Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: May Ota Higa Interview
Narrator: May Ota Higa
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: December 17, 2004
Densho ID: denshovh-hmay-01

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So today is December 17th, it's a Friday, and we're in the Densho offices at 1416 South Jackson, my name is Tom Ikeda, and I'm the interviewer, and on camera we have Dana Hoshide. But this morning we have May Higa, and May, I just wanted to start with where and when were you born?

MH: Where and when? 1916, March 14, 1916. I was born in Seattle, I don't know what address here.

TI: But what was the full name given to you when you were born?

MH: May Ota, that's all.

TI: So no middle name?

MH: No middle name, nothing. May Ota.

TI: And at that point, what were your parents doing to make a living in Seattle?

MH: Oh. My father ran hotels, and the building over on the other side of Rainier here, he ran that apartment for a time. And at one time he ran seven hotels, so he was quite, you know, prosperous at one time. And then the Depression came and we lost everything; we just lost everything. And my father, he has eight children. I'm one of eight children.

TI: Well, talk about that. So in the birth order, where are you in the birth order?

MH: I'm fifth, fifth in the birth order.

TI: So let's start back with your, with your father. How did he decide to come to the United States?

MH: He was one... well, he's the chonan, the oldest one in the family, but they were running a shoyu company or something, and he just didn't think that was gonna, he was gonna make any money, so he went to Vladivostok to see if he could do, start a business there. But he found out that it was too cold, and he didn't like it, so he went back to Japan. Then he said, "Well, I'm going to America to see what I can do to make a living." So that's how he happened to come here. And I think it was around (1890), maybe.

TI: So it sounds like your father's family was quite prosperous.

MH: Yes, they, their, they were at one time. They're a samurai family, had a beautiful home on top of the hill that all the serfs and workers used to bring their harvest to them. Yeah, it was. His family in Japan was quite well-off, but he himself had to find a way to make his own living. He didn't want to stay there.

TI: So was it hard for, I guess, his parents or your grandparents to let him come to, to America?

MH: I don't, I don't know. I don't think so. I don't think so, because he went to Vladivostok and left home early, and my, I think my father was quite an adventurer and an enterpriser, and took risks. And then he came here and he started, he started to work for, as a houseboy, and they asked him if he could cook and all that. He couldn't, but he said, "Yes, I can," and he got started there and then he made a little money, and he worked for a hotel, I guess. He moved on to work for a hotel.

TI: Now, before we go on with this story, what was his name?

MH: Tokio. T-O-K-I-O. Oh, let me tell you, at the very beginning when he came, I'm, I'm a descendant of an illegal alien. Yeah, I am, because he was brought in by some railroad company. They paid his way over, and then they were supposed to go to Montana or someplace. And he says he was on the ship for many, for weeks, in those days, and then he got off and they got in line at this Union Station to get a train, but they came in in the dark of night, because they were smuggled in by the people who owned the railroad. And so he was smuggled in, and he remembers walking through the cattails and all the stuff as he, because the ship had to be out in the... so then he was standing in line at the Union Station to be sent to Montana or someplace. And he thought, "Well, if I go to Montana, what kind of life is that? It's worse than being in Japan."

So when it was dark, he turned around and he ran. He ran and he ran, and finally he said he met up with someone, and it turned out to be a Japanese man. And so he said to the Japanese man, "I have to stay someplace and eat something." So this Japanese man took him to someplace around here, and showed him a dark basement with lots of berths sticking out, and he said, "This is where we sleep. We get one of the berths." So he said, "Well, I'm hungry." He said, "I'll tell you what we'll do." This man says he used to wash dishes for a restaurant, and they would feed him and they'd give him a little money, and so then he could pay the twenty-five cents a night or something that they paid for that berth. And so he -- [coughs] -- so he followed this man in, and they, the man was nice enough to say, "I'll go and wash dishes one day and get my meal. The next day you go and you get your meal. You could pay for your berth." So that's the story my father told me, the way he got started, and he says he's still looking for this man, his name was Okada, and to the, to his dying day, he looked for him. Had we had computers in those days, we might have been able to locate him.

TI: Well, that's a good story. So your dad came over, and it sounds like a contract laborer.

MH: Uh-huh, that's what it was.

TI: To actually go to, all the way to Montana, probably to work on the railroads there, but he was being smuggled in to do this.

MH: Yes, right.

TI: And so when he was en route to Montana, coming through Seattle, he then sort of slipped away, and that's how he got...

MH: Right, that's how he got started.

TI: Can you recall what year, about what year this happened, roughly?

MH: Well, I would think it would be around (1890).

TI: Okay, so that'd be pretty early.

MH: Uh-huh.

TI: Yeah, that would be early. Okay, so I'm just curious about what year. And then a Japanese man sort of befriended him and helped him get, get set up.

MH: Uh-huh. Isn't that amazing?

TI: It really is.

MH: Yeah. And I wouldn't tell the story unless I heard it from my own father.

TI: No, that's a really good story.

MH: Yeah, so that's...

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: Now, can you recall any other stories he had about early Seattle, growing up as a, as a young man?

MH: Well, he... no, I know him only as he struggled. But he was not only a businessman, but he was a businessman with a soul. And when he needed to make money, he opened a little stand, and he saw these homeless people down on Skid Row, and so he sold pea soup, he made pea soup, and the men would stand on the other side of this table, he would be on this side, and he would serve them a bowl of pea soup and a hunk of French bread that he got real fresh, and I think he charged something like five or ten cents a bowl. And that kept the homeless and the poor people from starving. And he didn't make much money, but he made enough to go for a while. But then as he, after he did that, then he noticed the Filipino men coming in without wives. They could not bring their wives in in those days, 19-, -- I'm going ahead now -- 19'... in the 1930s. That was lifted much later, wasn't it, to allow the Filipinos to come in.

TI: Yeah, it was probably after... 1924 was when they stopped -- actually, even earlier, probably like 19-, around 1910 or so, they stopped the laborers coming in. So from that point on, the Filipinos started coming in.

MH: Came without their wives, without women. And so then my dad saw these men come in, they didn't know where to stay and where to eat or anything, so he went to the, to the wharf, and as they came off the boats, he had rented a building, it's Midway Hotel, I don't know if it's still there. I think it's someplace around Seventh and King or Weller, it's a building there, he called it the Midway Hotel. Whether it's there now or not, I don't know. And he told these men as they got off the ship, "I will take you to a place where you can sleep." So he opened this hotel for these men, and the Filipinos stayed there. 'Course, he was very careful that we girls -- he had six girls and two boys -- that we don't go down there, because these were men who were looking for women. So, "You don't come to Papa's hotel." And then, after he... after he noticed that, later he noticed that the men didn't know what to eat, so accustomed to their own food, that he asked the men in the hotel, "Do any of you know how to cook Filipino food?" So a couple guys said, "Yes," so he opened a restaurant, and he opened the first Filipino restaurant there, I don't know, someplace in the International District.

TI: Well, it's interesting, your father was quite the entrepreneur.

MH: Yeah, he was, he was. And he made a killing very early, but I didn't get in on any of that prosperity that he had. But at one time he was considered a "hotel king," because he did make money.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: Well, I want to go to your mother now. How did it happen that she came to Seattle?

MH: Well, Dad went back to Japan to get her, and she said she didn't want to come. She was just sixteen, I think she was sixteen or seventeen. She didn't want to come, so she ran away and hid in the fields, but they got her. And she was almost forced to come, but it, eight children, it turned out to be a pretty good marriage. [Laughs]

TI: And how did your father know your mother? Was it an arranged marriage?

MH: Yeah, it was an arranged marriage, yeah, and it was in the same area, Nagasaki, I think.

TI: And how much older was your father than your...

MH: Thirteen years older.

TI: Okay, so she was sixteen, he was about twenty-nine.

MH: Right.

TI: Okay. Yeah, it must have been... oh, what's the right word? Really stepping into the unknown for your mother.

MH: Pardon?

TI: It must have been very, very difficult for your mother.

MH: Oh, yes.

TI: I mean, marrying someone who is...

MH: So much older.

TI: much older, going to a new country.

MH: Exactly.

TI: I'm sure she was frightened.

MH: I'm sure she was. But my father was a very kind man, and, and the story goes that my mother -- none of us got it -- but my mother was a very beautiful woman, and so, and Japanese women were so scarce and rare here, that they ran her for some beauty contest, and they, the merchants did this, and she won that, so she has those nice stories to tell us. But she too had to go do housework, and she tells the story where she wanted to talk about, if we need some more eggs or something, she got on the floor and she, "Kaaaa," and then she said, you know -- [laughs] -- just pantomimed the whole thing, and said... and so that was the egg thing.

TI: Well, I'm not sure I understand. So she, she pantomimed to...

MH: A chicken laying an egg. She gets down on the floor, she's a chicken laying the egg, and then she gives this egg to the lady and that's supposed, she's telling her, "I need an egg."

TI: I see. So because she didn't speak English?

MH: She didn't speak English.

TI: So she was shopping and she wanted eggs, so she --

MH: Yeah, well, she -- no, she was trying to tell the lady that, "I need an egg. I want an egg," and so she went through the whole pantomime at the house. You know, she had cute little stories like that to tell.

TI: It sounds like your mother was very expressive. I mean, that doesn't --

MH: I guess so, I think so. [Laughs] I don't know.

TI: I'm curious; your father came from a very prosperous family, he was doing well in America, was there ever a thought that he would go back to Japan?

MH: I don't think he ever thought that. However, he did send money, and there is a place, there's a nice lake near his house, which he sent money to plant cherry trees, and it's just beautiful, all around the lake is, are my father's cherry trees there. So there's, you know, it's kind of nice to go back to Japan and see the things that my parents left, my father left. And my mother comes from a good family. As a matter of fact, I think my mother comes from a better family than my father, but she lived in, more in the city, Omura, and Dad lived in Kawatana, those are small towns. So my, my mother was brought up, I think she was spoiled.

TI: And what was your mother's name?

MH: Machiko. M-A-C-H-I-K-O.

TI: And her maiden name?

MH: Yatsugi.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: And you mentioned they had eight children, you were the fifth, can you remember the names of all your siblings and the order?

MH: The oldest one was Setsu, and the second one is Ray, third one is Amy, fourth one is, his real name is Yonesaku. Y-O-N-E-S-A-K-U. I always called him Yone, and then me, May, and then there's Chikako, and then there's Keiko.

TI: That's seven. Is there a missing one? So you have Setsu, Ray...

MH: Did I leave -- oh, Kenji. Kenji is just below me.

TI: Okay.

MH: I'm sorry.

TI: And there were, so there were three boys and five --

MH: Two boys.

TI: Two boys, so Kenji and...

MH: Yonesaku.

TI: Yonesaku. And so you were sort of between the boys.

MH: Between the two boys, right.

TI: Okay.

MH: And my father almost gave me away, because he said he didn't want another girl, and he had promised a couple that was at the church, very lovely couple named Hayami-san. And he said, "If it's a girl, you can have her." And when I was born I was such a darling baby that -- [laughs] -- he couldn't give me up, and he reneged on his offer. But when I was older and went to Japan, I visited, visited this couple, and they treated me just like their own daughter.

TI: Oh, how touching.

MH: It was really nice. And they had adopted another girl in Japan. But my dad was funny. [Laughs]

TI: As, as you were growing up, and you watched your mother and father sort of interact, how would you describe their relationship?

MH: I think that there's very little emotion shown, but the things that Dad used to do for Mother, like buy her things and treat her well, I think there was a great deal of love and respect for each other, especially respect for each other. And I will always see in my mind my dad sitting on one side and my mother sitting, having breakfast together. They would get up on the bench, we had a cove, a breakfast cove with benches on two sides and the table in the middle, and they would put a cushion on the bench and they would eat Japanese-style, they'd have their breakfast there. That was one thing that Mother and Dad enjoyed, was after the children left home, all they could do that.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: So I'm thinking about your father, who would run all these hotels, and then in your family you had eight children. So I'm guessing that your father really focused on the business side, and your mom focused more on the family and the raising of the children?

MH: Right, right. My dad, my mother had nothing to do with his business.

TI: So that's what I was going to ask. I mean, oftentimes when people run a business like a hotel, the family really helps out. Did you and your siblings and your mother help out at all with the hotels?

MH: Not at all, not at all. We never lived in his hotels, never. He always had a separate residence for us, because he was prosperous at one time. He had a car that someone else drove, and Mother could go anywhere, just let the chauffeur know. So we were, but we were dirt-poor, we weren't poverty-stricken when the crash came. He lost his hotels one after another, then we lost our home, which, which was a rather nice home in those days. Eighteenth and King was a fairly decent place for Asians to live. So, yeah, my dad was a man who never got angry with us, but he laid down the law, but in a gentle way.

TI: Well, let's talk about, sort of that Depression area, or era. So the stock market crash was 1929, and how soon after that did it really start impacting your dad's business? So how, when you said he started losing the hotels, was that, like, early '30s, then? Probably around 1931, '32? You would have been about --

MH: I think it was earlier. I think he started to lose his hotels before the crash, I think so.

TI: So you were, like, twelve, thirteen years old, about then, when all this was happening? 'Cause you were born in 1916, so 1930, you would have been fourteen years old.

MH: I must have been.

TI: So how, so how did your father react? I imagine that was so difficult for him.

MH: It was very hard for him, but I don't think we as children really felt it. I didn't. It was still Papa, and he'd come home with little presents for us. In those days, if he brought home the pink grapefruits, he would, we would all be in bed and, "Papa got grapefruit," come scurrying down the stairs just to eat the pink grapefruits, you know, the red grapefruits. And he would once in a while stop at a very fancy bakery down on, it's down towards Pioneer Square now, but it was one of the best bakeries in town. He'd pick up some goodies for us, and we'd come scurrying down, even if we're in bed, to eat these things. So he was a very, he was a businessman, but he had a feeling for his family. I just loved my dad.

TI: What about his role in the community? Sounds like by being prosperous, he was probably pretty involved with the Japanese Association?

MH: No, he didn't, he is a man that never liked to be in the limelight, and he would contribute money, and he would do all that, but he never became a member of the Japanese council or anything like that. No, he played a very low-profile, kept a low profile. And my husband is just the same way, so is my son. He just didn't like all that, Nihonjinkai, you know.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: How about things in terms of, like, Japanese culture? Did you attend the Japanese language school growing up?

MH: I went through the whole, all six grades, yeah.

TI: And this is the one that was on Weller Street?

MH: Yes, so we could walk there. We'd come out of Washington school up here, and then go home and have a little snack, and then go on down to Japanese school. And I went there for six years, didn't learn very much.

TI: Well, I was going ask you, because eventually you -- we'll talk about this later -- but you went to Japan.

MH: Oh, yes.

TI: So you knew Japanese.

MH: A little. And then, of course, we spoke Japanese to our parents, so we had pretty good Japanese. It's you people, the younger ones, that don't. I don't know about you, but I know my children don't.

TI: No, I don't speak Japanese, either.

MH: You don't?

TI: Yeah.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: But going back to where you lived, it was Eighteenth and King. Were there very many other Japanese families in that neighborhood?

MH: Well, there was not when we moved up. There was an Italian family next door, but later there was a Chinese family that moved up the street, and then I think the Imai, was that a pharmacy that was here, they moved up. And then the Hirade family moved right on Eighteenth Avenue towards Weller, and the Shiga family. Andy Shiga had a thing in University District, they moved there. And then down towards Lane, is it, was the Yanagimachi family. So they moved up a little after we did.

TI: So as they were moving in, what kind of families were they replacing? I mean, who, who was moving out? Who was there before?

MH: I don't remember.

TI: Was, but was it mostly Caucasian in that --

MH: Uh-huh. They were all Caucasians, yeah. There were very few Japanese up there.

TI: And so in growing up, did you have non-Japanese American playmates?

MH: Oh, yes. We went to school with mostly Jewish people, and there was just one black girl in the class, and our immediate neighbors that we played with, mostly Japanese, yeah. Then later the Yamauras moved up, and several, so, yeah, it was Japanese.

TI: Can you remember some of the games that you played in the neighborhood?

MH: Oh, yeah. We'd gather, especially on the corner of Weller and Eighteenth, there's a quiet corner, and we used to play Pom-pom Pull Away, and Hide-and-Seek, and the boys used to play a little baseball, very little. And then in the wintertime there's a very steep hill on Weller, going next to the Shiga house. We used to sled down that place. That was, that was really something we looked forward to. So the neighborhood kids did get together and we played.

TI: And so when you say, "neighborhood kids," about how many kids would get together?

MH: Let's see. Yanagimachis had a family of... but the ones that were all my age and a little bit younger, I would say there were twelve. Two, four... yeah, about twelve of us, boys and girls mixed up. Yeah, that's it. And you know, there was a house being built for the... oh, the one that used to work at the Hara Drugstore right here, there was a Hara Drugstore right on Twelfth and Yesler. Anyway, they built a beautiful house, and so we used to go and climb up and walk the things while it was being built. And then, at about age fifteen, the girls got together, and we decided we were gonna start a club, just the Japanese girls. And we'd sit in a field of dandelions, and we'd pick the dandelions and we'd make chains. So we said, "Oh, let's call it the Dandelion Club," and we joined the Child Life Magazine. They had a Good Citizens Club that they, that they wanted the young people to join. So we joined this Good Citizens Club that the Child Life Magazine was running, and then we girls used to get together and we'd tell stories or exchange stories and make dandelion chains. And so then in those days, our parents used to have bazaars at the church, so we said, "Oh, let's have a bazaar." So we had a bazaar in the Yamaura yard, and our parents came. My mother helped by making some sushi, and I came down to Rainier Avenue, there was a cookie, cookie factory there. I'd buy the broken cookies and package them up and sold them. And, you know, we did, we were pretty enterprising. And the parents were very good, they helped out, they came and bought stuff, and I think we made a few handmade things. So that was when we were teenagers.

TI: And how large was that girl's club?

MH: This girl's group was about eight of us. And then we put our money into the Sumitomo Bank, then it went broke and we lost our twelve dollars that we'd put into the bank, and then the evacuation came. And so we thought we had lost that money. Then I got a letter from one of the girls and said, "Sumitomo Bank says that they'll give us our twelve dollars, what shall I do with it?" And I said, "Go out and get yourself a hamburger or something." [Laughs]

TI: That's funny.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: You mentioned earlier that you had also, the idea for bazaars came from church, churches. Did you attend one of the local churches?

MH: Oh, yeah. We were, my parents, my mother was very much into the Congregational religion, and there was this church right here on Twelfth, broken-down old building there on Twelfth and... I think it's Main. Up the hill there, a little bit behind it, yeah, it was Twelfth. Twelfth there was a garage here, and it went up just a little bit towards the Main. And it was a broken-down old house, building, but they had a, put in a potbelly stove in the middle, and then we had a couple from, a Caucasian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Murphy as our minister, and then the Japanese got -- I mean, we got several Japanese-speaking ministers. I remember Reverend Abe.

TI: But the congregation was primarily Japanese?

MH: Oh, it's a Japanese congregation.

TI: Japanese congregation. And how, why did your mother get involved with this church?

MH: I don't think she was Christian when she came over, but I guess she thought that was the American thing to do, to become a Christian. And then when she heard of this, people organizing to do a Japanese... I'm not real sure, but I think that's probably the way it happened.

TI: And how about your father? Did he also go to this church?

MH: No, he, my father was not a church-goer. He went because my mother urged him. For a while he was interested in the seicho no ie. Do you know what that was?

TI: No, I don't know.

MH: That's another... what would you call it? It's not a typical church. Seicho no ie is... what would you say? Maybe it's -- you know, I'm a Unitarian -- maybe it's like the Unitarians. They're not, they're not Christians and they're not Buddhists, but they have a very high sense of personal responsibility and compassion and caring, and no dogma, and I think seicho no ie was something like that. They're very nice people.

TI: And they would get together and meet and talk?

MH: Yeah, but Dad didn't go to many meetings. As I say, he doesn't like meetings. But I think that seicho no ie is still prevalent, if you look into it. They have it here in Seattle, I think.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

TI: Let's talk a little bit about schools, because later on you become a schoolteacher. So I'm curious, what was your, what was school like for you? Did you enjoy school?

MH: I loved it. I loved school, and I was teacher's pet in many of the grades, so naturally I liked school. [Laughs] And I remember the first day, my dad took me to kindergarten, and the teacher played a piece on the piano, said, "Go around the room and skip." So I got out there and I skipped, and my dad was so proud of me, because I was the only one that did it. [Laughs] But anyway, this, so it was right here, Washington School. And I liked school all the way through. Now, I'm just -- since you started to talk about the middle school, I'm sure we went through the eighth grade, but you have to, what? From eighth grade do you go in, ninth grade is high school?

TI: Right, ninth grade is high school.

MH: Okay, then we went directly to the high school, to Garfield High School.

TI: So at Washington School, do you, did you have any favorite teachers?

MH: The kindergarten teacher, but I have forgotten her name. Shoemaker? But no, not really, not really. There were some characters there that I still remember. One would send me to the -- we were right across the street from the Wonder Bread bakery, we would smell that bake, bread baking. My teacher would send me every day with a nickel to go and buy her the day-old bread, so that was my job. And we could never do a thing like that now as a teacher, send a child across the street to go to the bakery. But we did that, and they were all very good to us, you know, those teachers.

TI: Now, was there anything that you could remember that really influenced you to want to become a teacher later on?

MH: Well, I, later on, I worked in the principal's office as a clerk, but I was in school already then. I think that was the only field that I thought would, I could possibly be in. Because when I went in high school, when I went to the, to the counselor's office, I said, she said, "Well, what are you gonna do after you graduate?" I said, "I want to go to college." "To college? Where do you want to go?" And I couldn't think of anyplace except I used to get the magazines with Wellesley, advertising Wellesley College. I said, "I'd like to go to Wellesley." "Wellesley?" [Laughs] And so she just brushed me off, said, "No, college isn't, there are no colleges you could go to." So I didn't aspire to too much at that time, and then we had to move to Ellensburg. We got so poor...

TI: Well, before we go there, I wanted to just talk about, so this counselor... so at this point, you had aspirations to go to college, and looking at things, at really top colleges in the country.

MH: Yeah. [Laughs]

TI: And it wasn't until the counselor said, "No, this isn't for you." Now, was it because you were a woman, or was it because you were Japanese American?

MH: Both.

TI: So it wasn't common --

MH: Especially Japanese. She, she didn't think that the Japanese could go on. They'll all become gardeners or housekeepers or something. It just didn't dawn on them that any one of us would become professional people in those days. No one imagined us as professional people.

TI: So did you get that same feeling from your teachers, or was it more from this counselor, who...

MH: The counselor, yeah. The teachers, we never talked to them about college.

TI: Well, how about your father? When you talked about college and things, what did --

MH: My father never encouraged us. He said, "The boys must go, make a profession. You girls..." no, he didn't believe in education for the girls.

TI: Now, amongst your siblings and friends, did they think about going to college? Your, your girl's club, your older sisters?

MH: In elementary school we did not. In high school, yes, they did think about it, and many of my friends did go to the University of Washington. That's where I should have tried to get in. But then we moved to Ellensburg, so I went to Central Washington.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

TI: Well, I'm curious, why would you move to Ellensburg?

MH: Because Dad lost everything, and if you know the Masudas, if you ever heard, they were prominent, he was a prominent lawyer here. But that family grew up in real poverty in Ellensburg, and they ran a restaurant and a hotel in the back, and that was the one time where Dad had to allow us to live in his business place, because he was just destitute by that time. He had me, and my brother, and my two sisters. The others had gone on, gotten married. So yeah, here I was college-age, so we moved to Ellensburg in this run-down, oh, really run-down hotel and restaurant, and the men who... in those days, so many men jumped on the freight trains and they traveled from one place to another. What do you call them anyway? They would walk up from the railroad up to the restaurant to eat, and the soot from the engine would blacken their faces, they'd be black and dirty, they'd come in to eat. There again, my dad fixed meals that he could sell cheap, and Mother and I stayed up nights making apple pie, and we lived there in poverty, just barely making ends meet. And at that time, I went to the Central Washington, but at that time it was a normal school. And you know what a normal school was?

TI: No, what was a normal school?

MH: Normal school preceded teacher's colleges, and you go to a normal school, you could get a license in two years to teach. But by the time I got there, it had changed to a teacher's college, but strictly a teacher's college. And in those days, you could go three years and get a teaching certificate. So I went the three years. In between, I came out to the University of Washington because when I first went to class at Central Washington, a Dr. Hinch, the English teacher, looked at me and he said, "What are you? What kind of name is this? What are you? Chinese, Filipino, what?" I said, "I'm Japanese American."

TI: And I'm sorry, who was this? Dr. Finch, you said?

MH: Dr. Hinch.

TI: Dr. Hinch. Who was this?

MH: And he was the, my English teacher, the English teacher --

TI: At Central Washington?

MH: At Central Washington. And I said, "Oh, I'm Japanese American, and my name is Ota, not Otto." And he said, "Well, what are you doing here?" "I, I want an education." "For what?" And I said, "Because I want to become a teacher." "Get right out. You're never gonna get a job. Go someplace else." Just like that. It was very blunt. Told me to get out, go someplace else. "You'll never get a teaching job. Nobody's gonna hire you." Well, I couldn't stand up. My legs gave out underneath. If, even if I tried to stand, I guess that's what you call when you're in shock. I was so, so much in shock, I didn't even cry. And then I tried to stand up, and my legs wouldn't hold me, so I had to sit back down. Class was over and the kids left, and then I tried again to stand up and I couldn't. And then two girls, one very tall and one very short came up and said, "Come on. Dr. Hinch does that all the time. Come on, let's go." They lifted me out of my seat and helped me get up. But I guess that's what you call, you know, when you're in shock. [Laughs]

TI: Well, had that ever happened to you before?

MH: No.

TI: So it was very traumatic, it was very...

MH: Yeah, it was terrible. Must have been, must have really been a shock to me to have him say that to me, blatantly, and saying, "Get out. You don't belong here. You're never gonna get a job as a teacher."

TI: Were you the only non-white student?

MH: Yes. Yes, I was, and I had, they gave us an English test, and I passed it with flying colors, but Dr. Hinch couldn't believe it. So in those days, you either got into the dumbbell class, or you got into the regular. He put me in the dumbbell class. [Laughs] One of the questions he asked was, "Who wrote the Shadows on the Rock?" I raised my hand, he glared at me, and I said, "Willa Cather." "What? You read the book?" "Yes, sir." He was shocked. He was shocked to think that a Japanese girl who looks the way she does reads English. And so that's the way it started, but in time, I got his respect, and he asked me to be on the school paper, which I didn't do. I didn't want to.

TI: Well, it must have taken a huge amount of courage to go back that second day, after he, he told you not to, to be in this class.

MH: Well, it did. It took those two girls to get me back, the ones that helped me, and they were lifelong, they're both gone, but Dorothy and Lois. They're the ones that really kept me in school. And 'course, I didn't get invited to the dances or any of the social things, but they did want me to help decorate the hall for the dances and stuff, and I'd go and decorate the halls and stuff for them.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: So how was it, you grew up in Seattle amongst many Japanese Americans, and then you went to Ellensburg where there were...

MH: None.

TI: ...none. And, and so you were excluded in things like dating and things like that. So how was that for you? Was it, was it okay, or was it miserable?

MH: It was very lonely. Very lonely. But Ellensburg is not too far from Wapato, and there were some Japanese boys in Wapato, farm, farmer's sons. They would come out and visit me from time to time. And I'd have visitors from Seattle, so it wasn't that bad, but it was lonely, very lonely. I helped my dad with his hotel, cooking. And I could, I could cook, I could make beds. [Laughs] I'll tell you a funny story. One day it was so cold that our living room froze over, and the goldfish that we had in the bowl froze, too.

TI: Oh, my.

MH: And then when it thawed, started swimming again. And to me, that was so interesting.

TI: So at night, your, the living room wasn't heated, and so it would just, it would just freeze.

MH: 'Cause Ellensburg gets very cold.

TI: Now, how was it for your mother? Was it difficult for her in Ellensburg?

MH: Oh, I think it was very hard for my mother. She developed tuberculosis after that, but anyway, I'm sure it was very hard for her. But she and Dad used to play rummy, I think it was. And if my dad let her win, then she said, "Well, Papa does it for me. Papa, you don't have to do that. I could win by myself." So they used to play cards together, but they were busy making the beds. My mother and I used to stay up late, as I said, making the pies, but those were hard days.

TI: And how was it for your, your younger siblings in Ellensburg?

MH: Well, my younger brother went to high school there, and let's see... my younger brother went to high school, my younger sister went to high school. You know, I have so little recollection of what my siblings did, but I know Kenji tells me -- my younger brother -- tells me that the guys didn't have too much to do with him. But they were so surprised when he got out on the dance floor. He could dance so well. [Laughs] And I think this was at the reunion; I don't think he ever went to a dance there, but he went back to the reunion and he said, "Kimi and I just knocked the pants off the guys there." [Laughs] So no, he, I think he was a very lonely man. I think he was very lonely in high school there.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: How about issues of just, discrimination? Was it, did, were there overt sort of discrimination against the Japanese?

MH: So much... we didn't feel it so much in Ellensburg, I guess. It was much harder in Seattle, because Ellensburg is such a small town that we didn't, we didn't go into establishments, but they knew us. We didn't go into big stores or hotels or anything. And the one restaurant that was a good one was run by Chinese. Those were the only Asians there, were the Chinese cooks. So we'd go to that New York Restaurant, and so we didn't try to break in anyplace. And then as far as our social life was concerned, we just, each one of us had close friends and we just stuck with them.

TI: So when you say you didn't try to break in to these larger establishments...

MH: Well, we went to the church there, of course, we were greeted.

TI: Was your sense, though, that you would not be welcome at some of these establishments?

MH: Yeah, we were afraid. I mean, what's the use of... I'm a risky person, but there, I just figured, well, we just needed to get along.

TI: But you mentioned that you saw more in Seattle than Ellensburg?

MH: Oh, well, in Seattle, we used to try to go to, they used to call them roadhouses, they'd have these dance places along the road, people, young people could go in. They would never allow us to go into them, we were refused service in restaurants, we were, we couldn't buy houses where we wanted, Queen Anne, or even where we live. If we went there, to Arlington, we probably would have been kicked out. And...

TI: So when you went to a restaurant and they denied you service, how would they do that? How would you know that...

MH: Oh, they would tell us point-blank, "We don't serve."

TI: So you'd walk in...

MH: We'd walk in and they'd say, "I'm sorry, we don't serve Japanese," and you walk out. And then places that did serve, they'd put us next to the restroom or next to the noisy kitchen or someplace in the corner, and then they wouldn't serve us for a long time until we knew they didn't want us, so we'd stand up and walk out. And those things happened, and you go into, you go to a motel -- we had children, and we'd try to get into a motel, they would say, "It's all filled." But you know darn well there were vacancies. They have ways of doing it.

TI: And so when you're with your friends and you go to a restaurant and they tell you you can't go there, what would you say amongst your friends when that happened?

MH: Oh, we just look at each other. I mean, we didn't think much about it. It was, I guess like the blacks in the South who just accept their position in life, and I think to a great extent, we did. Just, just accepted this as a fact of life. And we weren't even embarrassed because it was done to all of us. It's when you're picked out as one that it's more embarrassing. Even with boys dating us and trying to get someplace, it can embarrass them, because we knew.

TI: I'm sorry, say that again? When boys were dating...

MH: You know, dating us and we couldn't go to certain places.

TI: I see.

MH: We'd be, you know, a man would be embarrassed to not be allowed to go in, but we just accepted it, I guess. Hadn't even thought about that.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: Okay, so May, we're going to get going again.

MH: Okay.

TI: And at the last tape, we sort of ended up, you were in Ellensburg going to college. Before we go back there, I just wanted to go back to Seattle. We were talking about some of the racism, discrimination that you felt. But I just wanted to go back to the other side, where you spent time interacting with other racial groups, and some of the, perhaps, positive things about that.

MH: Uh-huh.

TI: Can you recall friendships that you had with either Chinese, Filipino, Jewish, Caucasian friends, and describe some of them for us?

MH: I had a very close Chinese girlfriend, and we used to go back and forth. Mara Chin, and I'd walk blocks and blocks to be with her. So she was a good, Mara was, Mara was a good friend, but we lost touch with each other.

TI: Well, I'm curious, as Chinese, during this period of time, Japan and China were actually fighting each other in a war. Did that ever come up, or was there any sort of tension about that?

MH: No, none of that. I was very ignorant about what was going on in the world, really. I'm surprised at how little I knew when I was high school, even beginning college. And then I have a --

TI: Well, how about your parents? Did they ever talk about, about that with you?

MH: Uh-uh.

TI: Like having a Chinese friend, did they ever mention?

MH: There's one incident where I had a Jewish friend, and she came over to visit, and my mother, who's such a staunch Christian, my dad wasn't, but my mother, everything was "God this" and "God that." And I had this Jewish friend come over. My mother was very upset. She said, "Why do you have a Jewish friend?" "Because I like her." She says, "But the Jews killed Jesus." I said, "So what? Jesus was a Jew and you like Jesus." So my mother and I used to argue, and then they were about to sell their house and she said, she said she'd sell to anybody except a black or Jew. So I said to her, "Mama, you know, you're a Christian. Why do you talk that way?" I said, "God made the black people just like the Jews." But she would argue with me, and then, so then she went to see Reverend Tsai, you might have heard of him. Wonderful minister of the Congregational Church, and she said she told the Reverend, "My daughter tells me all this crap. What do you think about it?" And Reverend Tsai who was so sweet, he's like Jesus, he was very gentle and says, "Obasan, your daughter is right." So my mother, I hand it to her, she came back and she said, "May, I'm sorry. I was wrong. Reverend Tsai says that what you tell me is right." But I don't think she ever came to a point where she was willing to accept them, but at least verbally she, she said that. My mother was -- I must say she was prejudiced, but she's a real Christian. [Laughs] I say that sarcastically.

And, but I remember as a teenager, I went to a summer camp of teenagers, Christian camp. Went to Orcas Island. I think we were there two weeks, 'course I made many good friends there, but I have one friend that has remained my friend, and what, this is how many years? About seventy years or seventy-five?

TI: So you were about how old?

MH: Seventy-five, I was about fourteen.

TI: Yeah, seventy-four years ago.

MH: This friend, Flora Lee Millner and I talk on the phone every other day. She's now widowed and lives alone, and she's eighty-, she just turned eighty-nine. So from fourteen years of age until now, we've been friends, moved to California, she sent her daughter down to live with us for a while. Yeah, it's a nice friendship.

TI: Now, was that a friendship that stayed constant from that time?

MH: Pardon?

TI: Was that a friendship that, you stayed in contact with her ever since that, that camp?

MH: [Nods]

TI: So even, how about, like, during the wartime and things like that?

MH: Well, when evacuation time came, just as we were about to enter the gates into the assembly center, she and her husband brought me, brought us a chicken dish as a farewell. So yeah, I kept in touch by mail, Christmas cards, and now, her children are grown and we're both great-grandparents, and it's wonderful. So she's still my good friend.

TI: That's good. That's a good story. I just wanted to go, also go back. There was one point where we talked about how when your father was doing lots of hotels, he would tell you and your other siblings to, "not go down to Papa's hotels," because he thought they were perhaps dangerous or things like that. How did you think about the, sort of what we now call the International District and where those hotels were, sort of by Seventh and Weller and down there. Was that sort of a dangerous part of the city?

MH: Uh-huh.

TI: And what type of things would go on down there that you had to be afraid of?

MH: Well, the Filipino men didn't have women, and Dad was afraid they would want us, and so having six girls, he didn't want any of us down there. Well, I'll tell you what happened is he hired one of the Filipino men to man the hotel, be the manager of the hotel. He was a very nice man, and we'd go down with our parents once in a while. We'd never go alone. And he seemed so nice, but one day we were out in Auburn at a relative's, having Thanksgiving dinner, and all of a sudden on the radio we hear that the guy that's the manager of the Midway Hotel is running amuck with a knife in his hand and slashing at everybody as he ran down Jackson Street. Well, that was the manager; he just went berserk. Poor guys, they just, their lives must have been horrible. They'd come over, nobody wants them there, they don't have a wife or a girlfriend, they can't eat what they want to eat. So this man went amuck, and I think he ended up in jail. Terrible. So those things happened; it was a hard time.

TI: Okay, yeah, good.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So now, let's go back to Ellensburg, and after three years, you finished this, the training, your degree. Then what happened?

MH: Well, you get a certificate, and anybody in those days that got the certificate could teach in any of the schools in the state. I applied all over, even if Dr. Hinch told me I wouldn't get a job. Well, it's proven right. I couldn't. Nobody wanted me.

TI: And this was about, what, 1936-'37?

MH: 1936, '37. '37. So...

TI: And so you applied to school districts in Seattle...

MH: Seattle, way out in Kittitas County, way out in the sticks.

TI: All parts of the state.

MH: All parts of the state. Nobody wanted me. So then I applied at a WPA. In those days they had the WPA nursery, and they said, "Well, we only hire people on welfare." I said, "Oh good, put me on welfare, because I, I don't have any money, I can't earn anything. Put me on welfare and let me teach." "Oh, we can't, we really can't do that." I was even turned down at a WPA nursery. So I was very discouraged, and my father, seeing me so discouraged, said, "Well, May, how about going to Japan, teaching there?" Says, "Papa will give you money to go to Japan, and you try Japan." So I jumped at it, and I said, "Okay." I'd never been to Japan, but I said -- but fortunately, I had an older sister that lived there. So I said, "Okay, I'll go to Japan." So I did go. This was in 1937.

TI: And when he said, "Go to Japan to teach," would it be, what would you teach?

MH: Well, that's it. They had American schools where American servicemen's children went, but those were filled. If I had wanted to teach in a Japanese, teach English in a Japanese school, I had to be able to speak Japanese, and I couldn't at that time speak sufficient Japanese to teach. So even in Japan, I couldn't get a teaching job. So I, what I did was I took students, college students, and I tutored them. I had quite a number of students who came to me, and just yesterday I sent off a package to one of my students who has kept in touch with me. And here, I, the war came after that time, and I changed my name, how did she ever find me in a little town of Tujunga in California? She searched JACL lists, and fortunately she, somebody in the JACL organization knew about me, and directed her. But that, that was amazing.

TI: Well, let's go back again to that decision to go to Japan. [Interruption] But the, the decision, so how did you feel? I mean, were you, did that make sense to you? It seems like a big step for you to take.

MH: To go to Japan?

TI: To go to Japan.

MH: Oh, no, that was a new adventure for me.

TI: Okay, so you thought of it as an adventure.

MH: I do.

TI: And you had an older sister there, so it didn't seem like it was too big of a stretch.

MH: No. And money was the issue, but...

TI: Had you ever been to Japan before?

MH: Uh-uh.

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: Okay, so when you go to Japan, what did it seem like, what was your impression?

MH: Well, it was strange, but it was kind of a good feeling to see people all look alike, all looked like me. It's a comfortable feeling, and just as it is a comfortable feeling in Hawaii where you're not the minority. And Japan was very interesting to me, because they had their culture, and as well as the American culture; they had symphonies, they had music things, so I enjoyed it. I met some interesting people there, and there were quite a number of Niseis by that time in Japan, because they couldn't get jobs here, they went to Japan. And a lot of the boys from the college went to Japan.

TI: So how did you find out about other Niseis while you were in Japan?

MH: Oh, I know. I worked for a... Tokyo Times, I think, I guess they called it. Welly Shibata of Seattle -- this is way back -- he and Miyagawa, I think, went there and they were running this English newspaper. So I applied there and got a job writing, but I hated journalism because I don't like... what is it? You have to have a story in by a certain time, that stress. Just hate that. So I said, "No thanks," and I quit that job. But through that, I met people. And then some of my Nisei friends came over, and through them, we got an apartment, we lived there, we had a lot of fun, and we went through what you call bokuu enshuu they call it, and that's whenever you hear the bomb raid, the sirens ringing, we have to close the shades and just stay in the house. That was kind of exciting.

TI: So what city were you living in?

MH: Huh?

TI: What city was this?

MH: Higashi, Nakano, outside of Tokyo.

TI: And the bombers were who? I mean, who would be...

MH: Well, it's a, "enshuu" is "practice."

TI: I see, so these were just air-raid drills.

MH: Yeah, drills. But each time -- and they did it a lot. And I'm sure Japan was prepared for, preparing for war as well as the United States, because beginning of 1941? Is that when the war was? I got a letter from the American embassy saying, "We cannot be, we cannot be responsible for you if you do not leave Japan by..." and I think they gave me a couple months, "by May." I think it was May. So if they didn't anticipate war, they couldn't have sent that.

TI: So all U.S. citizens got, got this warning in 1941, early 1941, to essentially leave Japan by May of 1941? 'Cause tensions were, were increasing.

MH: And I think I got the next-to-the-last ship that came back to the United States from Japan.

TI: Now, when you got that, did you sense that there was going to be war between the U.S. and Japan?

MH: Well, as I tell you, I was so naive, but I knew something was wrong, and I was naive enough to have worked in a place that sounded so good. It was called Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, which later I found means that it's a cultural, a cultural institution. So they had architects and photographers, and different people. Very interesting place to work, but these people were connected with the military, and they were preparing for occupation. The architects were ready to come in and build houses in Arlington -- [laughs] -- I mean, they were preparing all for war. And a lot of the, the navy men used to come, and I used to think, "Gee, what is this?" Stupid me, I didn't know anything. And so when war... when I was leaving Japan, these men got together around a big table, and they tried to convince me that I should stay. That if war should come, "We're going to win, and you are going to be our educational director, and you're gonna go in there and you're gonna establish the education system in America, and then Kawazoe-san will go and to the, build the houses, and Haar would go in and do the photography."

TI: Well, this is, this is fascinating. So this group believed that Japan would eventually go to war, they would win, and that there would be this large effort to, to, I guess, occupy the space.

MH: Right.

TI: And they tried to convince you to join them.

MH: Right.

TI: So what did you think? What did you say?

MH: I thought, "No, America is my country, and if you're going to come over and do that, you've got to do it yourself. I'm not gonna help you." But these were very, men up, up in the government, and here I'm talking so sassy to them. But I said, "No, no, no, I'm not." So then they piled a lot of literature for me to bring back. Well, I couldn't read, so I didn't know what I was bringing back. And my parents read it and they said, "Oh, it's dangerous having this stuff in the house," and they threw it all into the furnace and burned it up very shortly after I came back to America.

TI: And did your parents tell you what, what was contained in it? What kind of information?

MH: You know, all these horrible things about America, and how Americans, America is what they're doing to Japan and how eventually they're gonna strike. All that kind of stuff must have been in it, because my parents were terrified, and they said, "Who gave you this?" And I said, "People in Japan." And even my uncle, I went to see him at our country home, says, said to me in Japanese, "Stupid." I said, "I'm going back to America." He said, "No, no, no, you stay here. He says, "If war comes, they're gonna, it's gonna be bad for you." I said, "But I want to be with my parents." He wouldn't listen, and so when I left the house, he said, "A stupid fool like you deserves to go home." And this is my uncle, my father's brother. So I left very sad, and then I went further down to Nagasaki to visit my, my aunt, and then on the way home, they notified them for me to look up the hill. There he was, waving a white handkerchief, and I could see him from the train, he and his wife. This is Uncle, waving a white handkerchief. It was very touching.

TI: And what, what did the white handkerchief mean to you?

MH: It meant, "I love you," or "don't take what I said to heart," or whatever, "forgive me," or whatever. And I thought, "Oh, gee, poor thing." He was so sure that Japan was gonna win.

TI: Was that the last time you saw him?

MH: Huh?

TI: Did you see him anytime after that, or was that the last time you saw him?

MH: No, last time. I never saw him again, or his wife. Never. But that's what war does. I have a cousin who fought for the Japanese war, he's now dead but he lost his leg and so foolish.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: So returning back to the United States, were your parents still in Ellensburg at this point?

MH: Oh, yeah.

TI: Or were they back in Seattle?

MH: We came back, I came back -- oh, no, they were in Seattle by that time. And my mother had gotten tuberculosis and she was in Riverton sanitarium, and my dad, my two sisters, brother and I lived in a house on Seventeenth and... we rented a house on Seventeenth and what's the street this side of Yesler? Alder or something like that. And so it must have been right up here someplace. My mother was in the sanitarium, so when evacuation came, it's just us went.

TI: And so you returned to Seattle because of the tuberculosis of your mother? Is that why?

MH: No... oh, so my dad had, had gotten out of that lousy hotel and restaurant business, and he rented another hotel right in town in Ellensburg, which was a much better place. And so when my brother, who has eight children, when he was having a hard time...

TI: This was your older brother?

MH: My older brother, Yonesaku. When he was having a hard time making a living, he was in the... what do you call them when they fix cars?

TI: Like a mechanic?

MH: The wrecked cars, they straighten them out.

TI: Oh...

MH: Anyway, that was his business.

TI: Re-builder or...

MH: Yeah, that was his business. He had gone three years to the university as an aeronautical engineer. He didn't finish. If he had finished, he would have had a good living, but then without finishing, he went to the camp and had all these kids, moved in, moved to Spokane, and then he couldn't make a living, so my father told him, "You could have this hotel. You run this hotel because it's going well, and I'll go to Seattle." So we moved out to Seattle, and he ran a dumpy place on James, James and about Sixth or Seventh Avenue and James. It was really a terrible place, and so, so we were back here, and we had to leave my mother when we were evacuated.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: But let's talk about, so December 7, 1941, the day that Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. How did you find out that Japan --

MH: Oh, I was in New York then.

TI: What were you doing in New York?

MH: By that time, 1941... oh, no, I was in New York when it was -- excuse me. I was in New York when the war ended.

TI: Yeah, okay. So when it started...

MH: Right. When the war started, we were living up on Thirty-first Avenue, and there were three boys from Fort Lewis visiting, and we were all gonna go skiing.

TI: So these were three Japanese American --

MH: Japanese boys, who were...

TI: Who were training in the military, so they were enlisted in the army.

MH: At Fort Lewis. And then it was Sunday, wasn't it? And so they got the day off, so they came to our house, and usually we get together and eat. They were there, and I was preparing to go skiing, but the news came over, so the boys were instructed to take the closest transportation back to Fort Lewis. I never saw them again except for one, one of the boys. They had to rush back to Fort Lewis, and, of course, we were in shock and there was not much we could do. So we curtailed everything, all our plans. And I was just wondering why we were up there. We were on Thirty-first Avenue in a house up there. I can't... and why was I down on Seventeenth Avenue? I don't know.

TI: But I'm curious -- not worrying about where you were exactly -- but did you think back to the people in Japan that you knew and with the war starting? What, what were some of the thoughts swirling about your head that day?

MH: I don't think so. I think I was pretty self-absorbed. I was not a very worldly person at that time, and everything I've -- and I've been an activist all my life, I mean, not all my life, ever since leaving the West Coast, I've been an activist, and I participated in many marches and stuff. So I don't think I had deep thoughts at the time, just scared.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 18>

TI: So what happened after Pearl Harbor, up to the point where you were removed to Puyallup? I mean, what kind of preparation, what kind of activities happened for you?

MH: What happened... what did you say?

TI: So after Pearl Harbor...

MH: After Pearl Harbor?

TI: Yeah, what happened after that?

MH: Gee, I don't know. We continued on with our daily life, except we couldn't go downtown to shop, like we couldn't go to Frederick's, because that was too close to the ocean. And then we take the streetcar to go down, we could, we had to get off at a certain point because... I remember one woman saying to me, "What the hell are you doing there? Get up, give me the seat." Just insisted on it, on taking my seat, even if we were not in the... what do they call that area? Restricted area around the water. And there were rude people, made terrible remarks, had to take them. No use fighting it.

TI: And so you said eventually you had to go to Puyallup, but your mother didn't go with you because she was in the sanitarium. And what was Puyallup like for you?

MH: Well, we got in there, and there were, there were soldiers with bayonets. I don't know what they're gonna use it for. But anyway, we got in, and the first thing they made us do was go, they gave us a big white sack, and they told us to go to the hay, bales of hay and fill the sacks with hay, and then they told us where our barracks were, so we had to drag this thing to our, and that turned out to be our mattress. There were cots, and the particular room we had, my dad and my two sisters and I. Yeah, four of us were in that one little barrack, and four cots, and one... no, there wasn't a stove in there. That was at regular place. Anyway...

TI: And your younger brother, where was he?

MH: Well, he went with his friends. They, see, he was, he had a teenage group of friends that he wanted to be with, so he went with them. So we didn't see too much of him.

<End Segment 18> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 19>

TI: And when this was happening, what was the plan for your mother? Was it clear what was going to happen?

MH: Well, that we could make no plan, we had to leave her there, and we thought that when she was able to come out, we would ask for her release. And my mother said it was a very frightening experience for her, because the nurses always kept saying, "If the Japs come, then we're gonna, we're not gonna take you with us." And Mother lived in fear all the time. They were not nice to her. So I kept appealing, saying, "Can't we get her out?" And finally, fortunately, they released her, and I had two guards with me, and went, drove into Riverton, and got my mother and took her back to camp. And she did pretty well in camp. It was after we moved to the, to the real center that she had problems again. So we did get Mother for a while.

TI: So you brought her back to Puyallup, and then eventually you're saying you then went to the Minidoka camp. And so how ill was your mother at this point? When you say she -- I mean, was she bedridden, or what, how...

MH: Well, she was okay by the time they released her, but we went into the regular camp, Minidoka, and Mother caught cold or something, and she was so afraid that she was going to be put into the, sent back to Seattle. She dreaded going to a hospital, but we had to put her in the hospital at the camp, which was ill-equipped and ill-serviced. And, but the director was a very fine, young Dr. Hasegawa, a Hawaiian, a Nisei. And so Mother was in the hospital in camp, and I used to go up every day from early morning 'til night to be with her, because the nursing, nurse was, services were nil. And meantime, my brother went off to war, I mean, went, joined the army and he left the camp. And my mother got mentally ill, and she had a mental breakdown. And I think a good part of it was she was over-drugged. She was a drug addict, and, medicinal drugs.

So I had to take her up to Blackfoot, Idaho, to the mental institution there, and there, too, the two guards drove the car, took us up there, and they put Mother in the mental institution there and I just couldn't leave her, so I rented a little room in this little town of Blackfoot, Idaho, and I used to go see her every day. You know you hear about snake pit? And that's exactly what it was. She was put into this huge room with a lot of screaming, yelling people, and my poor mother was quiet. She didn't hurt anybody, she didn't do anything, she just said funny things. She had to sleep through the night with these people clanging and stuff. And then finally they gave, they decided to give her electric shock treatments. And I wish they hadn't shown it to me, but they showed me her all with stuff on. They shaved her head and all that stuff. And they said it was terrible, this electric shock, electric shock treatments. And I saw her go in twice. I just couldn't stand it, so I asked them to release her. "I want to take her back home." So they released her, and I brought her back to Minidoka, put her in the hospital there. She was still hallucinating and all that. So I stayed with her again, and Dr. Hasegawa said to me, "May, if you stay here, you're gonna be just like your mother. Just too much for you." So he said, "Take your two younger sisters and remember your mother as she was before this illness, and leave." So we were able to get sponsors in Chicago.

TI: Well, while this was going on with your mother, where was your, what was your dad doing?

MH: My dad was there, and he worked in the hospital kitchen. My dad was there, but I got most of the responsibility.

TI: Did you ever talk with your father about what was going on with your mother and get his thoughts?

MH: We did, but there wasn't... my father isn't the most talkative person. And I don't remember discussing seriously what to do, but I did tell him that Hasegawa told me to leave, and he said, "Good idea, you go." I said, "But Mama." He said, "I, I take care of her." But he was taking her for a walk and she ran out in front of a truck and tried to, you know, get herself killed. And fortunately she wasn't, and so they had a, had to send her back to the mental institution. By that time, I was gone. I was in, in Chicago.

<End Segment 19> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 20>

TI: Well, let's talk about, so while you're in camp, Dr. Hasegawa told you to take your two sisters and leave, and so you said you found a sponsor to help you to get to Chicago? Is that...

MH: We had to have a sponsor to get out, and there were organizations of, where once people got out they became sponsors, and all they did was to say, "I will find a place for them to live," or whatever.

TI: And this was more to, a sponsorship to, it was like a... oh, what's the right word? I mean, work, a work release program, kind of? That you would find a job?

MH: Yeah, well, they, they said that they would. They didn't, but they said they would see that she's taken care of, but it was kind of a verbal thing and they didn't have to go through with it. So they were not of much help. We had to find our own.

TI: Right. So, so you went to Chicago with your two younger sisters. What was that like?


MH: My sisters, through our church, through the Congregational Church, got acceptance to Berea College in Kentucky. Very, very different kind of college. And so they left -- well, before they left, we went to Chicago and we found a room, and, an apartment place. And so my two sisters and another friend of theirs and I lived in this... I guess it was an apartment. And so we were there maybe two weeks. One day we come home from -- we all got little jobs. My sisters got jobs being secretary, and I got a job at the YWCA manning their telephone, and so we came home one day, and the place just smelled so bad. They had brought in a new couch, and they had insecticide smell on it, and you open the couch, it was black with bedbugs. Just black with bedbugs. [Laughs] Oh, we couldn't stand it, so we took all our clothes and we went out to the fire escape, you know, they had these metal fire escapes. Fortunately, it was summertime, so it was hot. We sat out, out on the fire escape, we slept out on the fire escape, and we had to look for a place to live immediately, just immediately.

So among other things, we had doors slammed in our face, but one place -- after we had experience having doors slammed in our faces, I called one place and said, "I'm interested in renting your attic apartment. Do you have restrictions?" So she said, "What do you mean by restrictions?" I said, "Well, will you rent to anybody? Any race?" "Well, so long as you ain't a Jew," and never would I in my right mind rent a place where the landlady said, "Never a Jew, so long as you ain't a Jew," but I was so desperate. So I went, went down and took a look at the place, and it was truly an attic apartment, but it was safe. So I took it, and then later on this lady tells me, "You know why I like you Japs?" I said, "Why?" She said, "Well, my son was in the army in the hospital, and a Jap-boy went and bought him a Coke, a bottle of Coke. And he didn't charge, he didn't even charge him. He didn't take any money for it, he gave it to him. His name was I-too." I said, "I-too, that's not a Japanese name. Oh... Ito. You mean Ito." "I don't know, it's spelled I-T-O, I-too." So "I-too" was the one who made it possible for us to rent that apartment. And as bigoted as she was against the Jews, at least we had a place to stay. And so the influence of one person just buying a Coke goes far. Isn't that an interesting story?

TI: Yeah, that really is. While you were in Chicago, did you come across any other Japanese Americans?

MH: Uh-uh. Oh, maybe one girl. I went to work at the Y, YWCA, and there was one girl there that was staying, that's all.

TI: You said earlier your sisters were going to go to college? Did they eventually go to college?

MH: They, they did go down.

TI: Okay, so then you were left alone then, by yourself.

MH: Uh-huh, I was alone. And it was all right, I worked at the Y and got my meals. And then my sister, my other sister and her husband and two children came, came by, and they were driving to New York. They were released, they were driving to New York. So I said, "Can I go with you?" So that's how I got to New York.

<End Segment 20> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 21>

TI: Before we go there, I'm wondering about your other siblings and what was happening with them. I know your older brother took over the hotel in Ellensburg. Did he remain there during the war?

MH: No. He couldn't make a go of it, went back to Spokane. He just couldn't... my father could, but he couldn't. So he, he had to go back. And oh, body work, is that what you call it?

TI: Right, body work.

MH: He went into that. And it's such a shame, because he's such an intelligent guy with three years of engineering, and he started a family too soon and just... but he did a lot of community work, and he was well-respected in the community.

TI: And your older sisters, were they eventually, were they all in camp also?

MH: My (oldest) sister was already married and in Japan, and the second one, Rae, was married and had two children, and her husband Jobu Yasumura was with them.

TI: And where did they go? Did they, were they in camp?

MH: They went, they were in Minidoka, but I don't know, for some reason, they were sent down to... what is that one? Manzanar? Not Manzanar.

TI: Tule Lake?

MH: Tule Lake.

TI: Was it because of how they answered the questionnaire?

MH: I don't know. I think it's because Joe was a minister, he didn't have a church, and he was rather outspoken, I guess. I don't know. Anyway...

TI: That was Rae, and then Amy, what happened to Amy?

MH: Amy had already gone to New York; she was a nurse in New York, so she has very little understanding of what her siblings went through. My oldest sister Setsu was in Japan.

TI: So she stayed in Japan?

MH: In Japan.

TI: And the younger ones we heard about.

<End Segment 21> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 22>

TI: Okay, so let's go to New York. So you, you said you got a ride to New York?

MH: Yeah, my sister, Rae, and her husband were driving. I wonder where they got the car. [Laughs] I don't know.

TI: And was this to go because Amy was in...

MH: New York.

TI: In New York, so that's --

MH: And, and Joe had worked there before; her husband, Rae's husband, had been a YMCA something or the other. So --

TI: And for you, was this another adventure?

MH: This was another adventure. I just love adventures. So this was another adventure, so I went to New York, and I, the first place applied was, I stayed with my sister there. First place I applied was the YWCA, and they practically threw me out the door. That was the worst interview. They were not at all cordial.

TI: Was it because you were Japanese?

MH: I think so; I hope they didn't treat everybody --

TI: But yet in Chicago, the reception was, was very pleasant.

MH: Yeah, right. It depends on the individual. I mean, when people say, "I don't count," it's not true. Each one of us makes some impression on somebody, and you know, may change people's lives. So I looked in the newspaper and there was an ad for an office clerk or something, and so for... it was way up on one of these high skyscraper buildings, and so I, it was near Forty-second and right in town there. So I followed the instructions and took the elevator and went way up and got off, walked into this room, and the one thing I remember is they had a big moose on the wall, things that I just hated. And then the receptionist looked at me and, "Oh, what is it?" I said, "Oh, I came for that job." "Oh," and then she calls a man in, and he looks at me, "Oh, you want the job? Just a minute." He goes in and he gets a bunch of chairs and he puts it around the place, and then a bunch of men come in. They must have been about your age or younger. And they sat me down, and the first thing they asked me is, "Do you speak English?" [Laughs] And I said to them -- I was sassy. I said, "Well, isn't it English I'm speaking?" And says, "Well, can you write?" I said, "What do you want me to write?" Isn't that awful? "What do you want me to write? I could even take dictation if you want to dictate to me." And they, you could see that they were putting me down, these leery eyes.

TI: What was the position and what kind of firm was this?

MH: Pardon?

TI: What was the position for?

MH: To be an office clerk, secretary.

TI: And it was what kind of company? What kind of...

MH: I don't know what kind of company it was. It was a fancy office, and they had several men, and they are young men. And I was young, and I was kind of pretty in those days, and so they just all look at me and... [laughs]. So I just made a lark of it, said, "Well, thank you." Says, "Well, we'll call you back." I said, "Never mind calling me. I don't want to work here. Never mind calling," and I left them. But isn't that awful? Well, what was that? That must have been about sixty years ago, that's the way it was. So I didn't work there, but then I went to work for the church headquarters.

<End Segment 22> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 23>

TI: Which church was this?

MH: Congregational Church headquarters. I was working there, and then the War Department sent a guy over to question me, and my boss, Dr. Gibson, said -- Gibbons, Dr. Gibbons said -- he was gonna take me away someplace to question me. And Dr. Gibbons says, "No, you're not taking May out of here. If you want to question her, you can use my office, and you do it here. You're not taking her." So he questioned me even though he knew everything about me. He knew what newspapers I read, what books I checked out of the library, what friends I had, what meetings I had gone to, everything. Just had a dossier on me, and I think because I had just come back from Japan. I was really amazed; they knew what meetings I had gone to.

TI: And what did they tell you was the purpose of the interview? What were they looking for?

MH: You ask for a purpose when the War Department comes?

TI: Well, but did they ask you, I mean, did they tell you why they wanted to talk with you?

MH: They said, "We need some information from you." That's it. And I don't think that the ministers in that office asked, either. They just assumed that if the War Department came and wanted to do something, you do it, no questions asked. And nothing came of that.

TI: And do you remember what kind of questions they asked, though? What were they interested in? Was it about your experiences in Japan?

MH: Yeah, they were interested in why I went to Japan and why I came back and what I did after I came back, and what organizations do I belong to now, and all that sort of stuff.

TI: And the information that they had, you said they knew what books you checked out and all that, was that all the way from, back from Seattle?

MH: From Seattle.

TI: So it was all that.

MH: Uh-huh.

TI: Well, that's interesting. So they, so they had an FBI file on you.

MH: They had. They had something on me, and I --

TI: Something you might want to do is they probably still have that file...

MH: Do you think so?

TI: the National Archives.

MH: You think so?

TI: It might be interesting for you to go look at it.

MH: And then I worked there as a, as a clerk and the ministers were very nice to me and I enjoyed it, and the person who did the packaging for booklets that they sent out was Minoru Yamasaki, the architect who did the tower, his father. His father worked there in the same office, that was kind of fun. And Minoru and I have been good friends, were good friends.


TI: And we should, we should note that he designed the World Trade Center.

MH: World Trade Center, oh, he designed many, that beautiful science building entrance with...

TI: Yeah, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, the arches.

MH: That ethereal-looking thing. I just love that one.


TI: And what was he like? Could you tell at that point that he was destined to do wonderful things?

MH: Oh yes, oh yes. He was winning prizes, and oh, yeah. [Interruption] He knew he was good, and he... but he was truly a genius. Truly a genius. And he told me all about that towers and said that he had built it so that the fires couldn't go do down below certain floors, he had them sectioned off. But if they strike it from the side, even if the thing doesn't catch fire, if it falls, the top floor is... yeah, he told me that every so many floors, it's insulated so that fires can't...

TI: So he told you this when he was designing the building?

MH: Huh?

TI: This was after he, the building was built, or when he was designing it?

MH: Uh-huh. Well, he... this was... gee, when did I... I was in contact with him for a long while. He did the hotel in Los Angeles, too, and we went there to eat dinner. This was, yeah, way after. But I think it was after the towers were built.

TI: That's interesting.

<End Segment 23> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 24>

TI: Okay, so let's... so May, let's get started again, and we're in New York, and we just, you just told a nice little story about Minoru Yamasaki and how you knew him. But let's get back to your life, and you're in New York for a while now, so pick it up again. What, what else did you do in New York? I know that you eventually went to Columbia University, and why don't you talk about that a little bit and how you got involved with that.

MH: How I got there? Well, I was working at this place, and the headquarters of, Congregational headquarters. And I thought, "I don't want to do this for the rest of my life." I thought, "I want to get back to teaching." I've got the heart of a teacher, and I was very anxious to get back to teaching, but nobody would hire me. So then I got to thinking, "Well, people don't hire me because of the way I look, my speech doesn't, isn't any different from anybody else, so it's just my appearance. So if people can't see me, that should never be a problem." So I decided to go up to night school at Columbia, and take a course on education for the handicapped. And so I enrolled and I got in the class, and people were there and some of them were using Braille and some were using hearing aids, and after two, two evenings, the professor called me up and said, "Miss Ota, what are you doing in this room? What's your handicap?" And I said, "Oh, my handicap is being Japanese American." "Well..." so I told him, you know, that it was difficult, I couldn't get a job. And he was appalled. He said, "Oh, my God." He says, "I know exactly who you should meet."

And there, right then and there, after he dismissed the class, he took me down to meet Roma Ganz, Dr. Roma Ganz, who is a well-known professor at, she's at Columbia, she's a reading, was a reading specialist. Very well-known, and she just greeted me with open arms, just a wonderful person. And she said, "Oh, I'd love to have you take a class from me." And she was the head of the Early Childhood Education department. So she greeted me and took me into her class, and I became, became very good friends with her assistant, who later became dean, Dean of Education at Berkeley. Well, Millie Albie said to me, she said, "May, you should have heard Dr. Ganz before you came in." She says, "She told the class that she met the most fantastic person." [Laughs] And that, "You're gonna have so much fun having her in your class." So of course the class greeted me nicely, and they were very friendly, it was a wonderful experience. And they chose me as their class president, and you know, I just lived a very nice life. But I also learned a great deal from Roma Ganz. She was not only an early childhood education teacher, but she was a life education teacher. She taught me so much about life and politics and social issues. That's where I got my main education. It wasn't the early child education that really I embrace as having learned at Columbia, it's this other thing. So she gave me a lot of courage to go out. She says, "Never, never let anybody put you down." She says, "You know your rights, but you have to know your rights. And if you are in the right, then you just go for it. Never let anybody let you down."

TI: Boy, she sounds like she was an extraordinary woman.

MH: Hmm?

TI: She sounds like she was an extraordinary woman.

MH: Oh, fantastic. I wish there were more people like that who had the courage to speak out. So that when I asked you to let me speak, I just felt that this was something that I wanted to contribute, because I do have stories to tell. And being silent is not an asset, is it?

TI: No, I, I agree. And I think it's so courageous for people to share their lives, not only just to me, but to so many other people.

MH: Yeah. I think people should do that. People should do that.

<End Segment 24> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 25>

TI: I want to go back to more your life, and I'm curious; when did you meet your husband?

MH: I was in New York and going to school, and he was at Fort Monmouth, soldier, training. He was... what did they call it, something, anyway, he talked rather than be a soldier. And he, his, my best girlfriend in New York's boyfriend was my husband's best friend, so he, when he came down for the weekend, Unoji would say, "Come on, May, I have a friend, let's go places." So we did, so we kind of dated, and that's how I met him. He was a soldier, and then he was, he was ready to be shipped off to Japan, but then there was an order that came through that if you were either studying for a degree, that you would not have to go. And so he told the soldiers there, commanders, he says, "I'm going for my master's degree at Cincinnati. Does that let me go?" Says, "You, you're" -- you should meet my husband. He's the least soldier-looking, professional-looking man you could ever meet. He said, "You, going for a master's degree?" And he said, "Yeah." So then he was let off, so he didn't go to Japan, but that was too bad, because the guys that went, went over there, and as soon as they got there, the war was over, and they got to see Japan and come back again without doing any fighting.

TI: So he was going to be sent to Japan probably with, like, Military Intelligence or something, because of his language abilities?

MH: No, he was a regular soldier. He was a regular, the lowest... what is it? The lowest class.

TI: And yet he had a college degree by then, going for his master's in physics. So I'm surprised that they had him sort of at that low level, and not something more, more advanced.

MH: Oh, yeah, that's what he was, whatever you call it. The very lowest one.

TI: Okay, so anyway, so he was able to stay here, pursue his graduate degree in physics...

MH: Right, right.

TI: Cincinnati, but you were in New York.

MH: In Cincinnati, but then we had met in New York. And he, of course, we dated, and by fall of that year we were married. So we were married in August. And so I moved to Cincinnati in August, and I didn't finish my... I didn't finish my thesis for my master's, I was going for my master's. And he says, "You don't need it. You're married to me, I'll take care of..." [laughs] So anyway, I left New York with my master's thesis half-done, and then Walt went on and got his master's then, then he decided to go on for his, his doctorate degree. So he did.

TI: Now, I'm curious, so his name was Walt?

MH: Walt Higa. Walt Hiroichi Higa.

TI: And where, where did he grow up?

MH: In Maui. Maui, he's of Okinawan descent, and he was raised on a plantation in Maui. And came over after he graduated University of Hawaii. He tried, came over and tried to get into a college here, but by that time there was a lot of security, and he applied at the Chicago University, where that very liberal president was. And he was sure that he could get in there, but because of security reasons, he couldn't get in. So he finally went to a small college called Tri-State College, and from there, he transferred to Cincinnati where again, one man, Dr. Tashiro, who happened to be there, opened up the school for other Japanese to come in. So here's this one person who did this. So Walt was able to go down to Cincinnati and pursue his studies there.

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

<Begin Segment 26>

TI: Okay, so you got married, you then moved to --

MH: So we, so we moved to Cincinnati, helped him...

TI: And you're just, just almost finished with your master's.

MH: I know.

TI: Did you ever go back and finish that?

MH: No.

TI: Do you ever have regrets that you didn't finish?

MH: I do. I regret it very much. For one thing, I would be getting a bigger pension. [Laughs] But anyway, Walt decided after he got his master's, and with my encouragement, to go on for his Ph.D. And we worked hard at that, and so we lived in Cincinnati two years. He finished his doctorate very quickly, and by that time I think I was pregnant, and so I, the two of us bought a cheap car and drove to Seattle to be with Mom and Dad. And I had my first baby here.

TI: Well, when you say with your mom and dad, so...

MH: By that time they had moved up to Thirty-first Avenue.

TI: So your, your mother... I thought she went to a mental institution.

MH: Oh, yeah. She got out.

TI: She got out.

MH: Uh-huh.

TI: And how was she after the war?

MH: Hey, my mother was so improved. Her mind was so sharp, and she became so creative. She wrote haiku that she won awards on from Japan, after her illness. And she did beautiful flower arrangements.

TI: So that must have been a huge relief for you to see your mom like that.

MH: Oh, my God. But you know, to think that the electric shock treatment could scatter the cells, brain cells somehow, and in her case, I guess it just hit the right places, because my mother was a terrific woman by the time she died. In a very short period of time.

<End Segment 26> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 27>

TI: So you and Walt went back to Seattle, and to be with your mother and father.

MH: Uh-huh.

TI: And, so go ahead and keep telling the story. What happened next?

MH: Well, we were with Mom and Dad, and we had this baby, went to Swedish Hospital here, had the baby, and lived with Mom.

TI: So what year would this be? Your first child...

MH: First child. Could it be '49? Does that sound right? Now I can't keep track. And then we had her, then I think I had the second one thirteen months later, and it was in Seattle at the same hospital, the same doctor. So we had two children up here. I'm sure that's right. Isn't that terrible? And then Walt taught at Seattle University, but the pay was very low. I said to him, "Walt, we can't raise children on the pay you get at university." You know, I think it's terrible that a university prof. can't raise a family in those days. So I was looking at the newspapers in the Northwest Aeronautic company. Anyway, an aeronautic company was looking for workers, so I said, "Well, let's go down, you apply for that job." So he did and he got it, and we moved to California with two, two children. Had a hard time finding housing, but there again, Mr. and Mrs. Yoshida, a church old friend, was running a... what is it? What did they call it? Kind of a half-way house for people coming out of camp.

TI: Like a hostel?

MH: Hostel, yeah, they were in a hostel. And so we stayed there for a while, and they were so good to us. And then in time, we found places to rent. Rented and lived down there. Then our third child came, so we have three children.

TI: So why don't you give me the names of all three children, just so I have that for our records.

MH: The oldest one is Lani, L-A-N-I, Noel, N-O-E-L, and Craig, C-R-A-I-G.

TI: Okay.

MH: They're all grown now, they have families.

TI: Well, I'm curious, how many grandchildren do you have?

MH: I have, I have... I don't have many grandchildren, five, I think. And then I have one... well, and then I have two step-grandsons, and I have, right now I have two great-grandchildren from the step-, they're the step ones, and then I'm expecting my first regular biological great-grandson any day now.

TI: Wow, that's an accomplishment.

MH: That's Noel's daughter, (Craig) has three children, (Lani) has one, who's getting married.

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

<Begin Segment 28>

TI: Well, and this would be a good, a good way to end this. Thinking about your biological great-grandson, and I'm guessing that maybe in about twenty years or something, he's going to watch this tape, this interview that we've just done. What, what kind of message would you give to someone who is coming into the world now in terms of your experiences?

MH: Coming into the world now?

TI: Yeah, coming into the world now, so he doesn't really know, but he's gonna hear from his great-grandmother about her experiences. What, what sort of message or thoughts would you have for him? I know it's a big question, and just thinking...

MH: It is a big question.

TI: ...what, what strikes you as important in your life?

MH: Well, I think compassion, integrity, especially integrity is most important. I want the kids to follow their, their passion. I don't want anybody to tell them what to do, I want them to discover their own passion and follow it. Have a good life, be good to each other, think, think about other people as well as yourself. I think people are so self-centered, little concern for others. And I hope, I hope, I hope, I hope that we can leave a peaceful world, world to them. I am a peace-nik, and I've done much to try and bring about peace. So I have done the civil rights marches, I've done the separation of church and state thing, in fact, we were in Newsweek on that, and I went on strike for the teachers. I think it's important that teachers get paid well. And I hope we do leave a good world to the kids. I do, I pray for it every day. And I'm gonna be honest, I just don't think it's right to be in Iraq now. We have to get out. I wish for that.

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

<Begin Segment 29>

TI: Well, and one last question. Just because you knew the man who essentially built the World Trade towers, what was your thoughts on September 11, 2001, when you saw those towers come down? What were some of the things that, that came to your mind? I'm sure a lot of different things.

MH: Yeah, that's a hard question to answer. Of course, initially shock, but I thought, "Oh, my God, Min's, Min's" -- I used to call him Tinky -- "Tinky's building's gone. All those people." And I thought of the people in the thing, but I also thought about their families. That must have been horrible for them. And when you see those people rushing out of there for their dear lives, it was horrible.

TI: And did you ever think about the ramifications of that event and what would happen in our country? I mean, some people have likened that to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in terms of a, sort of a, sort of a national sort of act of war against our nation. And I'm wondering if you thought that this, what happened to Japanese Americans might have been repeated, or would be repeated against Arab Americans or Muslim Americans.

MH: The first thing I did was I went to the, the... what do they call it? Their temple.

TI: The mosque?

MH: Yeah, in north end, in Lake City, and I spoke to the people, talked with the people, and I gave a donation. That was my first reaction, was to go and see those people and tell them that I was with them.

TI: So why was that your first reaction? What were you thinking, what were you feeling?

MH: Oh, because I thought after Pearl Harbor how hard it was for us, after a thing like that, how hard it would be for alien-looking people, especially... what are they? What would you call that whole group?

TI: So Muslim Americans?

MH: Muslims.

TI: Arab Americans.

MH: Arab Americans, all those people. How awful to live in fear and to be suspected. And those are the times that you really need to know your rights, know your strengths and use them. Use them. I believe in every person doing everything he can to make this a better place. Use your power, use your creative talent.

TI: Well, on that note, I'm going to end the interview. Thank you so much, this was a wonderful...

MH: Thank you for having me. It's been wonderful just meeting you, and being able to tell you some of these things that have been so meaningful to me.

<End Segment 29> - Copyright © 2004 Densho. All Rights Reserved.