Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Roger Shimomura Interview
Narrator: Roger Shimomura
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary); Mayumi Tsutakawa (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: March 18 & 20, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-sroger-01

<Begin Segment 1>

AI: Okay. Well, today is March 18, 2003. We're here in Seattle with Roger Shimomura. I'm Alice Ito with Densho and videographer is Dana Hoshide. Roger, thanks again very much for joining us and participating in this interview. And I just wanted to start off at the beginning and ask questions about your early childhood starting with your name. What was your name at birth?

RS: At birth it was Roger Yutaka -- spelled with a "Y" -- Shimomura.

AI: And when and where were your born?

RS: I was born June 26, 1939 in the house that we were residing in, 946 Twenty-fourth Avenue South, which was five blocks south of Jackson on Twenty-fourth. And delivered by my grandmother, Toku, who was a midwife, and she had actually retired, I believe, the year before and came out of retirement to deliver me, in June. And I think present at my birth was my Uncle Rik Tanagi, who was my mom's brother. Because he always used to like to tell the story that the Japanese felt that it was better to be born at the beginning of a day than the ending of a day. And my grandmother was encouraging my mother to hold on and not deliver until after midnight. And my Uncle Rik said that he heard my mom yelling and screaming in pain and everything, holding me in because it was very close to midnight. And then finally, right after midnight, I was born. So I actually incorporated that into one of the performances that, that I did.

AI: That is quite a beginning.

RS: Yeah.

AI: A beginning story.

RS: And I think my dad was the one that was principally responsible for my first name, "Roger." I think it is a German name and my dad was conversant in German. And, which leads me to believe that that may have had something to do with him selecting a German name. And then my grandmother is the one that selected my middle name.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

AI: Well, could you tell me more about your father, his name and a little bit about his family background, and a little more about your grandparents?

RS: Well, my father's name was Eddie Kazuo Shimomura. And I don't have his birth date. But he was born here in Seattle, and to my grandmother and grandfather, obviously, that had come to this country in -- actually my grandfather came in 1906, my grandmother came in 1912. Then my father was born. He was the first to be born in the family. And then my, I had an Aunt, Fumi, that was born after my dad, and then I had an Uncle Mich that was third to be born in the family. Are you interested in them as well?

AI: Oh, yes.

RS: I think, backtracking a little bit, one of the interesting things was, because my grandmother had such a flourishing midwife business in Seattle, in the Japanese American Midwives Association, I've been told that she was the most active of all of them. And at least in all the pictures I've seen of that organization, she was always sitting in the middle in the front. That may or may not have indicated that, but in any case, her business was thriving to the extent that after my father was born, she -- and she became pregnant with her daughter, Fumi -- she realized that she was too busy to raise Fumi. And so she took my dad, and took Fumi and went to Japan to visit her mother and told her mother that she needed help because of her thriving business and needed her to raise either "my son or Fumi," who was to be born. She was carrying Fumi. And apparently she, my grandmother's mother, opted for Fumi because my father was about three years old at the time, and she said he was too "gasa-gasa," as she put it. And so my grandmother stayed there long enough to give birth to Fumi and then left Fumi with her mother and took my dad and came back to the States. And this is something that I wasn't aware of but when I took my Aunt Fumi's oral history, she told me this. And she actually stayed with my grandmother's mother for three years in Japan. And that's where she learned how to speak Japanese so well. And then she was sent back, after she turned three, with a Reverend Yamaka, I believe his name was. I'm not sure of that name, but she was sent back with the minister of the Methodist Church and rejoined my grandmother. So anyway --

AI: That is interesting. Well, and then, that leads me to ask you a little bit more about your grandmother and your grandfather, and their lives in Japan, as far as you know, about their family background.

RS: Well, my, my grandmother was born in 1888. And she went to nurse's training school and graduated, I believe, in 1903. I have a photograph of her in her graduating class. And then immediately following that, she was drafted into the Japanese Imperial Navy as a Red Cross Nurse. And because of her nurse's training, and so on, it was logical that that would happen. But she was sent on assignment to the Japan-Russian War, which was sort of at its peak, and was sent to the famous Battle of Port Arthur which was the decisive battle of the Japan-Russian War. And she was on a Red Cross ship along with a lot of other Red Cross nurses. And they were servicing those men that were being injured in the Battle of the Baltic Sea. And my grandmother wrote a story about that that has been published in several sources. But the story was about how they were expected to lose that battle against the Russian fleet, and she writes about how she was anticipating that suicide bills were going to -- pills were going to be passed out to all the nurses. And so they all cleaned their rooms in preparation to die, to save some honor in defeat. And then she talked about how she saw the bodies of soldiers washing in from the Baltic Sea and how they would count how many were Russians and how many were Japanese. And, but then as it turns out, the Japanese fleet defeated the Russian fleet and victory was theirs. And she described how they stood and screamed their banzais and so on. And so, shortly after that she was discharged from the Red Cross and she went to work. She was from Saitama Prefecture, and she worked in a very large silk factory and she was the main supervising nurse. And one of the employees at that silk factory was my grandfather's brother. And I believe his name was Seibi.

And my Grandfather Yoshitomi, had already immigrated to the United States. And he actually went to the United States six years before my grandmother, in 1906. And his intention, following his graduation from business college in Japan, was to come to America and make a lot of money, like a lot of the immigrants expected, and to bring that money back to Japan and retire as a wealthy person at a very young age. He was going to do that in San Francisco. And so he got on a ship for San Francisco. And the story is that a day outside of San Francisco is when the great earthquake hit, in 1906. And so the people on the boat had to choose another port and at that time the next closest major port was Seattle. So the boat swung northward and several days later they landed in Seattle. And, of course, he found out that life was not as easy as he expected it to be. And he ended up getting jobs as either a cook or a janitor, and ended up traveling all around the Pacific Northwest looking for work, and even for a period of time going up into Canada and living and working up there. And I remember he used to tell stories about working, cooking for the Elk's Club. And he talked about how, when he would leave the restaurant late in the evening, leave the kitchen, that there would be a couple of white men out there waiting for him and would stone him. And so he got injured several times. And so they made special provisions for him to leave out the back alley. And so eventually that problem subsided when they, the people that were doing that assumed that he was no longer working there.

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

<Begin Segment 3>

RS: So anyway, his brother Seibi was working in the silk factory where my grandmother was working. And he decided that a good marriage should be proposed here between my grandmother and his brother, Yoshitomi, and so he proposed this to both families. And the families, upon doing their investigation of each member decided that it would be an appropriate match. And photographs were exchanged between my grandmother and my grandfather. And they both approved. And it was at that point that my grandmother got on a train to say goodbye to all of her friends that lived in the Tokyo area, where she lived. And she kept a notebook that said what she was exchanging as gifts with all these people. And she was telling them all that she would be back in, probably within ten years, hopefully a wealthy woman. And, but those notes that she started then constituted the beginnings of her diary that was to be maintained for the next fifty-six years of her life, in this country.

So, the diary continued where she wrote for, wrote every day about her -- I think it was thirteen-day trip across the ocean. [Interruption] She wrote in great detail about the trip on the boat, and how everyone got seasick but her. And she talked about how, the quality of the food and so on and so forth. And she came with my grandfather's brother. And then, I believe on the thirteenth day, as they were landing in Seattle, there were sixty other photo brides on this boat. She described how they all ran to the front of the boat and they all had the photographs of their future husbands, that, of course they had never met, and how they were pointing to each other, trying to identify their husbands down below. And the husbands had their photographs of the, of the wives, and they were doing the same things from down below. And then, interestingly enough, for the next two weeks, in her diaries, she never mentioned my grandfather again. But she wrote profusely about Seattle and what it felt like to be there and what an interesting place it was and so on. And the stories, or the rumors of the family were that she felt somewhat disappointed, and felt that Seibi had somewhat misrepresented his brother. And if my memory serves me correctly, she did admit that she was somewhat disappointed, but was, also said very quickly that within a very short time period she changed her opinion of him and he turned out to be the most wonderful person that she could ever have imagined. And my grandfather certainly was in complete reverence of my grandmother. I mean, if there was ever a matriarchal family at that level, it was their family, because I had never heard him say anything disparaging about her. And he became almost like her servant in many ways, which was rather unusual for a Nisei family.

So anyway, so my grandmother, shortly after arriving in this country, applied for her midwife license and began the practice of delivering babies. And from 1912 or 1913 when she began, all the way to 1938, I believe, she either delivered or assisted in the delivery of over a thousand babies.

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

<Begin Segment 4>

AI: Well, and what about your mother's side of the family? Do you know much about her parents?

RS: I know a little bit. My mother, my mother's cousin, my mother was a Tanagi, and came from a very large family of nine siblings. Very interesting story on that side in that my grandmother, her name was Miki -- I don't remember her maiden name, but Tanagi was her married name -- she and her husband were born -- were, of course both born in Japan, and married in Japan. And they had four children, and left the four children with her parents and was never joined with them again, and never went back to America, until fifty years later when three of the four siblings had passed away from old age. The surviving one came to this country with her daughter and met her other five children that were born in this country, met them for the first time, and met her mother for the first time in fifty years. So that was an amazing story, which I understand wasn't that uncommon. Japanese people had slightly different feelings about having their parents raise babies. I mean, apparently this was -- at least at the time of immigration -- this was not so uncommon. Well, obviously it happened to an extent on my father's side as well, you know, where my grandmother left her newborn daughter to be raised by her mother for three years.

So, anyway, another interesting fact was that my grandfather, Tanagi, was also in the Japan-Russian war, and was an officer in the Japan Imperial Navy, I believe it was. So they were both, on both sides, were involved in that war. So, anyway, my mother had a total of nine siblings in that family. And --

AI: She was -- excuse me -- she was one of the five here in the U.S.

RS: Right.

AI: And so she had, was it three brothers here in the U.S.? And a...

RS: Yeah. She had, actually, actually... there were not four in Japan. There were three, and there were six here. It was Rik, Roy, and George Tanagi. And they were all commercial artists -- probably had the most to do with the fact that I became interested in art, 'cause they were my role models. And then there was an older brother, Johnny, and then there was my, my mom, and she had one sister, Sayo. And, you know, there was another one, too, the youngest one, that was called Nobu. And Nobu was always discussed among people, the older people, because he was this incredible athlete. And he was also a singer and he had this incredible operatic voice. But he also passed away in his twenties, of cancer. And I remember it was this great tragedy and everybody talked about Nobu. So anyway, so fifty years later, Chiyo, I believe was the sister's name that came to America with her daughter, Yoko, and Chiyo has since passed away as well as her brothers that were in Japan, but Yoko still survives. And Yoko has a daughter. So those are my only real relatives that are known to me.

AI: And excuse me, what was your mother's first name?

RS: Aya.

AI: Aya Tanagi.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

AI: So how did your parents meet and happen, come to be married?

RS: Well, you know, I asked my Uncle Rik that question and all he said was they grew up on this farm. That's where the University Village is right now.

AI: Here in Seattle?

RS: Right. And Rik said all of a sudden my dad started hanging around, and he made it sound like he just sort of suddenly appeared, and started dating my mom. And my dad, because he was a college graduate, held a certain stature in the community, because he went through at a time that it was really difficult to graduate, because he was -- my dad wanted to become a doctor, and he was in pre-med and the Depression hit. And so my grandparents wanted him to graduate very badly and purchased a grocery store in the Latona district, which is Wallingford. And they ran this grocery store in an attempt to make enough money to keep him in college. My dad felt that the quickest way out was to become a pharmacist, the quickest way to graduate and get a job, and so that's what he did. And so he had always hoped that one day I would fulfill his destiny and become that doctor. So my dad, who was a little older than most of the people of that time -- because my grandparents had come over a little early in terms of that big influx of Japanese Americans. So my dad was, actually had a job as a pharmacist for seven years when the war broke out. And I think the average Nisei was probably either in high school or in college, so my dad was sort of ahead of that, which made him too old to -- he volunteered for the 442nd but he was considered as too old. So he was a little out of step in terms of what the average Nisei was doing.

AI: Right. So really, compared to many of his Nisei peers, he was a little older, he had graduated from college. He was a professional man, he was a pharmacist.

RS: Right, right.

AI: And already married.

RS: So he started hanging out with my mom. And my mom went to Roosevelt High School. And it was shortly after graduating from Roosevelt High School, I believe she was working at the farm, that my dad... I think they met at some kind of party or something. And struck up a conversation and then started hanging out at the farm, as my Uncle Rik said. And before he knew it they were dating steadily, and they were married. And she was quite young, I believe, when they got married. And then I was born within a year of their marriage. And... yeah.

AI: And that was 1939?

RS: Right, right.

AI: So, now, at that time, do you know whether, in your household, was it your parents and you, and did your grandparents or any other relatives live with you at that time, do you know?

RS: There was, at some point there that my grandmother and grandfather were, on my father's side, were living with us. I was born in, as I said, in 946 Twenty-fourth Avenue South. I believe that prior to that time, my grandparents were living with my parents, prior to my birth. And then, then I was born and I believe they continued to live with us until the war. And then at that point, when we got back from camp, they lived across the street from us. My dad bought another house for them.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

AI: Well, let's see, speaking of the whole World War II and the, your family's removal from Seattle, along with everyone else, some of your work really has depicted some of your earliest childhood memories, so maybe now would be a time for you to just recall some of those earliest memories. Some of them are, you have depicted in your artwork, and other memories you may not have, but, just things that are significant that you do recall.

RS: Yeah, I was, I was two years old at the time when the war broke out. And of course I don't remember, I don't remember Pearl Harbor day, but I asked my father about it. And he said that they were in a car driving around, I think they went to church. I believe it was on Sunday. And it was customary for them to go on a drive before they went home after church. And I believe he said he was up around Ballard, or crossing the Ballard Bridge or something like that when the radio announced that, that war had broken out between the two countries. And he said that he immediately made a U-turn to go back home and was extremely frightened and realized the implications that this might have upon their family and their community. And so my grandmother, of course, said in her diary entry, "Today when I got back from church" -- so I guess it was Sunday -- "I heard the dream-like news that Japanese airplanes had bombed Hawaii. I was surprised beyond belief. It was said that at 6:00 a.m. this morning Japan declared war on America." And then she went on to say, "Our future has become gloomy. I pray that God will stay with us." My grandmother was a Christian in Japan, which put her in a very small minority of people. And when she came to this country was very active in the Japanese Methodist Church that today is now known as the Blaine Memorial Methodist Church. I should say this, too, about my grandmother, was that I have been told by several people that she was the first Japanese American woman to get a Washington State driver's license. And, of course, she needed this for her midwife business. I don't know, I haven't checked on that, but I've heard that from several people.

AI: Isn't that interesting. Because yes, she was known to have delivered babies all around the area, not just in Seattle.

RS: Right, right.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

RS: So anyway, so when the war broke out and we were sent to Puyallup Assembly Center, I believe the very first memory I have of life was my third birthday, which was in Puyallup, in June, because I believe we went there in April. And I remember very clearly walking in and out of our quarters telling people that I was three. And everybody that I saw, I remember telling people that I was three. And that was my first recollection, I think, of life, my third birthday. And then, I also remember -- and this was in Puyallup as well -- contracting the measles and being quarantined. My mother and I were both quarantined. And I remember that clearly because our food was passed through a slot in the door three times a day. But even more memorable than that was a mouse that was in our room that would come out every night and we could hear it scurrying around. And of course I thought it was this wonderful adventure. And my grandmother -- my mother was abhorred. And then one day, or one night there was no mouse and I mentioned that to my mother and she said that it's because she killed it. And I always remember going over to the garbage can, opening up, and seeing this dead mouse there, you know, which was probably one of the first encounters I had with the notion of death.

What's also interesting, 'cause my uncle that was married to my Aunt Fumi, who of course was also in camp, kept a diary for the two years that they were in camp. The difference between his diary and my grandmother's diary was that my grandmother's diary was probably never meant to be interpreted whereas my Uncle Yoichi Matsuda, who was married to my Aunt Fumi, wrote a diary in great anger, and I think fully intended to have the diaries trans-, not translated but perhaps published someday. Because he had a background in journalism and actually was working for the newspaper in Twin Falls when the war broke out. And I believe he voluntarily went into camp, because Twin Falls was actually outside of the security zone. And after the war he and Fumi left camp and moved to Twin Falls and stayed there until their, until his death.

So anyway, those were my main memories of Puyallup. And then I don't remember the train ride at all to camp, but I did read all of my grandmother's diaries about that plane -- train ride to camps, where the shades were all pulled down. And my grandmother talked about carrying me and that I was very restless, and periodically would cry. And that it was extremely hot. I believe it was during the hottest time of the year, in August. And then she wrote about what a disappointment it was to stop and to look at this camp, which I believe was the fourth largest city in Idaho at the time.

AI: Yeah, I think it was somewhere around ten thousand people, or so.

RS: Right. Right.

AI: And excuse me, were, was your, were your grandfather and grandmother on your father's side also living in the same room or barrack with you and your --

RS: No, they were, because my dad was a pharmacist, they put him to work in the hospital. And so all of the people that worked in the hospital or were associated, were all put in a certain area of camp close to the hospital, 'cause my grandmother was in a completely different zone. Because she talks about how, at least in the early goings, she had to apply for a permit to travel from one part of the camp to the other. So every time she wanted to see me, for example, she would have to apply for permission to make that move. So no, we were not living together at that point.

And then during camp, my sister Carolyn was born, Carolyn Hisako. And I remember her being born, but I remember nothing about it. I mean, I remember the fact of her being born, but I have no associations with it.

What I do have a lot of recollections about was getting into a lot of mischief. And one of the incidents that I recall, and of course, when you remember so few things, but you tell that story again and again, it suddenly becomes galvanized and, but I don't believe that I've been embellishing everything all these years, but it was with Billy Ishida. And Billy is someone that I ended up going to junior high and high school together, I guess. But he and I got into my mom's makeup. And we ended up putting makeup all over, not just ourselves but the entire room and the mirrors and all that. And I remember, I remember doing that. And I remember how furious my mother was when she came in there and discovered this mess that we had made. So, it's funny, of all the things that happened, you know, over a two-year period, that I should remember that more clearly than anything.

And then I remember all of the extremes of weather, because coming from Seattle, I'd never experienced heat like that. I had never experienced wind like that, and the sandstorms. And I never remembered ice like that, and the flooding, how everything just turned into this quagmire. It was all new to me. And as a three- and four-year-old... and I remember the mess halls, eating there, I remember the bathrooms, and a few small episodes here and there. I remember friends coming to visit right after we got there. I remember our neighbors that took care of our house while we were gone, coming to visit us. And I remember talking through the fence.

AI: These were Caucasian neighbors?

RS: Right, right.

AI: From Seattle?

RS: And they hadn't yet set up any kind of organized system of how the people, the internees would accommodate guests that might come visit. And so it was just a dialogue through the fence, which was one of the images that I made later on as one of my first ten memories of life. So, basically that's...

AI: Do you remember any kind of... I understand that there was some preschool there of some sort, or nursery school type thing. Did you go to any of --

RS: Yeah, there was actually a whole school system set up all the way through high school. My personal involvement was in nursery school, and most of my recollection has to do with that photograph that was taken in that nursery school class. But, to tell you the truth, I don't, I can't recall anything that happened while I was in class.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

AI: Well, and then, from what you have said earlier, about your father being able to leave camp on his own without the rest of you... and that was, I think you said, about ten months or so after you all arrived at Minidoka?

RS: Uh-huh.

AI: That he, he was able to go out.

RS: Right, as long as he didn't go to the western sector. And he told me that he went up to... what is it in Rochester, New York? Mayo Clinic. But they offered him money that was far below the minimum wage. And he went to various other pharmacies in the upper Midwestern area, but landed in Chicago working for Sergeant Drugs, which, up until just a few years ago continued to operate on Wabash Avenue, because I used to go to Chicago a lot for one reason or the other and I would always walk by Sergeant Drugs and had a sort of personalized fond memory of that because of my father. And it was owned by a German American family and they actually took him in and provided him with a place to live while he worked at the drugstore. And, so, for quite a period of time my father looked for a place that was big enough for my mother and my sister and I to come and join him. But for one reason or the other it took him a year until he finally found that place in south Chicago, fairly close to Lake Michigan as I recall, because I remember walking there from the apartment on Sundays and sort of playing next to the water.

But we lived in this, in this very, very modest apartment and I recall it was, my mother in particular, was very nervous about me growing up in that apartment because it was a very rough neighborhood, and the kids were very rough. And I was still, I was just kindergarten age, but I always remember one of the favorite games that we had was "Bomb the Jap." And we had this, one of the kids has this dummy bomb that was all metal and we would go up our apartments and throw it out of the window when all the kids would be playing in this open area, sort of a courtyard, on the ground level. And all of our apartments, of course, looked into that courtyard. And it was a very small area. And we would throw the bomb out, whoever had it and try to hit the kid that was down there, which could have been devastating if it ever happened. And we would scream, "Bomb the Jap," and so you had enough warning to get out of the way before the bomb actually hit. But it was there that I probably learned my first dirty words, and flipped off my mother. [Laughs] One day, went up, she asked me to do something and I gave her the middle finger and boy, I remember she whacked me over the head. I had no idea what it meant, except that that's what you did when someone said something to you. But I think that also spoke to the sort of quality of the neighborhood and the type of neighborhood that it was.

AI: Well, I've heard from other folks that quite a few Japanese American families moved to Chicago around that time, the ones that were allowed to relocate out, and, let's see, your father had left camp in 1943, and you joined him in 1944, were there other Japanese American families living in your complex or neighborhood?

RS: Well, I don't specifically remember any. But looking at our family photo albums, there were. And not only that; a lot of the military personnel, like my Uncle Mich, because he was bilingual, was sent as an interpreter to the Pacific area. And he came back several times for a visit, to visit, to visit us in Chicago, because there're a lot of photographs. And it was at the time that he and my Aunt Hideko were, I think, just initially dating. Hideko was a Tsuboi. But there were a lot of photographs of couples, Japanese American couples visiting us in Chicago. And my guess is that they were probably being released at that point.

AI: What about your playmates in that housing complex? Racially, ethnically, what, what kind of make-up --

RS: It was all white. As I recall they were all white. And my babysitter, her name was Betty Boren, and, Caucasian family that lived on the same floor, just across the hallway. I always remember when my sister Carolyn contracted influenza, meningitis, and I remember my parents taking her to the hospital in the middle of the night, waking me up, and Betty Boren came over to watch me and they took my sister away and that was the last time I saw her, because she died, I believe it was that evening. And the next day they took me, they asked me if I wanted to see her, and they took me to the funeral home and I saw her for the last time in her, it was like a bassinet, 'cause she was under two years old. And my father lifted me up and I remember thinking that she didn't look real. She looked like she had powder all over her or something. But that was my first real encounter with human death. So those -- and I remember Christmas in Chicago, and of course, because my father took a lot of photographs, sometimes I get what I actually recall and what I think I recall confused.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

AI: I wanted to return back to that "Bomb the Jap" play that you had with the kids there. Did you ever have any sense that you personally were being targeted because you were Japanese American, and --

RS: No, at that point I never did. No. And the fact is, when we got out of camp, and we went back to Seattle, one of our favorite games to play was "Kill the Jap." And right next to our back porch there was a sort of a play area. My dad had a lot of scrap lumber and we would rearrange that lumber to create these, sort of shelters that we sort of treated as shelters that would protect us from bombs that the Japs dropped on us. And I always remember taking turns with... in fact, John Horiuchi, who was -- Paul Horiuchi, the painter, lived right across the street from us. And he had three boys, Paul, John and Vincent. And they were my three closest friends. John, who was in the middle was the same age as I was, and so the two of us were probably closer than Vincent, the younger one, or Paul, the older one, although Paul sang at my wife and my wedding. But John and I used to always play "Kill the Jap" together along with the, another family was the Masumoto family that lived up the street, and there were two boys, Bob and, Bobby and Richard. And Bobby was my age. And so Bobby and Richard and John and I used to always play "Kill the Jap." And of course we would always argue about who the Jap was gonna be, because none of us wanted to be the Jap. We all wanted to be John Wayne, you know, because John Wayne was the biggest Jap killer. And so I actually have a photograph of that, of all of us playing war and having, you know, helmets and guns and all that kind of stuff, and taking turns being the Jap.

AI: Did you, in that young age, elementary school age, did you have that sense that, or had you had the experience at all of being called "Jap" by someone else, not, not your Japanese American playmates or friends, but someone who was not Japanese American, actually calling you "Jap" or seeing your folks being yelled at or...

RS: Well, the junior high, the grade school, junior high and high school I all went to was just riddled with that. Most of it was in pretty good humor. It was a completely different situation than today. I mean, I truly grew up in a multicultural neighborhood as well as schools. But it was, the rules were completely different back then. And we never used the "N" word in talking to black people, but we would use other words like "Jigs" or we used to call them "Night Trains" and things like that. And all you have to do is look at my yearbook and you can see all these references in there, and there were all these pecking orders between Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and so on. That was just sort of understood. And most of the Chinese were "F.O.Bs," and we let 'em know that. And we looked down on F.O.Bs, you know, "Fresh Off the Boats." But then, you know, there were a few A.B.Cs, the "American-Born Chinese" that were okay because they were closer to us. But there were a lot of Japanese Americans that were third-generation which put us pretty deep into the American culture compared to our A.B.C. friends and certainly F.O.Bs. And so, it was sort of ironic with the internment experience that it would be the Japanese Americans that would be singled out. We probably were more deeply invested in this country than any other ethnic Asian minority. So there is one incident I recall when we went back to, came back to Seattle, that happened in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

AI: Oh, excuse me, before we get there --

RS: Yeah.

AI: I'm gonna take you back to Chicago a little bit and then maybe we can work our way back up to Cannon Beach.

RS: Okay, okay.

AI: I was gonna ask about, since you had been, some of your earliest memories had been in camp where everyone around, almost everyone around was Japanese American, except for a few administrators and staff people, and then you moved to Chicago where it sounds like in your immediate living area, where your apartment was, and playmates were all white. Did you, do you recall noticing anything of that? Or do you think you were aware at that time about difference in skin color? Or --

RS: I don't recall being aware of it. That's not to say that I wasn't, because I've learned, over the years, that there were a lot of things that I was taught just to repress. If it was uncomfortable, or felt awkward, there were ways that, I think, Japanese Americans had ways of dealing with those kinds of things, and repressing them, or pretending that they didn't exist. And, just like the way our parents did with the whole camp experience, they just decided to erase it from their memory bank. Of course, I think that created a lot of problems as well. But nonetheless, they, it was a survival technique and it worked. And so I'm not gonna say that, we got to Chicago, that I was immune from realizing those differences, because I, I very well could've and just learned as a youngster how not to pay attention to that, because of the influence my parents had on me on a daily basis, you know. "Don't think about that." "Don't talk about that." "You shouldn't notice things like that." And, "It's bad for you," whatever. I mean, my life was just filled with those kinds of things for everything else, so why, why wouldn't it be, you know, if I said, "Gee, there are no Japanese kids around here," and I could hear them saying, "Well, that doesn't matter. Don't ever say that again, because that doesn't matter." But as I say, I don't remember that, specifically, so...

AI: Well --

RS: It's just like people ask me about the camp experience, how did I feel about that? Well, as a two- and three-year-old, you don't feel about that. The kinds of things you think about are far more immediate than that, like the fact that all my friends were around me all of a sudden. From that standpoint, I thought, whatever change this was, was for the better, because I can only see these people on certain occasions, not on a daily basis.

AI: So, before you left Chicago, though, your grandparents came and joined you? Is that right? Your father's parents?

RS: Right. After three years, they came out of camp and they came to Chicago. I don't remember that, but I do remember all of us getting on a train and going back to Seattle. 'Cause I remember, we stopped at Minneapolis to get my Aunt Hideko and Hideko was gonna accompany us on this train ride back to Seattle. And the reason I remember my Aunt Hideko, because I threw up on her. And we were in a train, and she was sitting across from me. And I remember I was train sick, and so sick that I couldn't tell anybody I was sick 'cause I was afraid I'd throw up as soon as I opened my mouth. And so, we're just riding along and all of a sudden I couldn't contain it any longer and I just threw up all over her lap. [Laughs] And I remember how -- you know, if a six-year-old gets humiliated, how humiliated. And I remember a few years ago I asked my aunt if she remembered that, and she said, "Of course I remember that." [Laughs]

AI: Oh dear, oh dear. [Laughs] That would be an indelible memory.

RS: Yeah.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

AI: So that would have been in 1945 that you returned to Seattle? Or possibly early '46?

RS: '6 maybe. Yeah. And it was about that time that was the Cannon Beach story. Because I don't think my sister was born yet.

AI: Or --

RS: My second sister. And, although I think my mom was probably carrying her at the time. But we drove down to Cannon Beach, Oregon, where my dad had made reservations to spend a week in the cabin, right on the beach. And what I remember was sitting in the back of the car and, it was a 1946 Chevrolet, 'cause my dad had bought this brand new car. And I was sitting in the back and my mom was sitting in the front, and my dad got out of the car and went inside the office of this resort, and was in there for a long time and then came out and asked my mom to come outside to talk to him. And so I thought something was funny. And she got out and the two of 'em were at the front of the car, with the hood, talking, and they were going back and forth, back and forth. And then my dad and mom both went inside the office again. So I was sitting there in the back seat wondering and having no idea what was going on. And then they both came out and they got into the car and we drove towards the cabins. And it was a long, sort of pathway. And we went by all these nice cabins, and went all the way to the very end of this trail, where it didn't appear that there were any more cabins, but there was one cabin there and it was completely overgrown. And that's the one that we were gonna stay in. And I couldn't understand why we were staying in this.

And I discovered, in the conversations, that the owner of this place didn't realize that we were Japanese and told my dad that he didn't rent to Japanese. But somehow my mother and father was able to convince them to rent to us and he rented us this place that was virtually un-rentable. And I remember going there, and my mom and dad talking. Of course, they were not sharing any of this with me. And then I remember my dad taking off and coming back with mops, brooms, cleaning... and for, it seemed like two days, we did nothing but clean that cabin, and cutting down all the vegetation on the outside that was blocking the windows and everything else, and weeding and everything else. And after we made the place habitable we essentially unloaded the car and moved everything in and stayed there for three or four days. And then, at the end of it we checked out and went back to Seattle, paid the bill. And several weeks later that my dad received a letter from the owner of this resort saying, apologizing, for discriminating and promising henceforth he would not discriminate against Japanese Americans, further. And I remember how proud my father was, and my mother was. And I think that really sort of spoke volumes about what the general sort of manner was of dealing with issues like this, the way Japanese Americans did things. Of course, we do things totally different in my generation. We certainly do things totally different than that, today, if that were to happen. But, I think that was really a telling story about the Nisei.

AI: And as a child, that would make an impression on you.

RS: Yeah, right. So shortly after that is when my sister was born, my sister Karen, who this day lives in San Diego. But I always remember my dad and I going on a bike ride to Lake Washington. And we would get on our bikes and go through the tunnels. And at the time there was a very narrow pedestrian path that you can sit on your bike and you had about two inches on each side of the handlebars. And if you hit, would hit one, it would almost throw you off of that sidewalk into traffic. But I remember my dad and I going down to Mt. Baker swimming area then turning around and coming back. And as we were coming out of the tunnel my grandfather was there and, to say that my mom had gone to the hospital to give birth to Karen. And then I remember the panic in getting back there and getting in the car and driving to the hospital and finding that my sister, Karen, was born.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

AI: Well, just before our break, we were talking about elementary school. And you had mentioned that after coming back to Seattle from Chicago, that you started attending Colman grade school. And I wondered if you could just describe Colman grade school a little bit, and just anything that you, that stands out about your experience in elementary school.

RS: Well, of course, now, in retrospect, I make certain associations, I think, with certain experiences. And I think that what I realize about elementary school now, that I didn't realize at the time, was partially due, I suppose, to the location of, of Colman grade school, as well as the other two schools I went to, Washington Junior High and Garfield, that they were sort of survival schools. There was a lot of fighting. And I remember, it seemed like -- 'course you didn't fight much when you were in the first grade -- but I remember the fifth and sixth graders always seemed to be fighting. And then I realized that there was something really significant about that activity that... I almost felt like I had to get into a fight by the time I was in the fifth or sixth grade, because that's what one did. Except, I also remember that it was always the girls that were winning, because the girls were more physically developed than the boys were and it seemed like all the guys that were getting in fights were getting beat up by the biggest girls in the same grades. But that's actually one of my, my biggest associations, and also one of my biggest associations of junior high and high school as well, were the sort of, the physical prowess and the kind of, sort of manliness, that was encouraged at the time. So there were things about the time period that perhaps sticks out in my mind more than school, itself.

I think about, one of the things that just came to me a few, a few weeks ago, because the name Ron Santo came up on radio. And Ron Santo is, was an athlete that went to Franklin High School at the time that I was in Garfield. And we were the same age. He was one year younger than me. And I read in the paper that he was eligible to go into Baseball's Hall of Fame. And he was an athlete when he was here in Seattle, but because we were the same age, we used to play around together all the time. And I remember I had a very low opinion of him, and I'm sure he did of me, as well, because we were always getting into fights. And I remember one fight that we had -- and this was during the time period of elementary school -- that we got into a wrestling match and we had each other in a headlock. And I swear that we were both in that position for two hours without moving, just to see who would give up the first, and we were both very, very stubborn. And I remember, it seemed very shortly after that at Halloween when he came over to the house trick-or-treating and he rang the doorbell, and I opened up the, opened the door, and it was Ron. And he said, "Trick-or-Treat." And I said, "Just a minute." I went into my room and I got what were called torpedoes, and they looked like wads of tin foil, and they rattled, and you would throw these and upon impact they would explode. And they were very lethal. And at the time were legal. They were soon outlawed after that. But when Ron Santo saw me come out with two of these he took off running. And I threw one at him and it hit him in the ankle and exploded. And about ten minutes later the doorbell rang again. And it was Ron Santo and his mother. And his mother was furious, and said, "Where's your mother?" And my mom was right there and came out and said, "What's the problem?" And says, "Look what happened." And Ron's socks were burnt and his skin was burned on the basis of me throwing this torpedo at him. And boy, I remember getting into so much trouble. And I remember Ron just laughing behind his mother's back. And to my recollection, that might have been the last time I saw him. But I used to hear about him all the time, because he was this famous athlete, in both football and baseball. And then he went on to a professional contract and played for years for the Chicago Cubs and established all sorts of records for a third baseman and is now being considered for the Hall of Fame. So that's one of my, my recollections of grade school days was Ron Santo, as well as all of the other kids in the neighborhood. I think I was starting to gain some sense of neighborhood and remember very clearly all the people that were living in the neighborhood.

And I remember building scooters with bicycles, roller skates, and activities like that, and going down to the corner grocery store on Judkins Street, Twenty-sixth and Judkins. And I remember walking up to Panzika's grocery store and buying pastries and candy and things like that, and these long bouts of playing these games like jintori and "Kick the Can" and all the neighborhood kids would play down on Norman Street between Twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth because it was very flat there. And it was a very mixed, biracial group of people, although mostly Asians and Italians. And, yeah, I could clearly remember what houses that those kids lived in and, in fact, just a few weeks ago, when I was up here, a few months ago, when I was up here last, I was down at Sun Ya, eating, and I ran into, I wanna remember, I forget her name now, but Nakano, was it Jean Nakano, or Ellen? But anyway, I hadn't seen her probably in fifty years, it's amazing. And we quickly remembered those days and all of that, and started talking about people from various houses, that lived around her.

And I also remember collecting. It was the first time that I recalled actually having this obsession to claim ownership in a lot of things, same things. And one of them was bottle caps. And we used to get bottle caps and scrape them on the sidewalk until all the paint came off. And then we would shine and polish them until they'd be almost like chrome. And then we'd pull the corks out, put them over our clothes and put the corks back in and wear them like badges. And we'd have them all over our bodies like that. And I remember collecting them and having more than anybody else. And then, I also remember bubble gum cards, collecting them. And they weren't just baseball cards at the time. They were all sorts of different kinds of little gimmicky things that you can collect from bubble gum. So those were my, the seeds were planted in terms of collecting, very early, and then comic books and all different kinds of comics. And I remember one thing unique about my comic book collection was that I seldom read them, but I knew exactly what I wanted because of the way they looked. And now, in retrospect, there was something consistent with most of those comics that I collected. And happens to be the way my paintings look. So there was a connection, a graphic connection very early on between what I preferred to look at visually and what I preferred to make work look like today.

AI: What were some of your early favorites?

RS: Dick Tracy. Chester Gould is the one that did the Dick Tracy comics, and I liked the Nancy and Sluggo, and a lot of the Disney. And I think those are the ones that my work looks most like today.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

AI: Well, elementary school years, you were also drawing, then. You were already creating some of your own --

RS: Right. I was, I was drawing a lot and I remember getting a lot of positive reinforcement. That was one thing that I felt I could do better, that separated me from everybody else in class. And not that that was necessarily important, but I think when that happens you tend to respond to it. And I remember in first grade, Mrs. Hines, was her name, and I remember her name simply because she used to reinforce me more than anybody. She used to brag about my drawings and show other teachers, and really made me feel like I was special. And, and I always remembered that. There was sort of a competition between this Chinese guy, Gordon Chin, and I. And Gordon used to tell me, "I could draw better than you." And I remember there was always this competitive thing between the two of us. And one day I was drawing a horse, because that was the assignment, and I was having trouble drawing the hooves, because the hooves are very tricky things to draw on horses. And Gordon took my drawing and he drew them for me. And the teacher picked my drawing out and put it up on the wall, and again praised me for this wonderful drawing. And I remember feeling so guilty because Gordon drew the hooves. And Gordon, I remember, to this day I can see the look on Gordon's face as he sat there looking at me, like, well, are you gonna 'fess up or not? And I never did say anything. And he never let me forget that. And so I carry a certain amount of guilt about that, to this day.

But I remember other drawings, and the reason I remember them is because one day in the... it must've been thirty-five or forty years later, I found these manila envelopes at my mom and dad's house. And they were filled with all the drawings that I did from the first through sixth grade. And my grandmother had kept them. And so my mother presented them to me and said, "Take a look at these. You might be interested." And I pulled them all out, and sure as heck they were all the drawings I did from the first through the sixth grade. And the ones that I found to be the most interesting were all of the ones that I drew of my family, because every time I drew my mother I drew her with blond hair and blue eyes. And it was just astonishing. I never realized it. All these years, here's my father, my sister, myself, and there's my, who's this blond? And that was my mom. And I'm sure I did that because for every good intention, it was, I wanted her to be the ideal mother, and that's what it took to be ideal at the time was to have blond hair and blue eyes. And it suddenly made me kind of reevaluate the artwork that I was doing at the time that had depictions of blond women, mostly, Andy Warhol's silkscreen print that he did of Marilyn Monroe, that I treated as an American icon. And, of course I knew what I was doing at that point, and I was making this selection for obvious reasons as a commentary or condemnation of certain tastes that were driven into my head, but never realizing that that went on as early as the first grade. But what was even more interesting was that the third grade drawings were of myself with blond hair. So, after a few years I didn't settle for just my mom but I wanted to make, idealize myself, too, by giving myself blond hair and blue eyes.

AI: Wow.

RS: So, it was a very interesting and telling set of drawings. And I actually incorporate that in my lecture now, and actually show a slide of those drawings.

AI: Wow. What a, what a discovery. What a revelation.

RS: Right, right.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

AI: Well, let's see. About, was it about that same period, elementary school, when you had mentioned at another time, about how you started drawing things that you wished you could have, but that you couldn't have? Was that also in about grade school age? Or was that when you were a little bit older?

RS: That was probably in junior high, is my guess. And there were a lot of things that I couldn't possess that I wanted to, partially due to the fact that my parents couldn't afford it, partially due to the fact that my parents thought that they were foolish or too luxurious. But there were three things in particular. Number one was cowboy boots. It was a period that cowboy boots were really in fashion and some of my friends had a pair and I didn't. And, but my mother used to always tell me that they were unhealthy to wear because they would make your feet pointed, just like the shoes. So cowboy boots were one thing. Schwinn bikes. I had a bicycle but I didn't have Schwinn bike and Schwinn bikes had a particular kind of shape to the upper part of the frame that was just this really sexy kind of form. And the bike I had was nothing like that. And everybody in the neighborhood knew what a Schwinn bike was, and I wanted one. But, we couldn't afford it. And then the third thing was Red Ryder BB guns, was another thing that I wanted badly. But my parents wouldn't let me have that simply because it was a gun, and you could actually do harm with that, and never knowing that we had access to BB guns in the neighborhood because some of the other kids had them. And we used to go out and have BB gun fights unbeknownst to my parents, or know the dangers of actually doing that. But we actually were out there shooting BBs at each other. So, as a way of attempting to possess these items, I discovered that if I did drawings of them, realistic drawings, it would be the next best thing. I could possess surrogates of these objects. And so I remember doing drawings of the most expensive of cowboy boots, the best Schwinn bike, and the most expensive BB gun, with all the decorations on the handle and drawings of Red Ryder on it and all of that. So, not only was I able to possess them, in a way I possessed the best of what each of them had to offer. And so that was the first time that I realized the magic that art had, the potential magic that art contained for me.

AI: I wanted to ask you about the environment of your house. Did you have much art in your house? Or your, you mentioned earlier that your mother's brothers, three of them were commercial artists. I was just wondering what was around you?

RS: There was, there were paintings done by my uncles. And I think at one time or the other they would give my mother, their sister, some artwork that they had done, because frequently they would do the original artwork and it would photographed. And the photograph of the work would eventually be turned into the particular ad, or whatever, and there was no use for the original artwork which they retained. And so, I remember in particular this one painting that my Uncle George did of Seattle landscape, painting of the cityscape, that I always just thought was miraculous, it was just so well-done. So there were these sort of standards around the house. I always remember someone that was not my relative, but my Aunt Hideko, as I said, who was a Tsuboi, her brother, Roy, or Shozo he was called, was also a commercial artist. So not only people in our family, but very close to our family or through marriage, were also commercial artists. And he used to come over and we used to draw together. And to this day I have the drawings that he gave me back then. And he did a whole series of drawings of World War II airplanes. And again, that's something else that has entered into a lot of the paintings that I've done are images of World War II airplanes. And I'm positive that that appreciation came through that very early appreciation I had of his drawings of World War II fighter planes. And even when I look at them today through the eyes of one that's been teaching art for almost thirty-five years now, that those drawings really hold up and he was really good for his time. So I had these sort of role models and I had these wonderful examples around me, something to sort of shoot for.

AI: So you really grew up with this idea, this, examples of people in front of you who were adults actually making a living doing art.

RS: Right, showing me that it was possible. And none of them went to college, however. They went to Burnley art school, which is a two-year art school.

AI: Here in Seattle?

RS: Right. And so that created some friction later on between my father and I, who felt that he wanted me to go to college. And I wanted to go to college. I mean, I didn't even question that part of it, but strategically, he sort of argued that if one went to college one didn't go there to major in commercial art, one went to art school, which only was two years and a lot cheaper. So, but that's sort of ahead of the game.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

AI: Well, were there other things that came up in junior high, or maybe some of this also came out in high school, where you're becoming more aware of issues of race, and you mentioned earlier that Garfield, especially, had a kind of an ethnic racial composition that was very multicultural?

RS: Right.

AI: And I'm just wondering, as you're kind of going into, coming into your teen years, how your awareness is changing?

RS: Well, I think that Garfield at the time was approximately a quarter to a third Asian, quarter to a third African American, quarter to a third white, and, 'course that was nothing special at the time. However, now, when I go to the occasional reunion, I think we all realize how special that was back then, because back in the '50s during high school there were only eight high schools, or eight public high schools, and Seattle Prep and O'Dea, and I think that was pretty much it for the entire high school scene in the city of Seattle. And of those groups, Seattle was the one that was the most multiracial.

AI: Or, Garfield.

RS: Garfield, and after that, perhaps Franklin and Cleveland to a lesser extent. But, so there were a lot of things that we experienced at Garfield that I don't think any of us realized were really special until afterwards. And that's not to say that they were all good. You know, I said earlier that my associations with school had to do with, lot of it was sort of physical prowess. And I always remember the first day, the very first day that I went to Garfield, and I went there with the awareness that there was going to be this sort of atmosphere of machismo and all that, among the boys. But the first day I went there I remember seeing a knife fight. And the knife fight was not to kill or injure the other person, but it was the same knife fight that was done on Rebel Without a Cause, and that was to try to cut the buttons off the other person's shirt through stabbing like this. And I remember two guys doing that. And one ended up cutting the other one in several locations. And of course he bled through his shirt and there were all these big red spots. And that was kind of the badge of courage and all of us that were seeing something like this for the first time all thought well, this is what one did.

And so it seemed like for the next three years there just fight after fight after fight. And there were some guys that I fought on a regular basis. Every Tuesday, at lunch, I fought the same guy. Jerry Beppu, who runs Linc's Tackle, on Rainier Avenue, he and I fought once a week. And it'd go into the same scenario that we'd end up on the ground and I'd have him in a headlock 'cause I was bigger than him, and trying to pop the veins on his head, you know, from squeezing his head so tight, the veins would stick out on his head, and rub it with my other fist like this pretending like I was trying to pop them or something. Then every once in a while somebody would come up with a knife and a stiletto and open it up and run it across Jerry's forehead and up and down those veins. And this was just another day. And I remember fighting all kinds of people, and getting into one of these sort of slapping each other around sort of semi-serious that would usually turn serious at one point. But, that's what lunchtime was for. And, so those were my associations with junior high and high school. And it was not a good time. It was not a good time for me.

There were two accomplishments, I suppose, that I hardly saw as accomplishments. One of them was to be named the yearbook artist, and then the other one was, I was asked to design the plaque, a huge plaque like this, of James Garfield, that was to be installed on the floor of the main entranceway, and supposedly to be there forever. And I've always wondered to this day -- I mean, it was built, and was installed. And I remember the principal was so pleased with it that he said that every year he'll have a photograph of me giving me credit for designing this, which I thought was just so outlandish because it was really so easy to do, and it really wasn't very good. But I think in that particular climate that practically anything was good. And, and I thought it would be such an overstatement to give me this credit every year. But I always wondered whether or not that seal was still there, embedded into the floor, and I've always been tempted to go back to Garfield just to see that.

But as I said, I was what would be called a total loser in high school. Certainly socially, you know, I didn't date, nothing, and was extremely introverted, withdrawn, sort of out of it in terms of all the rest of the Asian American community as well as just the sort of student body at large. I never felt comfortable, I never felt good about it, essentially disliked the whole experience. I had a very small group of friends that I used to hang out with and, but never was a part of that sort of group of Japanese Americans that were sort of... and this group is like, did very well when they eventually got out of college. I'm talking about the Moriguchis, I went to school with all of them, and Bruce and Irwin Yoshimura and these were people that went on to do pretty well in their community. So, it's interesting to sort of see these people now and to talk to them and talk about these kinds of things.

AI: Well, junior high, and especially high school is a time when, for most kids, that is a difficult time of kind of figuring out about yourself and wanting to fit in or not being able to fit in and I'm just wondering what were some of your hopes and desires at that time and how did you see yourself as far as, did you, even ethnically, think of yourself as Japanese, or Japanese American, or did you ever think of yourself in those terms?

RS: I think I sort of saw myself as how successful or unsuccessful I was socially. Academically, I knew there were certain people that I could never compete with. I mean, that, that pecking order was already set, probably from junior high, because just about everybody that went to Washington Junior High went to Garfield. Garfield probably was fed by maybe three junior highs, I mean, things were very sort of clean, clearly cut, back in those days, they went to Horace Mann, they went to Leschi, Bailey Gatzert, and there was a certain pattern that it all fed into Garfield, or every high school had their own pattern. And, so from junior high it was clear that John Takizawa was the smartest guy, and there was another guy, Ken something, and all through high school, and these were the guys that went on to MIT and all of that. And that pattern was established. And I knew I wasn't those. I knew I wasn't one of the big sports stars. I knew I wasn't one of the big social stars. In fact, I wasn't anything, other than known as the sort of guy that did art. But that was not something to be proud of back then. That wasn't one of the hip things. And so, that's why I sort of felt like I was on the outside of all of those things, and I think felt that way pretty much until almost graduating from college, that I started to gain some sense of self-worth and confidence and all that.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

AI: I'm also interested about things that your parents might have emphasized to you as you were growing up. And you've talked some already about some of your father's hopes for you going into medicine or becoming a doctor. I'm wondering what other kinds of values or principles that your father, or your mother, or grandparents, other relatives --

RS: Well, I've always said that I think one of the, I call it a curse in some ways, that my grandmother put on me, was she always used to tell me, and she told me so frequently that everything I did, good or bad in life, would reflect upon the entire Japanese race. And I think I bought that. I was not the sort of questioning person. When my parents or grandparents said something to me I just sort of accepted it. Not that I liked it, but I accepted it. And I think I bought that. And that was reinforced all through high school, junior high school where I saw the community sort of gather together to protect a particular family in the JA community that might have "sinned" socially. And they didn't want people to think that this was normal behavior for Japanese Americans. And so they would essentially cover-up. And I remember, especially in high school, and in college where sex started to become a little bit more open and, and young women were getting pregnant, you know, out of wedlock, and my God, how that would just like spread through the community. And again, people would draw their wagons and protect the family and all that, but at the same time would be saying very bad things about them, behind your back. So there was a clear double standard. And that used to really bother me. And I think it really bothered people of my generation. We recognized that double standard whereas the Niseis just felt like, well this is, this is the way things were done and you don't question it. And of course, the Isseis were the ones that brought that over with them. So I think the Nisei were, were probably, later on in their lives, at least, were as troubled as the Sanseis were in their very early life.

There was a tremendous amount of hypocrisy. I mean, my parents would tell me, "Only date Japanese women. Don't date Chinese. And don't date Filipinos and above all don't date white people." And I remember in college, as late as college, and I was dating this person, who shall remain nameless, but Japanese American girl. And she had quite a reputation at Garfield. Everybody knew her. And, in fact, she had this reputation of "making men out of boys." Back then that was a pretty heavy reputation to carry around. And when we started dating my parents found out and my dad went ballistic. And he said, "Are you aware that she's working at Bush Gardens as a cocktail waitress?" And so what, you know. And he said, "I understand," he said that, "She's reputed to be able to tell what you've been drinking by smelling your breath." And, and he was being very sincere. And she was surviving. She was, her single mother is the one that raised her, and she had to work, and I understood that. And she made good money working at Bush as a waitress, but that was the hidoi thing to do.

And so I remember having these big arguments with my father. I said, "I'm dating a Japanese American girl and that doesn't please you, now you take it to this next level and you start criticizing what her social value is to people." And he says, "Well, of all the people out there you pick one that," blah, blah, blah, you know, kind of thing. And then there became a point where I just simply rebelled and pretty much ignored, you know. And I started dating this other girl that was mixed, from Hawaii. But her, her uncle was the governor of Hawaii, which I thought... so I was impressed by that. And she was this beautiful, absolutely beautiful person and all my parents heard was that her uncle was the governor of Hawaii. And I think they assumed -- because they used to go to Hawaii every year to golf -- that if you're Hawaiian, you're Japanese. And so I said I was gonna bring her home for dinner. And so my mom said, "Fine, bring her over." And so I brought her over and the minute they looked at her they knew she was mixed. And they didn't say anything, but when dinner was ready my mom, like, got two TV trays and brought them downstairs and put them in the basement, and essentially said, "You guys can eat down there." And that's when I realized just how impossible this situation was. And I was in college. So that was the sort of general... I mean, they, they obviously grew out of that because as it turns out my sister married a Caucasian right in the middle of all this. And then I dated a lot of Caucasian women that they met and I got, actually ended up living with an Iranian woman. They had to put up with all of this and soon, in their older age, like a lot of older people do as they get older, become a little bit more liberal in their values. And so, by the time, before they passed away, I mean they're, it really didn't matter.

AI: But at the time that you were growing up, they still had some very firm beliefs and --

RS: Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

AI: Well, you had mentioned a little bit about how close-knit the Japanese American community could be and I was just wondering how active you and your family were as far as community activities and whether --

RS: It was all through the church. And there was a time that I was very active Methodist Youth Fellowship and most of my social life was tied up through the church. And this was high school and early parts of college, going to these conferences in Spokane or in Tacoma where other Methodist Churches were. And all of these socials were held at the gyms of the Japanese Baptist Church, Japanese Buddhist Church, Japanese Methodist, Congregational, Lutheran, Episcopalian. Japanese community had all of those churches and they each had their own gyms because there was a basketball league that I was partaking in as well. But all of the socials were at the various churches and they would happen maybe every other week. And so that was a way for the different church communities to meet each other as well. And so it was a very important part of, of our social life. I mean, there are a lot of things that I recall, the Buddhist Church, the Skyliners, for example, I remember a guy named Victor Iwata that used to... it wasn't Victor, it was his younger brother, Jimmy Iwata, that used to have this incredible sort of Elvis, Fabian hairdo, and used to dance like him, you know, he was sort of the star of all these churches and things like that. And I think that that tended to really socially, at least, solidify the Japanese American community. Because the Chinese were also having their dances but it wasn't the same. You didn't feel like that was really home. And so by the time I got to college I really wasn't active in church, but I still going to these dances. And they were being held by, usually, since they were a fairly new thing, culturally, it seemed like my age group was sort of on the cusp of that and was the ones that were responsible for the music and the food and all of that kind of stuff. So by the time I got to college most of those dances were college-age kids. And that's where you worked out these dance routines with each other, in each other's rec room. You'd get together and do these things and then you'd actually dance them when you went to these church dances, and sort of a big show-off thing as well.

AI: And so this would be in the later '50s since you, you graduated from high school in '57.

RS: Right.

AI: So when you were in high school it was still mid- to late-'50s and...

RS: Right.

AI: some of the music that you would have at that time was, Elvis was big and...

RS: Right, right. I'd say it was more the late '50s when I started college very intensely for a period of maybe one to two years. It seems like it was drawn out, but I, that's actually, actually went all the way through college and post-college because that's where I met my wife, I believe.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

AI: Well, before we leave those high school years I wanted to ask you also, there was a period there where I understand that you were trying to find out more about what happened during World War II and the camps, and that you asked your parents about it?

RS: Right. I remember asking my father, once, "What was that thing we experienced in camp?" I remember even putting it that way. And my father just went into this rage, and, because I think he felt that we had passed that point of even bringing it up any longer, that we had not talked about it long enough that it should have disappeared completely from our collective memories. And I just remember how upset he got from me bringing it up and saying, "We don't need to talk about that. We want, we're trying to forget it, don't ever bring it up again." And that was it. That was it. And he was so emphatic that I never did bring it up again, despite the fact that... I think I was in high school at the time that this happened. And it probably wasn't until reparations in the late '70s that we were able to talk about it again. But of course he had to sort of get permission. He had to make sure that other people were talking about it before he would talk about it.

AI: So, at that time, when he had such a negative reaction to your question, do you recall what your sort of response was, or how you felt about it?

RS: Well, it's like most things, I just sort of accepted it. I mean, I had my own sense as to why he was doing that, that it was so painful and so negative. I couldn't really understand why he wouldn't talk about it for that reason, but I think I understood that he felt that if he didn't talk about it, it would eventually go away. But that's not the way that my generation dealt with things like that. I mean, we had a little bit more of a sense that one might be able to talk it out. And so that was a clear, sort of marking that the way the Issei dealt with things were quite different than the way Sanseis dealt with things.

And just sort of overall, my father and I did not have a very good relationship. And he would be very upset if he could hear me saying that right now, because I think the older he got, the better he thought our relationship was, because I tried talking to him later on in life with a certain amount of regretfulness that his relationship and mine could have been better. He didn't know what I was talking about. He can't remember those times that, some of those dinner arguments that we had that were just unbelievable. At least, if I was exaggerating, I certainly was feeling that. Boy, I remember slamming my fist down at the table and knocking everybody's food off the dinner, off the dinner table and just not talking to him for a month, not saying one word to him for a month. And they were horrific. And again, I think at the basis of that was the basic difference between the Nisei and Sansei and I felt like I was experiencing an exaggerated form. I really felt like I had it worse than anybody else. So in many ways I sort of felt like I disliked my father more than other people were disliking their father. And I was convinced that he disliked me. And going back to, maybe, my disappointment of not fulfilling his... you know, the argument that we got in before I enrolled in college where he wanted to establish some kind of compromise as to what I would major in, and I told him I refused to go into medical school or prepare for medical school. I wanted to be an artist and his idea of compromising was for me to become a dentist. My idea for compromising was maybe to consider being an architect because that was something that sort of vaguely interested me. But as soon as he said dentist, forget it, I'm not compromising one bit, decided to go into commercial art. So that was something that was, I think, a real source of disappointment for him and I think he carried that for a long time and never really let go of that disappointment until I became a college professor. Where he could tell people that his son was a college professor. And to see how long he'd carry on that discussion without telling 'em what I was professing.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

AI: Well, so, when you started at University of Washington, what, were you still living at home then while you were going to college?

RS: Yes, yes. Driving, commuting to school every day.

AI: And were you also, did you have a job or other kinds of activities?

RS: No, because during the summers when I was in high school and in college, I worked as a Japanese gardener. And a fellow named Bill Yorozu was good friends with my family. My dad asked him if he would hire me, because the wages as a Japanese gardener were two dollars an hour, I mean, they were fabulous at that time, and so I felt really honored. Previous to that I did what most JA, young JA junior high school kids were doing. I was working on the farms. I started out by picking beans and then picking strawberries and for two or three years I worked for Shigeru Kiba and his wife Miyo. They had a farm on Beacon Hill. And we'd, during the summers get up early in the morning and go pick berries all day and did that all summer. And so getting a job as a gardener was like godsend because the money was so much better, maybe two dollars an hour was maybe twice as much as what I was making picking berries. And so, when Bill Yorozu hired me I was just knocked over. So from that point on, in the summers, I worked for Bill six days a week, alternating, I would cut grass and other times install gardens. And one summer worked for Kubota Gardens, when it was a nursery, and sort of pulled weeds. I said, every day I pulled weeds to keep that nursery clean.

And then two summers I worked at the Arboretum putting in the Japanese garden there. And those were amazing memories because I remember they brought in this old, eighty-something-year-old man from Japan to direct the installation of the garden. And he would be there every morning when we showed up for work with his beret, dark glasses, folding stool and a pointer stick. And we all despised that pointer stick because he would make life so miserable for us telling us what to do with that stick and pointing, because we spent weeks putting in the waterfall at that garden. And we would spend a whole day moving just one rock. And these rocks were covered with moss and we had to chain them up in a certain way without damaging the moss. And with these big cranes we'd lift one boulder up. And it became a real art to chain them up in a certain way to get the boulder to rotate. And he'd be down there screaming at us with this stick, telling us, rotate this way. And he'd be speaking in Japanese so we couldn't understand him. And then we'd dig out this big hole and place this rock and then take the chains off and pull the chain out. And from his vantage point down below he'd look to see what we did. And he may, walk in this bit semicircle, and then he'd scream to us in Japanese, this, which meant re-chain it, lift it up, and then he'd go, make some movement like this, shift it this way. And we'd have to chain it up all over, and oh, it was just a nightmare. And I also remember putting in all the rocks in the pond, those round rocks that are in there, and hand-laying all those in the concrete. So for two years I worked on that installation of that garden. So, even, I'd say, every other summer I'd go down there during the summertime just to look to see how it's matured and it brings back all those memories.

But, yeah, so that's what I did in the summers. And then as I said, the other times we took care of the grass and, at places that at the time we couldn't live. Laurelhurst, for example, was white-only. So the only Asian people you'd see there were gardeners because it was prestigious to have a Japanese gardener, not just any gardener, but when I say "Japanese gardener" there's a particular, that was the best, and so we represented the best. But one thing that was very painful for me, I remember, was a lot of the kids that went to Broadmoor, went to Garfield. And the cut-off point was Madison Avenue. And if you lived south of Madison Avenue you can go to Garfield. If you lived north, which Broadmoor was, you had to go to another school. A lot of these kids from Broadmoor, because they were so well-connected, used to falsify their addresses so they can go to Garfield. And why would rich white kids want to go to Garfield? It was because, number one, very few of the kids at Garfield were interested in student governance. Number two, they excelled in sports. And so, if these kids would go to Garfield, they could be student body president, class president, and all this kind of stuff and they could accept all the sports trophies. Furthermore, Garfield as a whole wasn't known for its academics prowess. So these kids, by just cracking a few books could win all of the scholarships to college. So as a result, funny thing about Garfield High School was that if you looked at all the student body presidents that they were all white and a lot of them lived in Broadmoor. And they were the ones that you would see in the paper accepting the all-sports trophy and all that kind of stuff. Well, what I was leading to was that one of the persons that was a cheerleader, and was also senior class president, lived in Broadmoor. And we took care of her house. And I remember how painful it was on Saturdays when we used to cut their grass for us to go over there, and I was operating the power mower. And we'd go there in the swimming pool and there would be like as many as six of my classmates sitting around the pool there. And the sort of ribbing and kidding and, you know, as I said earlier, this was not a favorite time of mine, in life. And it was exacerbated by episodes like this. And I would have to cut this grass and they'd be kidding me and cutting around the swimming pool where they were all sort of luxuriating and all that, in a neighborhood that I could never live in and that I was only allowed in to, to take care of, to maintain. So I recently did a painting about that. So that was sort of, I think, typical of some of the experiences that, of that time of life.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

AI: Well, and also, that era of late-'50s and early-'60s. It was what, it was only 1956 that the Brown v. Board of Education case went to, Supreme Court decided for desegregation of the schools.

RS: Uh-huh.

AI: And then, and maybe speaking of that and some of the other things that had gone on in the '50s, the McCarthyism, there was some, quite a bit of anticommunism that was important in the news of the '50s, Korean War... were any of these things in your consciousness at all in your high school years?

RS: They weren't in my consciousness. And I doubt whether they were in too many people's consciousness. They were probably more in the consciousness of the white kids. And it was just like a few years ago when I was teaching at Kansas. I remember having a very serious discussion with one of my students who was white. And he was talking about his artwork being about, being anti-nuclear weapons and so on and so forth. And I was talking to him, making distinctions about how that was different than say, what I was doing and that, the sort of phenomenon on so many of the protestors of nuclear bombs and so on being affluent white kids. And I said, because they have the luxury of being concerned, but I says, "There aren't too many African Americans that really care about the A-Bomb. It's not a part of the reality of their lives. Where they eat and where they can go and so on are the real realities, not whether the world's gonna be destroyed by an atomic bomb," which is a real abstraction to people that are in desperate need.

And so, in some ways, looking backwards, I think that that has a lot to do with the fact that in high school... now there wasn't, despite the fact that all these things were going on, I think that maybe the white kids cared about it a little bit more than the people of color did, that were dealing enough with surviving from day-to-day. Because those kinds of inequities that we were saddled with back then, we pretty much accepted as a fact of life that was never going to change. And certainly, I think, if you were an Asian American, particularly Japanese American, that was almost part of the DNA make-up. Probably that pace was set by the camp experience and the way that our parents dealt with that. And so, seeing how the African Americans, in their revolution, dealt with things was a real eye-opener for my generation. And that's why I think to this day, things are handled quite differently. When Coble makes those stupid remarks, rest assured the Asian community is gonna use every kind of power and influence that they have in Washington, D.C. to make that right. And they wouldn't have done that years ago because they didn't have that power, of course, but that's not the way that they did things. They were gonna set an example. And so in some ways I think the whole "model minority" myth is something that is sort of a backfire. I mean, that's sort of payback for that kind of setting an example and so on.

AI: Just, speaking of "model minority," did that kind of image of "model minority" affect you when you were in high school, or had that kind of -- I'm not sure if that was in play yet.

RS: Well, I think, I think we were setting that standard back then. Because there were clearly scholars in our student body, and most of 'em were Asian American. And it was like I was saying earlier, I mean the John Takizawas and the May Kiharas and all those people, I mean, most of 'em were extremely smart, extremely diligent and set a very, very high standard of behav-, academic behavior. And so, if you weren't like that, if your talents were in other areas or you were not inclined to act, be academically excellent, you sort of felt out of it, outside of the community in some ways. And so, in some ways, for the boys, there were athletics. But if you didn't excel athletically, then where were you in all of this in terms of the real "important things." So it was real easy to slip out of social favor and into sort of this losing trend. I mean, everything was structured that way. You either had it or you didn't in many ways. And there wasn't anybody around there, teachers or likewise to turn some of those other less-talented things into, into an "it's okay" sort of climate.

AI: Because of the time that it was.

RS: Right.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

AI: So, before our break you had been finishing up talking about your high school years and you graduated high school in 1957 and then went on to University of Washington. So, I wanted to just ask you a little bit more. You said how, during the summers you had your job doing the gardening, but what else was going on for you during those college years at University of Washington?

RS: Is that a cue?

AI: Yeah, yeah.

RS: For what? [Laughs]

AI: Just, well, as an undergrad, you, it sounded like pretty early on you decided that you did want to go into art. And you explained how you had argued with your father, had this discussion about a possible compromise.

RS: Uh-huh.

AI: But that once you realized his compromise meant dentistry, that you were not going to go that direction. So, what was your coursework like then, as an undergrad?

RS: Well, I was majoring in commercial design from the very beginning, and it was a BA degree. I'm not sure they even had a BFA degree at the time, which meant that there was more of a liberal arts emphasis than a professional emphasis. That meant fewer art courses, more other courses. And I remember the curriculum for me was filled with a lot of courses I didn't wanna take and that I really wasn't interested in, and really didn't do very well. In fact, I think I ended up on probation at the end of the first year I was there. And really had some serious questioning as to whether or not college was really meant for me and maybe I should be in art school. And it wasn't through, 'til the, going through four years that my grade point steadily improved every year until my senior year, I think, when I got a 4.0, but overall I was an academic loser because I really wasn't interested in all these courses. And because Washington was on a quarter system and not a semester system, that meant another 33 percent more courses. [Coughs] I think that hot coffee is loosening things up. So, I can't think of anything really extraordinary that happened during my undergraduate years, because as in commercial design was so different than painting and had virtually nothing to do with any sort of self-consciousness and was pretty much a craft that was being sort of sharply honed and developed.

AI: And so you had just mentioned that your grades actually did fairly steadily improve until your senior year where you were doing quite well.

RS: I think one of the reasons for that because as we moved towards the senior year, there was less of an emphasis upon academic courses and more of an emphasis upon art until the senior year where you were taking maybe only one academic course and a load of studio art courses. And those were the courses that I was doing better in.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

AI: Well, and so, at the same time, while you were an undergrad, were you in ROTC? Reserve Officer Training Corps?

RS: Right, yeah. And it was a time that ROTC was mandatory. And, in other words, every person that went to the University of Washington, every male at least, had to A, know how to swim. I don't know if you're aware of that test, the very famous test that happened on the first day of school. And that was... we all had to go to the swimming pool and strip down and jump in and tread for at least five minutes. And if you didn't tread for five minutes you failed and had to enroll in swimming, which you had to continue to enroll in until you passed. But I was able to pass that without too much difficulty. The second thing was that you had to enroll in ROTC, which meant going to military science classes several days a week and then going to what was called a drill on Fridays. And that was the most painful part because you had to wear a military uniform and polish your shoes and polish all your brass and everything else, and go drill for a couple of hours, which was not fun. And of course as, because you were in your first two years, drilling meant being part of a larger team. You weren't directing it or you weren't any kind of a leader, you were just one of the masses that was marching around on order. And since that was required for two years, most of us felt that we didn't want to get involved in this after those required two years. And because the draft was still on I was quite willing to be drafted as a private first class. We did get one rank privilege. Instead of going in as a private you went in as a private first class. You got one stripe because of our ROTC experience, having taking two years of military science classes and going to drills. They gave you a stripe for that. And I was perfectly willing to go in as a PFC rather than putting up with the third and fourth year of drill and classes in college and going in as an officer.

So as it turns out, after completing my first two years and telling my father that that was it -- and he was not in favor of me dropping out at that point. And he took a very practical appraisal of the situation and said, "Listen, you're gonna have to go in because of the draft. Isn't it better to go in a second lieutenant than a private first class?" And I said, "Well it might be better but I'm not willing to wear that damn uniform for two more years and going down to the parking lot and changing into my military uniform and trying not to scuff my shoes, every Friday for two more years." And so, the night before that big decision had to be made, which wasn't a decision for me, it was signing the paper saying that I forfeit the last two years, my dad invited Shiro Kashino over. And Shiro was, at the time, I think, the second most decorated living veteran from the 442nd. And Shiro was also a very close family friend, someone that I knew from the time I was born, and someone that I respected and liked very much. And the reason my dad invited Shiro over was to convince me to go for that third and fourth year. There was no way I thought he can convince me. But Shiro took the approach that it was my duty as a Japanese American to do this, and went on to tell me about how, when he was in the 442nd, that they had all white officers, until the very late stages of the war. And that there was so much, so many JAs that had leadership ability that were not allowed to become officers until the very end where it was almost inconsequential, and how it would be so wonderful, as a Sansei, if I could go in there and sort of fulfill that. You know, it was a whole, talking to my dad about med. school again, fulfilling someone else's destiny. Except this time it worked. And amazingly, after, I think he was over for three hours talking to me about this, and I had never seen Shiro so passionate about something. And as I say, I had known him for all of my life. And he was someone that I really respected so much, and the fact that his behavior changed, his whole demeanor and everything. I had never seen him practically crawling, begging me. I would never in my wildest dreams ever envision him begging me for something. And so it was the first decision that I ever made for the Japanese community, instead of myself. And I signed the papers that put me in for the final two years.

And so for that third and fourth year -- and I sort of justified it on the basis that my tuition would be paid for the last two years, plus I would get an allowance to buy books, which for me was art supplies for the last two years. So, from a financial standpoint it was a great deal, but I did have to wear that damn uniform every Friday for... and so, as it turns out, another thing, obligation we had was, between our junior and senior year we had to go to summer camp, which I believe was for four weeks. And we had to go to Fort Lewis and essentially go through basic training, except an extreme form of basic training, one for potential officers. And this is where it was like sheer utter harassment, you know, like mopping the floor squatting on a toothbrush, and doing the entire floor of the barracks that way, everybody sitting on their own toothbrush, and harassment things like that, and going on four hours of sleep a night, you know, for four weeks, and a real test of leadership abilities, and all of that, leadership reaction tests on a weekly basis, physical fitness, endurance tests, training at nighttime, test after test after test.

And the amazing thing is that at the beginning of our senior year, after this was all over, and the first day of military science class they, they had an announcement and the commanding colonel or whatever of our brigade, or whatever it was came in and came into our big military... we had a big meeting of all the classes together, and to make an announcement of all the distinguished military students. And I was one of 'em. Everybody in there knew that they were one, except for me. No one ever told me. And to this day that really kind of -- I was wondering if there was some, something discriminatory about that, because that was such a prestigious thing. So I'd always hear guys talking about DMS, and the other thing was DMG, to be a Distinguished Military Graduate. I just thought that was so far out, because I could see by test scores and everything else that there were students that were gonna make a career out of the military service that were way up on top, physical fitness. I was always in the upper fourth, but never at the top, but I was in the upper fourth of everything. And I think, in the end, that's what caused me to go right up to the, near the top. So anyway, I was called up front and given this badge to wear and all this. And all of a sudden I sort of perceived myself a little differently, like hey, you competed with these guys. And, but it was so bizarre that no one congratulated me or anything and it was like, it was almost like there was a reluctance to accept me into this sort of fraternity.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

RS: And so anyway, after that senior year I was able to maintain grades and everything and I became a DMG, graduate. But something interesting also happened in that senior year that sort of ties into all of this and... there was a guy that was in ROTC with me. His name was Steve something, and he was a big all-state high school football player from Queen Anne High School. And so I knew of him when I was in high school, and then he ended up in ROTC and he was a DMS and DMG so all of a sudden I'm rubbing elbows with these, who I thought were the big mucky-mucks from high school on a city-wide level. He came up to me and, about mid-way through the senior year and said, asked me if I would be interested in being in his fraternity. And at the time, the fraternities were all-white at the University of Washington. That's why they had SYNKOA House and Valedas, and all the minority groups had their own fraternities, sororities, none of which interested me. But this guy asked me, I think it was Fijis, Phi Gamma Delta. And he said, "Why don't you come to this social we're having?" And then I find out that all the JA guys I know are all being invited, except to different fraternities, we were being sort of scattered all around. So I'm asking, "What's going on here?" And said, "I don't know." "Well, who called you?" Blah, blah, blah, there was this sort of buzz about all of this. So I went to this meeting that they had. And they had party favor, hors d'oeuvre stuff, we're in there and all the fraternity brothers were out there. And this guy, Steve, was sort of assigned to me and I guess because of our ROTC connection, and at some point he took me aside and said, "We've decided to open the fraternity up to other races." And I immediately became sort of suspicious. I mean, they didn't decide to do this, they were being forced to do this. And he said, "So we're starting this out for one quarter of having honorary members and we wanted to see if you're interested in pledging to become an honorary member. And I said, "Well, what does that mean, 'honorary member'?" And he says, "Well, you wouldn't have the same rights and privileges as the regular fraternity brothers but there are certain social functions that you could attend. But there are certain meetings that you're not be allowed to come to and you can't become an officer and you can't ascend in importance or anything else." And it just sounded awful. And so I didn't have the nerve to tell him to his face, but later on I saw him in class and told him I wasn't interested. After talking to a bunch of other friends of mine that all got the same rap from all the fraternities that they visited, and none of us were gonna have anything to do with this thing. So we just sort of all withdrew from that.

So that was, that was just sort of an, I kind of, it sort of opened my eyes for, for a few moments there as to the whole treatment towards me as a DMS, DMG and then that thing with Steve and going to that fraternity, and all of a sudden I sort of felt like there were these confirmations that in some parts of the life that I was living I was not fully accepted as a citizen. That there were things going on there. And of course I didn't really want to face them. I didn't know how to deal with that. There was no precedence out there for that, and so I just kind of put it in the back burner. I didn't forget about it but I just sort of reduced the visibility of it, but it was, the seeds were planted.

AI: Well, you had mentioned also that you were still in touch with some of your Japanese American friends during your college years and I was wondering what -- you had said a little bit earlier about how some of the church social activities had continued for you and so, in some ways, was your social life kind of a continuation with the same friends you had from high school? Or had it broadened somewhat in college?

RS: I think they were broadened in college. I mean, in high school I had sort of these sick relationships with just a very small group of people. And looking back on it now I think they were a group of people that were in probably worse shape than I was, or less inclined to open up for any kind of growth or any kind of adventures outside of what was normally done. And in some ways that kind of validated what I was doing because they all saw me as this person that was taking all these sort of chances and knew all these cool people and all that. And it wasn't like that at all. I didn't see that, but they gave me sort of a pecking order that made me sort of feel that maybe I was better than I actually felt I was. But when I started college it was a whole different group of people I started running around with, and mostly JAs. But there were, there were people that, people that I didn't know, and we had no kind of history, social history with. And so there was a certain kind of acceptance based on face value. And, and because we, we would sort of connect up at these church dances and stuff like that, it was like starting all over again. And so there was an immediate kind of improvement, I think, not only in terms of the level of interaction that I had with, with other guys, but just with overall sense of self-worth, improved as well. And of course, and along with that were the, the women that we were seeing. And all of a sudden you had this, gained confidence and all of a sudden that improved just the general kind of level of people that you were hanging out with and so these guys were suddenly pretty cool guys and the women were pretty cool as well. And, so, all of a sudden, from a social standpoint, it was much better. It was much healthier and everything.

AI: So in some ways, you're finishing up your senior year in high school on, in kind of an up-note. Your grades were up, your Distinguished Military Graduate --

RS: No, that was college, now. The ROTC thing was at --

AI: Right, college.

RS: -- the end of the four years of college.

AI: Yes.

RS: Right? I ended high school on a fairly flat note. And all those new friends and everything happened in college.

AI: And so, right. Excuse me.

RS: Right.

AI: So in college you're kind of at --

RS: And it was sort of our group that, in our last year were invited to be in this fraternity and stuff like that, and we all sort of turned that down, together. So there was a kind of kinship that was formed. And then these guys all became, like when I got married, they were all in my wedding party. And I was in theirs. And it was a pretty tight-knit group of people, that I still, I don't associate with 'em, but I still see them and, usually if someone dies, like when my father died, a lot of them came to the, to the funeral. So, so I still feel connected to these people, even though once I got on that art track that pretty much sort of severed ties.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

AI: Well, so then, as far as your graduation from college, that was in 1961 then?

RS: Right.

AI: And I think you mentioned that was in August of '61?

RS: Right.

AI: In commercial design?

RS: Right.

AI: And so then what happens next?

RS: Well, I had to, I had this military service facing me. And so I remember I needed a job until I went into the military service. And I think the military service obligation was in April, if I recall correctly. And so I got a job working as that gardener, again. I think I was working for someone else this time. It was installing sprinkler systems, and did that until that April. And then I was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, to my officer's basic training and spent, I believe, two months there.

AI: Tell me about that, about that whole experience. For one thing, being in Fort Sill, in Oklahoma.

RS: Yeah, it was -- one of the most interesting things that happened to me happened the day before I had to check in, and it was the small town of Lawton, Oklahoma. And I actually got to Lawton a day before I had to, so I checked into a motel, instead of checking into the base, because I was a day early. And I was wandering the streets that evening, just sort of checking Lawton out. I mean, it felt strange, Oklahoma, I'd never been there, never been to that part of the country. It was all different for me. And I was walking down the street and this Native American guy, that was obviously intoxicated, came up to me and he asked me if I was Indian. And I didn't answer him. And he said, "You're Kiowa, aren't you?" And I said, "Yeah." And he said, "Come on, let me show you where all the Kiowas drink in this town." And so we walked down to this really sleazy tavern and he introduced me to all of his Kiowa friends, and they were all really drunk, and I don't think they could see that I wasn't Indian. I mean, they knew I wasn't white, so maybe everyone not white looked Indian to them or something. And so after a couple of hours or something I was as drunk as they were. And then I met the chief of the local Kiowa Nation, who came in. So we all sat around there. And there must've been, like, ten of us, and we're all singing songs and everything else. And I was sort of an honorary Kiowa, and the chief invited me to this "festival of the maidens" that they have. And he -- up until recently I had this note that he had written me and I kept for all these years inviting me to this thing with directions on how to get there and everything. And he was trying to tell me that it was like this orgy or something, but I mean, we were all really loaded at that point. And so I drank with them until one by one they started falling out and leaving, going back and everything. And they tried to get me to go back to the res with them, but I said no, I gotta get back, 'cause I have to get up in the morning and check in.

And, so that was one of the more interesting experiences of my, of my two months of basic, because basic training itself was very, very rigorous, and it was class after class on gunnery, and, because I was a second lieutenant in the artillery. And there were two things we had to learn: number one was how to direct fire as a forward observer, and the other one was how to put that information on the guns as a gunnery officer and shoot the guns. And it was difficult. It was extremely difficult, for me. And I had a very hard time in gunnery school. And it wasn't until I actually got into the service that it all came together and then I excelled in it. It was really strange how that happened.

AI: Well, excuse me. When you were in, still at Fort Sill, were you worried that you would make some terrible mistake in artillery that... a mistake that might cause damage or lives?

RS: No, no. Still at that point I, I just sort of blindly thought, "Well, they'll teach me not to make mistakes." As it turns out, we did. But at that point, no, that thought never really entered into my head. And part of it was because I didn't understand the big scope of how this all fit in. There was something missing in the training that I was getting, something that was just totally missing. And so I remember a couple of weeks from graduation we were waiting for our orders as to where we were going after that. And we had choices of where we wanted to go stateside and where we wanted to go internationally. And I said I wanted to go international, but my first choice was go the Caribbeans. My second choice was to go to Europe. My third choice was to go to Alaska, and my fourth choice to go to the Far East, because I knew that everyone going to the Far East was going to Korea. And so that was my last choice. So that's what I had submitted. I got Korea, my last choice. And it was at a time when they used to discriminate as to where they sent people. And I found that out -- I'm getting a little ahead of my time -- but I found that out when I got there and found that the average grade level of education in my unit was four-and-a-half years. So, it was a mostly African American battalion. Most of them never went to grade school, some that did. We had very few that graduated from high school, but the average was four point five.

AI: Grades --

RS: Yeah.

AI: -- of school.

RS: That they had completed. Yeah. And here I was, a non-white, was gunnery officer of this group. And I didn't really realize or put that in perspective until I rotated back to the States and I was put on a general staff, the commanding general of Fort Lewis. And everyone in the office had a Ph.D. And that's where they were loading up. So, being in Korea at a time like that, we had a real discipline problem, a real discipline problem. And there were ways that we were taught to deal with that discipline. And we did it through our first sergeant. And when someone wasn't paying attention or got out of line, we had the first sergeant take that person out the woodshed and smack 'em to get their attention. And this was the only thing that was understood out there. And that's how we ran our whole unit was physically, violence. And it was a continuing, ongoing thing for thirteen months. I assumed that's what the whole army was like and that's how things were done. It wasn't until I rotated back that I realized that we were put in this sort of extreme situation like that, discriminatory situation.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

AI: What about personal discrimination? Did you experience any of that yourself individually?

RS: In the military?

AI: Yeah.

RS: No, I can't say that I did other than, I mean, there was, there was individual discrimination. There were remarks said to me, and, being an Asian sent to a place like Korea, there was constant, there was a constant sort of reference to, hey, you look like the enemy. And the enemy was called Joe Chink. That's what they called the North Koreans. And frequently they would call me, hey, Joe Chink. And another thing was like they called me "Pop-up," because I looked like the targets that we all shot at. Whenever we did target practice -- 'cause we had to constantly shoot weapons to qualify -- all these pop-ups had slanted eyes and buck teeth. They were from World War II, Japanese stereotype depictions. And I remember the first time I went out there and qualified with a .45, and you can't see these targets, then all of a sudden wham, this figure came up like this and here's this Jap. And you [makes shooting sound] shoot holes in it, boom, another one, another one, another one, five of them come up and they're all Japs. So, that was my nickname, "Pop-up."

AI: And how did you experience that? What was it --

RS: Well, it was extremely uncomfortable. But again, I didn't deal with that in the same way that I would deal with it today. I had no tools, I had no weapons, I had -- there was no precedence set for me. And so you just sort of, you took it. And it was extremely uncomfortable, but so were a lot of other things in life. And, and compared to those other kinds of things, and internment, and things like that, this was like a source of irritation, but one that was sort of overwhelming when you think about what it would take to turn that around. And that you weren't equipped as an individual to turn that around. So, you just sort of let it go and just sort of let it nestle someplace deep within and sort of smolder. And each time you become maybe a little bit less patient with it.

AI: So, were you angry? I mean, did you feel angry when --

RS: Yeah, I was angry but I took it out in other kinds of ways. I mean, really, for that duration of the time that I was in Korea, I was crazy. I was just crazy. I was looking for fights. I would find any reason to get into fights. And again, there was a sort of camaraderie among all the second lieutenants. And longevity in Korea was everything. The longer you were there, the more power and authority you had over people that were, that had just gotten there. And as you became a short-timer, which meant closer to rotating back to the States, you had a lot more power. And so, since we all drank constantly and got drunk almost on a nightly basis, it, and there was a sort of competitive edge because we as second lieutenants were all competing against each other, our units against your units.

And they would have these battery tests where we'd go out and every kind of firing with Howitzers. I was a .155 which is the big cannons. But we were portable which meant we drug them behind trucks. And we would do, I can't even remember the term for it... hip shoots, and we'd be out in the firing areas and storming along there and then we'd get a command to, for a mission. And we would have to pull off the highway and line all the guns up and orient them, and fire the rounds. And they would measure how accurate we were, how long it took us to hit the target and all of these. And they had every imaginable kind of firing with different weapons and time bombs and everything. And that would be the culmination. We had two of those a year, battery tests. But it was just a real sort of machismo situation. And my friend, Fred Magenheimer, and I, who happened to be in the same unit, there were two batteries per battalion, came in the first test, he came in number one, I came in number two, in all of Korea, in all of the units. And the second time, we switched. I came in number one, he came in number two. So it was like a great source of pride and everything else. And everybody in Korea knew that the two hot-shot gunnery officers were in the same unit and all of that.

So there was that kind of spirit that was built up. We'd get drunk and I mean, it was just crazy. And there'd be fights and all of these, sort of war stories with senior officers. And we'd get away with things and -- one of my additional duties was running the officers' club. [Laughs] And so I had certain privileges. I could kick people out of the club. And I could kick officers out that were superior to me, in rank, without any kind of repercussion. And I did that several times, unjustly, but just because that was part of the whole machismo of doing that.

And so I was a totally different personality for the thirteen months that I was in Korea, and, it wasn't, it wasn't a pretty sight, and yet, they had all these sort of racist songs that they would sing about... "When the ice is on the rice upon the Yalu and Joe Chink comes tippy-toeing at your -- you can bet your ass I'll be there behind you," and blah, blah, "I'll be shacked up with my chick from Yanjugol," and then so on and so forth, and I'd sing them right along, like I was not part of that. But, of course, I was subject to their jokes at any given moment. And I think that did form an anger that I was carrying around with me that I let out occasionally, sometimes physically, but certainly caused that sort of need to excel. I don't know if this is the way JAs all did things, but, I'll do you in the classroom or on the field or whatever, as a way of getting even. But I was drinking really heavily. I mean, I really thought I had a drinking problem when I left. But we all did.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

AI: Well, you had said --

RS: And my blood pressure on my outgoing physical was so high that it was high enough for them to put me in the hospital and not let me rotate back to the States. And I bribed the doctor to change it by giving him certain privileges in the officers' club to lower my blood pressure to the level where I wouldn't have to go to the hospital. And that I would be able to rotate back to the States.

AI: Wow.

RS: And I've always had a blood pressure problem. [Laughs]

AI: Now, I wanted to ask you about, you had mentioned about how that talk with Shiro Kashino had pretty much kept you on this path, from ROTC that led you up to this point where you were in Korea and under these conditions. I'm wondering, at any point, while you were there, did you actually feel that you were doing what, some of the things that Shiro had asked you to do, or envisioned that you would be doing, as an officer, as a Japanese American?

RS: No, not really. I think the big influence got me into it. And so I think as soon as I was committed to be in it, I really didn't think of myself as fulfilling any kind of destiny or that I was doing any kind of community service or anything. If there was any connection to that it might've had, had, it might have something to do with this need to excel. That might have been part of the whole community and not Shiro specifically, or the officer issue separately. But as a tactic to uphold some sort of respectability within that community.

One, one sort of humorous story -- remember I was telling about this girl that I was dating in college that made men out of boys? We had broken up when I left to go to Korea. And we had dated for three years. And it was just over, it was dead. But we didn't formally end it. She came when I went to the airport and she came with me and said goodbyes and everything and promised to write, weekly. And so, when we said our goodbyes and I was in Korea and I started receiving letters from her -- I was also writing with some of my other buddies, exchanging letters. And I got letters from two or three guys saying that I should know that she's seeing a lot of Bruce Lee. And Bruce Lee was always around that last year that, my senior year at Washington, that's when he was at the University of Washington, he was just like a real pain to be around, 'cause he was also always doing these tricks and knocking people over and everything else, which was all very entertaining initially -- but this is before he was a famous movie star. But he was teaching kung fu and, was humiliating our golden glove fighters on a weekly basis in his class, and doing everything one doesn't do if they're a martial artist. He was flaunting it. And he was taking on football players and humiliating 'em. And then all of us people used to play Hearts in the union, and everybody would groan because, here comes Bruce, and showing off. But anyway, so I started getting letters from friends, saying my girlfriend, ex-girlfriend was seeing a lot of Bruce. And you know, I'm eight thousand miles away, I mean, if I weren't, if I was living there, what was I gonna do? You couldn't even hit him with a hammer if his back was turned because he'd sense that and cut you in half before you did that. And so I just thought, I really don't care. And so when I eventually rotated back to the States, one of the first things I did was go over to her house to officially terminate our relationship. And I can honestly say it had nothing to do with Bruce because I think we had both at that point sort of left the relationship and unfortunately didn't officially terminate it before that point. But it was interesting because years later, we did terminate that relationship, but years later I saw her in Chinatown and I asked her, I said, "Were you and Bruce doing a thing while I was in Korea?" And she said, "Well, it's too bad he was impotent." [Laughs] And I just kind of laughed and started thinking about that. [Laughs] I never did get any more clarification on that. He actually married a woman that I went to high school with, Linda (Emery). But anyway, that was just kind of an interesting aside. I actually did a painting about that, with me in full military regalia and her and Bruce getting it on.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 26>

AI: Well, so when you did rotate back to the States, then, is that when you came to Fort Lewis?

RS: Right. I had, I think I had a little furlough time and then reported to Fort Lewis and I was on the general staff as Assistant Post Training Officer. And my job, essentially, for my last nine months there was to, I was in charge of all parades and honor guard ceremonies for every event that was at Fort Lewis. And if there wasn't some sort of standard operating procedure, I had to write it by going into the library and finding out what the appropriate -- I had to draw these charts and, I really got into that. It was something I, 'cause even to this day I love the pomp and circumstance of military parades, and presidential funerals, and when JFK was killed. I mean, it was just fascinating. Well, I happened to be doing this job when JFK was assassinated, and I realized the impact that that was going to have upon me, because how many presidents have been assassinated while in office? And, and I'm sure that none of them were around to, to say what was supposed to be done on a military post in the case that a president was assassinated. But we actually, in the office, knew about it before the public did and we got what was called a TWX, which was a sort of ticker-tape thing that twenty-four hours a day pumped out news from all over the country, and you pull it out and you read it like this. And someone picked up on the fact that hey, JFK was shot. And we turned on the radio and there was nothing on the radio but we were reading this thing. And it seemed like about five minutes later it actually came on the radio. So we got it a little before everybody else. And I was away, out of the office because one of my additional duties was to, as a lawyer, was to defend these twenty-five prisoners that went AWOL. And I was supposed to defend them in a military court-martial. And so I got in my car, knowing that JFK was shot, not knowing that he had died yet, and drove over to the stockade. And I went into the stockade and there were all these twenty-five men lined up in the hallways and they were all handcuffed, at the at-ease position. And a lot of them were crying, and had a radio on and that's when I found out that Kennedy died. And here were all these grown men and half of them were sobbing and crying. And they had a cell open for me so that I could interview. And I was supposed to get the extenuating and mitigating circumstances from each person and to build a case, and then at their court-martial, defend them. But it was real difficult because these, most of 'em were real young kids in their early twenties, and some were teens, were just really broken up over this. And so I managed for the rest of the day to get through all of them.

And then I had to go back to the office and pull an all-nighter and go through all these books and manuals as to what a post does, what everybody does, when a president gets assassinated in office. And so I had to make all these charts and diagrams and immediately had to get on this twenty-four-hour gun salute. All night long, ba-boom, cannon would go off on post. And there were certain things that each person involved in this ceremony had to be doing. It wasn't just the cannon going off. All these other things had to happen, too. And then the next day it was just this whole series of events that go through. And I had to be on top of all of that, and watch that all happen. And it lasted for a week, because every night these salutes had to go off at certain times. And I think to this day that that had something to do with some of the performance work that I did later on. My ability to be able to organize these things and put them in the right sequence and manage several things at the same time, I think, came from, from that training.

AI: You were actually producing and directing and managing this whole --

RS: Right, right.

AI: -- arrangement?

RS: Which was a performance, yeah. And there was something really satisfying. I loved doing that. And I actually have this booklet I created that's about this thick that's just filled with all these little architectural drawings about who moves here when, and on certain, and I just love that. And as I said, was just thoroughly enraptured by watching the funeral, that whole procession, and everything about that.

AI: So, you were very immersed in all this activity, all your responsibilities, your duties, things that you had to carry out --

RS: Right, right.

AI: -- for days on end.

RS: Yeah, yeah.

AI: What about your own personal reaction to the fact that he had been killed?

RS: I took it quite hard. I took it very personally. I cried several times in the process of all of that. And I think felt it like everybody else did. Yeah, it was a very dramatic time.

AI: Had President Kennedy meant much to you? Up to that point?

RS: I think he did. I think that whole kind of ambience that was coming out of the White House with Jackie Kennedy -- then I realized that, I knew that his political persuasion was quite different than Barry Goldwater's. There was a certain kind of appeal that Camelot had for me and the sort of style and all that. I'm not gonna say that I sat there and listened to the content and that it persuaded me, but I had a real vulnerability for what all of that stood for. But during that time, I can't really say that I was politically motivated by things. I mean, one thing that I didn't say earlier was that when I got to Korea, one of the first things I did was volunteer to go to Vietnam. And the reason I volunteered to go to Vietnam because of hazard pay, which we weren't getting in Korea, even though we were on twenty-four-hour strack, which meant we didn't, we weren't allowed to bring any civilian clothes with us and the sirens would go off at any time, twenty-four hours a day which meant that we had to locate, relocate into our main battle positions that were several miles away. And, of course, this happened at the worse time when we were partying or drunk or -- we would have to do this. And so, what was my train of thought?

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

AI: So you had volunteered to go to Vietnam while you were in Korea.

RS: Right, I volunteered to go to Vietnam because of the money, because of the battle pay. And it was at a time when, what were they called? Advisors, they were still called advisors. And then I found out it was an eighteen-month tour and I was only have to be in Korea for thirteen months, and so I decided not to do it. But without ever thinking about what the war was about or anything else -- that was all tied in with this whole "Bomb Hanoi" and all that, and I was in the military and that made perfect sense to me. And that's where my head was at, getting into fights, beating up people, all of that stuff. It all sort of tied into this neat package that yeah, we want Barry Goldwater.

AI: So, by 1964 then, you were, actually you were discharged then, in 1964?

RS: Right, right. I was discharged. I voted for Goldwater, but JFK won. Or, no.

AI: Or, Johnson?

RS: Johnson, right. So, I think that was sort of the, the low point, or the high point, you know, of my sort of political, opposite, and then things started turning for me. And I actually started growing up and developing some consciousness, and starting to put together pieces of my life, little by little. But it wasn't until I got to Kansas that things really turned around for me in a series of rather dramatic events.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 28>

AI: Today is March 20, 2003. We're continuing our interview with Roger Shimomura. I'm Alice Ito with the Densho Project and also co-interviewing is Mayumi Tsutakawa. Videographer is Dana Hoshide. Roger, I'm just gonna recap a little briefly where we left off yesterday. And that was that you had just finished describing your service as a second lieutenant in the United States Army and your service as a gunnery officer in Korea. You also described how you had rotated back to the States and been stationed at Fort Lewis, which is just a little south of here in Seattle, south of Seattle that is, and that in 1964 you were discharged from the army. And so that kind of brings us up to the point where we are now. And I wanted to ask you, what did you do then at that point, when you were discharged? Where did you go and what did you do?

RS: Well, obviously, I came back to Seattle and wanted to begin to fulfill my plans of becoming a freelance graphic designer, illustrator. And there were several people that I went to school with, Dave Setsuda was one of them and a fellow named Jim Hayes. And we were in the same graduating class and we had always talked about the possibility of opening up a graphic design studio together. But at the time I sort of felt like I hadn't really gotten my feet wet and the two of them had been working professionally for a couple of years. So I decided that I would try to pick up some freelance jobs and gain a little bit of experience before we actually made a move to sort of integrate our talents to open up this studio. And so I started picking up these jobs like designing menus for different restaurants and designing corporate logos and so on and so forth, but I really didn't like it and I wasn't sure why. I wasn't sure whether it was the quality of the jobs that I was getting or whether there was something about the field itself that I didn't like. And I found myself sort of drifting away from having any kind of desire to do that.

And eventually, because I had bills to pay, I decided to get another job that was not really related to it, and ended up getting a job as a draftsman for the University of Washington. I believe it was the architects' office or the engineering office. I can't remember for sure, but one of the things that I had to do was to take care of all of the original drawings to every building that was built on the campus of the University of Washington. Some of these, of course, went back to the nineteenth century and were just amazing drawings and great detail of some of the original library, of all of the oldest buildings and so on. It was very fascinating. And I used to make copies of these because the architects in the office would want to remodel, for example, one of the rooms or something and they needed a blueprint of the floor-plan. And so I would take it out and make a copy of it. And then eventually I started drafting, myself. So for a period of about a year to a year-and-a-half I worked in this office as a draftsman.

And then eventually, sort of started phasing back into doing more graphic design work because I knew I didn't want to end up in that office and doing that for any period of time. And one of the things that sort of drew me back to the field was that I got the commission to do all of the artwork for the Polynesian Pavilion of the New York World's Fair. And the producer of that pavilion was an attorney living here in Seattle. And so, I started out by doing, I remember five illustrations of the pavilion that were given to the five kings of the five kingdoms of Polynesia, Pango Pango and Bora Bora and Tahiti and so on and so forth. I can't remember all five of them but I did these five illustrations and the attorney was so pleased with that we immediately moved into doing a big sign, neon sign for the front of the pavilion. And then eventually that went into the restaurant that was at the pavilion and designing the menu and all of the signage that went in the restaurant, and even costume illustrations that the waiters and waitresses and bartender wore, and so I was getting a real complete sort of experience working with just about every phase of graphic design and illustration that there was, but I still didn't like it.

And that's when I realized that I better start looking for other possibilities. And for the first time in my life I started to paint because I wanted to paint. And that was an extremely important turning point for me in my life, because up to then I, I had only painted in the painting courses that I was required to take to get my degree in commercial art. And I was really an average student. And I think I was an average student because I had just average interest in it. So I started painting and I was still able to pay all of my bills by picking up graphic design jobs that were sort of the result of having done this sort of high-visibility job for the Polynesian Pavilion. But I also remember incidents like designing a logo for this one real estate company. And I remember they asked me to come up with twenty-five sketches for this logo, and staying up all night working on this and meeting with them the next morning and having done twenty-five, having some idea of which ones I thought were the best and the most interesting. All the way to the ones that I thought were done only because they wanted twenty-five. And sitting in that room with the executives of this real estate company and having them look at these designs and invariably picking out the worst ones. And I'm sitting there, thinking to myself, I had this rent that I had to pay, and I needed the money for this job. And ending up modifying the designs which were among the worst of the lot and really being embarrassed to have my name associated with them, but doing it and getting paid, and, to me this entire episode was just typical of what I didn't like about the whole field was that you were selling out to people that were basically visually illiterate and catering to them in order to make money to pay the rent.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 29>

RS: And so it all of a sudden became clear the difference between being a fine artist and being a commercial artist. And over the course of the next year or two I began painting more and turning down commercial art jobs. And was also able to see for the first time with a new kind of clarity the kind of work that my three uncles did, the very reason -- I mean, these were the three people that inspired me to go into the commercial field. All of a sudden their work started to look different to me as well. And, not that it was without value, but it didn't contain the kind of value I guess that I was interested in. And so I decided to enroll in some painting courses at the University of Washington. I had saved up enough money to be able to do that, and...

AI: Excuse me, was this about 1965 --

RS: Yeah.

AI: -- or so?

RS: Right. It's about in 1965 and I went up there and enrolled in four painting courses with four different people, because I remember Boyer Gonzalez said, "Well, are you gonna want to go to graduate school in painting?" And I told him I really didn't know. I mean, to me that was just the most overwhelming thought at that point because I really hadn't taken a painting course seriously. And wasn't really sure whether or not I was good enough. And so I took these four courses by four different teachers and they had what was called a U-5 or unclassified fifth-year status. And I took all of these courses, Alden Mason, Fred Anderson, Boyer, and I think Hickson was the fourth person. And I had no idea what I was doing in these classes. I had absolutely no idea except that I was painting abstractly because I was very influenced by Alden Mason. Things about the way Alden taught painting that was just, made it so incredibly appealing. And he would talk about stopping at the Pike Place Market and picking up a particular fruit. And he could talk about that fruit like no one else. And then he'd talk about how he would touch and feel it and hold it up close to his face so it was out of focus and then he would do drawings and out of those drawings he would make paintings. And I wanted to be like that. And I remember he invited the class over to his house. And seeing his house and the things that were in it, I think to this day were very influential about the way I feel about my house, that it was just this sort of living organism that was just, it was an extension of who he was. And I never thought of a house in that way. And so he was this tremendous influence that just made the whole activity of painting so passionate and so personal, despite the fact that I was to reject abstract painting later on in my own life. But there was something extremely valuable about that experience.

AI: It sounds to me that, it sounds like you were almost surprised to find yourself so engaged in painting.

RS: I must have been incredibly vulnerable because I just sort of believed everybody in some ways. And I think that eventually sort of got me into trouble in that program. And of course now, I look back and I see that the University of Washington, as long as I've known it, and continues to this day as being a modernist school. And that's, that's the image that they tend to perpetuate, they're abstractionists. And it sort of, this kind of European-male-dominated program in its ideas and everything else. And if you look at all of the people that have been there that have sort of made that program what it is today, they all share, philosophically, something in common. And in fact, at the College Art Association, I remember when they were hiring two painting positions they were talking, one was a structuralist painter and one was a non-structuralist painter and people on a national level had no idea what they were talking about. What does that mean? And I knew immediately what they were talking about. And so anyway, it's interesting to sort of look back upon my experience and to see how that's affected, in many ways, how I felt about the painting program at Kansas, because the painting program at Kansas is actually, now is actually bigger than the one at the University of Washington. But I think there was a point that Washington was the only program that was bigger than ours so we had a luxury of looking at the breadth of what we had to offer and I always used Washington as a model of what we didn't want it to be, despite the fact that it was so important for me.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 30>

RS: But in any case... so I was working with these four painters and just sort of believing everything that all of them had to say and Boyer was extremely supportive of me. And why, I have no idea because when I look back on the work that I was doing for him, I doubt whether I would have supported myself, because I thought that the work was so naive. But he did provide me with my first opportunity to talk about painting as though I understood what painting was. And, and I'll always be grateful to him for that support. So after one quarter of taking those painting courses, they encouraged me to apply for graduate study there. And I did, and those four teachers all supported me and I was accepted into the program. And amazingly, I was not just accepted into the program but they offered me a graduate teaching assistantship.

And I always remember, about two weeks before I was to be in the classroom, my wife and I -- I had gotten married in that period of time to Bea Kiyohara. But Bea and I got into a car accident that almost killed both of us, up on Broadway. And we both ended up in the hospital, and both totally disabled, broken arms, legs, everything else. She had a clavicle that was broken in half and her arm in a cast with her arm up, she had plastic surgery on her face... anyway, it was real bad. But somehow I was determined to get out of the hospital and go to that first day of class. I always remember that, and going in on crutches and sort of facing my first class ever. But it was a very exciting period of time for me because, to be thrust into the classroom, having only been teaching for just a few -- or painting for a few months prior to that, was just amazing. And then when I think about going from there to graduate school eventually, and going to Kansas, I'd only been painting for maybe three years before I started teaching. So it was it was a time of very radical changes and growing up.

AI: A lot of things happened in a very short space of time there.

RS: Right.

AI: Before we go on to the next phase, I wanted to ask you a little bit about your marriage and how you came to meet your wife, your first wife and whether that big change in your life had much of an impact on your work at that time?

RS: Uh, I believe I met Bea at a party. I'm not sure, it was a party up on Beacon Hill. She was from Kent. She went to Kent High School, but she was going to the University of Washington when I was involved in, I think, taking those initial painting courses. And to tell you the truth, I can't remember the exact circumstances that we met, but there was an overlap between both of our social lives and we knew people in common. And we started dating and eventually got married. She was majoring in creative dramatics, which was a field of, that had to do with teaching theater to children. And I remember going to some of her stage productions that she was involved with as an undergraduate in creative dramatics. But anyway, I think it was in 1965 that we got married. And moved to an apartment on Capitol Hill, Ben Lomond Apartments, it was sort of a landmark place because you go up I-5, you see Ben Lomond Apartments that sort of hung over the freeway and we got an apartment there. It was eighty dollars a month and we were right above the -- you could spit out the window and land on the freeway, listening to that incredible constant roar of cars and trucks and so on, but this amazing view of Seattle. And I remember having a lot of parties. And again, it was a period of these rapid changes because all of a sudden as a married couple, associating with other young married couples that were in the art program and having these big parties that went on all night, and we all sorta took turns. Every weekend it was someone else's house, and just amazing changes to get into that sort of culture of artists.

AI: So, in a short space of time you went from your original career direction of commercial art to really making a huge change.

RS: Right, right. Well, I mean to back up even more than that, coming out of the military some sort of animal, practically. I mean, we didn't talk about that aspect of it, but being in the army, in Korea... and I talked a little bit about the sort of discipline that we imposed upon the enlisted men and the average grade level of people. I mean, all of that, really shaped a part of my personality that I wasn't proud of. And that carried all the way through the time that I was at Fort Lewis and carried through right up to that graduate school experience. But then I think things started to change when all of a sudden the people that I were associating were no longer military people, and they were all artists. And again, the culture was totally different. And I could feel myself sort of changing, without really thinking about it, I was changing. And certainly that continued on and continues through to this day.

<End Segment 30> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 31>

AI: When you look back on it now, what do you think were some of the significant changes in yourself during that period at UW?

RS: Well, I became more socially conscious. I mean, to put it simply, I sort of went from right-wing to left-wing and started to have some sense of awareness that the world was sort of divided up with a tendency that seemed to lean to the left or lean to the right, and that the world that I was living in was clearly on the left side. And that, that felt more comfortable to me. And that a lot of the baggage that I was carrying from that right side had to do with the kinds of schools that I went to.

MT: I would just like to ask about your family or your parents' reaction to this major change, because obviously they had had some influence in your going to the military and so on.

RS: Yeah, I think, I think when I was in the military I was further to the right than my parents were. And I think that, like most Japanese American families, they wanted something sort of, a little bit more moderate. Anything extreme they were against. And when I was in the military, came out of the military, I mean, the kinds of things that were coming out of my mouth about what I believed in and values that I had and all that were really too extreme for them, even to the right of them. And then when I started changing, and somehow bypassed them, went through what they thought was the ideal, and the pendulum started swinging to the left, they clearly had problems with that, too. And then, but there was a point of no return and I went past them to the left and never came back. So yeah, there were a lot of very interesting moments when it was clear that my opinions had changed radically and I think they recognized that.

AI: And also, did they have a reaction to your decision to shift from the commercial art field into graduate school --

RS: Yeah. My dad in particular was the one that was most vocal about that because he was against me going into commercial art from the beginning. He thought it was a waste of money for me to go to a university when all my uncles, all the Tanagi brothers were all graduates of Burnley art school. And so he sort of saw, well, if you wanna be a commercial artist, you go to a two-year art school. You don't go to a university and, which tied in with what he wanted. He wanted me to be this doctor, some... so, yeah, there was great reluctance on his part to admit that his son went to a four-year university to become a commercial artist. And then, I went through this other change when I decided to go into painting and that became a real abstraction for him as to what a painter did. And so, it wasn't really until I became a professor that he, I think he really felt comfortable in telling people what his son did, hoping that people wouldn't ask him what he professed.

<End Segment 31> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 32>

AI: So you were here, at UW, in the graduate school, and you were teaching, and so then what developed?

RS: Well, I think, again, I mentioned the big changes, and certainly one of the biggest changes had to do with the kind of art that I was making. Because the University of Washington was so adamant about people being modernist painters, and certainly had to do with the people that I was working with as well, chose to work with, I was doing these big charcoal drawings of abstract expressionistic -- you know, with erasers and sort of the look at the time, I think. But I was also being very influenced by a group of my fellow graduate students that had come from different parts of the country. Ron Gasowski, in particular, who had come from the University of Michigan, was a ceramic sculptor and was very much involved with the whole funk ceramics movement that was going on at the time, even in the ceramics area, with Howard Kottler. And I just, I fell in love with, with what he was doing. I fell in love with the whole attitude of, that he brought with him into his studio, which connected up to a lifestyle. And I think for the first time I sort of recognized lifestyle and images of the art that was being made, that there was a connection that sort of presented a broader picture of a possibility of everything. And John Dowell who was a African American lithographer, who was from Tyler in Philadelphia, and what he bought. He introduced me to John Coltrane and jazz and Bob Mackie was in the sculpture program, and Jim McManus who is now a Ph.D art historian in California, but there were a lot of people that happened to be very vital at the time that brought a lot of different things to the table, not only artistically, but socially. And it was that connection between what one did in their studio and how one lived their lives that was so fascinating to this naive sort of person that never saw things in that way. And so it was an awakening for me from every standpoint. And because we had such a close, closely-knit group of people, not just artistically, but socially that it seemed like I reinvented myself weekly. And I'm sure a lot of that had to do with growing up in this very conservative Japanese American family, 'cause I know my parents couldn't keep up with me. They couldn't figure out what happened to this person they thought that they knew, because every day I shifted out from underneath them.

So, so my paintings became very influenced by funk ceramics. And there was something so liberating, so cathartic about the sort of anti-intellectual attitude that funk ceramics had on one hand, and then on the other hand, but my drawings were being abstract expressionistic, and we talked about them completely differently. So, again, this polarization between what I was doing with drawings and paintings and philosophically, where was I? And I remember going to this one seminar and being asked what my artistic influences were and then I said, I used the example Rembrandt and Andy Warhol. And half in jest but then realizing that maybe I was being quite serious or revealing when I was saying that. So, I started to run into problems in that it was a time when we were all entering these shows, these summer festivals and I was winning prizes in drawings and paintings, and for doing two completely different kinds of images. But of course, the people that were giving the prizes didn't know that, didn't care about that. But there was something, I mean, it probably would have been a healthier situation if I was being reinforced in one and not the other, but I, so I kept doing both. And I was trying to resolve the difference by looking at people like Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and thinking to myself, "Well, I can do these sort of painterly pop paintings." But at the time I was painting these big TV dinners and, again, probably one of the worst things that happened was that I was accepted into Northwest Annuals being reinforced for this sort of outlandish image. But I was having, also having a one-man show schedule, my first solo exhibition at the Earl Ballard Gallery. Do you remember that gallery?

MT: No.

RS: It was on Mercer Island and Frank Okada was the one that got me introduced to that gallery, but it was just all of those drawings. And it was on the basis of the drawings that Earl Ballard said, "Yeah, I'll give you your first show." So, again, I was being reinforced in two totally different -- and I'm doing these paintings, these sort of masochistic paintings of Rembrandt. I'm forging these Rembrandts and putting them within these really painterly sort of backgrounds and just trying to bring the two together. And it was around that time that I met Frank Okada. And Frank was terrific because he sort of introduced me to the JA art community and, and also introduced me to Chinatown. And at the time we used to go down to Art Louie's every Friday night. And I used to bring all my graduate student buddies with me, you know, Ron Gasowski, McManus, there was a whole group of us that'd go down to Art Louie's and Okada would show up. And we'd always end up getting into these really sort of heated art discussions. And it seemed like we were never having a good time unless we were sort of arguing about something.

And I remember one of the classic arguments that we had was Frank sort of saw himself among all these young impressionable painters that he was going to sort of teach all the ropes to. And Frank always said, "If you go to someone's opening, and they have hors d'oeuvres, and you eat those hors d'oeuvres, you have to tell them you like the show whether you like it or not." We used to say, "Frank, what are you saying?" And of course we felt you eat the hors d'oeuvres, and you tell them you don't like the show, because of truth and everything else. And we used to, every week, we'd bring this topic up and we'd scream at each other and so on. And of course, now, in retrospect, I think back and I think Frank was right in a way. [Laughs] And I find myself doing that very thing and sort of smile every time I do that. You know, I look at the work, because usually, having seen so much work now, you probably don't like ninety percent of what you see out there anyway. But you go there, and you eat the hors d'oeuvres and you just sort of grunt and say, "Oh, nice show," hoping that they won't remember you said that.

So, Frank was sort of the great guru of the group and I remember one time he had this dinner where John Matsudaira and Paul Horiuchi and some of the -- I remember I couldn't believe I was suddenly in this group, these distinguished, I mean, I felt like, I didn't even want to be there. I felt embarrassed being there. But Frank was that link. And from a very early day -- oh, I always considered him to be a mentor of sorts, because it wasn't, his work and mine couldn't be any more different and it really wasn't from that standpoint, but he taught me so much about, everything else about being an artist. I mean, he was sort of the, you know, he had the incredible studio, he had the incredible lifestyle, the music, the jazz. I mean, everything about all that was just so incredibly appealing that anything Frank did had an appeal to me. And so, again, it sort of upset all of my, my values that I had and caused me to re-examine everything, which I think is really sort of a healthy way of looking at the world.

<End Segment 32> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 33>

RS: But Frank had this amazing studio. And then that sort of overlapped at the time that I was having problems in graduate school with my work and so on. It was, I had various people on the faculty telling me that maybe I ought to drop out of school and just sort of try to come to terms with this problem. And I was having people like Bob Jones say, "You got your undergraduate degree here, don't get your graduate degree. Go someplace else." So, Frank got his Guggenheim, and he went to Paris. And he came up to me and said, "Do you want to rent my studio?" And he's got this two-thousand square foot studio and it's twenty-five dollars a month and it's right next door to Bill Ivey's studio. I said, "Absolutely." And so I took his studio over and rented out the back room to this writer for five bucks a month so it was twenty dollars a month and no utilities and the only downside of it was that there were no light switches. And in order to turn the lights on -- and there were dozens of lights in the studio -- you had to screw the fuse in. And every time you screwed the fuse in it'd throw sparks out like this. And I always remember being out drinking with Okada late at night and we'd always go to the studio for a late night drink or to look at his latest painting. He'd go in there just totally intoxicated and put his hand in this fuse box and it'd look like electricity was coming out of his fingertips, as he's, just deftly would turn the right fuse, just like this and [makes sound effects] like this. And all the lights on the floor would go on. And so that was the only downside of that studio. But here suddenly I had this studio that was right next door to Bill Ivey, whose work that I really respected and was certainly someone that Frank always talked about and probably respected more than anybody. And so, again, another very sort of rapid growing-up process. And there were other artists in the building as well that now have become sort of icons of Northwest painting.

So I had that studio for one year and decided at that point that I would get ready for that drawing show at Earl Ballard Gallery and I would just quit painting for a year. And my plan was to do this drawing show and then I would quit drawing. And that was the only way that I felt like I could deal with it, because the stuff that I was doing in between, trying to do this Rauschenberg stuff was just not working out. And so that was the plan. And so for one year, I was able to sort of live this wonderfully kind of bohemian life in Pioneer Square, eating at all these greasy places that Frank sort of introduced me to. And listening to music and painting and so on. And it was -- I took in a studio partner because the studio was too big and believe it or not, twenty dollars a month was a lot of money back then. And I took in this, this friend, graduate, Pete Madsen was his name. He was a really excellent painter. And we used to have these wild parties down there, too, on weekends. And I also started spending a lot of time at... what's the name of that jazz place? I can't remember. Same owner as Jazz Alley but -- I can't remember, but it was a very famous jazz place. A guy named Charlie Puzzo owned it. Do you remember the name of that place? It was on First Avenue.

MT: The Bank?

RS: No.

MT: Or The Vault?

RS: No.

MT: Not New Orleans?

RS: No. It was something like, it was Jazz something. But anyway, I used to go there on weekends because it was so close to the studio and I got to meet Cannonball Adderley, and would sit there with Cannonball and Nat during breaks and talk to them. And we actually were on a first-name basis. I would go every night that they would play. And sit on the side table that they would sit and take their breaks at. And I met Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd, all of these people. And it was just a really wonderful time.

And one story, I think it's sort of worth telling, was... and I became friends with Charlie Puzzo, that owned this place. And he told me that John Coltrane was coming. And this was just about the time that I decided to go back to graduate school and I'd given up the studio. I left -- I was going to give up the studio. I gave it to Bob Jones and Dick Dahn. And, so that was in the very near future, and I found out that John Coltrane was coming and of course he was the man as far as I was concerned. And I asked Charlie if there was any possibility that, since my studio was so close to, to this place, whether or not I could have a party and that he would show up. Charlie said, "Well, I can ask." And so I put the word, I invited three hundred people over to the studio with the possibility that John Coltrane may show up at two o'clock in the morning when he was through with his gig. And so I had this party and all these people showed up and everybody was rip-roaring drunk, dancing and having a good time, almost forgot that Coltrane might be showing up at two o'clock in the morning. Which he did not. And so, but at that point I think we had all sort of forgotten about that possibility and were just having a good time. And the party ended about five in the morning or something, which was typical. And the next day I had to leave to go to California because I enrolled in the summer program at Stanford. And was realizing, still exhaling alcohol fumes and driving my car by myself down to Palo Alto that, gee, John Coltrane never showed up. Well, when I got down to California, and I remember making it in twelve and a half hours, and crossed the bridge into San Francisco, I stopped and picked up a newspaper, because I was looking for a motel. And there on the front page it said, "John Coltrane dies." And he had...

MT: But that wasn't in Seattle, was it?

RS: No, he didn't die in Seattle.

MT: That he died?

RS: He missed his gig.

MT: Oh.

RS: And he died of some sort of kidney disorder. And I remember just being shattered. And, not because he missed my party, but because he had died. And I remember immediately looking for tributes or something in San Francisco that were going to be made to him, and found one at this place called Both/And, and going there -- and that's a whole 'nother story that I won't go into, but, anyway, that's my John Coltrane story. So you're going to have to reel me back in now. [Laughs]

<End Segment 33> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 34>

AI: Well, before we get into the summer session at Stanford, I wanted to go back a little ways. And you had mentioned how Frank Okada had introduced you really to the circle of Japanese American artists here in the Northwest. And I wanted to ask you if you would say a little bit more about that and, for people who don't know, of course, Frank is a Nisei generation. His parents were Issei immigrants. And so, and so he was older than you, and in some ways the generation of your parents although not quite as old. So maybe if you could say a little bit more about those men that you came in contact with and...

RS: Yeah, I can't really say... there is one story that I didn't tell that actually is not, we're rewinding way back now, but when we got out of camp and moved to 946 Twenty-fourth South, right across the street is where Paul Horiuchi lived. Directly across the street. And he had three boys, John, Paul and Vincent who became my best friends. John, the middle son and I were the same age, so we were the closest. So Paul was always the older one and Vincent was always the younger one and as just sort of a side note, when Bea and I got married, Paul sang at our wedding. But I remember, at that time, because I spent so much time over at their house, Paul was, had a body fender shop. And, but he painted during the nighttime and of course during the weekends. And I remember going over there and he would use his sofa as an easel. And of course he wasn't painting, he was collaging, so it wasn't like he was getting paint over everything, he had all these different kinds of papers and stuff. And I remember always watching him and not really comprehending what this activity was and how unusual it was, as to what he was doing. You know, but he was very friendly and he was very approachable and he'd talk about it and so on. But this was always sort of the backdrop to me playing around and having this sort of childhood with his three boys. And I remember Bernadette, and cooking lunch and so on.

But I also remember them being Catholic, which soon had meaning to me because I remember how every week John would show me a list of the movies that they couldn't see. And these were all the movies I wanted to see. And I couldn't understand, "Why can't you see these movies?" And, and of course they belonged to the Catholic church, Maryknoll, and I remember John asking me if I wanted to join the Cub Scouts and I just sort of said, "Yeah." I mean, I just saw they were having a good time, all three brothers were in the Cub Scouts and so I didn't say anything to my parents. And I went to a meeting that was at their church, again, not really thinking about the politics of religion. And we were going to be fitted for, it was Cub Scouts, for Cub Scout uniforms, but we had to sell tickets to the Maryknoll bazaar. And I came home with a fist full of these tickets and I went to my dad and said, "Hey, do you want to buy tickets to the Maryknoll bazaar?" And he went ballistic. He said, "What are you doing selling tickets to the Maryknoll bazaar?" And I said, "Well, because I'm joining the Cub Scouts." And he said, "No you're not." And this sort of territorial, "You're a Methodist, and eventually, watch out, they're gonna recruit you or they're gonna want you to become Catholic," and so on. And I had no idea what this was all about. All I knew was that I had to return the tickets to, to John and say, "Hey I can't sell these, I can't go to that." And never making any kind of connection to the list of movies he couldn't see and all of this kind of stuff except that my dad sort of outlined the community. That these people were Catholics and you were not, and all of a sudden that was introduced into my life. But I do have these early sort of recollections of Paul and working at his body fender shop and then eventually they moved out of the neighborhood.

But if I could tell one other story about Paul. Because it's sort of at the end of his life. And this is when, this is at Keiro, nursing home. My father was in his last week of life and my sister was up from San Diego and I was up from Kansas and we were spending... and my mom, who happened to be at Nikkei Manor at the time, but we were spending every hour of the day at Keiro. And one evening, after dinner was over, I had this sketchbook with me and I was working on this new performance piece that I was writing and, they were ideal times for me just to sit there and work on this performance. And I went into the dining area and Paul was in there. He had been in there for, I don't know, over a year, two years maybe. And he was at the last sort of stages himself of Alzheimer's. And that's what my father had. And I sat down at the big round table and I just, because I knew that Paul couldn't communicate, but I just sat there with him, and I was working in my sketchbook. And I'd look up every once in a while and I saw Paul sitting there and his eyes were directed over at my sketchbook, and he just kept looking at it like this. And pretty soon I had the idea of seeing if he would respond to this and I pushed the sketchbook over to him and put the pen in his hands. And he grabbed the pen and he looked at these two blank pages of the sketchbook and he ran the pen up and down the spine of the book several times, like this. And I just sat there and watched him do that, and he finally stopped. And then he started to make some scratch marks on one side of the paper. And I just sort of watching him do that and I recognized that he was going over and over the same thing. And finally he just, he got tired and he put the pen down and just sort of sat back in his chair and closed his eyes and I knew he had sort of checked out at that point. So I reached over and I pulled the sketchbook and I looked at it. And I couldn't figure out what it was except that he kept repeating the same marks and it looked like some, at first I thought he was writing something in Japanese. But it turned out what he was writing was P.H. His initials. Just like the way he initialed his paintings, a lot of them, just P.H. And I thought that was such a remarkable sort of moment that, you know, in the, I mean, his mind was virtually gone, that he was able to make this connection between the sketchbook and art and his initials. And so that was sort of my kind of departing moments with Paul. So it was kind of interesting. My closest moments to him were at the very beginning watching him put these collages together on his sofa and then his entire career I never saw him. And then just before he checked out, in Keiro Nursing Home. So...

AI: Thanks. That is, that's a really strong image.

RS: Yeah. So where are we?

<End Segment 34> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 35>

AI: Well, we, you were just on the point of going, or you had --

RS: Right.

AI: -- told us how you had driven down to California to go to the summer session at Stanford.

RS: Actually I had, when I decided that I was dropping out of the program I applied to graduate school so I decided to go back East, because the furthest east I had been was kindergarten, in Chicago after camp. And there were certain people that have, that had gone from the University of Washington to Syracuse University, one of them was Irene Kubota. And, whose work I really respected. And there was a fellow named Larry Bakke that actually got a job at Syracuse, teaching. And he was supposed to be this very influential person, who was, who taught aesthetics at Syracuse. And so I decided I would apply there and to New York University, and not knowing anything about New York University except it was in New York City. And I got a call from NYU and said, "We accepted you and we're gonna send you your program of studies," which they did. And I looked at it. And there was one painting course and there were two art education courses and an aesthetics course. And I called 'em up and said, "I want to get my degree in painting." And they said, "Well, you will be getting an emphasis in painting but all we have is an art education program." And I says, "Well, I don't want anything to do with art education." And they said, "Well, that's, that's all we offer." And so it was at that point that I decided that I would apply to Syracuse, and I had Boyer Gonzalez, I called him up and I said, "Boyer, I think I want to go to Syracuse but I think I missed the deadline." And he said, "Don't worry, I know Laurence Schmeckebier," who's the dean at Syracuse. And he called up Schmeck, we used to call him. And Schmeck called me up and said, "I understand that you want to come to Syracuse." He was this sort of blustery old guy. And he said, "Send me your slides," which I did, special delivery, it was called then. And I got a call back a few years later and said, "You're in the program."

MT: Not a few years later?

RS: No, I'm sorry, a few weeks later.

MT: Okay.

RS: And then I found our how expensive it was. I mean, Syracuse was a private school and it was outrageous tuition. And, but Bea and I had settled for pain and suffering for this car accident so we had this load of money and I thought, well, this will pay for the first year's tuition. So we took off. But before we took off to go to Syracuse, I went to Stanford because my work was in really rough shape at that point. And when I sent stuff to Syracuse I sent mostly drawings and a few of the paintings that looked like the drawings. So they thought they were getting an abstract expressionist.

So I decided I'd go to Stanford for the summer session. And that was the best thing that could have happened to me because when I went to Stanford, they put me in with all the graduate students, most of whom weren't there because it was summer school. And I fell under the influence of the whole Bay Area figurative school, 'cause that was going on in the mid-'60s. And so I was amongst all these students that were working with similar kinds of pop imagery but with very painterly. And so I started collaging magazines and painting and everything just fell into place. And I did this series of work that I thought was really strong. And so it was a good place to be before I went to Syracuse. So I came back to Seattle, laid out all the work and said, hey, I'm on track for the first time. So I went to Syracuse with a sense of direction.

<End Segment 35> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 36>

AI: So, at the end of the -- well, our, just before the break you were just on the point of arriving at Syracuse and you and Bea arrived there, and what did you find when you got there?

RS: Well, when I got there I remember I got there just a few days before we had to enroll and they informed me that I was going to receive a graduate assistantship. And that the assistantship was for two years, which, and it was a two-year program. And I asked them, I said, "What does this mean?" And says, "Well, what it means is that you won't have to pay tuition. And, plus, we're gonna pay you 'x' number of dollars a month." I can't remember what it was, then and so it was just godsend as far as I was concerned. And I remember that was notable, because when Bea and I sat down and figured out our finances, it would not be until I think the third year at Kansas that we made more money than those graduate years. So, so it was a wonderful deal. We were able to live in comfort.

But getting to Syracuse was another amazing experience because it made me realize just how culturally different the East Coast was than the West Coast. I really wasn't prepared for that in many ways. I mean, I knew there was a difference, but I thought the difference was in what you saw. And, and wasn't ready, I think, for the way that the people on the East Coast, as products of that eastern environment, would be so different. And to this day it's a difference that I still recognize and still enjoy and feel very close to. And it's one that I tell my students -- being halfway between the East and West Coast -- students are always asking where they should go to graduate school. And having had that experience of growing up here and spending time back there, it's easy for me to give them an informed opinion about some of the differences between the east and west. And those differences were all new to me when I first got to Syracuse. But the sort of fundamental differences, the kind of respect that art has on the East Coast, because they're still sort of steeped in a tradition of art that they've long since rejected on the left coast. People talked about art as something special, and artists as being special people. Whereas, in the west, especially in California, the idea that art was special was absolutely passe. That if one ate at McDonalds, one could claim that to be an act of art in some way, and that they're, all the lines had been blurred between what was art and what was life. But in the east they still believe that it's something special, something different. And when you went to parties, people went to parties on the East Coast with a purpose, and they went there to meet certain people, to interact with certain people, to do things for their career and all that. Whereas, one wouldn't think of doing that on the West Coast, that was just terrible to place art on any kind of pedestal. So, anyway, that was a real eye-opener for me.

And Syracuse turned out to be a really good place for me, and for many reasons. And one of them being that it seemed to be three hundred miles from everyplace. And it was three hundred miles to New York City; it was three hundred miles to Detroit, to Chicago, to Philadelphia, to D.C., to Montreal. And it seemed like every other week Bea and I were leaving Syracuse to go on some road trip to some city that we had never been to before and going to all the great museums. And then being up there right next to the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, and the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Rochester and -- no, not Rochester, in Utica, but being surrounded by all of these incredibly revered institutions was a real treat. And we had friends in New York City, so that became accessible to us and it was a very, very interesting two years. Not to mention what happened in my own studio.

<End Segment 36> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 37>

RS: I, probably one of the biggest changes for me was teaching myself how to silkscreen, because I probably had the poorest printmaking education in the history of art in this country, having gone to the University of Washington where nothing but the Collagraph was introduced. Glenn Alps wouldn't allow any kind of printmaking to -- I think the first printmaking course other than calligraphy was when John Dowell taught a lithography class. And then that was wiped out, and never to be heard from again until Bill Ritchie was hired to teach silkscreening. But in any case, I taught myself how to silkscreen and started to silkscreen on canvas, and then fell under the spell of the whole pop movement and Andy Warhol, which was logical in a sense because being so influenced by the funk ceramics movement, which was so anti-intellectual in so many ways, the pop movement kind of provided me with that sort of intellectualism that was almost required being on the East Coast. And being at a school that really stressed the academic aspects of art-making, working with Laurence Schmeckebier who was a, an art historian that insisted that we be able to talk about our work, and forced us to write weekly papers in this graduate seminar, and to do all these things that was really unheard of, I think, in most places on the, on the West Coast.

And so, anyway, I ended up using pop art to provide a sort of an intellectual framework for the work that I was doing at the time. Unfortunately, what happened was that I think I became overly stimulated by Andy Warhol and, when I look back and look at the paintings that I was doing in my graduate thesis, you know, were just third-rate Andy Warhol paintings. They were huge pop repeated images, things from Euro-American culture, and -- but maybe one of the most important things I did was, for my final presentation in this seminar, I did this multimedia presentation on Andy Warhol and the whole pop culture. And what I did was, I think I used eight slide projectors that were all hooked up showing slides and I faked 'em, an Andy Warhol movie. I claimed that I went to the New York Public Library and discovered this Andy Warhol movie that had been previously unidentified. And I was able to go to New York and talk to Andy Warhol about it. And of course I made this all up. And he told me what it was about, and I shot this movie in sixteen millimeter film of one of my students standing naked in front of this window looking at himself and for six minutes that's all he did. He just kind of, you'd see his head sort of move like this and the movie was shot from his back. It was called "Back." And it was filled with flash frames and everything, everything was left in there, which was typical -- it had all the texture of a Warhol film. It was a beautiful forgery. And so I, I introduced that movie into this presentation I gave and I told everybody, the whole graduate class there, and the dean and all the faculty and everything, I just lied through my teeth. And then I faked an interview with Andy Warhol. And I had this record that was a party record of one of Andy Warhol's parties and Viva and Ultraviolet, and all these superstars from the Factory were there, and the tinkling of glasses and all this party talk. I played that in the background and I got one of the graduate students in sculpture to be Andy Warhol, and I asked him all these questions had him give me all the answers that supported my case about Andy Warhol, in fact, the whole presentation. And so, during the, in the process of doing this presentation where all these slides were flashing in this room and I'm speaking through this microphone that distorts my voice, and then I introduce this movie that I discovered on Andy Warhol, and then the capping glory was this interview with Warhol that substantiated all my findings. And of course everybody bought every part of it and thought it was just brilliant. And Larry Bakke, who was my advisor, thought, this is absolutely brilliant, and why is this guy a painter? He ought to be an aesthetician. And he had no idea that I was just lying through my teeth and... so, after this, this great, great, successful presentation, I was approached by the TV station. And they said, "We want to broadcast this on WCNY TV, all through upstate New York." And I says, "Okay, let's do it." And just naively thinking there'd be no problem. And we're at the station and they started asking about copyrights. And I started thinking, "Copyrights. What about copyrights?" 'Cause I just saw this thing as just being sort of art, an original act. And they said, "No." And I says, "Well, listen, that movie and that interview," I said, "I just constructed myself." And they said "What?"

MT: When were you going to reveal that? That hoax?

RS: I wasn't. I just saw all of that as, as just being all sort of part of the original piece. I mean, I was very naive. And, well, maybe not that naive, because I would probably still try to pass that. I might argue that today. But, in any case they, when they found that out they decided well, okay, we're gonna eliminate the movie, we're gonna eliminate the interview. What's left? And what was left was this very sort of dry presentation on Andy Warhol and the pop culture. But they decided there was enough information there that was still new and scholarly and, and, they broadcast it. But I remember it was a totally different piece. And when the word got out that it was on TV, everybody watched it and said, "Well, where's the good stuff?" And then they found out that I had lied and, you know. And then in some ways it became bigger than life because I had pulled one over everybody's eyes. So that was, maybe the, the early forays into performance in some ways, was that piece that I did.

AI: Well, when you were creating that piece, were, in your mind, was this a joke? Did you create the film and the interview as a, out of humor?

RS: I didn't want to joke, I think it was sort of a rebellious act. And in a way, maybe there was a part of that sort of, that influence of that funk art thing, the anti-intellectualism, being in that climate, that I felt like I could, if found out, I could justify this. I could play their game as well as critique their game.

AI: And especially with Warhol as a subject.

RS: Right, right, sure. So that, that made it, it was perfect in some regards. And in some ways it worked out that way as well.

AI: So you did have, in some ways, some very serious intentions?

RS: Yeah.

AI: Throughout the creation of that.

RS: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, 'cause I ended up writing my thesis and we had to write this rather scholarly thesis, not like at Kansas and most schools, we have students write a one-page to three-page statement about their work. I wrote a sixty-five page paper on Andy Warhol and the pop movement, so that sort of terminated my, my graduate experience.

One interesting story, for our final thesis exhibition, and we, all of the students had pieces in one show. We decided as a sign for that exhibition we built this tombstone outside that had all of our names stenciled on it. We built this fake graveyard with artificial turf and white picket fence and everything. And there was a cemetery nearby campus. And plastic flowers were the only things that were allowed in this cemetery, whereas it's the opposite here. You have to have real flowers. And so, but daily they would throw these plastic flowers away into this sort of garbage heap and we would go there, and these big wreaths on easels, we would get those and we'd bring 'em over to this grave site that we had constructed and we put them down. And our, the plan was to go all the way around the city block, around the entire art building plus all the other buildings. And there were enough of these that we were able to do that. And so, one day my best friend at Syracuse, Joe Pacheco and I were out there filling up my van with these flowers. And we discovered a license plate. And we pulled it out and Joe said, "Oh my God." He said, "I hope this isn't a portent." And I said, "What is it?" And it was a Kansas license plate. And we were both in the process of searching for jobs. And I said, "God, I hope it isn't, either," because we, all we would do is talk about where we wanted to teach, where we wanted to get jobs. And so we threw the license plate away. Well, as it turns out, I end up at the University of Kansas and he got a job at Kansas State University. Now isn't that wild? [Laughs]

<End Segment 37> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 38>

AI: Well, before you move on to Kansas, I wanted to ask a little bit more about, about the times. The years that you were at Syracuse, '67, '68, and you graduated from that program in '69, were in, in the world, very significant things were happening. You had the whole kind of hippie movement emerged, the, in music, the Beatles had Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Democratic Convention that summer of '68 in Chicago.

RS: Uh-huh.

AI: And then of course, later on, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

RS: Yeah. I remember the Democratic Convention because we were in Maine and we were watching it on TV. And one of the graduate students' father had a resort on a place called Scarborough Beach, in Maine. And she had invited this small group of people to come up and spend two weeks there at this resort. And there were a lot of people, sort of old Maineites staying at this resort that were in this big TV-watching area. And I remember sitting in there when everything broke loose. And, of course, we were all just glued to the TV and all these old people were screaming, "Rip the hair off of those damn hippies," and they were all screaming. And the rest of us were just sitting there, the graduate students in art, just sort of freaked-out. And I remember, because I was not a very political person at that time, and I've talked about sort of making this gradual shift from the right to the left. And I remember how significant that those evenings were because we were watching this thing every night and how that, that began to galvanize me as to how I was feeling about that, because I was so angry. And these hostile words that were coming out of these people's mouths just resonated with a lot of other things that I heard coming out of my parents' mouth and all of that.

So, again, without being demonstrative or something, I knew that these changes were happening in me. And the fact, being away from Seattle and that whole community, and really being on my own for the first time, being my own person, and being around people that I didn't know that I'd become very close to was a real reshuffling of the deck. And so that Democratic Convention had a lot to do with it. And I think more than I actually recognized, because when I got to Kansas that's when I realized that I had really changed. And I remember my, Dave Setsuda, who always had been my closest friend up here in Seattle, told me once -- and Dave was the last person in the world that I would ever expect to hear that kind of observation from -- but I remember him telling me, he says, "Boy you've changed a lot over the years." And I was just sort of, to hear him say that kind of punctuated or brought to surface that change. And I realized, God, if it was apparent to Dave, I must have really changed. And for the first time sort of saw myself outside of myself, that I was. But going to Kansas at that particular time was -- Kansas was, as much as any school in the country, just sort of literally went up in flames.

<End Segment 38> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 39>

AI: Well, excuse me, could you tell us about how it came about that you went to Kansas? Because you really, as you had just said --

RS: Yeah.

AI: -- you weren't planning to, you weren't thinking about Kansas.

RS: The sort of fashion for all the graduate students at the time was to send out a blanket letter applying for jobs everywhere. I mean, now, one only applies when one hears that there's an opening. And since there aren't too many, you might only apply to a dozen schools that advertise openings and things are a lot more organized, but, on a national level. But back then we just looked at the college art directory and just sort of applied this place and typed it out, this place, typed it, you know. And on an average --

MT: Excuse me, did you send your slides with the letter, or just a letter?

RS: No, what we did was... what I did at least, several of us, was, we printed up resumes and put paintings at the top so that, because we knew that most schools were gonna have an idea of what they were looking for and would either respond to your work in some way, or most likely not. And we didn't wanna go through all of these false hopes and expectations so we said well, this is what it looks like. So those that, I think I had fifty -- I sent out three hundred of those letters, is what I started to say. And I had a total of fifty schools ask for slides. And so I thought I had a shot, because they knew what my work looked like. And then, the long and the short of is, I think out of fifty I had, I had maybe a dozen interviews, and I think I was offered seven jobs. I mean, there were jobs available back then. But, towards the end of that whole search process -- well, the first person that called me was Williams College in Massachusetts. And I didn't even know Williams had an art program. I knew it was this very sort of prestigious, sort of almost Ivy League school. And they called up and said, "You're one of ten finalists. And we need more information," which I sent. And then about a month later -- and this is still before I heard anything from any other school -- I was getting a little worried because I didn't know what the job prospects were and whether a bird in the hand, whatever. And they said, "You're one of two finalists. And we want you to come out. And we want you to bring your wife." And I looked on the map and I saw it was in the Berkshires, in (Williamstown), Massachusetts. And so I told Bea, I says, "I'm going to this place called Williams College, and they want you to go."

So we got in the car and we drove there. And as expected, it was this ivy-covered, very, very academic, there was only one other studio person, and five art historians, and then I, of course, found out this is, incredible school, liberal arts college. But as soon as we hit the doorsteps they took Bea away. And she was expected to go through her own interview process with the wives. So she went away to this tea party and I didn't see her until the end of the day and she was very upset. And I was run through the whole mill. And by afternoon I'd decided, "This is not for me. Despite the fact that this may be the only job I'm offered, no way." And then when I met up with Bea and we get in the car to leave, she expressed total displeasure about the way she was treated, questions she was asked, and all that. And this whole idea of them interviewing the spouse... I mean, at that point, before there was this sort of total awakening towards how wrong something like that is. I mean, we were both upset by it, and both agreed that this was not for us. And, and for the first time, really felt like we were on the outside of the East Coast tradition, that maybe this is what they all do.

<End Segment 39> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 40>

RS: And so, it wasn't until months after that, and I had gone on other interviews at other schools, that -- actually, there's one I'll tell you about that's an interesting story. And this was at Murray State University in Kentucky. And my best friend -- or one of my best friends from Syracuse had been hired at Murray State. And just a few weeks after he was offered a job they called me up and asked me if I would come down for an interview because they had just opened up another position. And so I went down there, hoping -- I mean, that suddenly became my top choice because Bob Manley was there, my good friend. And we'd talked about how great it would be to teach together, especially similar courses, and what we could do to that program, and so on. So I got there and there were these two guys that I knew that were doing the interviewing. And that's why I also thought I had a good shot at the job. And I got there late that afternoon and I was supposed to begin the interview process in the morning. And I had dinner with these two guys and everything was fine. We talked about when we would meet the next morning. They picked me up at the motel and they took me to coffee and they both had this grim look on their face. And they said, "We don't know how to tell you this, this is really embarrassing." And I said, "What?" Well, the chair of the department was a woman named Clara Eagle, who had been there for her entire career of forty-something years. She just had a heart attack. She was in the hospital. And Jerry DeShepherd and Bob Head, the two guys that were my hosts, would report to her and the told her, "Well, this, our candidate is here for the drawing job, Roger Shimomura," and all that. And they said, "She decided to close the position." And I said, "What? You mean I came here for nothing? Why?" And they said, "Well, because," he said, "She found out that you were Oriental," and that there are no Orientals in Murray, Kentucky," and I wouldn't be happy here. "And so, if he's not willing to withdraw, we'll just close the position and do the search next year." And I just sort of was stunned. And so they essentially just took me to the airport and I went back to Syracuse and that was it. And again, times were a little different. I mean, I didn't think about going back and suing them, which I should've, and probably could've had the job. But I think at that point, had I done that, I'm not sure I would have wanted to be there anyway.

But when Bob Manley found out he was just really furious and wasn't sure whether he wanted to go there, which he did. But what was further interesting was that about three years later, when I had landed in Kansas, I got a call from them and they asked me if I would come and if I would apply for the chair of the department. And I did. And I became a finalist between another person and myself. And, now bear in mind I'd only been teaching for two or three years. And so I went there, I interviewed, I thought I did a fairly good job but the other person, who was the chair of another department, got the job offer. And Bob Manley, at that point, was so upset that he quit. He gave up his job at Murray and he moved back to Boston. And that leads on to another story that I won't get into, but in any case, those are some of my interviewing experiences.

<End Segment 40> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 41>

RS: Then I got a call from Kansas. And it's just when I was ready to sign a contract at Wisconsin, Whitewater. And the chair of the art department called me and says, "We want you to come for an interview at the University of Kansas." And I said, "First of all, I never applied for a job there. I don't know where Kansas is." And he says, "Well, we're looking at the letter," and he described it, and sure enough it was one of those blanket letters I sent out. And I said, "Well, I'm really not interested, but thanks anyway." And he says, "Well, okay," and so hung up and that ended it. So I begged off from signing this contract at Whitewater because another possibility came up at Delaware. And so several weeks went by and I'm trying to make up my mind where I'm gonna sign a contract to, and I get a phone call from Peter Thompson, again, at Kansas. And he said, "Listen, we've brought in two candidates, we don't like either one. We really want you to come." And I said, well, the only reason I would come there is 'cause I've never been to Kansas. And I wouldn't mind coming down. And he says, "Okay. We understand that." Well, I find out at that point that one of my friends at Kansas that teaches there said, "You know, one of my best friends teaches, if it's in Lawrence, that's where he teaches. His name is Voss Pulos." And he said, "I think you guys would really get along." And so that sort of gave me this sort of incentive, at least I'll know somebody there, having no idea what a huge painting program that they had at Kansas, or anything else about it.

And so I fly down there and first thing that impressed me was, we, I got there in the evening and there was a reception, a faculty reception. And there were seven motorcycles parked outside of this building. I thought, wow, this place, you know, sounds like a pretty good attitude or something. And I go in there and first person I meet is Voss Pulos. And we hit it off. And, I mean, we really hit it off. And we just had the greatest time and looking around and it was a room full of all the other, twelve painters, fourteen painters, and it really got me to thinking about, maybe this place wouldn't be so bad. And Lawrence was nothing like I expected. It was this hilly place with trees, Victorian homes, and, so I left with a real good feeling about it.

And then Peter called and says, "Everything's great. Everyone liked you. We wanna offer you the job and here's the money." And I said, "Well, I can't do it for that money." And so he said, "Well, let me see if I can get some more." And so he called back in a few days and says they got a little bit more money and -- just enough for me to say, "Well, okay, I'll take it." And I thought well, I can go there for one or two years. And so that summer I go there, Bea and I drive from Seattle. And we get to Kansas, and we pull in there, and the first thing I asked the chair of the department, says, "Where does Voss Pulos live? What's his number?" And he said, "Voss quit." And I said, "Voss quit? Why did he quit?" And he said, "Because we had to pay you more than we were paying him." [Laughs] And so, talk about biting off your nose to spite your face. One of the reasons I went there just disappeared. But, anyway, so we're in Kansas.

AI: Right, right.

<End Segment 41> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 42>

AI: Well, so that was quite, in a short amount of time, quite of an adjustment when you had been considering Wisconsin or Delaware and then kind of fairly quickly switched and changed to go to Kansas. And then somewhere in there you had come back to Seattle for a short time before going to Kansas? Or how did that work?

RS: No.

AI: No. So, when you drove to Kansas?

RS: Oh, okay, okay. I know what you're getting at. Bea and I decided that as long as we were on the West Coast, that we should see the rest of the parts of the country that we had never seen before, despite the fact we were traveling a lot, but there were all sort of in those Northeastern states. So we decided we would go on a camping trip with my best friend at Syracuse, Joe Pacheco, who was a Portuguese American guy, also gay. And I say that because he came out about the last two months that he was at Syracuse and he told me about it. He had been holding it all that time. And it was very difficult for him. But that really sort of galvanized our friendship as well, that he could tell me about it. And so we decided we'd go on this extended camping trip before we went to Kansas. And then what we wanted to do was we'd start from New England and we would follow the Atlantic coastline all the way down into Florida, around the Gulf, across (Texas) to San Diego and up Highway 1, all the way to Seattle and that we would camp all the way. And we did that. And it took about three months to do it.

MT: Excuse me. Did you have any children at that time?

RS: No, but Bea was pregnant and we didn't know that until we got to Seattle. So the three of us did that, And Bea and I slept in my Volkswagen bus and Joe had his little tent that he set up, and we took off and it was a very, very adventure-filled trip. Towards the very beginning of the trip we decided to meet one of my good friends in North Carolina. And this is kind of an interesting story. His name was Alston Purvis and his father was the famous G-man named Melvin Purvis that killed John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson. And I met Alston Purvis up here in Seattle in graduate school. He quit when I quit. He went to Yale and I went to Syracuse. So all the time I was at Syracuse we'd get together either in New Haven or he'd come up to Syracuse. So when I finally graduated, and he graduated, he decided that he wanted us to come down and meet his mother, because his father, Melvin, had committed suicide. And so we thought, well, great, because we're going right down the Carolina coast, Florence wasn't too far away.

So Bea, Joe and I, by the time, after about the second week we had worked our way to, to South Carolina, went to Florence. And we had this whole series of really bad experiences, right on the streets, of people, like, blocking us off, and making us stop and going around them, and it got so frightening that we decided -- because we were about four hours early, before we were supposed to be at his mother's door. And Alston was still in New Haven. And so we decided to go in to see a movie. And we got harassed in the movie. First of all, they wouldn't take our money. And then they took our money and they wouldn't give us our ticket. And I thought we were gonna get in a big fight right there in the lobby of this movie theater. So we sat in the movie and watched this movie, frightened to death. We get out, get harassed again. And we just, like, go for the car. And we go over to Mrs. Purvis's house. And we apologize for being there an hour early but, we didn't tell her what had happened or anything because here's this, it's a tradition, right? And so she opens the door and she says, "Oh my God," she says, "here's Alston's friends." And she said, "Come on in." And we go inside there, and it's this huge Southern mansion. And it was customary, I guess, when you had guests over, to take all your silverware out and put it on display. And so each room had this big round table filled with all this silverware. And first thing she said was, "I have to apologize, because our nigger maids are sick." And she says, "And I planned this dinner party for you," and she said, "We're trying to get some other niggers to come and cook the dinner for us." And Bea and I are just sort of standing there wondering, "Holy cow, what did we get ourselves into here?" And she says, "Well," she said, "let's chat a while, because Alston isn't due in for a few hours yet." And she says, "You gotta tell me what part of Japan you people are from." Says, "Well, were not from Japan, we're from Seattle," etcetera, you know. And right in the middle, she says, "Well, what kind of religion y'all have back there?" And it was clear that she wasn't listening to anything that we were saying. And so she starts talking about, she starts making these phone calls trying to get another maid to come over to finish cleaning because there were thirty people coming over for dinner that night to meet "Alston's friends from Japan." And then she needed a couple to do the cooking.

And so, finally Alston shows up and Alston says, he's laughing because he knew this was gonna happen. And he says, "But there's one woman I want you to meet, you're gonna like, and that's my Aunt Fran." And so eventually people started coming for cocktails. And all these people coming up and it's clear that we're the people from Japan. And at that point Bea and I had sort of given up and we're just making up answers to these people about the kind of religion we had and all this sort of stuff. Aunt Fran comes over, finally, and Alston says, "This is my Aunt Fran." And he had billed her as being this sophisticated one in the family because she had been to Europe several times and she was a retired school teacher. And she came in front of me, squarely stood in front of me and she says, "I'm Fran." And she said, "What's your name?" And I said, "I'm Roger." And she said, "Say your name again." And I said, "Roger." And she said, "I'm Fran." And I said, "Yes." And she said, "Well, I guess my name must sound as weird to you as yours does to me." [Laughs]. So that was sort of the high point of the socializing.

And then we all sat down and we had dinner and drinks and everything and then, all of a sudden it was time for everyone to get real defensive about who they were. And they started picking on Joe, because Joe was dark-skinned. He's Portuguese. And they started asking him questions about, "What part of Portugal are you from?" "Not that I ever been there," and all, you know, and so we're just rolling our eyes and getting rather tired of playing this role. And so someone finally says, "It's time for nigger jokes." "Yeah!" And so they just started around the room. And all, everyone had a new nigger joke to tell. The maids come in and they tell their jokes. And we're just sitting in there. And Alston is just, he's like, at this point knew that we were starting to get upset, but he couldn't start this -- I mean, he couldn't stop it at this point as everyone's going around the room. And they're very good friends with Strom, Senator Strom Thurmond. And there was one of the Purvis relatives there that himself was running for office and jumped right in there with his nigger joke. But they went, we must have heard twenty-five. And then followed by, "You people don't understand the situation here. You see how we get along with our maids and you people up North couldn't do this. We have this special sort of relationship with our Negroes," as they called them. So anyway, we were there for a total of three days and pretty much tolerated this whole experience. So that was one of the, you know, another one of the sort of, high point/low points of the trip, of that extended camping trip.

<End Segment 42> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 43>

AI: As you went around the country on this trip, were there other instances of really blatant racism or prejudice that you --

RS: Well, I think after that we couldn't get out of the South quickly enough. And, but having committed ourselves to driving around the, you know, if you've ever driven around the coastline of Florida, it takes forever. That's, I think it's longer than driving from LA to Seattle. And it took us a week to get around Florida. And then when we got Miami, we wanted to go to Miami Beach, which we did. And we ended up on a gay beach by accident. And Joe, who had just come out of the closet, couldn't believe that there was such a thing as a gay beach. And he was sitting there in this blazing summer sun and he got seriously sunburned. And we went to the Everglades and he was sick the whole time. And we got to New Orleans and at that point we were racing to try to maybe get him to a hospital or getting into this trip. He was throwing up and everything else. And by the time we got to Texas we had to put him in the hospital. And his body was blistered and, oh, it was just awful. So he was in the hospital for two days. And then finally we continued with the trip and by the time we got to Tucson he had to go back in the hospital again. And then, by the time we got to California, he was okay and then we continued on with the trip.

And we came up, we got up to Seattle and I remember the second day we were here there was a party out at, across the Narrows Bridge, I can't remember the name of that area, but one of the ceramic graduate students had a farm out there or something. He had this big cook-out, picnic. And we all went out there. And Okada was there, and Bob Mackie and a lot of my friends and so we all had this big get-together. And it was right on this beach and it was low tide and there were oysters all over the place. And so Frank said, "Let's make a chowder." So we got this, found this big bucket and washed it out and filled it full of water. And we, somebody had a farm nearby and we went there and picked all these tomatoes and stuff and cut 'em up and dumped 'em in. And went out and got all these clams and oysters and just filled this bucket and cooked it, made this fire and cooked it up, and it smelled funny. And what we found out, when we tasted it, we thought it was all done, all the clams opened up and everything, that it was a tar bucket. And what we thought was this black vessel, it was actually tar. And we had, oh my God, we had to throw that out and wasted all this food and everything, but that was sort of the highlight of that party, was Okada's folly. We kidded him about that for years and years.

So anyway, yeah, we spent a couple of weeks in Seattle and then drove down to Kansas since Joe was going to K State, and dropped him off in Manhattan. We went to Lawrence. Found out Voss wasn't going to be there. And then immediately Joe and I flew to Rhode Island, 'cause that's where all of our stuff was stored. And we rented this big truck, loaded his stuff up in Rhode Island, and went to Syracuse, loaded our stuff up, and then we drove non-stop from there back to Kansas. And so, needless to say, there were a lot of miles we put on, we drove that summer.

AI: Wow, what a trip.

<End Segment 43> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 44>

RS: So, we're finally in Kansas.

AI Yes, yes. [Laughs] Well, maybe we'll just start the beginnings of your time in Kansas. When you first got there, was this just right at the end of summer and about to begin the fall, the beginning of the year, the school year?

RS: Yeah, yeah. It was probably sometime in July, because school starts early there. It starts in the middle of August. So we had to get situated and find a house and all of that, which we didn't have any difficulty. But it was really hot. It was the hottest time of the year. I had no idea it was gonna be that miserably hot. And as I said, we found out, when we were in Seattle on that trip is when Bea found out she was pregnant. And so she was showing, and Mark, our son, was born just a few months after we got there.

AI: Well, so then when you started at Kansas, did you have a heavy course-load of teaching right away, or how did that work?

RS: Yeah, it was, well it was a full load, which for everyone was two classes. But we had more contact hours and more people, so it was eighteen hours a week. Most people had eighteen hours a week, for three courses. We only had two. Which was a nice perk, because we only had to administrate two classes worth of students so that it was significant. So it was almost like having two faculties. We had one that taught Monday-Wednesday-Fridays, and one that taught Tuesday-Thursdays. But, what I didn't realize was that they were hiring so many people and there were six of us that were hired that year. And the previous year there were three people. So there were nine of us that were fresh out of graduate school. And, which was fifty percent of the faculty. There were eighteen on the faculty altogether. So we had a tremendous impact. And we were all crazy. We all had these really radical ideas about curriculum and, because we were closer to the students than we were to the average faculty. And, so everything we wanted to do was really, appeared to be radical to the faculty that had been here already, but we had the numbers and so we were able to change the curriculum. But they were very, they were very sort of reckless times, because the kind of parties we were having, and the drugs, and we were partaking in all of that with students, because we felt closer to them.

And then that first year was the most tumultuous year, probably, in the history of campuses all over the country. And Kansas really sort of proved its metal by being right there on the map. And that's where the first time that I really was involved in some serious protesting, and it was during the Cambodian Invasion. And faculty were asked to sort of restrain themselves from participating, 'cause they didn't know what the students were gonna do, but we just defied them and went out and protested right in front of the chancellor's office and everything. And then shortly after that, the city just sort of busted wide open and the student union was set on fire and burned down. And the ROTC building, bombs were set off, and faculty were asked to sleep in the doorways of every building on campus to protect it against fire bombing and to throw bombs back out if they were to be thrown in. I mean, it was just insane times.

And then there was the whole thing going on between the City of Lawrence and vigilantes versus the hippies that were raising hell. And then there were -- the African American community. There was a young boy named Rick Dowdell that was shot by the Lawrence police, and shot in the back of the head. And so that created a whole series of protests and riots. And then during these riots, when they were burning cars and turning them upside down, a white kid was killed by the vigilantes. And so that created this tension on top of tension. And things sort of built to this head. I remember when the black community decided that they were going to have an open carriage funeral march down the middle of Massachusetts Street, which is downtown, on the day that the city was having their outdoor sale. And all the merchants were putting their goods out on the street. And so the city said, "No, you cannot do this." And so they compromised by having it a block over and they marched down parallel to downtown then crossed downtown right at this critical intersection and went to their church. And they had a horse-drawn carriage and all the African Americans in their dashikis and, you know. And the reason I remember that is because I marched with them and I had a Super 8 movie camera and I shot the whole march. And then I completely forgot I had done that until a few years ago I discovered that footage and what a rich piece of history that is. So, I haven't done it yet, but I'm gonna donate it to the museum that keeps things like that. But it was really interesting crossing Massachusetts, seeing all these white people with clothes off of rack -- and all of a sudden turn around and look you hear the clop, clop of these horses and this coffin, this young boy, Rick Dowdell and all these African Americans, and mostly people of color walking with this carriage, pretty dramatic moment.

But that's, and then Lawrence went under a curfew and the national guard came and it was right at a time that we were having our big national sculpture conference. And we had all these people coming into Lawrence to do this conference. And I remember breaking curfew because I had to pick Ron Gasowski up, my friend that was flying in from Arizona. And I picked him up and came in, paid the toll at the toll booth and there was a big tank right there and this young eighteen-year-old with a rifle standing there in front of my car and shaking, he was so scared. And I rolled down the window. And he said, "I'm standing here to inform you that you are violating curfew in the City of Lawrence and that you will travel at your own, safe-," you know, "in disregard of your own safety." And I said, "Well, fine." So we drove all the way through. We were able to make it to my house. But all the parties had to be like for the entire night, which we gladly accommodated. So the whole week of this conference was under curfew. But those, all of that happened the first year, and really, ironically, it really made us feel better about being in Kansas, that this was not a place that we thought it was going to be. And again, I think that had a lot to do with sort of shaping and completing that shift, from right to left. And...

<End Segment 44> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 45>

AI: Well, to kind of put it back into the setting of the times, '69, '70, 1970 would have been Kent State shootings happened in May of 1970. So that was the time that you've just been speaking of.

RS: Right. It was the Cambodian (Invasion) that we were protesting --

AI: Yes.

RS: -- when we were walking down...

AI: And protests were happening on campuses across the country at that time.

RS: Uh-huh. But to see the, the campus up in flames and as little experience as I had on campuses at the time, I realized that I was experiencing something really unusual. And of course they had Time magazine and everything else.

AI: And at this point, too, you were just mentioning the shift, completing that shift to the opposite end of the political spectrum. Were you really conscious of that then, at that time, that you, yourself, had gone from being a very kind of gung ho, military man, and when you had been in Korea, to this really --

RS: Yeah, I was conscious of it. I didn't feel guilty about it or anything. Because it sort of felt like I arrived home. I arrived where I should be. But without question, I was aware that I had undergone these big changes -- and I used to tell my friends about it, too. I wasn't embarrassed about it. Because in some ways I sort of felt like I was born to be that person. In some ways my parents probably were more proud of me, having me at that end of the spectrum than this other one, because I remember I'd come back to Seattle, hair down to here and sandals and everything and my mom was just abhorred. She worked at Pay 'N Save down on Rainier Avenue. And I remember I walked in there with Bea and our son, thinking she'd be just delighted to see us, and her mouth fell open when she saw me. And she ended up calling me and saying, "As long as you look like that you don't have to come around," because I looked like this sort of walking cliche of everything that she was disgusted with, this hippie. And in some ways, I was going about it so honestly. I didn't even think about what I looked like. And yet, I guess part of me realized the change that I had undergone in such a short period of time, because the only other time I was back, was when my grandmother died and I flew back from Syracuse because I felt so close to her. And I came back but I hadn't made any kind of real physical changes or something. But, and then when we were up at that, after that camping trip, I think I was starting to show signs. But then when I came back afterwards, I had just sort of gone to hell as far as my parents were concerned. [Laughs] And how could I, being this college professor, how could I possibly look like that?

<End Segment 45> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 46>

AI: So we're continuing our interview with Roger Shimomura. And Roger, when left off at the end of the last discussion before our break, you had just been talking about your first year in Kansas, and how the campus had been just, just erupted in activity, and how you were involved in some of that activity.

RS: Yeah, I didn't do any physical destruction, but I was involved in some of the protest marches and the, and the film that I told you that I shot. And they were very tumultuous times, and I, I felt very much a part of that. As part of that -- as I've been calling it -- a movement to the left. And I think, in some ways, that that probably sensitized that, sensitized me to a lot of the incidents that began to happen, moving to the Midwest at a time when there were very, very few Asian Americans living there. There were far more Asians, because University of Kansas has always had a very large foreign student population, due to the fact that they had a English-as-a-second-language program there, so a lot of students kind of gravitated to that area for that reason. But there were very few. I believe there were about four, maybe five, Nikkei on the faculty. And very, very few students. So it was --

MT: Could you say how big that university is? How many students there were?

RS: Well, at the time -- and currently it's about 28,000. But at the time, it was probably around 14-, 12- to 14-, something like that.

AI: And maybe if you could give us a picture about the ethnic composition generally, of the faculty and the students at that time.

RS: To be truthful, I don't think the, the ethnic mix has changed that much over the years. It's been redistributed. The number of Asian students have just multiplied by maybe ten or twenty, whereas the amount of African American students probably has fallen some, maybe Hispanic students as well. At one point, the largest foreign student group was Malaysians, amazingly. But, as I say, that has changed quite a bit. University of Kansas is still a white university. There's no doubt about that. And they're having a very hard time turning that around. And they're making some real sort of sincere movements, incentives and all of that. But it's, they're having a hard time. Very hard time.

AI: So into this, into this neighborhood and this campus, you and your wife moved and you had your first child, your son Mark.

RS: Right.

AI: And then after that you had two more children.

RS: Right. Spaced about two years apart. Had a second child, a girl, Joby, and then after that, another girl, Yoko. And it was probably within a few years of that that my wife and I ended up getting a divorce, and she moved up here. And one of the first things, I think, after she came up here was she became the artistic director of the Northwest Asian American Theatre, and did that for, I think, eighteen years.

AI: And the children also moved back with her to Seattle?

RS: Right, right.

<End Segment 46> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 47>

AI: So, now then, you were, in the meantime, you're continuing here in Kansas, establishing yourself and getting to know the local area.

RS: Uh-huh.

AI: And as you had mentioned earlier, you were buying furniture, going to auctions, and experiencing reactions from the local townspeople.

RS: Right. As I was saying earlier, there were a lot of incidents that I became rather sensitive to. I remember one that happened right after we got there at a department store called Weavers, and it was Bea's birthday. And at the time, maxi coats were stylish. And I went to Weavers department store and found a maxi coat. And I said, I told the people there that I wanted to buy it on credit. And they said, the woman at the counter said, "Well, we don't give credit to Indians." And I said, "Well, I'm not an Indian, first of all." And she said, "Well, I doubt that," she said, "you look Indian to me." And I asked to see the manager, and so they sent me upstairs and I saw the manager. And he says, "Can I help you?" And I said, "Yes. I want to open up a charge account here." And he said the same thing: "We don't give credit to Indians." And I said, "Well, I'm not an Indian." He said, "Can you prove you're not an Indian?" And as I'm reaching for wallet to pull out my ID, I says, "Why am I trying to prove to this person that I'm not something?" And do I really want to buy this coat from -- you know, and I just excused myself and left the coat there and walked out. But that was one of the first sort of strange incidents. And I found that frequently I was being mistaken for being Indian, because, in addition to the University of Kansas, Haskell, it was called Haskell Institute at the time, or Haskell Indian Junior College, is located in Lawrence. And it's a, it's a free, if you're Native American, junior college experience, which has since changed to a four-year university, and it's now called Haskell Indian Nations University. But at the time, that was my association, was I must be Native, because I wasn't white.

And I would go and... I remember one time I went to Woolworth's, I think it was, and they had all these Halloween masks that I thought were really neat. And I bought one of every kind just to have. It's that collecting thing. And I got to the counter and they charged it to Haskell without even asking me. And they punched it all up and they gave me a -- and I knew I didn't have a credit card. I looked at him and, "What are you doing?" And they says, "Well, we're charging it to Haskell." So things like that, and there were a lot of things like that, that came up that was all part of that kind of growing awareness of -- because this was really, other than Syracuse, it was the first time that I had been in an area that was predominantly white. Syracuse was like that, too, but there, there was more of an ethnic mix of other kinds of immigrant white people. Whereas the Midwest was very Anglo. And so all of that contributed to a growing awareness of my non-whiteness. Which leads into the auction.

<End Segment 47> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 48>

RS: And it was at one of those auctions where I was buying furniture, buying all kinds of things, necessities, when -- I was there with one of my colleagues. And there was this farmer standing next to me. And I still remember him. And he was wearing these blue coveralls and he kept nudging closer to me. And finally, during a break in the auction, he said, "Excuse me, sir," he said, "I was overhearing you speak the language, and I was wondering how you come to speaking it so good. Where are you from?" And I said, "I'm from Seattle." And he says, "No," he says, "Where are your parents from?" And I said, "Well, my mother was born in Idaho, and my father was born in Seattle." And I knew what he was after, but I had just decided, since these were questions that I'd probably answered half-a-dozen times prior to this conversation, that I would only answer him truthfully, and give him what he asked. And when he said, "Are you a student at Haskell?" And I said, "No, I teach at KU." "What do you teach?" I said, "I teach painting." And he said, "Well, what's your ancestry?" or something like that. I says, "Well, I'm Japanese, Japanese American." And he says, "Well, konnichi wa." And I kind of looked at him, and he said, "The little lady and I lived in Japan." And he said, "We used to buy them pictures of 'gishi' girls wearin' them kimonos." And he says, "Do you do pictures like that?" And I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and just sort of said, "Yeah." And my friend that was with me was just laughing hysterically. And I just wanted to get away from this guy. So for the rest of the auction I thought about that conversation. And it wasn't as though it was so different from other conversations, but he had sort of summarized, he brought in everything, into that one conversation.

So I went home and I wrote down that conversation on a piece of paper, just sort of scripted it like this. And then I went to the Student Union, and I bought this book that was called A Coloring Book of Japan. And it was filled with ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Line, simple, simple line drawings. And I took it to my studio, and I did this big painting. It was called, I called "Oriental Masterpiece." And in it was a Utamaro woman and a Hokusai wave, and a Sotatsu demon. My thought at the time was just to do this one painting. And it was in direct response to that conversation. So, I mean, I think that was maybe a first in my work, that I had a artistic response to a conversation that was very bothersome to me.

And, and I was also on the throes of my first solo show in Seattle. The one at Earl Ballard was on Mercer Island, and the show was at the old Jim Manolides Gallery. And there was enough space in this mini gallery for eight paintings. And so the last painting I had done was this "Oriental Masterpiece," number one. All the other seven paintings were of images from pulp magazines and from comic strips. And there were Buck Rogers, Big Bad Wolf paintings, Mickey, Minnie Mouse, things like that. And so I shipped all the paintings up. I came up for the opening, and amazingly, everybody talked about "Oriental Masterpiece." And the reason they talked about it was they saw it as a homecoming of sorts. They thought, "You're doing paintings like, look like you. That look like you." And I, you know, I couldn't quite understand that, because I felt like these images were very foreign to me. They didn't feel natural. I mean, they looked Japanese. And it's because I never had those images while growing up. Those things were never around the house. Those were the images that I associated with my grandparents. And so I decided -- because of that very sort of different kind of relationship I suddenly had with my work and with the people that were looking and commenting at my work -- I decided that I'd do a series called "Oriental Masterpiece." And as it turns out, I ended up doing almost fifty paintings, and they're all 5 x 5 feet. And I also did a series of prints that were called "Oriental Masterprints." And so, for the first time, my prints and my paintings were doing something very similar to each other. And so that was probably about four years' worth of work that I did on that series.

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<Begin Segment 49>

RS: And then, about the middle '70s, late-'70s, is when I began -- I can't remember what the, whether there was an incident or what, that suddenly stimulated my interest in my grandmother's diaries again. And I think it had to do with the fact that they were in her cabinet. She had died in 1968, and my dad kept telling me, "Why don't you take those diaries back with you?" Because he was tired of seeing them in his basement. And he sort of felt that I had a proprietary interest in it, because for the last fourteen years, I used to give her an empty diary for Christmas. And so, and he would always threaten to get rid of them, like so many Niseis, just get rid of it. And, and he knew that I felt very strongly that they should not be gotten rid of. And, because they were written in Japanese, of course, they were inaccessible to, to both of us.

And so, finally, I decided, in the late-'70s, to bring them back to Kansas. And so I put 'em all in a box one summer and brought 'em back with me. And thought maybe these will be worth translating. And I'd be really interested to see what she had to say. Because my grandmother and I had always been close, but I didn't know anything really about her before I was born, other than a few factual things. And just looking at the diaries, I mean, just filled with writing. And I thought, gee, you know, and I'd looked up my birthdate, when she delivered me. And there was hardly anything written there. As it turns out, all she said was, "Today, Roger was born." Which was real disappointing. First grandson and everything else. But she told me, she told me she was tired. But, in any case, I brought the diaries back with me, and I applied for a grant to get them translated. I didn't have any idea how many I can get translated, for how much money, or whatever. But one of my students was from Japan, and she was an art education major. And she had been in this country for, at that time, fourteen years, and so she was bilingual. And she looked at the diaries and thought that she could translate them. So I got this grant and we made this arrangement where every two weeks she would give me what she translated, and as it turns out it was about two weeks' worth of translations.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, because when I brought those diaries, it was about the time that the movement for reparations started, and when Frank Chin was involved in the first "Day of Remembrance." And Frank asked me if I would help him silkscreen T-shirts. And Frank Fujii had designed that T-shirt, the Issei-Nisei-Sansei. And I was up in Seattle, and so I volunteered my services and helped Frank and some other people silkscreen these T-shirts. And so that sort of put them in the front of my brain.

And I was due for my first sabbatical leave at Kansas in 1978. And applying for sabbatical leave was applying for a grant, and you had to sort of give a reason, what you were, why, and what you were going to do. And I decided that I was ready for a shift in, in my work. And that I wanted to do a series of narrative paintings. And the first thing that popped in my head was camp. And, because the "Oriental Masterpiece" series was pretty much about just looking Japanese. They were pretty much based upon ukiyo-e woodblock prints, and other than changing themes from single figures to landscapes, to other very kinds of mundane themes, there was no sort of narrative or political content to the, to the work. So I decided that I would do a series about Minidoka, but I decided that I would keep them in that ukiyo-e style. Because I wasn't ready to deal with it as, in a very sort of frontal manner. And I was a little wary of that. And my, my thought at the time was there were people that did that in camp, people like Mine Okubo, and who was I, all these years later, to try to do work that looked like I was making paintings of camp, as though it were going on at the time. And I also felt like it would be more conceptually interesting to keep it in that style.

And, and so I decided to do six paintings about the internment, and they funded my sabbatical, which meant that I would have a full semester and a summer to do this series of work. And I chose to do it 5 x 6 feet, which was fairly large. As I said, six paintings, and I would divide up various issues into six paintings. And the first one was called "The Notification." And it was a painting about that moment that we were notified that we would have to be moved out of Seattle and into the camps. And again, these were all in sort of ukiyo-e woodblock style, so that if you looked at the paintings, you wouldn't know that they had anything to do with the internment until someone told you that. And then, suddenly you, pieces would start to fall into place. The second painting was called "The (Exodus)" or the move to the camps. The third one was a diary, dedicated to my grandmother, and shows her writing in her diary with my mother and I in the upper corner, standing in front of a guard tower. The fourth one was, I believe, "No-No Boy." And I had read No-No Boy and so assembled all the various characters. The fifth painting was dedicated to the 442nd, and it's a painting that George Suyama owns. I just got a phone call from him a few days ago, and he's going to donate it to the Tacoma Art Museum. But it's filled with all these images of warriors, with a large figure standing in front that's supposed to be my uncle, who was one of the first people to be wounded in Italy. And then the sixth painting was, was called, it had to do with memories outside of camp. And it showed my grandmother in camp having a daydream about better times outside of camp. So that, those were the six paintings that comprised the "Minidoka" series. And the paintings were, the museum at Kansas showed them right, for a period of a couple of weeks as a group of work, because they thought it was quite a unique series. And then the work was shipped up here, and I had a show at the Kiku Gallery. Do you remember Kiku?

MT: Uh-huh.

RS: And, and it was at the opening that this attorney couple, this attorney came and purchased the "Exodus" painting, I believe it was, and donated it to the Seattle Art Museum, because he wanted to make sure that one would stay up here. And then one by one, the other paintings were sold, and went to different places.

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<Begin Segment 50>

AI: I wonder if you would just say a little bit about "Exodus." Well, a couple of them, but about the "Exodus" painting. It, I was wondering if you had consciously envisioned that as a kind of a representation or a remembering, a recreation of the removal of people from Bainbridge Island, where there's, they are, there're famous photos of the Bainbridge Japanese Americans coming out.

RS: Right. That's, I mean, that's probably in there. That wasn't directly the inspiration for the painting. Because the, the action in the paintings were really once removed from probably what they really looked like. In this case, the "Exodus" was, of the paintings, that were all walking to camp, and they were leaving this idyllic village in the background and walking en masse off the canvas someplace. And, I always have to tell people that we did not walk to the camps. By the same token, it would have been -- it would not have appropriate in the 16th, 17th century to have buses, either. But there were various symbols that overlapped from painting to painting. For example, in "The Notification," the main figure in the foreground was supposed to be my grandfather reading the notification. And he appears in the "Exodus," second painting, as though he's still in disbelief reading this notification as everyone's moving to the camp. And then there are certain pieces of luggage that's in that painting that carries through to some of the other paintings. So, there are these overlaps from painting to painting.

AI: I also wondered if you would say a bit about the painting that has to do with No-No Boy. Because, and for people who don't know, of course, it's Frank Okada's brother, John Okada, who was the author of that book. And that, again, many people may not realize how controversial that was when it came out. So maybe you could say a bit about why you chose to use some of that --

RS: Well, I just, I had read No-No Boy years and years ago, and I decided when I did this series of paintings, that I would re-read it. And I'm glad I did, because it came back with, it brought back a lot of very vivid memories of the first time that I'd read the book. Because that was in my old neighborhood, on Jackson Street. And some of the late-night bars that they sort of hang in were the same bars that I used hang out in. Wa-Mei Club, Legion Club, and so on. And, and the frank that I, the fact that I knew Frank, also added to, added to the story. And so I, rather than deal with, with any of the sort of issues that were involved in the story, the controversy of the "no-no boys," and that, I sort of decided just to depict every main character that was in the story. And like so many artists, I was really sort of involved in the kind of picture that it would make in the end, and not really trying to take any particular political stance or anything. And so that painting had a very, very dramatic lighting to it, where it was very, it was a night scene outside, and there was a sort of very hot interior scene inside, and I placed everybody in there and sort of played around with that light. So in some ways, the painting is really about those formal kinds of things. Happened to be about, also about all of the characters in the book.

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<Begin Segment 51>

AI: I'm wondering, also, about the response you got when the paintings were shown up here in the Seattle, in Seattle. Response, if any, that you got from Japanese Americans up here?

RS: The response was, was good. I was quite pleased. And, of course, having never done paintings of that sort before, I mean, to hear the kinds of things that were being said, were very different than other shows that I had had up in this area, where generally had to do with the sort of appearance of the work. And all of a sudden there were people that were relating to it on a deeper, more personal level. And so that, of course, was very, very different. And you have to remember, too, that the work didn't look like that. But despite that, I don't know if they were starved for that kind of theme or issue or whatever, but I really felt for the first time that I was doing work that was for other people, other than myself.

I think the Japanese community maybe responded a little differently. For example, the "No-No Boy" painting was purchased by the Bank of Tokyo. And in order for the sale to be finished, it had to gain approval by all of the various offices, which meant the Seattle office and the San Francisco office. But the third office was the office in Japan. And when it got back there and they found out what the painting was about, they nixed the sale. And to Kiku's memory, it was the first time in her memory that she could ever remember the main office ever vetoing something. So there was no doubt as to why they did that. They didn't want a painting that recalled that particular time period hanging in one of their banks. And shortly after that, I had two shows in Japan. And it's probably worth noting that both of them were print shows. One was in Tokyo, and one was in Kyoto. And the one in Tokyo sold heavily, but I discovered that not one painting was sold to a Japanese. And the gallery was located in Kasumigaseki, which is where all of the embassies are. So the work went all over the world, but not one piece stayed in Japan. Because the Japanese couldn't figure out what I was doing, except kind of blasphemizing their national treasures. And what I did was I sort of reinforced the stereotype that they had as to what a Sansei was, and what little regard Sanseis had for the national treasures of Japan.

So the show, after that, went to Kyoto, which, of course, is real conservative parts of Japan. And again, there was all this controversy, and there was even a bus that was chartered that came from Osaka to see this show by this crazy American Sansei. And it was on TV and everything else. But not one piece sold in Kyoto. But the gallery owner said that they had never had a crowd like that before. But generally speaking, the show was panned. No one seemed to understand it. Nowhere interested in coming to grips with what it meant. So to that point -- and we're talking about the mid-'70s -- to that point, there was very little empathy there between the Japanese and my work.

AI: And what about your own experience of being a Japanese American in Japan at that time? Just as an individual?

RS: Well, I mean, it was very difficult. It was very difficult because I didn't speak Japanese. And the little Japanese that I could speak, the little phrases or whatever, might suggest to someone that I was talking to that I did speak Japanese, and then they would respond in Japanese, and then I was in trouble, because it was, I could under-, my vocabulary was so limited, and my ability to speak was so limited. And, at this point, I had a Caucasian girlfriend that spoke no Japanese, obviously, and it became much easier for her to ask the questions in English, and to have them struggle with their English to, to talk to her rather than for me to go up there and they would invariably cuss me out. I mean, I understood Japanese enough to know when I was being cussed out. And, and they would say things like, "Just because you're with this American girl, you're too good to speak English -- or, to speak Japanese." I understood that. So it was easier just to push her forward and then to pick up the few Japanese words. And, to be truthful, that's always been an issue going back to Japan. It's been something that I haven't really looked forward to. It's just that today, it's less of an, far less of an issue than it was before, because they're so much more used to having Japanese Americans come to Japan that are not equipped to speak the language. Back then... the first time I went was before I went to Korea. And came back from Korea in 1962, and '63. And, but I think the fact that I had an American military uniform sort of exempted me from some of those questions.

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<Begin Segment 52>

AI: That, so that brings us to... we're at the late-'70s here. And, as you had mentioned, you had been kind of drawn into the first Day of Remembrance that was held here at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. Did you actually attend that? That was in fall of '78.

RS: No. That's, school was on. I couldn't go.

AI: That's right. That's right. But it wasn't -- it was around that time, also, that you began working on the "Minidoka" series. Is that right?

RS: Right. I, I brought back all of the diaries, and I asked -- her name was Akiko -- to begin the translations. And as, the first thing I did was gave her the diary that had Pearl Harbor day in it. And those were the first two weeks that she gave me. And I read them, and I knew immediately that there was enough material there to, to perhaps do a series of paintings based on the diary entries. So I decided that, again, to keep it within that, that Japanese woodblock appearance. I also remember a conversation I had with Bea, my ex-wife, about these paintings because she felt that I was really making a mistake to, to keep them looking like that. And her reason was that I was perpetuating a stereotype. And I thought that that was a certain risk that I was taking, but I still wasn't ready to, to give all of that up, to give all of that appearance up. And so, as it turns out, I think she was right. But I still think that there was justification for not doing that as well. So I decided to keep this diary series that was done from 1980 to '83 in that style of the woodblock print. And so as the entries came in I would do paintings. And I think over a period of time I ended up doing twenty-five paintings in that initial diary series.

And the show was traveling around, usually in groups of about ten to twelve paintings. And as the show would go from venue to venue, certain paintings would sell and I felt compelled to replace those paintings to maintain the integrity of the exhibition. So as it turns out I ended up doing four Pearl Harbor day paintings, four variations. They were each quite different quite from each other, but there were certain themes, I think, that for some reason people were more interested in. But also, what was interesting were all the paintings that ended up selling the last were the ones that had barbed wire in them, because people were not buying the paintings for what they were about. They were sort of following, falling for the strategy that was intended on my part to make them very beautiful paintings, but to sublimate the internment theme in the paintings so that only upon discussion that would become evident. But out of the twenty-five paintings, I believe only seven asked for the diary entries that inspired the painting. And it's amazing when you think about putting out that kind of money for a painting that you would want all the information that was available, and certainly the entries were available, but they just left them on the table. Actually, the last painting that sold, I actually had several offers to paint out the barbed wire and that they would buy the painting. And by barbed wire, I'm talking about one line that was one inch long that had two vertical slashes that couldn't have been more than a quarter inches long, buried into the painting. So that became a very interesting observation over a course of three years as these paintings traveled around.

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<Begin Segment 53>

AI: I wanted to ask you, also, about your own response to the diary writing of your grandmother. As the translations came to you and you started reading through these, if there's anything that stands out in your mind that you recall of your own reaction of seeing your grandmother's words translated for you?

RS: Well, the question that, that always came to mind was whether or not she intended these to be read and translated. And I think I've come to the conclusion that she did not, because the diaries were so personal in terms of writing down things that were of absolutely no interest to anyone but herself. And I really think that knowing my grandmother pretty well, that she would have wanted herself sort of officially represented to be a far more observant, insightful person than, "Today Obasan came over and I gave her this or she gave me that," and that kind of chit-chatty stuff, and preceding every day with what her blood pressure was and what the weather was like. There were a few times that she went into these forays in considerable depth about how she felt about something, but interestingly enough, the various people that have come to read the diaries, for various reasons, find them to be extremely valuable for that very reason, the fact that maybe she didn't think that other people were going to read this.

And I'm digressing here, but there's a woman in Edmonton, Canada, that teaches up there, that's writing a book on Japanese American midwives, and she heard about my grandmother and flew down to Lawrence and Xeroxed all of the diaries from 1913 to 1937 or '38 and brought them back, had them translated, and the translator told her, "There's nothing in here that's going to interest you." And so this woman, Susan Smith, wrote back to me and says, "I'm sorry to say that there's nothing in there that's going to be of value to me," and she was very polite and so on and so forth. And then, about three years later, she sent me this article that she had written about my grandmother. And she said, "I was entirely wrong." And she said in her studies she came across another woman that had written diaries that -- where scholars, upon looking at it said that there was no value to it, until they recognized the value of this sort of non-information. And she said she just sort of changed her attitude, re-read the translations, and found them to be incredibly important. So she ended up writing this major paper and presenting it at this midwifery convention. And it's expanding and it's becoming a major part of this book that she's writing right now. So, that was sort of typical of other people that have looked at the diaries and certainly, the Japanese scholar, what's his name? The...

AI: Oh yes. The professor who was --

RS: At Columbia. Yeah.

AI: I'm sorry.

RS: Anyway, he came from Japan to see, read the diaries, because he was writing a week-long article for the Japan Times on Japanese immigrant women that maintained diaries. And came to the conclusion that my grandmother's was one of the most interesting ones, to the point that he wrote this book called Modern Japanese Diaries, and wrote a whole chapter on my grandmother's diaries.

AI: Was it Donald Keene?

RS: Donald Keene.

AI: Keene.

RS: Right, right. So, you know, my impression was that there was nothing there. And then when I sort of flipped that switch and saw it as they saw it, then suddenly you became sensitive to the various nuances and starting to feel like you were really there next to her and just sort of drifting from, from day to day, in camp, and they felt quite different at that point.

AI: Well, now, at the same period of this, this first diary series, I think it was 1981 that the Commission, U.S. Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians was established, and in '81 they had their hearings where so many Japanese Americans came forward and told their stories of what had happened during World War II and in the camps. And then it was shortly after that, 1982 and '83 when the Commission made their findings public and published their official report, for one thing, establishing that there had been no military necessity after all, during World War II, to take these actions against Japanese Americans. And I was wondering, when some of that news started coming out, did you have a response yourself or did that affect you?

RS: No, I don't think that, I don't think that information was new to most Japanese Americans. I mean, that's what they expected. I remember the sort of anxieties I had about the hearings that, if my mother and father were typical of Japanese Americans, no one would speak out. And that's what I was afraid of. And then when I started getting these reports that these incredible stories were coming out, and these horror stories and so on, you know, I was just so glad. I was so grateful. Then for the first time it, my parents seemed to have permission to suddenly talk about it for the first time. So I remember coming up here and asking them questions and they would answer me. I mean, it was just, this, this, so, such a luxury that they would talk about it so I started picking their brains about our family and things that I had never heard of before. And, and, to hear my dad tell some of these stories, was just amazing. But he still had a certain reticence about allowing other people to know these stories. I think he still felt that some of these were just for the family to know, which told me how sort of deeply embarrassed he was about that whole episode.

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<Begin Segment 54>

RS: You know, another thing that was happening just prior to all this time, too, was when I first became involved in performance. And this is something that was sort of stimulated by buying a video camera in 1984, I believe it was, and also goes back to my graduate days -- well actually, that one year I spent in graduate school at the University of Washington, taking part in some "happenings" as they were called at that point. And then when I got to Syracuse as a TA, I always introduced performance in my basic 3-D design classes. And I would shoot them with a Super 8 movie camera. And I also studied filmmaking when I was at Syracuse, and actually contemplated changing my major to filmmaking. And one of the jobs that I was offered was as a filmmaker when I got out of graduate school. So that interest in sort of linear, creative flow was, was always there.

And so, in '84 when I bought a video camera I began to -- because I knew some, this choreographer, and I had her come over with anywhere from one to three dancers. And in my studio we'd turn on the video camera and we would just sort of play. And they would wear costumes and we'd try different things. And then I started sort of assigning plots. I mean, I was recognizing how much these women looked like my paintings, you know, in their kimono. And so we would do these improvisational pieces where I would give them these little plots to work around and so on.

And then the opportunity came up one day to do a piece for the, what was called the Symposium of Contemporary Music. And, because they were having a difficult time getting people to come and listen to this music, they thought if they would have a live performance attached to this new music that they can appeal to a broader audience. So they asked me to not only pick a composer, but to do a performance. And so I jumped in and wrote this piece about Pearl Harbor, except in ukiyo-e style. So essentially it looked like one of my paintings, one of the diary paintings coming to life. And of course all this followed the diary paintings. So I did this, I think it was about a fifteen-minute piece, that was the Pearl Harbor day entry, and worked with Marsha Paludan, the choreographer. And she had a troupe of dancers that also joined in and, and it was called, I called it "The Kabuki Play Performance" or something like that because there was a lot of parody of kabuki play in it. And I had these figures dressed in black that were called kurogo in kabuki theater that were stage assistants and they would run around and move props and help change costumes and all of that. So the piece turned out to be a real hit, just from friends of mine. There were three or four hundred people in the audience and, but I always remember sitting in the back of the theater because they were all rehearsed, ready to go. And the music went on, and sitting in the back there, and I literally got goosebumps, and they were goosebumps of fear. And I had no idea what I was doing at that point. I had no idea the value of what was about to take place on the stage, because it certainly wasn't traditional theater and I was working on a very intuitive level, things that interested me. And it was -- it paralleled, like, maybe doing your first painting and showing it to the public. And that's what I was feeling. There were people from the theater department there and everything, you know, these critical, jaded eyes that were about to see this silly thing that I put together on stage, and I was absolutely petrified. And I was this close to running out of the theater, and just like pulling the plugs and saying, "Just kidding," and not letting anybody see it and getting the hell out.

MT: So what was the reaction?

RS: The reaction was, it was standing ovation. And I, you know, I didn't know how to deal with that. But the addiction had, at that point, had set. I knew I wanted to do more of it.

AI: So you continued on with developing more --

RS: I continued on. I decided that I would do a full-length performance with this being the first act. And so I made arrangements to do, because the response was so good, and the word sort of spread, I decided to write two more acts, which would be two more diary entries, and that I would do those three at another venue, which I did in Topeka. And then, several months later I added two more diary entries on it. So there were five altogether. And I did that in Emporia, Kansas, at a big theater. And then, I wanted two more acts. And we ended up doing that at a place called Southwestern College outside of Wichita. And so that was the completion of what was called the "7 Kabuki Plays Project."

AI: So, as you say, when you were first doing that first piece, on a very intuitive level, but looking back at it afterwards, what do you think worked so well about those pieces?

RS: Uh, I think, I think in some ways the fact that they looked like -- they had a tremendous visual appeal. And I realized at some point, how driven I was by the way the performances looked, that they moved, they kept moving like this. And they were like moving paintings. I mean, the figures were moving, background was moving all these things were moving constantly. And I think that was sort of a maybe a slightly unique vision to have of theater, as this kind of tableaux where things constantly move like this. I don't think that would be nearly as impressive today, but back then, I think, I think maybe it was, because we went to such great lengths to care about what it looked like and we'd get into these very complex series of movements, just to gain one effect, and usually done in a very primitive sort of way. But because we rehearsed and rehearsed, rehearsed, when they did work it was, it was really quite beautiful. I look at some of those old video tapes now and part of them looked extremely crude. I mean, I'm reluctant to even share that with other people, but on the other hand there were moments that they were incredibly beautiful. And I wish I could just sort of steal those and represent the whole piece by those, those moments, but obviously I can't.

MT: So you said that you worked with a choreographer and some dancers. Did you ever, at that time work with a theater director or a --

RS: No.

MT: -- playwright to work on that end of it?

RS: No. That's what I thought my role was, the sort of meat of it. I worked with professional lighting people. I worked with professional costume designers, professional choreographers, but the writing of the piece was all mine. And I was really afraid to ask for advice or for criticism because I sort of felt like the bubble would burst in a way. I mean, there was a certain naivete about how I was approaching it. And I really relied upon that and frankly was frightened to death to ever ask a professional how was I -- how I was doing. But I also know that Paul Stephen Lim, for example, is a quite well-known Asian American playwright, is on our faculty, our faculty, he's in the English department, but he teaches playwriting. And he came to all of the performances and told me how much he liked them. And that was, that's all I needed, was to hear that and it didn't matter at that point.

<End Segment 54> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 55>

MT: Now, you brought at least one of those performances to Seattle, and how was the reception in places like Seattle or other places where there is a high Asian population?

RS: Well, the piece I brought to Seattle, I believe was called "California Sushi." Is that right?

MT: Well, there is one here written that has that name. [Laughs]

RS: Yeah. And I brought it to C.O.C.A. (Center on Contemporary Art), when Larry Reed was there.

MT: I was there.

RS: Oh, you were there?

MT: I saw that.

RS: Oh, I didn't know that. And that piece, of course, was quite different than the "7 Kabuki Plays" in that they were sort of vignettes and sort of small ideas, sort of single issues. There was actually a piece that was done before that which was called "Trans-Siberian Excerpts" that kind of followed that format. And "Trans-Siberian Excerpts" was written when I was on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. That's why it has that title. And I wrote it between Beijing and Moscow, riding on the train. And I took that trip just to do that, to sit in the train with [makes sound effects] Mongolia and everything else going by. And I thought that I could focus a little differently. But "Trans-Siberian Excerpts" and "California Sushi" were sort of filled with these sort of little issues, little observations, complaints and so on. Things that I, it was very cathartic for me to do these things. For example, I think it was the piece that you saw, did I do that piece called "KIKE"?

MT: I don't know, I remember there was rice in it.

RS: This was a piece, because I was always very opposed to the term "JAP," meaning Jewish American Princess. And so I wrote a piece called "KIKE." And, whereas JAP meant Jewish American Princess, my claim was that Japanese American girls called them, called each other KIKEs which stood for Kinky, Kinky Immature Kimono Empress. And I said that's what Japanese American girls called each other, KIKEs, for short. And it gave this whole genealogy of words that began with K-I-K-E and so on. And it was a very complex piece that I actually did in New York City at my first show in New York for my dealer, who was Jewish. And I ran the piece by her before I did it because she wanted me to do a performance at the opening of my show of paintings. And this was in the late '80s. And so, I, at NYU I gave a lecture and I ran through this piece just for her. And she thought it was wonderful. And so at the opening I had everything set up and I did this piece. And there was a huge Jewish audience there. And when the piece was over, one woman in particular was hysterical, crying. And she couldn't even talk to me. And Bernice had to take her to the back room, and I didn't know what that meant. And Bernice came out and said, "She feels so badly because she has used that term 'JAP,' so frequently. And she wants to apologize to you but she can't because she feels so guilty." And then this other woman was standing there in tears and she apologized. And so I thought, my God. I mean, this is the first time I'd ever gotten this kind of a response from one of my performances.

And then, all of a sudden I get this one woman, there was a producer called Mitchell Cannold who produced the first TV program on the internment experience for CBS. And Mitchell Cannold called me one day and said he wanted to buy this particular painting. And it was one that George Suyama had. And I said, "Well, that painting is gone," and so I sold him one of the Pearl Harbor day paintings of the diary series. Well, his mother and father came to the opening of my show in New York. And they wanted to buy him a painting to surprise him because he couldn't make it. And so they bought the biggest painting in the show that was on the card announcing the show. They saw the performance, and they changed their mind. They reneged on the sale and told them, "Shimomura is a racist, he hates Jewish people," blah, blah, blah, "We don't want his painting." And Bernice said, "Don't you get it?" you know? And she says, "What's there to get? He's a racist." And they both walked out of the gallery. And Bernice just screamed at them, "You don't deserve the painting." And that was it. So that sort of represents the mixed response at that performance. Gardner, the show -- but what it also did was convince me that I was doing something that might be important.

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<Begin Segment 56>

AI: So, before the break we were talking about some of your performance art, and I wanted to ask you, before continuing on with the development of your performance art and installations, about the beginnings of teaching performance art at Kansas, how that came about and some of the significance of that at the time.

RS: It came about approximately a year after I began doing performance myself. We have the option of, at Kansas, to introduce, at any point, what's called a "special topics" course. And this is to keep us from going stale in the courses that we normally teach. So to this date, in any given semester we usually have two to three special topics courses that are being taught by somebody on our faculty. And frequently if these courses are real successful, they're actually introduced into our curriculum as regularly offered courses, which of course changes the whole shape of our program. And I think performance art did that in our department in that it began as a course that had about eight students in it, which is actually about the ideal number, but would vary anywhere from eight to as many as seventeen people in any given semester. And I would teach it just during the fall semester. But it was a course that there always seemed to be a demand for. Every fall there seemed to be a group of people that wanted to take the course and so I kept offering it. And I think after doing it for about five or six years, we felt that the course was important enough to become regularly, it should be regularly offered. And we had also been thinking about a program that we would call "new genre" in our department that would include performance and installation, and, and so we ended up actually advertising and hiring this Spanish woman to teach installation. And those two courses she teaches in the spring, I teach performance in the fall. And so those two courses are sort of the core of this new genre major that we now have. So we have painting, printmaking, sculpture, and new genre. And new genre is rapidly becoming one of the biggest areas in our whole program. And we have supplemented performance and installation with computer art and mixed media and video. So, it's, it's become a real important part of the program.

Right now, because I'm gonna be retiring soon, we're actually gonna be having two very long meetings next week to try to decide how we're going to replace me into the program, and whether we're going to try to find a performance artist to continue to teach under this format, or my, my feeling is that it ought to be integrated with installation art and offered every semester, because it's been really unusual, I think, to be able to offer a performance class every year for the last eighteen years. Whereas performance has sort of come and gone at other schools, we've been able to sustain that for this period of time. And so it's now, the, it's the oldest performance program between both coasts, and beyond that. It's probably the oldest program that's been continuously running in the country. So we have to decide whether or not it's worth preserving as that, or whether there's some other way of looking at it, which I think I would be in favor of.

AI: Well, in an earlier conversation you had started to talk a little bit about the significance of performance art, especially for people of color and women in their art-making. I wonder if you would say some more about that.

RS: Yeah, when we advertise for an installation artist, and it was interesting. We did this at the College Art Association Conference. We were the only job that was being advertised nationwide asking for an installation artist. And we had about 220 people that applied for the job that called themselves an installation artist. And out of those 220 -- if my memory serves me correctly -- over 120 of them were women. And of that group, twenty-five percent of the entire group, of the 220, twenty-five percent were people of color. And that was a really high percentage in both instances, because if we were to have a painting position I would say less than one-third would be women and probably somewhere between five and ten percent would be people of color. And so, it really confirmed what I thought all along, that those were disciplines that, if you look at what's going on nationally, in terms of performance artists and installation artists, it seems like a far greater majority than fifty-five or sixty percent, seems almost like eighty percent are being done by women and people of color. And the reason for it is that up to a few years ago, the art scene was dominated by European male artists. I mean, that's what modernism was all about. And so for the first time, thanks to feminism, primarily, the art arena has become far more inclusive of women and people of color. And what those people bring with them is not some rarefied European idea of what modern art is about, but they bring with them stories that they have to tell. And the only way you can tell those stories is by doing them either in linear fashion as performance art or through using the objects that actually come out of their own family history in installations. And so, it's quite logical that those are two fields that are dominated by those two groups of people.

<End Segment 56> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 57>

AI: So, continuing on with your own development of your own performances and installations, you had quite a number over the years, that you had mentioned the "Trans-Siberian Excerpts" and the "California Sushi," but you also had a number of, "Return of the Yellow Peril," -- oh, I'm sorry, that was a different series, but your "Campfire Diary" tour and "Last Sansei Story" were significant performances and --

RS: Yeah. "The Last Sansei Story" was probably, oh, without question the most major piece that I've ever written. And I conceived of that just before, in 1990 when I went to Carleton College to teach for the semester. And it was also a time period that I developed very serious heart problems and it was very iffy on whether or not I could go to Carleton and teach there for the entire semester, no one was sure how stressful that that was going to be. But I sort of saw it in the opposite sense, that this would be a good place for me to get away and to recuperate, because all I had to do was teach performance art. That's what they were hiring me to teach. And I would only have to teach two afternoons a week. And besides that, they were paying me a lot of money. And so I convinced the doctor that he should let me go to Carleton to teach. So I spent almost two weeks in the hospital and then he let me out and one of my friends drove me up to Northfield and unloaded my van for me and everything, which I'm glad he did because I wasn't able to do it. I was too weak. And so I got it together to go to the very first class and I was able to handle it and actually found the exercise was good, walking to class and walking back. So over a period of about thirteen, fourteen weeks, however long it was, I actually returned stronger than I was.

But all during that time I was conceiving and writing this performance piece that, called "The Last Sansei Story." And what it was about was a tribute to the Issei, Nisei, Sansei. And I knew the Issei was going to be about the immigration to this country, it was gonna be seen through my grandmother's eyes and her diaries, that it would be about her midwifing experiences, it would be about, some things about my grandfather and to sort of hold them as kind of what happened to the Issei. And then the second act, which was about the Nisei, I decided to represent with the internment experience. And I also re-titled the second act as "Campfire Diary" and that became a remake of the "Kabuki Plays" in that I think I actually even covered the same diary entries in "Campfire Diary." But they were presented in an entirely different way. I decided to take that on the road under the name of "Campfire Diary." But in "The Last Sansei Story" it was just simply called "The Nisei." And then the third act was, of course, for the Sansei. And in there I would use my own life as sort of a model of certain things, interests that I had and certain other, broader issues, like the model minority and more autobiographical things like church dances, you know, at the different churches where I had this one girl in one of those '50s hair dryer things, and she had her, the thing blowing and it was like -- and then on there she had a church hymnal and she was singing "Holy, Holy, Holy," as there was a couple dancing to her singing this hymn. And the woman that was dancing, or the young girl that was dancing, was dancing with this inflated Superman. And she was dancing on the floor of the audience to Sonny James' "Young Love." And as she was dancing with this Superman there's a point where she unplugs him and the air starts coming out. And so, I saw this as sort of the emasculation of the white male, the occasional white male that would come to these Buddhist church dances or something. And the Superman just starts going down like this and fading like this. And so, by the time the song ends, he's just this limp blue and red figure in her arms as she's dancing with him. And she's wearing one of these middies. So there are a lot of little hidden sarcastic remarks that were being made all through the piece but it was, it involved about twenty-five people and they were all being paid, because at this point it was no longer an act of love. It just takes a certain amount of success and everybody thinks they're gonna make money from it. So I had to raise a lot of money and I got a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and I think the piece cost me about $25,000 to do.

MT: And where did you first perform that?

RS: We performed it twice, once was at Haskell in Lawrence, because I had all these people that were from Lawrence and I couldn't afford to fly them anyplace. So I did it at Haskell as part of the New Direction series which, which was sponsored by the university, and then took it to Kansas City and did it at a, one of the top venues there, and they were both a sell-out. Audiences, and it went, they both went really well. But, I swore I'd had it with any big productions after that. It was just exhausting, because I was still painting and I was still showing and doing all that and teaching full-time and lecturing, and all of that. So, that really consumed me for a period of maybe two to three years, from the time I wrote it to the time that I did it. Because when I was at Carleton I had started on a whole new series of paintings and, 1990 was a time of the failing U.S. auto industry, Vincent Chin, all of that, and I knew I wanted to do something about that, and so when I got back I decided to do a series of paintings where I would confirm America's worst nightmare and I would let Japan take over this country, like so many people were afraid of with the U.S. auto industry. And at the time they were worried because Japan was buying up Disneyland, all of these American --

MT: Rockefeller.

RS: Pardon me?

MT: Rockefeller.

RS: Right, Rockefeller Plaza and all these other things and so I decided I wanted to do something about this. So what I did was I confirmed America's worst nightmare and I took fifteen of my friends in Lawrence and "Japanized" them. In other words they, put them all in kimonos. And I did these big 5 x 5 foot portraits of these fifteen people. And, except each painting not only depicted them in a kimono but it also told a story about those people as individuals. And so I was very selective in terms of the people that I painted. And at the time I was living with this Iranian woman. And so I did a painting of her wearing this chador and fishing, because she loved to fish in the pond by our house. And I ended up, we, it was just always such a weird combination to think of this Iranian woman wearing this chador, fishing and catching a bass, and wearing this kimono, so it was all these mixed cultural things. Lucy Tapahanso, who's a Navajo poet, I did a painting of her dancing with these sort of dragons in her hand, wearing a kimono, and on and on. I did a painting of myself wearing a Carleton College T-shirt with a kimono and taking my blood pressure. Because when I was at Carleton I was taking my blood pressure every hour on the hour. And on the ground was a video camera, which symbolized the performance that I was teaching there and the script to "The Last Sansei Story," which I was working on.

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<Begin Segment 58>

RS: I did a painting of William Burroughs, who was a neighbor of mine. And Burroughs lived in Lawrence for seventeen years, and was a good friend, and so I did a painting of him wearing a kimono with his, with a gun, because he was a real gun collector. He had all these loaded guns in his house. And you know, William Burroughs tried to shoot an apple off his wife's head and shot her between the eyes and killed her and then lived in exile until the statute of limitations ran out and then came back to this country. But, so I went over to his house and I asked him to pick his favorite weapon and he pulled out this derringer that he had just bought. And it was one of those old powder and ball loaded things, you know, it takes forever to load. And I knew he wasn't capable of accidentally loading that pistol. And so I was doing a photo essay along with the paintings of all these people that I was painting. So I asked him, I said, "Bill, would you take that pistol and point it at me? And he says, "No." And I said, "Why not?" And he says, "I can't do it." And I knew why he couldn't do it, because of the reference to his wife and everything. And I was also going to ask him to put on this kimono and wear that gangster hat that he always wears. And he agreed to do it, finally. So he sat down and he put on this kimono and he put on his gangster hat and held the gun at me like this. And he was just shaking. So I was snapping off these pictures. And every picture I have of him the gun is blurry because it's shaking so much because he's so nervous. But I felt safe because I knew it'd take him forever to load that pistol and he couldn't possibly load it accidentally. [Laughs] So I did a painting of him with that pistol, wearing a kimono with all these cats on it, because he's a cat lover. And I didn't realize that until right after he moved to Lawrence he came over to the house for dinner. And he rang the doorbell, opened the door, and there's William Burroughs with this hat on with this cane, that is actually a gun, and he comes into the house. And he comes into the house, a three-piece suit, a vest, comes into the house and he sees my cat and he immediately fell to his knees and started rolling on the floor talking cat gibberish. And I thought he had lost his mind. And his friend that was there said, "Bill loves cats." And I found out he had seven cats, when I went over to his place. And so I wanted to sort of mark that in this painting and so I painted all of his cats on this kimono that he was wearing.

And, so anyway, so I did these photo essays along with the paintings and called that series the "Return of the Yellow Peril." And actually showed that series of paintings in New York, along with all the photographs that I took of all these people as well. And that series of photographs -- not many people know this -- but I continued that series with people, it started out to be famous performance artists, going like this with their eyes and buck teeth, you know. And I started shooting all these people like that and then it just sort of moved into some famous artists as well and I showed that whole series several times, but I keep forgetting that I had done that because I, I just sort of put them away and nothing ever came of them. But anyway, so that was the series "Return of the Yellow Peril." And I also, in the exhibition, put up copies of some of the articles that would come up periodically in the newspapers from various people living in Kansas City or Lawrence and their comments about the U.S. auto industry. You know, very racist sorts of comments. So there was a real story that went along with that exhibition. There was a lot to talk about. And I found, I found myself becoming more involved and intrigued with this idea of being able to talk about some issue as when you show the work, as sort of thickening the whole experience for everybody.

AI: I wanted to return to an earlier question about some possible differences in reaction from audiences or of viewers of your art in cities like Seattle, or on the West Coast where there are larger Asian and Asian American populations than say in the Midwest or even in the East. Did you notice any substantial difference in response or reaction?

RS: Yeah, there was a quite a difference, and we might be getting ahead of ourselves, but I think taking "American Diary" around the country was the best example where it became, either you take one, one body of work with one central theme and you expose that to all these different audiences. Because a lot of my other experiences were based upon different sets of paintings and so it was hard to tell whether it was the work or the circumstances, or the crowd that was generating a particular kind of response.

AI: Okay, so when we get to that point, we'll want to return to that.

RS: Yeah, we'll talk about it at that point.

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<Begin Segment 59>

AI: Well, before we get too far ahead I wanted to mention also that it was, wasn't it the late '80s or 1988 when you received the commission to do the mural, here in Seattle for the Westlake Mall station of the Metro bus system.

RS: Yeah, and that's something that I've avoided my entire career, were possible opportunities to do public art projects. Because I always heard from friends of mine, especially up here in Seattle, that they were real nightmares to deal with and to get work approved by committee was just awful, and I believed it and I understood that. But when the Westlake mural came up and I got the information, I just rejected it. I just threw it away as usual. And then just forgot about it. And then months after, I guess, they made their decisions, which was not to accept anybody that submitted. They called me up again and said, "We've picked out three artists that we would like to do the three murals and you're one of them." And I was very suspicious. I didn't think, I wasn't sure that was even legal, to tell you the truth. But apparently it was, that there was some caveat that allowed them to do that if they weren't pleased with any of the submissions. And so I repeated, I said, "Are you sure this, what I did would not have to be approved by anybody?" And they said, "No, absolutely not." And they were very upfront. They said, "What we will do, however, is we'll take your design and we'll send it all over the state, at every venue you could think of to rid it of controversy, to explain it. And we assume that you will use a certain amount of common sense in design," so that's where the sort of... and so I submitted this design, this 3 x 9 foot design on paper and interestingly enough, Fay Jones, and Gene McMahon who both submitted entries, got all the controversy. And it was all about their depictions of women -- especially Gene McMahon -- women with makeup and putting on makeup and all this, perpetuating that stereotype. And there was no controversy about mine. And there should have been because of the inclusion of four Disney items -- from the standpoint of copyright. But at the time I actually thought I was covered. I thought I was safe and when attorneys for Metro called me up in Kansas and said, "We're concerned about the fact that you've got these Disney -- are we gonna get in trouble for that?" And I innocently said, "This has all been settled in the courts, don't worry about it." And was convincing enough that they said, "Okay, fine, we just wanted to know. Because if they come at us, they're not gonna come at you, they're gonna come at us." And I said, "Don't worry about it." And then I found out I lied. And I found out I lied when I got sued for another painting for copyright infringement, and found out, no, this hasn't been settled. And, but then again, that's another separate story, too.

MT: But the Westlake mural is still up?

RS: It's still up and vulnerable. All it would take is some overzealous attorney for Disney and there would be problems because it is totally illegal. Now they won't, they'll turn their back on one-time usage, and that's how I've gotten away with using Disney in so many of my paintings. They don't care about that stuff. In fact, they'll even organize shows occasionally to show how people appropriated their images. But the minute it goes on a public art piece or is reproduced, there are problems.

AI: And for people who don't know, this particular bus tunnel station is the major downtown stop in the Metro system. So --

RS: Right.

AI: Seen by many people.

RS: One other interesting story was that after the mural was built and installed and everything else and they were putting together all the material for the big public opening, they asked us for statements about the piece. And asked us how the piece related to Westlake Mall, and the three of us were on the phone talking to each other saying, "What?" You know, none of us thought, none of us had to do with Westlake Mall. And so I came up with the most beautiful statement about the diversity of people that go through Westlake Mall and so on and so forth. And they were so pleased with it, which tells you something about art.

MT: Or arts administrators. [Laughs]

RS: Right, right.

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<Begin Segment 60>

MT: So, we should talk about your collecting mania and the World War II items and then get to the Civil Liberties.

RS: I think, I mean, as you know, I've been collecting all my life, from the time I was a child. And the focus of the collection has changed periodically. Again, if I could interject one story because this is really funny. And this goes way back to when I first started painting I was telling you earlier today. And I was doing these, these really horrible abstract paintings. And at the time, of course, I thought they were pretty good. And my Aunt Sayo Kumasaka wanted to buy one of the paintings, and I gladly sold it to her for a hundred dollars. It was a lotta money and she took this painting and put it up in her living room. But it wasn't more than two years or a year and a half after that, that I realized that was really a dog and I didn't want my name on it, I didn't want to be associated with that painting, but she loved it. She was proud of it. And I offered to buy the painting back at three times what she paid for it. But it wasn't an issue of money, of course. This was her nephew and she thought it was great and she'd show it off and people would tell me, "Oh, I saw your painting." And I thought oh, and I'd roll my eyes, it was such an awful painting. And I didn't even have the nerve to look at that painting any longer 'cause I knew it was so bad. I didn't want anything to do with it.

Well, fast-forward now to thirty years, thirty-five years, right, and she has this painting up. One of my painting students, who happened to be from Japan, comes into my office one day with a photograph of that painting. And I looked at that and I said, "Mamiko, where did you find that?" And I'm dying. I see myself losing all my credibility as, not just a teacher but as an artist and everything else. And she's grinning from ear to ear. And she says, "Well, you know your Aunt Sayo and her husband have the biggest private Noritake china collection in the world." And I said, "I knew it was big, but that big?" And she says, "Yes." And she said, "You know, they had the big Noritake convention in Seattle and one of the workshops was to go to your aunt's house to see this collection." And she says, "My husband and I are interested in Noritake china because my husband worked for them in Japan, and we have a little modest collection." So she said, "I went there not knowing that that was your aunt." And she said, she said, "As everyone was looking at the collection, of course, I saw this abstract painting on the wall and I looked forward to see who did it and I saw your name in big letters on it." And I thought, "Oh my God. I'm, my worst nightmare come true." And for all those years I was able to sublimate that whole experience and there it came and slapped me right in the face, okay. And so, that's the first incident.

The second incident was eBay, since we're talking about collecting. And this is when I first started going on eBay and everything. And I was buying, I was looking for a lot of internment camp stuff, especially those yearbooks from high schools in camp. And so all of a sudden someone is selling one of the Granada, Camp Granada newspapers, you know, the newsletter that was printed in camp. And so I bid on it, and I got it. But along with it I got a photograph of that painting, at Sayo's house. And in front of the painting, sitting on the sofa is my Aunt Sayo and this hakujin guy. And the hakujin guy is the guy that sold me the Granada newsletter. And of course he was just waiting for my e-mail, which I zapped off immediately, you know, "What, where did you get this, what's going on?" And he wrote back and he said, "Your Aunt Sayo and Uncle Sheldon are good friends of ours, and every Christmas we go there to celebrate Christmas with them." And he says, "I knew I recognized your name when you sent me a check for the Granada newsletter." And he says, "Sure as heck," he said, "we called your Aunt Sayo and she says, 'Yes, that's my nephew,' and then we connected you with this painting, so we had our picture taken because we thought you'd enjoy that." So there it was, chapter two of that painting coming back to haunt you.

Anyway, so, I mean, there are millions of stories about eBay, but that one always floors me.

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<Begin Segment 61>

RS: But in any case, yeah, I collect anything that has to do with the internment camp. And I must have about ten or twelve of these yearbooks from different camps, but now, they're almost impossible to find, because I think so many people -- the first one I got, I paid like thirty or forty dollars for, and the last one that came up, which was about a year ago, I bid four hundred and fifty dollars for it and couldn't get it. And I couldn't get it because the minimum was higher than that. And it never reached the minimum. So people are obviously in a panic mode as to what they're worth. And I think that's really a little too high. So I have about a dozen of those yearbooks, I have magazine articles, special government-issue things that came about the camps, I have some artifacts. I got one of those little birds that they carved out, and a moth that someone carved out of wood and painted, things like that.

And then I have World War II postcards that depict the World War II Jap with the buck teeth and slanted eyes, yellow-skinned and their endless depiction of -- and I almost have all of 'em now. I must have about thirty or forty of 'em. And other ones that are just really foul, dogs urinating on Jap heads and things, defecating on them, and they're all these different versions. I have magazine advertisements of those same kinds of depictions, Jap hunting licenses that companies gave away, you put stamps on 'em and how many Japs you've killed. I have "Slap a Jap" cards that were clubs that you would join and every time you were supposed to slap the Jap that you saw. Patriotics, which were envelopes that you use with images on there that were the stereotypes of, of Japanese people, so just about anything that had to do with depictions, negative depictions of Japanese people.

And then I have a collection of, I picked out certain movies that, like the movie Go for Broke, and I have all the original posters and the big ones, the half-sheets, the small ones, I have all the lobby cards. And then I have, I think, every 8 x 10 black and white publicity photo of the whole movie, and other magazines, ads that were in magazines and so on. And then I also have the same thing with the movie Crimson Kimono, which was one of the first James Shigeta movies, where he is, has a white girlfriend, and that's what made that movie so interesting to me, and then the other one, of course, Bridge to the Sun, with Caroll Baker. And he has the blond girlfriend. So those two movies were extremely important in Asian America because the first times that the Japanese guy ends up with the American white woman. And the poster, which I originally saw when I was in LA, I was over at Renee Tajima, her house, and she had this poster and it shows James Shigeta and this white woman and then it says over here, "What appeal did this strange Japanese man have to this American girl?" And I love that line. And so that's when I decided to collect everything from Crimson Kimono. And so, again, I have all the lobby cards, all the 8 x 10 photos from those movies, magazine ads.

And then I also collect "yellow face," black and white photographs of Herman Munster looking like a Chinese on one of his TV shows, and of course it's just a whole slew of them, Mickey Rooney, and Breakfast at Tiffany's and so on and so forth. And, let's see... what other, all kinds of sort of miscellaneous objects like Chinese makeup kits -- I have a lot of Chinese stuff, too -- and kits you put a Fu Man Chu mustache on and paint your skin yellow, and make your eyes slanted. I have quite a few of those, one of which I picked up in Scotland last year, that they're still selling. Then I have a whole collection of World War II Halloween masks of Asian people, most of 'em are Chinese. And I must have about thirty-five or forty. They're all different. And those all came from eBay. And along with that I also have a photograph of my cousin wearing one of those masks, Halloween of 1949.

So, those are just some of the things I have. I probably mentioned half of... and, of course, all of these things end up informing my paintings, so I've been working on a series called "Stereotypes & Admonitions" where I depict myself, sometimes as a samurai from a ukiyo-e woodblock print, because that refers to how people see me as the person from Japan, or as that World War II "yellow peril" threat, which is still that kind of eternal foreigner, but more of a threat. And so what I'll do, is I'll put myself under one of those two disguises within a Western framework, so it also refers to that idea of, when you tell a white person that not a day goes by where you don't realize that you're not white, they don't understand what you mean. And that's what this refers to because it's so dramatized with these horrible depictions.

<End Segment 61> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 62>

AI: Well, we're, I hate to skip ahead too fast, but I also want to make sure that we have time to really talk in-depth about "An American Diary." Maybe we can start by just, if you could tell how, the very beginnings of your idea for, for this diary series.

RS: Uh-huh.

AI: And how the whole project started developing.

RS: Yeah, it actually came about when the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund was announced as having this money available for educational projects. And I really debated whether or not I wanted to do a series of paintings that I would not normally do. Because I sort of felt that, what I was somewhat interested in doing was revisiting the diary series again, those twenty-five paintings. What I wasn't sure was whether or not I wanted to re-visit them and do these very straightforward paintings that were basically illustrative of the diary entry. But for some reason or another, I think what I really felt was it was such a long-shot to get the grant. And so I thought well, why not? I'll just let -- if I get the grant I'll sort of use that as a message that I should do this. If I don't, I wasn't meant to. And so, I applied for the grant and of course to get the grant they asked you to submit letters of support of what you wanted to do. And I felt like I had some advantage being out in Kansas as to any other artist that might apply for something similar because I felt like I was, I'm probably more connected to the country than the average JA artist in Japan -- or in California. And so, what I did was, I said I would have this show, I would do this show, thirty paintings based on Grandma's diaries and I would travel it to five venues on a national level, and one of them would be in California, but one would be in New York, one would be in the Midwest, one in the deep South and one in the Pacific Northwest, and I was pretty sure I could get that. And I got people from those regions to write letters saying, "Yes." And I went right to the Japanese American National Museum and I nailed Karen Higa before anybody else could, I think, to have her write a letter of support, which she did. And I had the Boise Art Museum write one and the Indianapolis Art Museum and my dealer in New York City and Mississippi Art Museum and, so...

AI: You know, I wanted to ask you, you mentioned, you started talking about this, but the fact that this particular educational fund was, came from money from the redress legislation, from that law, and it was very clearly for educational purposes, what happened for you to make, so that you decided that yes, you did want to go ahead with quite a large series of paintings that would be explicitly educational? How...

RS: Well, the whole program was for me to go to each one of these venues and show the series and to lecture about them, and that I would print up a catalog that would explain in very dry terms what happened with the redress -- not with the redress, but the evacuation -- and that I would talk about my grandmother and her diaries and then show some examples of the work. So it wasn't just the exhibition, it was augmented by these other things as well.

AI: And this was all part of your proposal that you put together?

RS: It was all part of the proposal, right. And then what I asked for was money to fund the shipping, the crating, the shipping, the building of the plaques for each painting. There was nothing in it for me to do the paintings. And then I asked for expenses, plane fare for me to fly to every one of these places to give a talk and room and board. But I used a honorarium for, as in-kind, I volunteered that, and of course, in-kind to do the work, the whole series. And I had enough grant savvy to know how to put this thing together, and sent it in and they funded it for $25,000 or something, which is one of the -- pretty good size. And, but at that point, as I was contacting these various venues, I started getting calls from other venues saying, "Hey, we heard about this and if this is free, I'll take it." And so I started adding places, gradually, and of course it went, ended going up to twelve. And the one snag was the Smithsonian. They definitely, Franklin Odo, definitely wanted it and, but because it was a government they couldn't give me a rubber stamp. It had to go through all these levels of approval. And I was trying to work out this schedule where it would start and go around the country to minimize the shipping expenses. And finally, when I couldn't get an okay from them I wrote them out. I left 'em out. And so, I completed the whole tour, actually with ten places at the time. And then began with the process of organizing building crates, doing the work and all this kind of stuff. And then finally, they called up and says, "Okay, we got approval." And I said, "Well you got approval," but I said, "If you want to join in now, you're gonna have to pay the expense of shipping, and you're gonna have to pay it from the Japanese American National Museum to the Smithsonian, and back to the Phoenix Art Museum." There's a little gap. And so, go back to the office and decide whether to -- and they agreed to do that, finally. And then at the very end the Chicago Cultural Center came in and said they wanted to be a part. And I had a little gap that fit perfectly with this loop, and so they were able to take it. So that filled it out to twelve people and then the only other change was, it was gonna end up at Boise, because that was the closest place to Minidoka, but the Bellevue Art Museum wasn't done yet, and so we had to make a switch and let Bellevue be last.

MT: Can you talk about the content, the actual images and how they definitely were a departure from your other style compositions?

RS: Yeah, the paintings themselves were very straightforward, done in comic book style, and that's actually why I chose a larger format so that they would have a clear reference to -- what I wanted were like visual bites, snippets, sort of like little memories that sort of came in just like that on a very small scale. And that was the whole reason for choosing that format. And with the exception of a couple of paintings that, that had references in some of the older paintings, such as the Dick Tracy fingerprint, looking at the fingerprints of Grandma, and the Superman representing America giving back, allowing the JAs to take out money out of their bank accounts to buy groceries. That particular painting had a reference to one of the acts of the "Kabuki Plays," where Superman comes in and throws money at my grandma, so she could buy groceries. I just couldn't resist it in those two spots, to bring in some other issues. And of course, that issue came up in just about -- the show was heavily reviewed. I think it averaged four reviews per show. There were over fifty reviews of the exhibition, when you count magazines as well as newspapers. And, and they all referred to those two paintings, so I'm glad I did it because it just added another dimension to it. And all the reviews were positive. Maybe the best one was Art in America Magazine. I mean, it was a stunning review that went way beyond the content of the exhibition and went into that type of painting. I don't know what caused that response. This guy named Jonathan Goodman, but it was unbelievable. But as I say, the show was really well-covered and to this day it still appears every now and then.

<End Segment 62> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 63>

AI: Maybe at this point you can come back to that question about the different response at the different venues?

RS: Right, right. The biggest contrast, of course, what when it went to the Mississippi Art Museum, and I'll preface that by saying that I wanted it to go to the Arkansas Art Center because when I think of the deep South, or the southern part of the country, the first place that's really credible from an artistic standpoint -- and there aren't too many in the deep South -- is the Arkansas Art Center, 'cause I knew that place had history, it had been there a long time. And then I found that it was only fifty miles from Rohwer and Jerome. So I thought, "Well this is perfect." So I called them up and offered 'em the exhibition and told them, "It'll be free, it'll come to your doorstep, all you have to do is hang it and then repack it at the end." And they said, "We'll call you back." And they called me back in two days and said, "We're not interested." They just blew me off. And I was very upset. And I really didn't know what other venues were available in the South. And so Mississippi, Mississippi Art Museum, I thought, well, I'll try that, in Jackson. And they agreed to take it. And so when I went there, when the show eventually worked its way around to the Mississippi Art Museum, I went down there and it was like I had stepped off of the moon. And it was clear that this was fulfilling one of their PC multiculture requirements, some end-of-the-year report or something. The turnout at the opening was absolutely poor. The turnout to my lecture was even worse. And people were just didn't, really didn't care, half of the people walked out as soon as I started talking and it was just awful. And even the host of the exhibition, the curator of the museum, his boyfriend was there and the two of them were talking all through my lecture in the back. And when my lecture was over he came up to me and said, "Do you know how to find your way back to your hotel?" And I said, "Yeah," because I had walked there, because I didn't know how else to get from my hotel there, 'cause I couldn't get a hold of him. And he says, "Okay," he says, "They should have a cafeteria open." And then he says, "If they don't," -- I hadn't eaten dinner. And he says, "If not, maybe I could take you to breakfast tomorrow morning, but you're leaving for the airport, right?" And he says, "Well, you could probably get something at the airport." And he says, "Since you'll be taking a cab, because I'll be busy tomorrow," he says, "Whatever. You'll find some way to eat, I'm sure." And that was it. That was the treatment I got there. And in contrast to the Japanese American National Museum that had the banquet of all banquets, with what's his name? Zulu or what --

MT: George Takei.

RS: George Takei introduced me and it's like we were old buddies or something and all those people, and then just the general buzz about the show and all of that. I mean, what a contrast. And of course I opened it in Philadelphia at the National JACL Conference there and that was at the recommendation of William...

AI: Marutani?

RS: Marutani. Right. Was the one that suggested doing that.

AI: Right. Judge Marutani had been a member of the Commission.

RS: Right, right. In fact, he's the one that made available that statement in the catalog about the internment experience. He said that since it's government piece material there was no copyright so then I could reproduce it. So he was very helpful. So anyway, yeah, there was tremendous contrast. Every place I went it was different, in Indianapolis, it was different at Wisconsin, but, but for the most part, predictable. It was a great crowd at the Smithsonian. And it was a great crowd because there were several people in the audience that were delivered by my grandmother, so that added a little warmth to it. Even in Indianapolis I went to dinner with the JACL there and the guy sitting next to me showed me his birth certificate with my grandmother's signature on it. And I got to LA and JANM, and there were two people that came up to me and said, "Your grandma delivered me." And so, that's always a real nice sort of thing to happen.

AI: Nice personal connection.

RS: Yeah, and then when it went to Boise, of course, that was a whole another thing because these were a lot of the internees that were at Minidoka, so they were really connected to the work. And some of the paintings have very specific references in there that only a Minidoka internee would recognize, and they did.

AI: Well, in fact, I think I remember part of your statements in the catalog text have to do with forewarning some former Minidoka inmates that some of the details of the --

RS: Yeah, may not be, right. Right.

AI: And did you get any questions or comments?

RS: No, not really, nothing that was critical with what I did. But as I say, some of the clues, like that smokestack that everybody referred to, in camp, which I don't remember, but other people of course remember, I actually found a photograph of that and so replicated that and put it in one of the paintings and sure as heck there were more people from Minidoka that recognized that and commented on it. Another thing that was sort of a fortuitous, I mean, it was just... I don't know what caused me to do it but there was a painting that I did of my mother at Puyallup and in the background I put these roller coasters, just to refer to the fact that they were at the state fairground and I imagine at some point had roller coasters. And I found a photograph of Puyallup with a roller coaster in the background, and I couldn't believe it. And prior to that one of the former internees told me that, "Where did you find that? How did you know about that?" And I told him, I admitted I really didn't know it. And he said it was true and I didn't believe it until I saw the photograph. So there were little, some interesting sidelights like that.

<End Segment 63> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 64>

AI: Well, I also want you to talk a little bit about the "Memories of Childhood" and how that series came about and in fact was added to the tour.

RS: Yeah, actually, quite a few years before the idea for "An American Diary" came up in my gallery in New York, the artists in her gallery -- she represented fourteen artists -- and most of us were artists of color or women. And she asked each of us to do a series of small paintings on paper that would be called "Memories of Childhood," that represented our first ten memories of life, knowing that because each of us had unconventional backgrounds, we're not your average middle-class white male, that it would make an interesting show, which it did, because Jan Quintasee Smith was born on a reservation and given away by her mother. That's one of her first recollections of life. And so everyone in there had an interesting story. And so we each did ten small paintings and I did the same paintings that are in that series "Memories of Childhood." And then the series was framed up by Bernice, the dealer, and they were put in a show that was shipped all over the country for two years. And so, when "American Diary" came up, the idea came up by Bernice, "Let's do a lithograph series of those paintings. We won't just copy them, you do them all over again, and make modifications." And so, I did that, and then started thinking, "This should be part of that show." And so when the show started to tour it opened in Philadelphia, went to Wisconsin, but wasn't ready until it got to New York. And right before the show we were framing them up and everything to get them into that show, and then from that point on traveled with the rest of the exhibition. So, that's how that was done. It's in book form and it was produced by Bernice and the printer. It was a very expensive venture but they paid for the whole thing and it's, just about all of them have been sold. Actually, I gave one away to everybody that took the show, so, it's, to be sure to leave some of that experience with each venue.

<End Segment 64> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 65>

AI: Well, so since we were just now starting to talk about the issue of awareness and political awareness and consciousness among audiences and people in different cultures and countries, maybe you could just go ahead and say about --

RS: Right. The story I wanted to tell was one that happened about a year, two years ago. I was away on some lecture someplace and I came back to campus and I was looking at the campus newspaper and there were a series of letters to the editor that were written by Asian American students at the University of Kansas. And they seemed to be divided. And it was over something that happened on campus the day before that. And so, and I didn't know what that instance was. Some were, some of the letters were saying, "I'm insulted, I'm Asian American, I can't believe that I would have to experience this on this campus." And then some of them said, "What's the big deal? I'm Asian American, too." And so I went over to the journalism school, got the back issues to see what happened. What happened was that there was a new Internet program called "Mr. Wong." And Mr. Wong was this yellow-skinned, buck-tooth, slant-eyed, Chinese guy that had a leash on him that connected up to this tall brunette white woman, sort of had him as a mascot. And she would tell all of these very racist jokes about Mr. Wong and, of course, completely confusing Japanese, Chinese, that whole thing again. Well, there were a group of students that were publicizing this Internet show and handing out fortune cookies to students that were walking by. And the fortune cookies had fortunes in 'em that had these racist jokes about Mr. Wong. Okay? And so a lot of the Asian American students caught wind of this and were really upset, but there were also students, Asian American students that said, "What's the big deal? Why don't you guys lighten up? This is funny." And so it was clear that there were two groups.

Well, I was on my way out of town right after that again to go to the Bay Area because "American Diary" was at the San Jose Art Museum. And I had lectures at Cal, with Michael Omi's Introduction to Asian America or whatever. And, and I was lecturing some other places, too, but anyway, I went to Michael Omi's class and I specifically wanted to have lunch with Helen Zia, and Michael Omi and what's her name? California, Ethnic Studies, Elaine Kim. And so we all went out to lunch and I asked them, I told them what had happened with this. And they said, "Well, what happened is the fact that the letters from the students that were not offended by it were from students that are first-generation. They have no cultural history of what these things mean." And then Michael Omi told me, he says, "Do you realize that today in this country, seventy percent of all the Asians were foreign-born?" And he says they come into his class, the one I spoke at, that has 250 students in it, Introduction to Asian American Studies, and he says, "They have no idea of the internment, or anything like that, Asian exclusion laws, nothing." And he said, "By the time the semester is over, they come up and say, 'I wish I never took this class because I feel so lousy about this country and other issues related to that.'" And so that pretty much explained why. He says these, these people come in here pretty well-to-do. They're financially competitive with their white counterparts. In fact, more than competitive in many cases. So they feel in a superior situation. And so their orientation is completely different. And so I thought that was a really telling story about that whole aspect of things. And I found learning that, that it's true, right down the line, that students at the University of Kansas, or I imagine anywhere, doesn't have that kind of history in this country, have a totally different level of tolerance to stereotypes.

MT: So, what about your series "Stereotype & Admonitions"?

RS: Yeah, the "Stereotypes & Admonitions" are sort of a continuation of the paintings that, where I told you I depict myself as a stereotypical Asian person but it goes a little further in that, in that I made a list of stories that I recall in my life where I felt that I was treated unjustly because of who I was. And then that extended into another list of stories of national concern, things like Vincent Chin, a lot of older stories like that, but it's also contemporary enough to include the Representative Coble, the Yao and Ming, Abercrombie & Fitch episodes, the, "Do you speak English," from last summer, that happened to the kids in the ID district, so, still, sort of two ongoing lists of stories are each generating a kind of small painting. They're bigger than the "American Diary," but not too much bigger, and using stereotypes because in just about every incident it had something to do with stereotyping Asian people, although it does go a little beyond that. For example, the Representative Coble painting, I had my daughter, who is chief of staff for Jay Inslee, get a colored photo -- I e-mailed her and said, "Can you get a colored photograph of Representative Coble?" And she says, "Well, you know, we're not in very good stead with Representative Coble at this point." [Laughs] But she did get me this big colored photograph of him. And I did a painting of him in a guard tower dressed up in military uniform with his rifle pointing out like he's protecting all the Japanese Americans in the camp that are below him. So, they're paintings like that. And right now, I think I have about twenty done and my hope is to have maybe another fifteen or so. And the first time I'm going to show them as an individual group will be at Greg Kucera next March, up here. So, we'll see how that goes, but some of them are the stories that I've told you in this interview, like Aunt Fran and South Carolina, and episodes like that, that's -- cutting the grass around the swimming pool, my high school buddies in Broadmoor, stories like that. So, that's, that's actually what I'm working on right now.

<End Segment 65> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 66>

MT: You were gonna mention about your wife, how you happened to get married and what she does and how you support each other's work.

RS: Yeah, her name is Janet Davidson-Hues. And we met when she was a student at the University of Kansas. She was an older person, divorced, that came back to get her master's degree in printmaking. But she ended up taking my performance class and then asked me to be on her thesis committee, which I was. And so I became very familiar with her work, which was all about gender-related issues, and so there was a kind of similarity between what she was doing and what I was doing, and also because she was working thorough a lot of different kinds of processes, except she writes. She has a degree from Columbia, Wake Forest, in literature -- writing, so she writes really well. So she does a lot of different kinds of things. And then she ended up getting a job at Indiana State University, and that's when she and I developed this relationship. We had this commuter relationship, 450 miles apart, and I would either go there or she would come, every month or something. And we ended up getting married. And she moved to, quit her job and moved to Lawrence and has been sort of pinch-hitting at the university whenever they need someone to teach a certain course. She's been teaching it, and so she's been teaching all the year, all year this year. But in the meantime, she has taught herself how to video-edit and has slowly kind of moved away from lot of the painting, sculpture things and moved more towards performance and video. And is right now, we have an apartment in New York and she's there right now working on a performance that she's gonna do in Germany in September. So, she does a lot of sort of "new genre" type projects with friends that she has and performs them around. She organized this group called a.k.a., a group of women, all of whom had graduated from performance class and sort of continued their performance careers afterwards. And what they do is they sort of coalesce in Lawrence to do these performances and they perform at festivals all over the country. They're really good. And they survive these jurying processes and they've performed at New York Fringe Festival, Philadelphia Fringe Festival, they've performed at Mobius, they, you know, at all the top venues in the country. And they're really doing well. So that's what she does.

<End Segment 66> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 67>

AI: You know, one other kind of, the big historic event that we're dealing with right now is, we had September 11, 2001, of course, the attacks, in the United States, and then today, in fact, our president, George W. Bush had called for attacking Iraq. And I wonder if you could say a bit about these two events and whether, and you have said in an earlier conversation, about how after 9/11 you did incorporate some of that into your work, and your thoughts.

RS: Yeah, maybe I could put that in the context of the keynote address that I gave to the College Art Association this year. About a year and a half ago the New York Times came out, there was an article written by the New York Times critic Holland Cotter, calling for an end of multicultural art. He said that artists of color have ghettoized themselves by constantly bombarding the public with issues of their identity and problems and so on. And he said that by ghettoizing themselves they'll never become part of the mainstream, they'll always be sort of a chapter in books and be treated differently, and all of that. And I thought it was just sort of a general, I saw that as a general, sort of condemnation of the kind of work that's propelled me for, for all these years, and I really resented a white person coming in and making that decision, once again, on behalf of all people of color and for women. And so I decided that I would, I would use that as a single focal point for my keynote address, which I thought would be a really important venue to do that at, because of the people that would be in the audience. And indeed, Roberta Smith, the New York Times was in the audience.

And so what I did was, through the lecture that I gave, I used examples of the kinds of things, a lot of the things that we've been talking about for the last couple of days, that have caused me to do the kind of work that I did, and tried to build a case for the fact that I didn't make these choices, to do the kind of work that I do based upon academic training or upon wanting to deal with some theoretical idea that might sort of fit into the history of art. But these were things that were on my mind. These were things that were right in my face. And so I did this by showing slides of all of the evidence of the internment of my collections and so on. And I did it without showing one slide of my work, because I wanted to keep myself out of this entirely, I didn't want this to be representative of some self-serving kind of activity. And I told a lot of the stories that I told you and how I responded by doing artwork. I talked about the conversation with the farmer. I talked about all of these kinds of things, and just sort of said, "And so I did a piece of art about that," without describing what that art looked like, and same with the performances and so on and so forth. And then sort of ending up at the end of the lecture with 9/11 and how as soon as 9/11 happened, all of a sudden there were calls on the Internet and in the magazines and everything else that we should be doing art about 9/11. And I said, interesting, that when something happens to white people, all of a sudden what's out of fashion becomes in fashion. Because for the first time, they know what it feels like to be victimized.

And so that, that was sort of the, the wrap-up point that I was trying to make, that, and a call that women and people of color should continue to paint and sculpt and do performances and so on, on what they know best and what they're most affected by, and not allow those taste-makers, in the New York Times and other positions of authority dictate what we should or should not be doing. And I drew the parallel to, white people telling Native American people they shouldn't be offended by the Cleveland Indians mascot. I mean, always making decisions on behalf of other people as to what they should be involved with. And that those of us that are dealing with issues of multiculturalism, for example, should not be treated in the same way that abstract expressionists or color-field painters, or that kind of work, that it doesn't go out of style, it doesn't go out of fashion. So that's, that was the whole point of, that I was trying to make in that keynote address. And I think I made it.

AI: Well --

MT: It was very good. I read the whole thing.

RS: Oh, did you?

MT: Yeah. It was really good.

RS: Thanks.

MT: Yeah.

AI: We've covered a lot of ground, but I did want to ask if there's anything else that you wanted to touch on, or add, make a comment on?

RS: No. [Laughs] That's the last thing I expected you to ask me. [Laughs]

MT: Well, we could ask you what you're gonna do after you retire, but you might not know the answer to that.

RS: No. I mean, I have such a full plate that that's... I just tell people that I know what I'm not going to do, and that will be, I won't be going into the classroom. And I won't be teaching. But everything else is in place to sort of continue. I have a lot of lectures to give, I have a lot of shows to do. I have a lot of... like I say, a full plate.

AI: Well, thanks very much for participating in this and giving your time.

RS: Yeah.

AI: We really appreciate it

RS: Well, thank you.

<End Segment 67> - Copyright © 2003 Densho. All Rights Reserved.