Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Minoru "Min" Tsubota Interview
Narrator: Minoru "Min" Tsubota
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary); Tetsuden Kashima (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: August 18, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-tminoru-01-0025

<Begin Segment 25>

TK: Did the other soldiers make a differentiation between say Niseis and Kibeis? Kibeis being persons of, Niseis who had some or part of their education in Japan? Were there any differences in terms of how they, they saw you folks?

MT: Yes. To go a little bit, back up. While we were on guard duty, a lot of Caucasians would go down to El Paso and they'd have cocktails and beer and then they'd be quite inebriated when they come back. But you gotta remember that this is wartime, so regardless, we didn't have carbines, we, police sticks with us, but we had to call for the passwords. And the new GIs, half tanked, would come up we'd (ask) 'em the, for the password, to halt, and they wouldn't halt and they'd keep coming in and then more so, they'd look and knowing that we were Japanese Americans they didn't bother to halt. So some of the Kibeis had to take a night stick and beat the hakujin guys up because... well, and we got away with it because it was wartime and they didn't halt and they didn't give us a password. So you can imagine where they beat some of these hakujin guys up, big tall guys and then they'd haul 'em down to the shower and they'd turn the shower on 'em and the, the hakujin guys would get real mad and would report that in. And that would go to headquarters and headquarters would call us down and say well, this incident happened, that incident happened. And we'd be, we'd become restricted to the camp area for the weekends. And once in the beginning we'd be restricted for one weekend and then it'd be okay for a while. Then we're getting restricted for another weekend.

And then these, getting back to Kibei, I'm not saying anything against the Kibei. But I don't blame 'em because they were born here but they were raised in Japan. And they were raised where they (had) no haiseki. They were, really felt they were (individual) and they were, and so they were a lot bolder than us Nisei Americans where we're born here and raised here but we knew that there was a thin line of discrimination and we felt that. So we, here again, we were quiet and we held back and try to work with the situation. But here again, so I give the Kibeis a lot of credit from what they, their education and background was. But when they worked on the warehouses there, some of these influential hakujins and Mexican Americans within about a week or two weeks, I don't know how, but they became PFCs and corporals and when they were assigned to the warehouse they thought it was a picnic that us Niseis were, our ratings were frozen when the war broke out and we couldn't do nothing and we were working in the warehouse like a bunch of servants. They became PFCs and corporals in a short time and they... I swear they were beginning to feel that they could treat us like servants and they'd tell us to do this and do this. And so, here again, Niseis, we were on the quiet side and took it, but the Kibeis, when they're pushed around like that, kept (gentlemanly) while they're at their work because we're on duty, but when the evening came, and the noncoms section was just above us, they would... we had Texas, they were eight-man tents up there for the noncoms and so, in case of fire they had fire buckets either filled with water all along that area there or full of sand. And so, the Kibeis would go up there after nine o'clock when the lights went off and they would take the sand and they'd pour it all over all these hakujin guys, and noncoms, they were... noncom's just a noncom you know. In wartime they're noncommissioned officer. And it's really not the right thing to be doing at that time, but, they, this went on for several, several times and here again, we get called down again. And it grew worse and worse to a point that one night some of the Kibeis went up there and they beat the noncoms up with a two by four sticks. And so the, I was somehow called in because I guess I was bilingual. And so each time I knew that we were gonna be restricted one week, and pretty soon it was two weeks and pretty soon it was three weeks. But the full Niseis, (...) they felt, well hell, this is unfair. You don't blame them for what they're doing, but again, we got restricted and we had to stay in, two weeks or three weeks in the camp. And there's nothing to do in the camp. And so, it was getting a little touchy between the KibeiNiseis and the full Niseis.

But again, on the Kibei side we had the, not only, not professional judo but high-ranking judo people that were shodan, nidan, sandan and karate, there was one very professional karate, I don't know what his rank was, but he could, he would show us how he could hit a guy in the cheek and rip it open. And it was quite serious. But again, on the other hand, we had had Niseis (...) that, I remember one guy was, one was sandan and one was yodan, and so if we clashed, we would really clash and so, so what they decided to do was, we had four companies, A, B, C, D Companies for the 185 of us. So what they decided to do is, at that, until then, all the Kibeis were mixed up with the Niseis. So they said, "Min, we're gonna keep A Company, B Company C Company, but D Company, we're gonna put all the Kibeis in there." I imagine there was about, oh forty-five, fifty of 'em. And being bilingual, they said, "Well, Min, you're gonna be in charge of 'em and if anything comes out of this, you're gonna be responsible for it." And so it was getting pretty touchy. And, but I was able to, we never really clashed between Nisei, we clashed with the hakujin guys, like I said, we beat 'em up and stuff like that. But we, primarily because of the password or the wartime, that we got away with it. But it was getting touchy.

TK: Was this ever resolved? Or was that conflict sort of always there?

MT: As far as I was concerned, I was able to keep talking to Kibeis, but, there's nothing wrong what they're doing. It was right. And as a Kibei, I felt that they were doing what they thought they should do because they were raised that way, and I admired them, the fact that being raised in Japan, and with a Japanese face here, you didn't have this mixture of discrimination and anything like that. And then on the Nisei part of it, we all were on the quiet side. And so when we tried to keep away from it I was able to keep from any bodily contact or anything like that.

So, but, this is about the time that, before that, I thought, being a, I was a PFC at that time, private first class, one more, and then underneath with my band. And I stay the same rating, but I thought I could do more for, not only myself, but my country would be to, if I could somehow get to officers candidate school and I would... so I made application for officers candidate to the infantry, officer candidate school to the air corps, officers candidate to the artillery. And all of the applications I made came back and said "unsatisfactory commission, Japanese ancestry" and so there was nothing (I) could do.

And just about that time the... so, about that time I got orders from headquarters of Fort Bliss that there was to be a U.S. Army general court-martial at headquarters and that I was given an order to be a translator for witnesses that have, coming in from Lordsburg, New Mexico. And so I got the orders and went to headquarters and reported in and found out that the, that there was two Japanese Isseis that were shot and killed at, just off of the railhead, in Lordsburg, New Mexico when they were transferred in and that they were to, a general court-martial would be held at Fort Bliss.

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