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-01-0027

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TI: Before you get into that, why, why did you decide to do this? What, what made you think that this would be a -- knowing that it's a pretty large project to take on, why, why'd you decide to do it?

RM: Oh, I was fascinated by the, Fukui's book. I was fascinated not only at the detail, but at the arriving at conclusions. The, this wonderful statement, I don't know, I've forgotten his name now, "Knocked down eight times, but always get up the ninth." That concept is in Fukui's book. Beat down, they couldn't own property, beat down, they could vote, they couldn't, they didn't have any influence whatsoever, they could be thrown off the property and were, all of this. And yet every time, they come back and go at it again. And that stubbornness, that desire to, to make it no matter what, the Issei temperament, I think, was there.

TI: So this topic really --

RM: And I admired that.

TI: So this topic really interests you.

RM: Yeah.

TI: Conversely, why do you think Joe wanted you to write the book, and not someone who was perhaps more involved in say, Japanese American history?

RM: Joe and I had been together since '64. We wrote the first grants at Tacoma Community College to, to, Humanities grants. He knew that he liked, I think, the way I wrote.

TI: So it was really through Joe. Joe, because he knew you back at Tacoma Community College, he was the one who said, "I know this person, he can, he can write it." So he was the one who really --

RM: Yeah, he had confidence in me.

TI: Good.

RM: And we had had, in the writing of grants, we'd work 'til four or five in the morning, we had done that. We had a long association under great pressures. Not only writing grants, and there was also another stronger connection, I think, than just our friendship. My mother was a poet, and she knew Joe's brother Yosh. Yosh Kosai was probably the leader of the Japanese community in Tacoma. Wonderful man. And, and he invited my mother to his New Year's Day dinner, and, and I took my mother, Lorraine and I, my wife, and I went. And it was a wonderful occasion and so we went year after year. So I had a -- this is before, long before Furusato came, I had known Yosh Kosai and really liked and admired him. And he had done an audio tape on Tacoma, Japan, Japantown, Nihonmachi, in Tacoma. It was a, and it really was great, it's nostalgic and everything. And so I had a, a good idea, and after -- and I'd had the background following Fukui for more than a year. Maybe four or five years. And so when Joe approached me, I said, "Yeah, I'd like to give it a try." I said, "I don't feel too comfortable." I said, and I tried to josh him into working with the manuscript. And he was really busy as registrar, but he agreed we ought to do this.

And so that's how I started. He got a fellow named Dell Tanabe to take me to see the two most elderly women in the community. Martha Sakamoto Yatsue. Well... no. Kazuo Yatsue. She's still alive and in her nineties, was very kind and helpful. And then I, there were other people involved and I gradually from one, they passed me to another, and I interviewed the, the people who were oldest in the community first, and got their stories, just like the longshore union. And, and they were, there were people who refused to talk to me, and by this time, I was used to that. So that, "Okay, it's all right. We'll try to do the written record around you." And with Fukui, that was easy. He had every detail there, I didn't really, when I talked to people, they added things to it. But the basic facts were already there. And so with Furusato, and I think it took me five or seven years, I think, to do it, I was very careful. I tried to relate it to the history of -- in the footnotes -- with other communities: Seattle and San Francisco, particularly. And to compare and contrast them. I was unfamiliar with Asian American studies and literature. I had read The Politics of Prejudice by Roger Daniels, I was familiar with Daniels' work, 'cause I used it in my classes, and also his later works. So I did know the internment movement. I was familiar -- even when I was selling newspapers -- about internment and about the people who were in, up in the jail.

TI: Well, good.

<End Segment 27> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.