Densho Digital Archive
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Title: Robert Coombs Interview
Narrator: Robert Coombs Andrews
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: SeaTac, Washington
Date: August 2, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-crobert-01-0023

<Begin Segment 23>

AI: Well, before we get to that point, I wanted to focus back again on the school situation there and the idea that you were teaching the students about democracy and, did you sometimes get questions from the students about why they were learning about principles of democracy that were in some ways denied to them as people who were restricted in this camp? Did any students raise those kinds of questions?

RC: (Yes), and... if I recall, there was one time I said, "Well, you know, tell me about something that's perfect." And that was a strange question for me to ask them. There's no such thing as perfection. You do the best you can with what you have, and what's going on. And I, as a counselor, and teacher, had to put it to them that way. Because that was their only way that they could get some kind of peace is to realize that this is an imperfect world, this is an imperfect time. And if it ever got perfect, hallelujah, you know. And I think they understood that. I think that one of the reasons I wanted to come again -- this'll be my third one, twice here in Seattle and once in Las Vegas -- I think that's why I get greeted so beautifully. It warms my heart, have somebody come up and put their arms around me. Because in a sense, that's not Japanese, is it? That's American. So...

AI: So, my understanding of what you were saying, is that you were living in a, in a democracy that was imperfect.

RC: Uh-huh. And it's still imperfect. And I doubt if it will ever be perfect. I'm not one of these who has... the sky is the limit, you know. I'm not a diehard believer that things can be perfect. Life is not perfect.

AI: And so, in discussing that with your students, then you were able to have a serious discussion about democracy while at the same time recognizing the realities --

RC: (Yes).

AI: -- at the time.

RC: (Yes). They realized that life is not perfect. They were going through an imperfect situation.

AI: Did you come across any students that you felt were really giving up on democracy? Really so disillusioned with America that they were turning away from --

RC: A few, a few. There was anger. And I think they outgrew it. I met one last night who I hadn't seen, who was very, very angry. Sat right in front of me in the room, school room, and tried, tried to be a disturbance. And I never allowed it to bother me. And we've communicated by telephone and by Christmas cards when I found out where she was. And last night I saw her walk by me. Now, the last time I saw her was in 1944. And I said to the friends I was with, I said, "There she is." I had mentioned I wanted to see this girl, this lady. And I said, "There she is." "Well, go over there and speak to her." And I said, well, maybe she'll turn around and it isn't she and I didn't want to, want to expose myself. [Laughs] And the more I looked at her, then the surer I was that's who it was. And I went over and I spoke to her by name, and she whirled around and looked at me. And we put our arms around each other. And later on, in the evening, we sat down and ate some grapes and some melon together and visited. Friends.

AI: That's wonderful.

RC: Nice experience. So I, the fact that I'm in my eighties and these young people are in their seventies now, we're very close. It seemed like we were far apart, teacher/student. The two words separates us, you see. But now, we're not separated at all.

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