Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Dale Minami Interview
Narrator: Dale Minami
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), Margaret Chon (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: February 8, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-mdale-01-0002

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DM: My father was an interesting man. I think he was very talented in a lot of ways. He used to be a terrific athlete. That's why he opened a sporting goods... he was undefeated as a tennis player in high school, on varsity, went on to play junior college tennis. He was an all-league basketball player at Gardena High School, went on to play junior college basketball. He was a one or two handicap golfer. He had just tons of trophies around our house. And he was a terrific tennis player. So he naturally -- maybe not naturally -- but opened a sporting goods store. I think he wanted, he was a man of -- very talented. He was very verbal. But I think the camps changed him dramatically. I think he lost an opportunity to be something much larger than he thought he could be. So he had this enduring bitterness that he pretty much suppressed, but it would come out occasionally.

TI: How old was he when he went to the camps? When he --

DM: He was born in 1911 so he was thirty-one. He was pretty much into his career. He did a lot of work in Little Tokyo so he helped organize the Nisei, first Nisei Week festivals. And he was involved in the produce industry. I think his goal was really to go to law school. And he had even mentioned that but he didn't have the resources, and in those days very few Nikkei ever went to law school.

TI: So he was really involved in the community, also, by the formation of Nisei Week, things like that?

DM: Very much so. I mean, I think that's partly where we get some of our ethos and our values. Both parents were very involved in the community. My father helped start the first JACL chapter in Gardena, or he was the founder. Very active in JACL early on, worked in many community organizations, and my mother as well.

TI: Have you ever talked to them, the, or did they talk about the importance of getting involved in these community things, why he did it?

DM: Actually, no. He never really talked. He did most things by example. Like, for example, he never really pushed us into sports. He never pushed me specifically to be a lawyer or my older brother to be a doctor. But as we know, this is that subtle psychological manipulation that Nisei are masters at. And for some reason we all knew we had to go to college. We all knew we should do this or do that. But I don't remember anything specific about him telling us to do things other than behave in a certain way in public and things like that.

MC: Didn't he have his business before the war?

DM: He did. He was a gardener. He was in produce, then he became, well, first he was in produce when he was in Little Tokyo. This was before the war. And then he opened a small sporting goods store at the basement of a men's clothing shop called Joseph's. That's, I think it's still there on First Street, right in San Pedro and First Street. At the same time he was doing some gardening because he couldn't make enough money in the sporting goods store.

MC: Did the sporting goods store cater mostly to the Japanese American community, or was it a broader clientele?

DM: It was kind of interesting. Before the war it was Japanese American and a lot of Japanese nationals because they wanted to learn how to golf. That was a status sport in Japan. So he had commerce and communications with many Japanese. After the war it was... he became, he moved to a sporting goods store, or opened a sporting good -- probably 1954 into Gardena. And to survive in Gardena you couldn't just cater to Japanese. So he became a part of the whole larger community, the Caucasian American community. And so his -- we sold gym shorts to everybody.

TI: Well, in fact, I think Lori says your dad's store had the monopoly on gym shorts.

DM: Yeah, we did. [Laughs] For the longest time. And, yeah, it was before Big 5 and some of the discount sporting goods came in. So, I mean, in that sense he was able to survive. Plus, he developed really good relations with the coaches at Gardena High School. So he sold all their uniforms, did all their trophies, and I think that was his, his primary source of stable income, was commerce with the Gardena High School. And the leagues, he helped start all these different leagues, baseball leagues, basketball leagues, football leagues. And so at the same time that he was starting these leagues he was selling sports equipment to them.

TI: It sounds like he was very active after the war. You mentioned earlier how you thought the war had changed him. Could you go into that a little bit more? What type of changes would that be?

DM: I think he was -- before the war; for example, give you a good example, he really tried to fight the whole exclusion in his own way. He testified in the Tolan Committee. His testimony, I still have the testimony, was basically economic one, is that to deprive California and this nation of the resources that Japanese Americans could bring to a war effort might, mainly produce, which is what he was in, would be foolhardy because people need food to wage a war. He also helped fund a radio commentator secretly to -- this guy was... God, I forgot his name, wonderful man, they honored him later on in life -- but he, he helped finance him to do these radio commentaries expressing opinions against the war. He was a Caucasian guy. Eventually, of course, the guy was blacklisted and could never get a job again. He was much more active, I would say politically. And after the war he avoided everything controversial, never wanted to get involved in controversy, whether it be political, and he realized that anything might be bad for his business. It could result in something detrimental to either his business or his family. So he kept a lower profile politically.

TI: Well, for him to be so vocal before the war, by testifying in the Tolan community, committees and doing things like that, how did the community react to that? Was that controversial? Because as a JACL founder down there, at least in Seattle, the JACL was taking the stance of, "Go along with what the government was doing."

DM: I think, he didn't talk about it much, but his position was that we didn't have a choice. We had to go along with the government. I mean, we should resist as much as we can, legally, or make our arguments, but once the order was made I think he felt that he didn't have a lot of choice. And so he never advocated open resistance. He never did anything like the, well, he didn't face the situation of the Heart Mountain resisters or Fred Korematsu or Gordon Hirabayashi or Min Yasui. So after the program started he went along with that program.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.