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-01-0003

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TI: Okay. Talk about your childhood, growing up in Gardena. What was that like?

DM: Gardena was a really unusual place at that time in one sense. It was fairly multicultural. We had a lot of Mexican Americans there, some African Americans, we had occasional Koreans and Filipinos and Chinese, but I would say about ten to fifteen percent of that community was Japanese American and that made it really unusual. So the culture of that community in Gardena was very much Japanese-oriented in a way. In fact, I didn't realize how much it was until I went back to one of my reunions many years later. And one of my friends who I hadn't seen for years, a Mexican American guy, said, "Oh, I gotta go to the benjo," the toilet. And I, using the Japanese word for it, it just struck me, here's a Mexican American guy talking Japanese, crude Japanese to me.

So it was actually fairly idyllic in some ways, because it was, you know, in those days, living in a small community, this was in the early '50s, you didn't have the types of problems you have today in the sense of -- children could go walk the streets, we'd walk to school, we'd take our bikes everywhere. It was kind of like a oblivious time, that whole '50s, so we kind of fit into that Ozzie & Harriet type of, type of family concept and life was good. There was nothing really controversial going on except for the chance the chance that you could be nuked in a second because of the, of the nuclear arms race between Russia and the United States. But it was actually fairly... it was a peaceful existence, you don't, you didn't encounter really strong racism. People would make comments now and then, but they were not, it wasn't as virulent as it is today.

TI: And those comments were from within the Gardena community, or was that from outside?

DM: Within. I mean, occasionally, white kids would say, you know, make fun of you, would call you a "Jap," but that was just very rare, though. And occasionally you'd get that while you were playing basketball with other schools or sports with other schools within your league in junior high and high school. But there wasn't as much racial tension, for one thing, in that community. And, in our high school, especially, it was fairly mixed. It wasn't ideal proportions but we had bits and pieces of everything and some larger percentages of Asian Americans, predominantly Japanese Americans; larger percentage of Mexican Americans. But we didn't have that type of overt racial tension that started to occur in Gardena later on, and everywhere else later on, for that matter.

TI: How about school? What kind of student were you, growing up?

DM: Uh... mixed. And I can only say this, I -- as far as academically, I actually got almost straight "A's" throughout my school years but I would get very bad grades in cooperation and work habits. And I think the problem was -- and I never quite figured it out -- I think I, one is that I talked too much, and I was causing trouble for teachers because I was, I was subtly unruly. We would do little things like, I remember once we had a substitute teacher, and we had, I had organized this little -- I don't know why, this is stupid -- but we had, we'd sit in these chairs like this. They're movable chairs with a desk. And whenever the teacher would turn her back we'd move our chair two inches forward. And then she'd turn around and she'd talk, da da, da da, da. And then, but she could hear it. And then she'd write on the board. Next time we'd move our chairs six inches forward. Pretty soon we're right next to her. She's turning around and she can't figure out what's wrong. She was starting to freak out. And then finally, finally some people started laughing and then she figured it out, and, but nobody finked on me so I didn't get in trouble. But I'd organize little small rebellions in class for different, you know, just to, just to make it interesting. So as a student I was actually a very good student. I got good grades. But I, and I wasn't really overtly rebellious. I think it was just, I think I talked too much. I liked, I liked just having a little more freedom than the classroom situation that was afforded us in those days was like.

TI: Well, it sounds like you were also an organizer way back then, in terms of organizing groups. Are there other examples of that, when you were growing up, as a kid, that you would do things whether it was sports or a work thing, or whatever, as growing up?

DM: Not on any formal basis. Informally, different kids in the neighborhood would take leadership roles and try to do what we wanted to do. And I can't remember specifically being this overwhelming presence or this presence that led my friends to do all these things all the time. You know, I tried to be a student leader. I was president of my junior high and high school. But that was -- and I can't understand why I did that, either. It was, it was probably out of some misplaced ego or... I didn't particularly like student government, and yet, I think it was the idea of running for these offices and just seeing what was out there.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.