Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Gordon Hirabayashi Interview II
Narrator: Gordon Hirabayashi
Interviewers: Tom Ikeda (primary), Alice Ito (secondary)
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: May 25, 1999
Densho ID: denshovh-hgordon-02-0003

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TI: Okay Gordon, I'm going to now jump forward to the fall of 1937. This is the time you entered the University of Washington. And in those early years, I'm going to focus on your activities with the YMCA. Because I know it those early years you were busy with your studies, but you still had some time for extracurricular activities. And a lot of these activities seem to be centered around the campus YMCA. And so the question I have is what attracted you to the YMCA?

GH: Well, one of the first things -- you come to a large place like the University of Washington, you gotta, you've got to have a place to hang out. And you gotta enjoy contacts and so on. And so, two places were available to us, because of our background at high school where we belonged to a very elite club called, High Y, high school YMCA. And we had a pin, you know the triangle, and I think it had "High" on it, and then our "Y" was the thing we added on. It was tied with a chain on it, "High Y". And if we had a girlfriend, they got to wear our pin. And it was -- it was the prestigious club in high school, so they wore it with pride, too. So I had the -- and then periodically we would go to the Y for swimming or some other attention, program, leadership training programs and that sorta thing. And, so I had that background to start with, so -- and we weren't open to "The Greek Row" fraternities. It was definitely racist. You know, openly racist. Whites only. Not only whites only, white gentiles only. And so we used to, we used to debate issues like that with Constitutional principles and so on that you believe in as an American, with the fraternity row people. And we used to enjoy that because --

TI: So they would come down to like the YMCA and hold debates or on campus or --

GH: There, or some other places where we're talking to students in general.

TI: Right, so this is at the -- this is while you're a student at the University of Washington...

GH: Yeah.

TI: And active in the YMCA.

GH: Yeah.

TI: Doing these debates...

GH: Yeah.

TI: With, with the fraternities.

GH: Yeah, so by that time I am already in with this bunch --

TI: Okay.

GH: The YMCA bunch.

AI: Excuse me. You mentioned that you had two choices open to you as a Nisei.

GH: Yeah, the other one was Japanese Students Club. We came on -- unlike the Chinese -- I don't know what the Chinese students had, but they were Asians. They, they weren't open to the fraternity row either. But, I don't know that there was anything like a Chinese Students Club. At any rate, we, we had both of those, because we went to programs that they had for new students coming in. And I went through the -- you know they had their form of initiation process. We had to go through 'Hell Week' and so on. [Laughs]

TI: I'm curious. What was, what was the initiation like for the Japanese Students Club?

GH: Well, they made us go through uncomfortable things. Like you're blindfolded and they say, "Now we're going to -- you're going to have to show us you got some guts and you're willing to try new things and so on." And they, they are talking about, "Hey where is that can of worms?" Then they bring out something kind of like a worm, might be if you're blindfolded, and say, "Now let's, now let's see if he can eat half of this worm," or something. And then they, "Open your mouth." [Laughs] And some of them would gag, and others would half gag, you know to spit it. That was one of the hard things we had to learn to do. And then they would bring you in front of this stool, and say you have to be prepared to clean up all sorts of things even in the stool like this -- and they had some soft things in there. So they made you go through things that make you cringe at first. So those were some of the things. I don't know what all -- some of the ideas they got from the fraternities, actually. But, they were, they were initiation things that they made us hop through.

TI: Okay, so you, you had a choice between these two organizations...

GH: Well, yeah, and I got --

TI: The YMCA and the Japanese Students Club?

GH: Yeah, and I, I got into both. I got into both, but I, I have only certain amount of time. At first I spent some time at the Y and I had my lunch there for a while. But, but eventually I worked out some meal arrangements with some people, and after, especially after I stopped being a school boy, assistant in a doctor's home for my board and room. I used to be able to pack my lunch -- a sandwich, food, something. And then, I had my breakfast, and I came home for evening meals. And then when the doctors, doctor and his wife went out during the week, well, I'm studying anyway, so I'd be available for babysitting. I helped clean.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 1999 Densho. All Rights Reserved.