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Title: Frank Miyamoto Interview IV
Narrator: Frank Miyamoto
Interviewers: Alice Ito (primary), Tatsuya Fukunaga (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: July 7, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-mfrank-04-0004

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AI: Thank you, thank you for that background. I think the next area that you were going to mention was in particular, the Issei immigrants, and their experience and role in the cannery industry.

FM: Yeah. What I want to point out is that the Japanese immigrants, who I say came with this kind of unique organizational capacity, capacity for cooperative relationships is what it amounts to, which is, as it happens, very good. If you can cooperate, that's very definitely an advantage, but it has its own disadvantages, too, because you can be excessively cooperative and push under the rug all kinds of bad things which are going on, simply because you want to be cooperative. There are pluses and minuses in this kind of attitude. But, in any event, because of this capacity, the Japanese Issei were able to organize the cannery workers -- at least in the period from 1910 or to about 1935 or so when the Japanese contractors prevailed -- they were able to organize things and draw workers in. However, the canning industry is not one that really was attractive to the Issei, because, as I say, they had their orientation of becoming independent and becoming entrepreneurs to a large extent. That is to say, run their own farms, establish and run their own farms or establish and run businesses of their own. Seattle community, before the second World War was, I would say, to seventy-five percent of the working population, was related to independent businesses, such as the hotel business, groceries, dye works and cleaners, so-called, the produce business, all kinds of businesses of this kind and therefore with workers who were occupationally independent entrepreneurs or the clerical and other assistants within Japanese organizations, as I say, about seventy-five percent of all workers were related in this fashion.

The contractors there, the Japanese contractors who came in at this time, people whose names become well-known within the Japanese community, therefore were doing essentially the same kind of things, that is to say, organizing as independent entrepreneurs in an area where occupational interest was required. And what the entrepreneurs did was to draw on the available labor supply within the community to staff the jobs available in Alaska during the fishing season. For Issei, however, for reasons already outlined, this was not a type of work that was particularly of interest. As I say, Alaska's salmon cannery is a seasonal job, lasts at most only four or five months, and, while it has the advantage of enabling a lot of savings for a short period, it was not a lasting type of work and therefore you do not find that the Issei go into this kind of work to any great extent. Being good entrepreneurs, however, the Japanese contractors, who established themselves, then drew on other available labor resources, particularly the Filipino population, who were around in large numbers and because the Filipinos, at that stage of their immigration, were to a considerable extent single bachelors, unattached, as family people would be, were available for summer jobs and therefore, they became a substantial source of employment for the Issei, Issei contractors. So, for the Japanese Issei community, the contractor business was not extremely important except as a line of business.

For the Nisei, however, the Japanese Americans like myself, the industry was extremely important, because as the Nisei were growing at, in 1930, for example, I would say that, when I was, myself, twenty years of age, and -- let's see, I'm eighteen at that point, just coming out of high school. I was one of the older Nisei but between 1930 and 1940 then, a lot of kids -- and this, as you will note, is the Great Depression period when jobs were extremely scarce, this is a period in which the Nisei were coming out of, or entering high school, coming out of high school, going to college and so on, and the cannery industry, then, becomes a major source of financial savings by which they could work their way through college in a fashion that other groups were not able to do because they could not readily find this kind of work. And, in short, the Japanese contractors, at least in 1930, were an extremely important source of a type of work that the Nisei depended upon in order to, to advance their careers, which they, of course, wanted to do. So from that standpoint, then, for me, as well as for other Japanese Americans, I would say the... the canning industry was a really, very important factor in the career development that we were looking toward. I don't recall what I needed to go into...

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