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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-01-0028

<Begin Segment 28>

TI: So when you, when you look at, when you finished the book, you said five or six years, what was the reaction of the Tacoma Japanese American community?

RM: Well, they were surprised it was done. [Laughs]

TI: Why were they surprised?

RM: Well, because it seemed like, you know, most people, when you write a book, think that you can get it done in a year or two. That it's not as hard a process as... and what happened with Furusato was that where we thought we would interview ten or twenty or thirty people, I interviewed over 100, maybe 200 people for the book. And I wanted to make sure everybody had their say. And so I, and I interviewed -- and as a result, it, it went longer than we thought.

TI: Were people upset about the length it was taking you? Were they...

RM: Yeah. They always are. But I wanted it to... one of the things that happened early in my writing career, I was, I wrote The Working Waterfront, and then I discovered -- with Art -- and then I discovered, though, that we left out half the story. So I went back and rewrote the book, and it came out The Working Longshoremen. And, and then, so I made sure, I wanted to make sure when I did subsequent books, that I wouldn't have to go back and rewrite it because I'd left out information. And so with Furusato, I deliberately tried to get everything in to make sure that I had it in, and I hadn't forgotten something or missed it. And anyway, that worked out. And so I have it as a policy that it's better to let it take longer to make sure you've got the whole story, than to rush to judgment.

TI: Well, so they, so you took five or six years to complete it, and it was done, and so you said, people, it came out --

RM: They had a big party.

TI: Big party, so what was the reaction after they read it? They were happy that it was done, but then, what was the reaction of the actual content?

RM: Well, there were two reactions, and I think they were extremely interesting. The longshoremen read the book, and they thought it was a better work than what I'd done on the longshore union. And the Japanese community were extremely pleased, they thought it was a good representation, and they were pleased that it was sort of interesting, that it didn't have a pro-Methodist, anti-Buddhist, or the reverse of that, that I had been able to grasp both the different elements in the Japanese community. And I did my best to make sure that I did that, balanced as far as I could. Between the businessmen and the farmers there was another gulf for years and years. And so I worked hard to put, tell the story as clearly as I could. And then about the people that, in particular, the people who picked up -- I wanted to study the people who'd taken the Japanese lands when they were interned, and their businesses, and I wanted to show exactly what happened to those. And that was, there were, real estate people in Tacoma didn't want to discuss that. And I thought, no, we've got to iron that out because that's, that's one of the central issues. And it's the central issue with the Puyallup Indians. It's a central issue in the history of Tacoma, the whole land question was. And I wanted to make sure that I did that, and I took an extra year and a half to get at what I considered the root of all that. And they were clamoring for the book. I said, "I gotta, I have to settle this once and for all. I don't want to come back and have to redo this." I went to Washington, D.C., to get the land records that were not here. That were, had never been microfilmed. So I worked at that, I put a lot of time into it, because I wanted to tell that story, and I did.

TI: Well, it's really well-done. I mean, in the weeks leading up to this interview, I read the book, or re-read the book, and the thing that I spent actually a little more time with, that I found really interesting and useful, are your citations, your footnotes for every chapter. I mean, you kept detailed records of where all those pieces of information, which I found really useful. I mean, what's your philosophy of using the footnotes?

RM: I have, I have a... when I'm working, like with Fukui or anybody, I have, every once in a while, this desire to find out as much as I possibly can about a particular person or about a particular thing, and I'm gonna follow it as far as I can. I wanted to find out who got the first land, Japanese, on the reservation, in the Puyallup reservation. I wanted to know how this worked out, because I'd been, I had read the foreclosure notices served by Caucasians on Japanese who clear land, and planted it in, oh, places like Puyallup, Orting, Sumner, and why the Japanese were on the federal land, why they were on the Indian land. And the answer was simple; they never were thrown off the Indian land. And they would sign these leases with Indians, and be left alone to farm there. And so that, I had this -- well, I'd like to find that first lease.

So I went back to Washington, D.C., and I looked at the -- and I couldn't find anything. One day, I was looking at the Puyallup Indian roles, and the name Mihara showed up on those roles. Well, "Mihara" is not a land, Puyallup Indian. And, and so I went and got the file. Of course, it's a fellow named Genji Mihara, and it's not the one that later comes on in Seattle, but here's Mihara Isharo and his wife. And they were the first to get Indian land. And here's the lease, and description of them and the Indians that did that, and so I knew I was off. And I went another thirty leases and finally I -- there were 177 leases to Japanese, and so it was all right there. And it hadn't been touched since the 1930s, the files.

TI: So, so the... so what I take away from this is, those footnotes are just like a, the tip of the iceberg. I mean, the amount of research you did, I mean, you found so much more information as, putting flesh on not only the interviews, which are also cited, but all these documents. And, and you were, you cited all of them, but it sounds like even to cite those, that's just like a hundredth of the number of documents you actually looked at as part of this --

RM: Yeah, that's true. That's true. But I have, I don't know whether it's intuition or what, but I, every once in a while I have this overwhelming desire to know a particular, something about a person. The first Japanese -- well, not the first, but one that really attracted me was Kiyohachi Nishii, who came and worked at the Port Blakely mill in '82, had a restaurant in Seattle by the time of the fire in '89. Took him five or six years to make the money, got burned out, and came over to Tacoma and started all over again. I was really interested in him because he never, he's one of these who got knocked down eight times, got back up the ninth. And made a fortune, went back to Japan, married, and came back, kept going strong, and then retired and went back to Japan. The 106 Seattle/Tacoma Japanese businessmen erected a statue to him in Japan. And I wanted to see that statue, so I went, I was in Japan with a high school baseball group, I took off one day and I got on the train and went to see that statue. Yeah, it was in a little town where hardly anybody spoke English. [Laughs] But it was a, it was a very exciting event for me, anyway, that I, "Hey, I've connected with the history of this, this fellow."

TI: Yeah, that's, that good.

<End Segment 28> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.