Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Irene Najima Interview
Narrator: Irene Najima
Interviewer: Megan Asaka
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: August 4, 2008
Densho ID: denshovh-nirene-01-0004

<Begin Segment 4>

MA: And what about the area where you grew up? Who were some of your neighbors and what was that area like?

IN: It was primarily Caucasians. They all were in the poultry business. At times, we felt some of the neighbors were not too keen on Asians. And there was a little bit of discrimination, even at that time. But there were a few neighbors that were very, very accepting.

MA: So what are some, do you remember any times when you really felt like, in terms of discrimination, that you remember that stand out for you?

IN: Yes, although we went to the same school, Penngrove grammar school and junior high combined, we came home together, it was a mile and a half away, the school was. But we were not permitted to join the, our friends, school friends, once we came home. We were not, some of the neighbors, not all, we were not allowed into their yard, and that was told to us by the parents. And we were not allowed to play with them out of the school time.

MA: Did your father have, what were his experiences like doing business in Petaluma? Was that in terms of with the Caucasians, was that ever a problem? Did he ever have any issues with competition or animosity or anything like that?

IN: Oh, I'm sure there was. But I think the Asian people knew their place. And so we didn't go into circumstances where we would meet adversity, if you know what I mean. So the people we did business with, being that he had a poultry ranch, they were fine. But if we went into town, we knew that we were not allowed in certain places, like restaurants or bars. So we just kept away.

MA: So it seems like there was an unspoken sort of divide.

IN: Definitely, yes.

MA: Okay. So you mentioned that you attended Penngrove school? Where was the school located in relation to the house you grew up in? Was it pretty close by?

IN: It was mile and a half away. It was a combined elementary and junior high school. The students were primarily... very few Caucasians had ranches, it was the Asians, believe it or not, that had the ranches. The Caucasians were, had, they usually went out on their jobs, but they were not wealthy, they were very, very poor. And I think it was the Asians that were the landowners and a little more wealthy.

MA: That's interesting. So in your school then, it was mostly Japanese.

IN: Oh, no. Very few.

MA: Oh, very few Japanese.

IN: It was mostly Caucasian.

MA: Mostly Caucasian, okay. Okay. And what were the school facilities like?

IN: Well, it was 1930, '40 school. Very similar to today. Not much difference.

MA: And were, who were your teachers? Were they mostly like Caucasian women?

IN: Caucasian, yes.

MA: And how was the relationship that you had with them? Was it pretty good?

IN: Well, you know, there was an understanding. We had our place, and we knew what that involved. So there was very little conflict. We knew our place. And the teachers were all Caucasians, of course. And I hate to say this, and maybe I shouldn't, but I'm going to. The Asian people were the, more of the brighter students. And I don't know whether it came from the background that, you know, education was important or what. But we were usually top of the class. [Laughs]

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2008 Densho. All Rights Reserved.