Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig Interview
Narrator: Aiko Yoshinaga Herzig
Interviewers: Larry Hashima (primary), Glen Kitayama (secondary)
Location: University of California, Los Angeles
Date: September 11, 1997
Densho ID: denshovh-haiko-01-0001

<Begin Segment 1>

LH: Interview with Aiko Herzig Yoshinaga, interviewers are Larry Hashima and Glen Kitayama on Friday, September 11, 1997 in Los Angeles, California. Thank you for agreeing to do the interview with us.

AH: No, it's a pleasure.

GK: Well, I wanted to start off with your involvement with Asian Americans for Action and how did this all come about?

AH: Asian Americans for Action. That was a group of, I guess what persons call progressives, activists in New York City. It was established by, as I understand it, two ladies: Kazu Iijima and Shizu "Minn" -- Minn is her nickname -- Matsuda. And they were senior citizens, which was rather unusual because so many Nisei, and especially women who were already senior citizens, didn't tend to involve themselves in social issues that were, that was really running the, throughout the country during that period which is late '60s, in the '60s and the '70s.

The reason I got involved was that Kazu Iijima's husband, Tak Iijima who was a 442 vet, I had known many years prior to the time I heard about Triple, we call it Triple A. Tak was the choirmaster of the church that I had been going to at the time. The one -- I think there were two Christian churches where Japanese Americans would congregate and go to services at the time after the war. The one I was going to was the Japanese American United Church, and Tak Iijima was the choirmaster. I happened to belong to the choir. I had a tremendous respect for Tak's talent as a musician, as an organist, pianist, teacher, and his patience and compassion -- putting up with those of us who were such poor singers.

At any rate, I knew Tak. And one day in the late '60s, I bumped into him. I had not seen him for many years. I bumped into him -- because I had gotten away from the church. And I asked him what was he doing and he said he was still teaching and he was head of a (high school) music department in Brooklyn. And he said, he invited me to come to a meeting, asked me if I would be interested. I did, I accepted. It was in a small loft, I believe it was in Greenwich Village, and I went to this meeting.


I was really impressed with the feeling that pervaded between the people and the subjects they talked about. And I found out it was really sort of a study group for people who were interested in learning more about other systems of government. That was the first time I saw Don Nakanishi and Glenn Omatsu, they were students, I think either Harvard or Yale, someplace, and I think they were looking around, too, and they were sitting in on this thing. So I, actually my first meeting with them goes back, ooh, '69 maybe. How many years is that? Thirty something years, almost thirty years I think 'cause I lost track of them between (that) time but I'm so happy to be back in the circle, in the circle again.

At any rate, this group I attended monthly meetings to learn a little bit about our democracy, our democratic system and about Marxism, Leninism, about which I knew absolutely zilch. Nothing I knew about these things. But I tried to pick some of the good points about all of these different systems and thinking, "Oh, how wonderful to have a utopia," if we could develop a country that picked the best out of all these systems. This organization interested me because they were tackling issues like -- for Asian Americans -- to me it was interesting -- they would talk about the Vietnam War. And this was of course earlier in the '60s, late '60s -- oh, that's right, we were still in the war at the time, of course. Because they were not afraid to walk the streets of New York joining other groups to decry our involvement in Vietnam. Shouting slogans, carrying placards and doing the things that demonstrators generally do who want to protest government action. I'd never done anything like that and I felt as a Nihonjin, I thought, "We don't do these things like that," you know, and we are, we're quiet and we discuss things behind doors. We don't go parading our emotions out in the streets, especially in New York City.

Well, I was so taken by the sincerity of this group and how they really felt brotherhood with the oppressed throughout so many countries, and especially at this particular point, the Asian country (of) Vietnam. Therefore, I decided, well, instead of just talking about these issues over the kitchen table, it would behoove me to try to do something, join a group like this, for which I had an affinity, and show how I feel. If we don't do this and let the government know that there's those of us who are Americans who don't approve of what's going on, then I felt like I'd be right back in 1942 where we didn't show them we didn't like what they were doing to us. I mean, we just were so compliant because that is the nature of the Japanese person, to, to respect authority and do what the authoritative figure tells us to do.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 1997 Densho. All Rights Reserved.