Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Betty Morita Shibayama Interview
Narrator: Betty Morita Shibayama
Interviewer: Alice Ito
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: October 27, 2003
Densho ID: denshovh-sbetty-01-0030

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AI: Well, then as you moved into high school, your high school years, did you have some thought about what you might be wanting to do after, after graduation? Did you have, sometimes kids have some picture in their mind if they're going to become a teacher or do something.

BS: No, I think because, because my other siblings did not go on to college, weren't able to go to college, so I just thought, "Well, I'll graduate from high school and get a job and eventually get married and have a family." That was...

AI: And that's what a lot of girls did at that time.

BS: Uh-huh. That's what -- yeah, lot of, lot of the Japanese American girls did not, my age group or little bit older, did not go to college, and that's what they did, they went out to work and got married.

AI: Well, tell me a little bit about your high school years. What high school did you go to?

BS: We went to Wells High School which was on the northwest side of Chicago. And that was a mostly Polish, Polish neighborhood. So the school itself was Polish and there were blacks and then, of course, there were other minorities. But I don't know if it was my freshman year or something, they did have a strike where the whites did not come to school because of the blacks in the school. So, of course one, the whites just strictly didn't go school. Well, we didn't know what to do. We didn't know where we fit, so we just went to school. And just mingled with the blacks. But I know there was someone that had drawn a knife or something I think at one time and I'm not sure if it was the white or the black but someone had drawn a knife and that's what started the strike. But it didn't last very long and they just went back to school there.

AI: Well, Chicago was known for kind of a history of racial conflict between blacks and whites. And so this sounds like this was just one small part of that, that happened in your high school. But as you were in your high school years, were you very aware of this kind of racial conflict going on in the city and...

BS: No, just other than that. And then, like in my classes there were blacks. Well, even in grammar school -- oh yeah, in grammar school there was a black girl in my class and we were friends. And then even in high school we had blacks in our class.

AI: So did your high school start from ninth grade, then?

BS: Yes, yes.

AI: And then, I'm wondering, too, the teachers in your high school, were they mainly white teachers? Or did, were they racially mixed also?

BS: Oh, let's see. They were all whites, I think. 'Cause I don't remember having a... no, they were all whites, white teachers. They were Polish and... I don't know what other nationality the teachers were. But they were, I think there were, I think they were, majority were white teachers.

AI: Well, I'm interested in whether you ever got questioned by either other students or by teachers because I imagine that many of them had never met Japanese Americans before and didn't really know anything about Japanese Americans. Did you get questions, or funny looks?

BS: No, just my sister. My sister Flora said when she went to -- 'cause I was going to grammar school when we got to Chicago and she was in high school. And she said some girls came up to her and they were so curious because they hadn't seen anyone with black straight hair. And they would feel her hair and say, "Is that real? Is that real?" But other than that, no. And I, and I remember in one of my history classes we had to write an essay about something and so I wrote about camp. And, of course, people thought it was summer camp. And then when, when I wrote it, then he had me read it in front of the class and then that was the first time some people had even known about that. And then the thing is, that I became friends with a Filipino girl, girl from the Philippines. And we were best friends. And she, and so when they wanted me to talk about that they had questions. That he knew that she was in the Philippines during the war and so she gave her side of what, what went on because the Japanese, I guess, occupied the Philippines. So, so it was interesting.

AI: That was interesting. So then did people believe your story that the U.S. government actually did that?

BS: Well, I guess...

AI: Did anyone question you that...

BS: No.

AI: Wow, that is really something.

BS: Uh-huh.

AI: Well, is there anything else about your high school years that kind of stands out in your mind or getting adjusted to Chicago, growing up and...

BS: No, it was just that it was different because we were so used to the country and then being in a big city and plus my mother was not home. She had to go work. But, of course, we all had to go work. And it was just my grandfather and my little sister that stayed at home.

AI: Right.

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