Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Ron Magden Interview
Narrator: Ron Magden
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: June 15, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-mron-01-0025

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TI: And so, so the book was completed, and you, you took some time off, and then someone came to you and said, "Would you write another book?"

RM: Yeah, I don't think there was any time. I think while we were celebrating the publication of The Working Waterfront, the next project, which was writing a history of a one-room school, Art Martinson of PLU and I did that one together, too. It was a Humanities project, and we told the story of this little one-room school, it was open from 1890 to 1930, Hearts Lake School, there were enough students and teachers still alive that we could tell that story. And it was a won-, another wonderful, pleasant event. The day that book was finished, they rang the school bell and NPR radio was there, it was a marvelous occasion. So I had two, what I considered great victories to start with. As a writer, being involved with -- and again, it was the interview process mixed with the historical facts.

TI: So those two books, about when was that when you finished the second book, or first...

RM: Gee, let's see. I think we finished, '82 we finished The Working Waterfront, and about '84 we finished Hearts Lake School. And then, and then I got, in the meantime, there were, there was a group of five Japanese Americans who were translating the work of a man named Fukui, who had been editor of the Tacoma Japanese newspaper, weekly newspaper. And this was, had been going on already for better than ten years, and there were twelve volumes. And I, I was working at the time at Tacoma Community College, and Joe Kosai was the registrar. And we were good friends. And, and he was using the college computer to record the, the transcriptions of the --

TI: So the committee would, they would translate sort of, in longhand what they read, and then someone would come to school and type in the...

RM: Yeah. Then there was a wonderful lady named Michiko Freeman, a Shin-Issei who was having her students put it into the computer. And I was reading the computer drafts of Fukui's work that had been translated by this committee of five. And it was interesting; it was really interesting, it was the study of a city like Tacoma by a group. Not Caucasian history, this was really Japanese history of a Caucasian community.

TI: And this was written, like, in the 1940s, 1939?

RM: Yeah, '40, 19-, November of '41, it was finished.

TI: So, so right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it was finished.

RM: Yeah, just couple weeks before, he, Fukui finished.

TI: So this gave this, this wonderful perspective, prewar Tacoma? Or was it --

RM: Uh-huh. Prewar Tacoma, 1890 to 1941. That was marvelous.

TI: And so when it was finished, November of 1941, this document, this twelve-volume document, what, what happened to it? What, was it published, what...

RM: No. No, it was printed off in, oh, that paper that goes on forever and put into loose-leaf binders, punched and put in the loose-leaf binders, and I worked from the loose-leaf binders probably six or seven years. It was a mammoth amount of material. Huge.

TI: I'm sorry. So these twelve volumes, or these, so it was in loose-leaf binders, but from November of 1941, who kept this or where was this stored?

RM: Oh. That's another interesting story. The original book, Fukui's work, was kept in a garage. It survived World War II. And no one really paid any attention to it. People knew that it existed, and a man named Dr. James Watanabe took a crack at World War I. He translated parts of it that went from 1890 to 1918. One could say that, sort of a golden age. And so there was an awareness that some of it had been done. He did that around 1980, but no one was aware that it started in, with the very first Japanese who came here. No one was aware that this early group had done so much as, as what they had. That they'd started from Port Blakely sawmill and, and saved their money and bought leases on hotels and restaurants in Seattle and Tacoma.

TI So this is a pretty special document. I mean, it's on the order of perhaps, how would you compare it with the work that Ito did on the Seattle community?

RM: Oh, okay. Fukui and... Ito didn't use Fukui. Didn't know that, well, he knew parts of it existed, but he interviewed, as early as he could, the earliest pioneers. And so some of this -- in fact, you can collate and see the differences between the two versions. It's quite interesting sometimes. And Ito then, it parallels Fukui's work.

TI: But Fukui's work was, probably predated Ito in terms of looking at the history.

RM: Oh, yeah. And ended November of '42.

TI: So in some ways, this is an incredibly valuable document that was created by Fukui.

RM: Yeah. Yeah, he, what he did, he took the minutes of the Japanese societies. The business society, the community service society, the different women's groups, he did all of this. He did their minutes, transcribed them, put 'em his book so you could see everything. It's total. The warts, everything. The criminals, the whole --

TI: When you look at other Japanese American communities up and down the West Coast, are there similar type of documents that you've seen?

RM: No. There, there are histories of say, San Francisco Japanese, and Portland and Los Angeles, but none of them approach this early era like Fukui did. I mean, this is very detailed history, this is names, everything. People who died and the problems they had, all of this. It's very, it's a complete history.

<End Segment 25> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.