- oh yeah, Mom, Grandma talked about that, such and such, they would understand that.

So that's, hopefully that's the process. And I'm not an expert in this field by any means, but it's a start, what we're doing right now with the children. And Jeni has complete understanding of it, and she's trying to apply it to her kids, which is wonderful. And then my younger daughter with her, my oldest, my granddaughter, older granddaughter, my youngest daughter's older child is seven now, the same age as your child, and somewhere within the next two or three years we probably should start with her. She already knows about it because she's been to my readings. When I donated my papers to UCI we had a big reception, that was one occasion when all my brothers came together and we gathered together at my house and had a reunion. And I took Hedi, Alanna to the reading and she saw the exhibit, all the pictures of the family and so forth, and so... you know, sometimes she wasn't paying attention because she's not interested. But it's a start, I think, that we need to... so I think that we need to get, start with even white children in the schools, to expose them to the possibilities of what might happen to them. And you know, there was a time when you felt you shouldn't be, press things that, children have fears enough about getting kidnapped or different kinds of things, being afraid of strangers and things of this sort, and you don't want to compound childhood fears on a child about ghosts in the closet and things like that. But there is a way probably of balancing that a little bit, before, without scaring a child to death about something, and turning them into very paranoid, timid children. I think there must be a balance between the two.

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<Begin Segment 45>

AI: Well, and now that Jeni's an adult and her children are adults also, now you've both been published in this book the Last Witnesses.

MY: Yeah, and they came to the reading at the Elliott Bay Bookstore and you saw my grandsons were very much involved, and the youngest of Jeni's -- Adam is now twelve and he's getting to understand it, not completely. And so it's fun to watch the children growing up. And my girls, I just keep thinking, they're such good parents and I thought gosh, the way I raised my kids, they just seem to -- I had just let them fend for themselves. [Laughs]

AI: Well, one thing that, interesting thing that Jeni wrote in her essay for that Last Witnesses book was that she mentioned about how your relationship with Yosh, your husband and her father, how that had changed, how that shifted and that she was aware of that, that over the years that had shifted and changed.

MY: Yeah, that Dad used to -- of course, my mother was instrumental in keeping him, you know, in the level that he was. But he knew that I didn't... but then when my mother left and he knew that I had to do -- so he was very able to shift, you know. And he started to help me with the dishes and things like that, and so... and then he would, and my sons are really very, very conscious. And so yeah, I find that very, very refreshing. And both of my sons now live in Seattle, they love to come to the International District, they are in a bus-, my older son is an architect. But they really, they both, all my four children married white, have white spouses, so all my daughters-in-law and my sons-in-law are white. But, and we talk about that issue, too, about the out-marriage of Japanese Americans, and I think it's a good thing. We have succeeded in changing the spouses, you know, into -- the men to becoming feminists and the women to recognize racial problems of the Asians in this country and so forth, and it just gradually seems to change, you know, in the social structure.

AI: Well, we have covered many topics and times in your life.

MY: Topics, yeah, exactly.

AI: Is there anything else that you wanted to add, any other thoughts?

MY: No, I think that we just about covered everything. Maybe if you think about something, I guess -- as my brothers are always kidding me that I just talk too much, my mind is always, hopefully, it will continue to be active for a while longer. [Laughs]

AI: Well, thank you so much for all your time and participation.

MY: Thank you. Thank you, it's been really, it's really been a wonderful experience being here in Densho and seeing all the great work that you're doing here.

<End Segment 45> - Copyright © 2002 Densho. All Rights Reserved.