Densho Digital Archive
Densho Visual History Collection
Title: Peggy A. Nagae Interview I
Narrator: Peggy A. Nagae
Interviewer: Tom Ikeda
Location: Seattle, Washington
Date: April 17, 2009
Densho ID: denshovh-npeggy-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

TI: So we're going to start. So today is Friday, April 17, 2009, and we're in the Densho studio, Seattle, Washington. Today we're interviewing Peggy Nagae. I'm interviewing, Tom Ikeda, and working the camera is Dana Hoshide. And the purpose of this interview is, it's another life history for Densho. But in particular, we're going to focus on the coram nobis case and your participation. So, Peggy, thank you for being here. And so, Peggy, I'm going to just start with some basic questions. The first one, what was the name given to you at birth?

PN: Same, Peggy Ann Nagae.

TI: And when and where were you born?

PN: Portland, Oregon, July 25, 1951.

TI: So let me first start with your dad. Before we talk about your life, can you tell me a little bit about your dad in terms of where he was born?

PN: He was born, I think he was born in Portland. He grew up in Beaverton, which is a suburb now of Portland. Raised on a farm. When he first started grade school, didn't speak English that well, I think was held back one year because of that. And so they had a farm, his father, my grandfather, I think, taught Japanese classes. They then bought a farm in Boring, Oregon, I think, in 1940, moved out there at that time. My father was the oldest of four children. His mother wanted him to be a doctor, but it was pretty impossible. He went to one year of college, it was pretty impossible to commute from Boring to Portland, which was 25 miles, but back then, it was like, it could have been a hundred.

TI: Okay, so let's talk about... you mentioned your father's parents.

PN: Yes.

TI: How much do you know about them? Do you know, like, for instance, where in Japan they were from?

PN: They came... well, I know my grandfather came from an area around Nagasaki. I don't know my grandmother. My grandfather lived with us. My grandmother fell off a truck and was bedridden, so she died fairly soon after they came back from camp, maybe a couple years, three or four years afterwards, so I don't know much about her.

TI: Well, going to your grandfather, do you know why he came to the United States?

PN: I don't. I mean, even though he lived with us, he only spoke Japanese, and we really didn't talk about early history. I did a project for my master's degree on family history, but I can't remember what was said. I just assume it was what most people came for, which is better opportunity, etcetera.

TI: And when your grandfather came to the United States, do you know what kind of work he did?

PN: I don't.

TI: And so he had, you mentioned, he and his wife had four children, and your father was, you said, the oldest?

PN: Yes.

TI: And your father's name?

PN: Shigenari, S-H-I-G-E-N-A-R-I.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

TI: And let's talk about your mother. What do you know about your mother, starting with maybe her parents, what do you know about her, your grandparents on your mother's side?

PN: Yeah, I know it probably even less. I think they came from Fukuoka, but I'm not quite sure. My grandfather, my mother's father, died in the '50s, so I didn't really know him. But my grandmother lived until she was ninety-five, and she never learned English, so she spent, you know, seventy-plus years in this country never learning English. She used to come out to our farm and stay there and pick berries in the summer. So she was very hearty and had a cancer operation late in her life. And two weeks after, she said, "Okay, I'm ready to go home now from the hospital." And she got up and she was going home. [Laughs] So really strong spirit, strong person.

TI: And then how many children did they have?

PN: Let's see. One, two, three, four... six children. One that I don't know his name, but he got hit by a baseball bat when he was, like, fifteen or sixteen, and died at a fairly young age. My mother and her older brother are the only two right now surviving. And I think my mother was fourth out of six. She grew up in Carver, Oregon, which is also near Oregon City, close to Portland, lived on a farm. I think met my father, maybe from a Japanese community picnic, something like that, Blue Lake, that was before the war, and somehow they corresponded during the war, they both went to Minidoka and then they both got paroled out.

TI: So about how old were they when they met at Blue Lake?

PN: That's a good question. Probably eighteen, or... my mother was about eighteen, my father must have been about twenty-two then, 'cause they're four years apart. Seventeen or eighteen, I think.

TI: And this was, like a community picnic type of thing?

PN: Uh-huh. And I don't know if it was a ken, but like a Japanese Association picnic.

TI: So how would you describe, first, your mother? If you were to describe what your mother was like.

PN: She's both, I think she's both traditional and feisty. And in a different time and place, if she had been educated, she would be probably a lot like me in a way, 'cause she's very competitive. So on the farm, we would have these, she would have these races. "Okay, let's see how many berries people can pick in the next thirty minutes." She'd always have these little competitions going. She pretty much ran the farm, you know. She got things moving. So she is pretty strong-spirited, and, but she would not think of herself that way. She would think of herself as shy and quiet. And in public or something like that, she is. Nonetheless, she's a strong Nisei woman. Our relationship got a lot closer when I realized, oh, I'm a lot like her. [Laughs] But for the fact that she didn't have the opportunity to get education, which I did, I think she would have been pretty similar to me. Although I'm pretty much a lot influenced by my father as well.

TI: Well, how many children did your mother and father have?

PN: Four.

TI: And where are you in the order?

PN: The youngest.

TI: So why don't we go through that in terms of your oldest to you.

PN: My sister Linda is the oldest. My mother had, I think, four children in five and a half years, so very close together.

TI: And do you know what year Linda was born?

PN: Uh-huh, 1946. They were married December 24th of 1945, and Linda was born on December 24th of 1946.

TI: Good, okay. So after Linda?

PN: Jerry, and he was born on April 28th of 1948, it must be.

TI: Okay, then after Jerry?

PN: Jim was born July 24th of 1949.

TI: You have a good memory. I don't think I could do that with my siblings. [Laughs] Good, okay.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

TI: So we talked about your mom a little bit, and she had four children, you were the fourth. Tell me about your father.

PN: My father was probably more suited to be a doctor or a teacher than a farmer. He was a night owl, he loved to read, he loved education. I went to Boring Elementary School, and he was on the school board for, like, twenty-something years. He was president of the Gresham-Troutdale JACL a couple times, very civic-minded, but pretty outspoken. So he would speak his mind, and I remember somebody from the school board, when my father passed away and there was a memorial service for him, somebody from the school board said, "Shig would speak his mind regardless of what anybody thought or said," etcetera. So I think I got that from him. But then my mother would say, "Oh, why'd you have to say that?" "Why'd you say that?" So there was a little bit of that back and forth with them. He was a pretty outspoken guy.

TI: And was he... or describe the Japanese American community in Boring.

PN: Well, in that area, a lot of farmers, they had put in their first crop of strawberries, and then had to leave because of the exclusion orders. So mostly farmers, but we were pretty much kind of tucked away. There were a lot of, there were more farmers in Sandy, there were more farmers in Gresham, but where we lived, we were probably the only family, mostly white families around us. But they were tight-knit. So you'd go to their homes, other Japanese American families, different dinners, they had a bowling league, so they always bowled together. It's a very close community, so if something happens, they've got this phone tree, they're really mobilized, pretty amazing sense of community.

TI: Now, would that be, probably, or through the JACL, or would that be just... how was that organized?

PN: Yeah, I think through the JACL. There was a hall there near Gresham where -- I don't know if it was the JACL then, probably, or the Japanese Association, some kind of Japanese Association where there'd always be Christmas parties. It's called GT Hall, for Gresham-Troutdale Hall. So you get together with different families. But they weren't part of our day-to-day life in that sense. You know, I was one of, I think the only, sort of, student of color in my classes through grade school and even through high school. So you'd get together maybe on weekends or kind of family dinners.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

TI: Yeah, so I'm interested because, having grown up in Seattle, the schools I went to, they always had quite a few Japanese and their community events. But it sounds like your background is a lot different in terms of... so like Monday through Friday, when you went to school, you were the only person of color.

PN: Yeah, in my class except for my siblings. So I grew up wanting to be white, because everybody around me was white, and we didn't go to a Buddhist church, we went to the Haley Baptist Church, so it was a southern, conservative Baptist church that I grew up in, and Jesus didn't look like me. So I really pretty much grew up in a white world. And to me, it's a long journey back from a white world to a Japanese American identity.

TI: When did you start noticing or feeling that you were different than your classmates?

PN: I think from a young age, because we were poor. So after the war, they came back. My father's family came back, and then my mother and father got married in '45. But we didn't have indoor plumbing 'til I was fourteen, and there were some winters where we ate, you know, government surplus food, the cheese and the eggs and the peanut butter and butter and all that stuff. So I probably mixed the two things. Being poor, to me, was shameful. Because how could you invite your friends over if you didn't have indoor plumbing? So I think in my mind, it sort of, kind of morphed together, Japanese, I didn't quite understand what had happened to them, they went to camps, they talked about Block this and Block that, but for all I knew it was another kind of camp. But I think I felt differently because we were poor. And because, like, I remember in the first grade, I had this car coat, and it had fur trim around the hood, and they called me the Eskimo. And there was nobody else that looked like me in that class. And it was a pretty harsh and hard life growing up, for my parents.

TI: Well, going back to that story of being called the "Eskimo," describe that. What did you feel when people, sort of, said that to you?

PN: Ashamed. Like called out to be different, not the same as, not as good as. I remember that story. I remember in the seventh grade, by the seventh grade, maybe I had more of a voice. But I remember in the seventh grade where they talked about the bombing of Pearl Harbor and they talked about the evacuation or internment. And the textbook said it was for the safety of the Japanese Americans, and I was so angry at that, and at the same time, still sort of ashamed of who I was.

TI: And as a seventh grader, when you heard that and you felt that anger, what did you do with it? Did you say anything?

PN: I don't remember. I do remember getting hit in the seventh grade. [Laughs] Not for that, but for something else. The teacher said, "Well," to this other kid, "I hate to have to do this to you, but I have to paddle you." And I said, "Well, if you hate to do it, don't do it." And he said, "Okay, you're next." And part of it, I think, was, well, maybe I didn't speak out, 'cause I can't remember if I spoke out about that. I then started to get my, sort of, anger and my voice and just speak out on things. It was also, I can't remember what year that was, but it's got to have been the '60s.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

TI: Well, growing up, were there any examples of, like, overt prejudice because you were Japanese? Name calling or anything like that that you can recall?

PN: Well, I remember in college this little white girl said, "I have a friend, her name's Peggy, too, but she's white." I don't remember anything specifically, but I do remember always feeling different. And if you looked at my resume from high school, I was the all-American girl, except I didn't have blond hair and blue eyes. But I remember feeling different and thinking, not feeling accepted even though I had every indicia of being accepted. I think partly it was being different ethnically.

TI: Now, did you ever have this conversation with your siblings? Because they had to come before you, especially, I'm thinking of Linda and Jerry, and whether or not, what they faced and by being the fourth, was it different for you?

Well, I remember my brother was student body president when I was a freshman in high school. So you can't get more well-known than having your brother be student body president. But I remember also he wanted to date this white girl, and her family didn't want her to and my family didn't want him to. So I remember her calling the house and I would hang up on her. Things like that.

TI: Oh, explain that. You would hang up on her because you knew the family didn't want this to happen?

PN: Yeah.

TI: And so even though you were, I guess, a peer of your brother in some ways, you sort of took the stance of your parents?

PN: In that situation, yeah. My sister was voted the most shy in her class as a senior in high school, so she was quite different, I guess, than maybe the other three siblings, 'cause she was the oldest and she had a pretty hard go in terms of figuring out how to be an adolescent, liking boys and what that meant, and all that stuff. I think it was really hard for her. I remember that about my brother. It just felt like he was the student body president, he was captain of the wrestling team, he was third in his class scholastically, and it still didn't matter because he was Japanese, in some ways. That he wouldn't be good enough to date a white girl. On the other hand, my mother came in -- I remember I was eighteen, and my mother came into the kitchen and said, "You shouldn't marry somebody who eats different food than we do." That's what she said, and then she left. And I'm going, "Wait a minute." [Laughs] So it was, it was indirect messages, I think, both from the environment and from my family.

TI: But you, but I take it that how you interpret that was she wanted you to marry someone who was Japanese.

PN: Yes. But I didn't know anyone, really, Japanese. I mean, I dated somebody, one of the guys in high school, but he went to another high school, and I mean, there was nobody around. In my class, there was one guy, the class I had, then there were my brothers. So it was pretty interesting to think about doing that when there was nobody around who I could date who was Japanese.

TI: So you talked a little bit about your brother and how well he did in school, and you also described yourself as this all-American girl. Tell me how people would have described you in high school, in terms of the things that you did or were known for.

PN: Gosh, how would they describe me? Probably an overachiever, because I was both valedictorian of my class as well as a cheerleader, as well as the Homecoming Princess and the, I don't know, the Basketball Queen, kind of all those things, and a class officer. So I had friends who were very bright, at the top of their class, then I had friends who were cheerleaders, then I had boyfriends who were hoods. I said that the other day to some group, and they said, "We don't know what a 'hood' is." [Laughs] So not a great, you know...

TI: Well, so I'm guessing that your boyfriends were white?

PN: Yeah, white, Native American, mostly white, and then I dated one Japanese American guy who went to another school. But I dated him because he came to our farm and picked berries in the summer, so that's how I knew him.

TI: And so how did your parents react when you started dating either a white or a Native American?

PN: They were not happy. [Laughs] Yeah, and in fact, I dated this guy for a couple years in high school, and his parents, his mother always thought that we would get married. But not according to my parents. Even though socioeconomically he was more well-off than we were, he was very bright, honor society and all that stuff, he had all the pedigree, but he was white. And by then, I had gotten to know other Japanese Americans through Junior JACL. So I'd go to Junior JACL, most of the kids were from Portland, so I would be considered one of the farm girls. And there were a couple others, Patty Kato and Sharon Fujimoto, who were also from the farm and grew up in Gresham and that surrounding area, so we were friends, we were all the same age.

TI: And what would it mean by being called a "farm girl"? If a Portland Japanese American said, "Oh, you're a farm girl," what would that mean?

PN: Well, I took it mean, "You're not sophisticated, you're not from the city, you're a little different. You're sort of not in the in-crowd." That's how I took it. I don't know how they really meant it. But I said at a young age I felt different and separate from people, so I think that theme kind of carried through for me.

TI: And going back to your parents and your dating, other than you mentioned how your mom came in one day when you were eighteen and said you should marry someone who eats the same food, how else would they show their, say, displeasure in terms of who you were dating?

PN: It was pretty unspoken, you know, it was pretty indirect and high context. You just knew. You could feel the vibe when they were around, and definitely the boyfriends could feel the vibe. It just was not necessarily articulated.

TI: Okay, good.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

TI: Let's go back to your experience with the Japanese American community. You mentioned earlier how sometimes on weekends there would be events or things that you would do, you mentioned your dad being the president of the Gresham-Troutdale JACL and all these different functions. So describe some of the, thinking back, some of the more memorable events that you can remember, dealing with the Japanese American community.

PN: I remember the Christmas parties when we were little, running around the Gresham-Troutdale Hall with all these little kids and Santa Claus. I remember going to the bowling alley, because my parents --

TI: Let's stay with the Christmas party. So was Santa Claus Japanese, or was he white?

PN: You know, I don't remember. But he had a white beard, but he must have been Japanese, must have had those Japanese eyes. [Laughs] But he did have a white beard.

TI: And how many people would be at this party?

PN: Oh, I mean, there was probably forty or fifty kids. But, of course, I was, like, seven and eight and three and four, so there seemed like a whole bunch. But that would be the gathering place for the farmers in that area, families. So I just remember running around and around and around the building. And then the bowling league was pretty significant because I went, they bowled on Saturday nights, so I oftentimes went with them to the bowling alley, and then my friend Patty Kato would go there too. And she went to a different grade school, different high school, but she was also a cheerleader. And so I think I started going there when I was twelve, and we went there off and on through our teenage years. And then Patty and I both went to Oregon State. So that was a significant relationship for me. And her parents were farmers, and then she had a cousin, Sharon Fujimoto, and we were all the same age. So then I got to know Sharon. And they were significant, both of them, because I didn't know many other Japanese American girls.

TI: And when you think back to this time in terms of who you would pick as friends, would Patty and Sharon be part of what you would classify as friends, or maybe the people that you went to school with?

PN: Well, they would, you know, they would be friends. Of course, the kids you went to school with and were cheerleaders with and all that stuff, you got to know really well. Because I never, like, stayed overnight with them necessarily, maybe I went to their birthday parties. There was one other girl, Gail Okita, who was a year or so younger than we were. These were, I guess these were the kids of my parents' friends, so getting to know them a little bit. But because we didn't see each other all the time, it was different than high school friends.

TI: Okay.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

TI: I want to ask a little bit about the farm life and what it was like growing up on the farm. You mentioned earlier not having indoor plumbing until you were fourteen. But describe kind of growing up when you're say, eleven or twelve in the summer, type of things that you would have to do on the farm.

PN: Well, first of all, I liked school, and was always sad when school let out because it meant that I would be working every day, and I wouldn't see my friends. [Laughs] So we would hoe, we would irrigate, we would pick strawberries. I grew up on a berry and vegetable farm, so twenty acres of strawberries and x-number of acres of boysenberries, raspberries, blackberries, all that, throughout the whole summer. And then in the winter, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. So you'd have to plant in July, the crops for the winter. So it was a lot of work from sunup to sundown. We had migrant workers from Oklahoma and Arkansas, Indians from Warm Springs, and Mexicans from other parts of Washington, and they would come and stay. We had cabins for them to stay. So every year, these families would bring their ten children from Oklahoma or Arkansas and come stay. And every summer there would be some incident of drinking, or a threat or guns or something, you'd have to call out the police. And I didn't grow up around guns and I didn't grow up around alcohol, so that was always sort of frightening. And my father, who had a temper, would just be right out there in the mix, and my mother would be afraid. So there was a lot of, I think there was a lot of tension, a lot of hard work there, and, while we were, we owned the farm, we were still poor, they were just poorer than we were. So to me, it was a hard life. And I developed skin allergies very early on, and it felt like I was allergic to dirt. [Laughs] I remember of 1964, because we had a bumper strawberry crop, and that's when we got indoor plumbing and a new car, and that was significant.

TI: Oh, interesting. So if you just had one year, a good crop, that could make a huge difference financially for your family.

PN: Yes. And at the same time, in the winter, if you had four days of freezing weather, you could ruin the entire crop of Brussels sprouts, or I don't know about four days, but a certain period of time, then your whole crop would be gone. So I grew up in a financially, in a financial situation where there was no steady paycheck, which I didn't realize how much of a difference that makes. Because, first of all, you had to work hard, the work was never done, second of all, there was no guarantee that you were going to get paid, because those crops could fail. And that served me -- I didn't like it then, 'cause it seemed pretty unsettling, fearful for a kid, worried, my parents were worried, always talk about the weather. And so that worry kind of came down. I would say my mother is an expert worrier. But on the other hand, when you don't have a steady income and you can't rely on a paycheck, it's quite different. You have to begin to rely on yourself to work hard. And the message my mother gave us was to work hard, get your education, and get off the farm, 'cause it's too hard of work. So that's what she wanted for us to do.

TI: And do you think your dad had that same kind of feeling, that he wanted you to not be farmers?

PN: Yes. Well, he definitely wanted us to do well in school, because I remember in high school I would, like, bring home one "B" and he'd say, "Okay, how come that wasn't an 'A'?" And it wasn't even the permanent grading period. So I graduated with one "B" in my entire high school history. [Laughs] Also because my brother was pretty, the first six weeks of my high school career, I was tardy for PE class and I got a "C" the first six weeks, and he said, "You're never gonna get a four-point now." I was fourteen. And he was right, I got one "B" in PE my first year, my freshman year in high school. But there was a lot of, to me, there was a lot of pressure to do well. But there wasn't a lot of pressure, like, to go to college. The boys, I was a girl, they were boys, they needed to go to college. But nonetheless, I went to college, too.

TI: So your three older siblings, they all went to college?

PN: My sister went to business school. She was the one where I think it was hard, 'cause she was the first one, and didn't have much guidance counseling, you know, in high school, and was very shy, so that combination. I was probably the loudest one in the family, having had the benefit of three siblings.

TI: So, but Jerry and Jim both then went to college before you?

PN: Uh-huh.

TI: And where did they go?

PN: Jerry went to Oregon State, and Jim went to the University of Oregon. They were quite different. Because Jerry was an engineer at Oregon State, he graduated mechanical engineering, and Jim was, I think he started out in architecture but went into sociology. And he was very much into politics at the University of Oregon, and anti-war. And his roommate was the student body president, Ron Eakus, who when he was student body president, went to North Vietnam. So my brother Jim was very politically active. Long hair, all the rest of the attendant factors of being a hippie college student. [Laughs]

TI: Now, was it Jim or Jerry that was the student body president?

PN: Jerry.

TI: Okay, Jerry.

PN: They were one year apart in school.

TI: How did your parents deal with Jim's, I guess, political activism?

PN: They didn't know that much about it. And Jerry, Jim and I, 'cause we were so close in age, were pretty tight. So we also shielded them from his political activism. Although he, Vietnam was going on, and he applied to be a conscientious objector. He was not going to go to the war, he would have done many different things instead of going to the war. And luckily, the draft stopped, 'cause he also had a low draft number, but it stopped right before or very soon. But I was very concerned about him because I know he did not want to go.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

TI: Okay, so you had one brother at OSU, another one at University of Oregon. And you graduated from high school, and tell me what you did.

PN: I graduated from high school, I didn't get great guidance counseling, I followed my brother Jerry to Oregon State. And even though I got a full ride from the University of Oregon, I went to Oregon State because I was pretty straight and narrow in high school. I think marijuana was being introduced then, but, I mean, I saw it once, I didn't drink, I didn't swear, I didn't do drugs in high school, I was pretty straight and narrow. And seeing my two brothers and their different role modeling, Oregon State seemed pretty safe to me. [Laughs] So I went there my first year, and then realized that as a liberal arts major, I was in an agricultural and engineering college, which wasn't gonna work. So my brother Jerry helped me transfer to another college. So he was pretty instrumental in doing that. He was also instrumental in tutoring me through my physical science class my freshman year, which I got an "A" in only because he tutored me all night long in that.

I was a freshman cheerleader at Oregon State, and partly because of Patty Kato, you know, my high school friend, I had gone through freshman rush, and I had gotten a bid from every sorority there. But I didn't understand why, why they had given me that. And I didn't have, really, the confidence. So... this is a little vignette. I wanted to be an Alpha Kai Omega, 'cause I'd met some women and they were bright and they were athletic. But even though I got bids from all these houses, I didn't trust that they would want me. So I went to a house that was pretty... I knew I would get in, 'cause my future sister-in-law was a member of that house. But then I realized after I did that that I really wanted to be in this other sorority and I really didn't want to be in this house, so I de-pledged after two weeks. And they said, they said how terrible I was and how bad I was, and I just remember my brother picking me up after that and I was crying and it was really upsetting. And that was really an experience of me not going for what I wanted. Not... holding back, trying to be safe, trying to play it safe.

So that left a big impression on me, and when there were freshman cheerleading, Patty convinced me to try out for freshman cheerleading, partly, I think, because she saw the experience that I'd gone through with sorority rush. So she didn't try out, I did, got to be freshman cheerleader, that was really a lot of fun. But in terms, academically, I was really a liberal arts major in this agricultural engineering school. And I knew that education was my way out of poverty, because my mother said, "Get your education and get off the farm." But I also felt a lot of peer pressure not to study. The most important thing for a lot of girls at Oregon State was when you were going to get "pinned," you know, wear your boyfriend's... so I was a cheerleader who went to the library and studied a lot.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

PN: But my brother helped me, and I decided to apply to all-women's colleges. I decided that I wanted to get out of the whole social scene and get into a more academic setting, which was pretty bizarre for this kid from the farm, who was very social, dating two guys in one night at Oregon State and doing all that, and I was the "ideal girl" of a fraternity there and all that stuff. And my biggest decision was, do I try out for varsity cheerleading at Oregon State or do I transfer to Vassar College? And that was really a serious -- 'cause I'd never been east of Boise. My parents didn't want me to go, but I decided I would go. It was an all-women's college, I was actually in the last class of all women at Vassar. Totally different experience, had no idea what I was getting into.

TI: Well, yeah, that is a huge shift in terms of going to the East Coast, pretty elite women's, private women's college.

PN: Yes.

TI: So tell me about that. Describe what it felt like going to Vassar.

PN: I would tell you that I'm the kind of person that makes a decision, that does it, but really doesn't think too much about it. And then, you know, having never been east of Boise and I'm flying to JFK by myself, and thinking that there's a, from JFK I would take another plane to Poughkeepsie. So I get to JFK, I've got these three large suitcases, and there's no plane to Poughkeepsie. So I'm there, I'm nineteen, or eighteen, and I don't know what to do. So I figure it out, I get in this cab, the cab driver starts yelling at me because the fare's too short. I don't even know, I've never been in a cab before. And takes me over to this bus and I get on this bus to go to Grand Central Station in New York City. I get to Grand Central Station, there are no porters, I've got three large suitcases. I sit in the middle of Grand Central Station until somebody feels sorry for me and helps me with my luggage. I figure out which train to go to Poughkeepsie. It was a nightmare. [Laughs] I've got to change trains at Croton-Harmon, I get to Poughkeepsie and I'm thinking, "Why in the world did I ever think of coming here?" I mean, I was a wreck. And it was a total culture shock.

And I get there, I'm a sophomore and not a freshman, thank goodness. I take these classes, and one of my, my sociology professor says, "Oregon State? Maybe you ought to take basic sociology again." I mean, at Oregon State, my sociology professor, third term, said, "You're going to get an 'A' in the course, so just go out and do something fun that you like to do." And then this is the message I hear, so of course I think I'm going to flunk out. So I'm calling my brother Jerry thinking, "My god, I'm going to flunk out here, I don't know what I'm doing." It really was educationally a culture shock, an educational shock. Most students had been in private school since they were two. I went to a public high school where they'd rather buy new jerseys, football jerseys, than new books. My guidance counselor in high school, even though I was a valedictorian, told me to live at home and go to Mount Hood community college. And that's why I got very few scholarships, that's why I didn't apply to very many schools, that's why I went to Oregon State. So to go from there to Vassar was just a huge, huge leap. So my first semester was just miserable, 'cause I thought I was going to flunk out and all the adjustments. But lo and behold, I didn't flunk out, and by the time I... I was a psychology major and then my junior year I switched to East Asian studies. That was really beneficial for me just for my identity. It was the early '70s, so there was a lot of anti-war stuff. Do you want to ask a question?

TI: Well, and like students of color, I mean, when you went to Vassar, how many students of color were there?

PN: Well, there was one Asian male in the entire school, in the entire college. 'Cause after my class, the classes were 50/50 men and women. But my class was the last class of all women with forty transfer men.

TI: So your class on up, there were no, no other Asians?

PN: There were a few, and they were in East Asian, several of them were in East Asian Studies. But I would say there were less than twenty.

TI: African Americans?

PN: There were African Americans. There was an African American house, there were probably twenty to thirty. It also, though, was a place, an environment that said, as a woman, you can do anything and twice as good as any man, so just go out and do it. I had never heard that message. Not that people said it overtly, it was just the environment that said that. And so it was, it was really important for me to hear that message. On the other hand, I had these incidents like my senior year, I took a personality class, or maybe it was in my junior year, I can't remember, personality. And I remember getting, writing one paper, and I got a C-plus or something and I said, "Oh, that will never do." So the next week I got, I wrote a paper and I got an A-minus. And then she called me into her office and accused me of cheating. And so things like that, when you come from public education and you know that you were educationally disadvantaged, it just sort of threw me for a loop because both being accused of cheating and not having done that but working my ass off, those incidences, I guess, they imprinted something in me about how to be, how to have to be tougher than I really felt. That if you cave in or really show how much it hurt, the world isn't necessarily kind. If you're strong and you are saying, are angry or whatever, and you push back, I think the world is different, at least the white world. That's what it felt like to me.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

PN: And what I liked about East Asian Studies was it helped with my own identity. And I'd never considered it, I didn't know it, I transferred the second semester of my junior year, which is the very last time you could transfer to a different major and still graduate on time. But it was significant for me to learn about Asia, and I wanted to do my senior thesis on the Japanese American Supreme Court cases.

TI: Oh, interesting.

PN: That was in 1972. And my thesis advisor, Professor Bunnell, said, "What are you gonna say about those cases after you say that they were racist decisions?" So I actually switched my thesis topic to Japanese politics. So Japanese politics from 1945 to 1969, the Zengakuren and the student movement. So I often joke that if I had done my thesis on the Japanese American internment cases, maybe I would have found all those documents in the National Archives. That was a significant time and a significant change in point in terms of my own identity.

TI: I'm curious, did you ever go back to that professor after the coram nobis case?

PN: You know, I'm not sure I did. I kept thinking that I wanted to, but I'm not sure if I really did. I don't know if I wrote to him. I wanted to go back, though, and also talk about an incident in high school. 'Cause I was the valedictorian in my class, and it was 1969, so the anti-war movement and the student power movement. And the graduation speech that I gave, first of all, I turned the podium away from the audience and to the class and started talking to the class and saying, and not doing the traditional graduation speech where you thank the high school and you thank... I really felt like I had not gotten a great education there. I was pretty outspoken, I was the honor society president, and we went to a prison, we started a scholarship. But I also was outspoken, in, like, school policies. Like I wanted the dress code to be changed, you couldn't wear jeans, you couldn't wear pants. And so I fought the administration on that, and they did not give me the satisfaction of changing the policy when I was a senior, they changed it the next year. And one time, the principal hauled a bunch of us into his office and said, "I don't know if you all did it, but if you started this underground newspaper, that is not being a leader." And none of us said anything. And so we got hauled in for that. So I was a, sort of, curious mixture of being a cheerleader and a class officer, and also pretty rebellious.

TI: And what, I guess, what do you take away from that in terms of, in terms of when you, I guess, go against authority, when the system is a certain way and you see change needs to happen, back then, how did you think about this? Because here you were, in some ways, part of the system by being the cheerleader and being a good student, and yet you did these other things that were, perhaps, not acceptable or condoned by the administration. I mean, so by doing all these different things, what did you learn?

PN: Well, I think I followed my father's lead, right? He was on the school board but he spoke out, he didn't care what other people thought, he just spoke out. He was the JACL president, but he also spoke out against things. He was also religious, even though he didn't go to church much, but believed in religion and Christianity. So I think that's the role modeling that I had. So...

TI: And that role model is it's important to be at the table, to be inside, to be able to speak out so that the people inside can hear? Is that kind of the message?

PN: Boy, I haven't thought about this message. But it's how do you be successful... it's kind of like being inside the system and outside the system at the same time. So in grade school when there were cliques of girls, I belonged to several different groups. I did not want to be with one clique. And I think because I always felt like I was outside the group, or didn't quite fit in, even though I was a good student, got straight A's when I was in the fifth grade, all my teachers loved me, I still had the sense of being outside. And I think from that insider/outsider perspective, I think that's what an insider/outsider would do. And that's how I felt, and I think that's how I acted.

TI: But then when you were inside the, I mean, when you were in the group, you would be outspoken, though. I mean, if you saw something that was, that you didn't think was right, you sometimes brought an outsider perspective and would speak that.

PN: But I was an insider, yeah. And I think the message -- and I guess when you say that, I've sort of done that most of my life. And you do kind of pay a price, because you're not totally accepted. So, you know, my graduation speech in which I said, "Leave this area. Take your little box of knowledge, go out, see the world, experience it, this is not the end, it's the beginning." They said it was the worst graduation speech in the history of the high school.

TI: "They" meaning?

PN: My favorite teacher said it was the worst graduation speech. He was my sophomore English teacher and my senior English teacher, Mr. Crow. So I really respected him, liked him, got good grades from him, he said it was the worst graduation speech that they'd ever heard. And the next year they started censoring the speeches because of me. And so the next valedictorian handed in one speech to them and gave another speech. But if was, in some ways, a product of the times. Because in 1969 when I was graduating from high school, on the cover of Newsweek, there was, you know, the fist and the graduation, whatever you call that, of college with a peace symbol on it. So, I mean, Martin Luther King had been shot, Robert Kennedy had died, it was anti-war.

And I had gone to a humanities program, and this was significant for me, too. Between my junior and senior year, I had two different high school counselors. The first one was great, the second one did not like me. So the first one talked my parents into allowing me to go to this humanities program at Claremont College, you know, the Claremont Colleges. I hadn't been outside of Oregon. I mean, I would say that I was kind of an educationally-deprived kid. But when I went there, it was a humanities program, so we went to prisons, we heard from filmmakers, we had African Americans from L.A. come and talk to us, all those things. And it really opened my mind. I was very fortunate to go to that program. So that's why when I was the Honor Society president, we went to a prison, we started a scholarship, we had racial dialogues, because I'd been exposed to that. And I took sort of a staid kind of organization and made it politically active, is what I tried to do. And the other thing I remember when I was at --

TI: Well, before, so I'm sure you came across quite a bit of resistance by the administration and others when you were doing some of this? Or there were some raised eyebrows?

PN: Yeah.

TI: And you went through and you did it. At the end of the day, how did you feel about that? Was that something that you really felt good about?

PN: Uh-huh.

TI: So talk about that a little bit.

PN: Well, I think, looking back, my, one of my missions or purpose is about justice. And when I see injustice, it's really important for me to speak out. And so those were the sort of early days of speaking out, and you don't get much support from the system for speaking out, because obviously you're speaking out against them. And so I did have this, I did have this dichotomy about being inside the system but also speaking out against the system. Again, I think it was because I had the pedigree of the All-American girl, but I didn't have the blond hair and blue eyes, and I knew that, I sort of had two roles. I saw myself as having two roles. And partly the pedigree was to try to fit in, try to be accepted. And the other part was just me, just sort of plain me.

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

TI: I'm going to take you back now to when you finished Vassar, how did you decide to go to law school?

PN: Yeah. Can I give you an incident, another one?

TI: Please.

PN: When I was a senior in high school, we were really poor, so I was going after all these scholarships. And one of the local scholarships I got was from the... what was that organization called? And they were just... not the Moose Club...

TI: The Elks?

PN: The Elks Club. So they had a local scholarship that I got, and then I went to the regionals and maybe I got that, somewhere. I went on to compete for other scholarships. Now, the Elks Club at the time was racially segregated club. And then maybe it was at the regionals, the two finalists were myself and another Japanese American girl from Troutdale. And so we were the finalists, and they came, they were asking us questions. And at the time, at Oregon State, the black football players had walked off campus in protest. And so they asked the question of, "What do you think about the African American football players walking off campus?" And at that moment I knew, okay, I could lie and get the scholarship, or I could tell the truth and not get the scholarship. So what am I going to do? So I didn't get the scholarship, and it's sort of those moments of truth in which you decide, who are you going to be and how are you going to act? And for me, those lessons came at kind of a young age.

So, I mean, I knew that was going to happen, it did happen, and the reason... so then I'll fast forward, the reason I decided to go to law school was between my junior and senior year in college, I was a waitress at a resort in Lake Placid, New York, upstate New York. It was 1972. They still had segregated "colored people's" quarters. In other words, the African Americans ate in a separate dining hall than the other employees. We were all employees, but they had a segregated dining hall, they had a segregated living place, and most of them were cooks or they were cleaning. And the people who served in the dining hall were college girls from the eastern seaboard. All of them were white except for myself and a very, very light-skinned African American woman. And the way that you got paid as a waitress was how many people sat at your table. And the maitre d' decided how many people sat at your table. So I would have eleven people at my table and somebody else would have three, and we were gonna get paid disproportionately based on that. And I didn't think that was fair, so I met Lisa from the University of Pennsylvania, she was Jewish, and we started talking about, "Well, that's not fair, so we ought to complain." So she and I complained to the maitre d', and he said, "What are you complaining about? You two get plenty of people." I said, "But that's not the point. The point is that it's not fair, that you don't have an equitable distribution, and people need to get paid here." And so he wasn't gonna listen, and so we wanted to start a boycott of all the waitresses. And we talked to them, and we also talked to the maitre d' and he said, "You know, we could fire the whole lot of you and get new people in tomorrow. There's no union, there's nothing to protect you. And besides, our Board of Directors are eleven lawyers from New York City." So the other girls got scared and wouldn't do the boycott so it didn't work out. I left because I said, "I'm not going to be a party to this." I needed the money as much as anybody else, 'cause obviously I came from a poor family, but I just wasn't going to do it. And I said then that if lawyers are that powerful, I'm going to go to law school for social justice and social change. Now, I'd never met a lawyer, had no idea what lawyers did. I was pretty ignorant, I was from a farm in Boring, Oregon. But Vassar was that kind of place where, as I said, as a woman, you could do anything and twice as good as any man, just go out and do it.

We also had a lockdown there, protested against the administration. I went to the first March on Washington in April of 1973, you know, anti-war, the peaceful one. The next one, I think, a big march was very violent, but this one was very peaceful. So, and East Asian Studies, there just, it was a time of change and it was a time of action, and there was a belief that we are a generation that can make the difference. And I used to sit in the Vassar chapel and think, okay, there's a civil rights movement, people are laying down their lives. There's an anti-war movement -- I feel like crying -- people are laying down their lives, what is it that I'd be willing to lay down my life for? And just asking myself, what is that? What would I do? That people would have the courage to do that, and it was really significant.

So I guess a combination of factors had me go to law school. I applied to go to graduate school in East Asian Studies, and I got into the University of Michigan. But I also applied to teach English in Japan. And I must have had about twenty-five applications in Japan, twenty-four rejected me, and one, the Tokyo YMCA accepted me because, I think, the guy who was the head of that program was an American, white American, and I said I was interested in learning about Japanese culture and Japanese and that was an East Asian Studies major. So he hired me, and I, instead of going to the University of Michigan where I could have met one of my future sister-in-laws and other people, I went off to Japan.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 12>

TI: So Peggy, we spent the first hour talking about growing up all the way through your undergraduate, to Vassar. And we had just talked about post-Vassar, and you had left off talking about accepting this job in Japan?

PN: Oh, yeah.

TI: So why don't we start from there.

PN: I said before that I make these decisions, I don't think about 'em much, and then I get there and think, "What the heck am I doing here?" And that was another one of those decisions. Like I decided to go to Japan, I thought it was interesting and important to do. And then I got there and thought, "What am I doing here? Oh my god, I'm in Tokyo and teaching English to the Tokyo YMCA English language school, teaching English to nineteen and twenty year old girls, and I took some private clients. So just a couple incidents from Japan. One, what was incredible was for the first time, I looked like everybody else, and I'd never had that experience before. And as long as I didn't open my mouth or walk, then people would assume I was Japanese. As soon as I did either of those two things, they knew I was a gaijin. So that's one thing. The other thing is that when I grew up, people asked me, "What are you?" And I would say, "Japanese." I went over there and the Japanese nationals asked me, "What are you?" And I would go, oh, that's what I used to say. [Laughs] Now what do I say? So it really did help my identity because I realized then that I'm a minority in the U.S., and I come to Japan, and while I have an affinity for the culture, for the food -- not the language, unfortunately -- I still am not a Japanese national. I still am considered a gaijin, a non-Japanese. And that numerically, I will always be in the minority no matter where I am in the world. And I can either choose to feel good about that or bad about that, it's my choice. And that really did crystallize, "Who am I in this world?" It was very helpful. So I studied for the LSAT in Japan, and took the LSAT in Japan and applied to law school from Japan. And then came back and went to law school with a pretty strong sense of, I am a Japanese American, both of those things are important, and that numerically I would be in the minority. And I remember, at the time I came back, the national JACL convention was going to be in Portland, and my father was the president of the Gresham-Troutdale chapter, and then there was a Portland chapter. I remember writing this article about, every Sansei ought to go to Japan because of the impact on our identity of being in Japan. And I thought to myself when I was in Japan, "No wonder why people feel so powerful. I would, too, if I looked like everybody else." You know, everybody in power and everybody in fashion and every looked like me. Except for they did have European mannequins, which I thought was very strange. But nonetheless, that was a really very powerful and positive experience for me.

TI: And you think, or do you still think that if Sanseis and Yonseis went to Japan, that that would be a good thing?

PN: I do. I think seeing that, but also that Asian Studies, Asian American Studies programs, I didn't go to college when they had Asian American Studies programs. But I do think that identity is still an issue, still a question. It's still very important to talk about, like, who am I, and to be proud of that.

TI: And what I think I heard was, and the reason is, if they went, they would see people who looked like them in power, as mainstream, and that would be a powerful, empowering thing for these individuals?

PN: Yes, it would be. And yet, now, there are just many more Asian Americans and Japanese Americans in positions of power in this country. When I grew up, on TV, there were no Asian actors, there were no movie stars, there were no people in Congress, there was no one in the state legislature. So now, especially in a place like maybe Seattle or other places, there's a much stronger sense of an Asian identity, Asian community. And so it may not be the same thing to them as it was for me, and yet, I think it's very important to know, kind of, our roots and where we come from. See, I grew up being ashamed of that. So it was very helpful to go back and see how proud the Japanese are and how... and I realized, in Japan, that if they took away all the material things, they would still have a Japanese culture. I realized, in the U.S., our culture was our material things. And that really had an impact. The other impact on me was that when I was at Oregon State, there would be Japanese students from Japan, and I would be ashamed of them, I didn't want people to think I was one of them, I was born in the U.S., I'm an American, all that stuff. When I went to Japan, I realized how incredibly hard it was for them to come to the U.S., be in a different culture, go to college and succeed. And I realized that if I was at Tokyo University, I'd flunk out in a week. So I had a much greater appreciation and respect for their ability to come to a different culture.

<End Segment 12> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 13>

TI: So let's go to law school. So you applied to law school from Japan, then what happened?

PN: I got into the University of Oregon, I got into Lewis & Clark, I went down to the University of Oregon to see whether or not I wanted to go there and I said, "Do you have programs for minority students? Or what do you have for minority students?" And the Director of Admissions said, "Well, you first have to prove that you're a minority." And I kind of looked at her and said, "Well, you can look at the last census data." And I decided I'm not going anywhere where I have to prove that I'm a minority. So I went to Lewis & Clark, and in the first year, fifty-six percent of the minority students flunked out, and four percent of the white students flunked out. We started a minority student organization, and I went up to a lot of Asian students, and they weren't interested. So the Minority Law Students Association was started with seven African Americans and me in a bar in northeast Portland. I think people got much more interested in the organization when they flunked out of law school. So we started a student organization called the Northwestern Students Against Racism, we started to organized. I probably spent more time out of class than in class to try to get the students who had failed back into school. There was a subcommittee of the standing committee that was looking into it, investigating it, and I went to one of their meetings. And the head of the committee, Sid Lesac, who was a U.S. Attorney, looked at me and said, "You have to prove... you're not a minority. I mean, you're Asian, I'm Jewish, etcetera. Asians aren't a minority." So I had to haul in an Asian lawyer from the local area to talk about what it's like to be an Asian lawyer. So sort of like, over and over again, talking about that same situation. So I think we fought really hard, we got some of the students back in school. But in the course of it, the dean at one meeting said to me, in a public meeting, said, "What's behind those dark, inscrutable eyes?" You know, sort of a very racist comment. I remember... I just had a number of incidents in law school. So I graduated in the last class of all women at Vassar, when I went to Lewis & Clark, the faculty was all white and all male except for one legal writing teacher. So I ran for the Faculty Appointments Committee on a platform of diversity, and went during my finals week of my second year to Chicago to interview people at this whole gathering where people interview to teach at law schools. And one of the people we got came to Lewis & Clark because, she said, "I came because you had a student on the interviewing panel." So it's like going to Japan, understanding my identity, really gave me a sense and purpose of who I was and who I wanted to be.

Law school was really tough. I wanted to drop out every other day, and then I said, well, what'll I do if I drop out? I could become a waitress or a secretary or whatever. So I stuck with it, but it was not an experience that I liked. And I remember listening to and reading Korematsu in con. law class, and thinking to myself, "If I could do something about those cases, it would make these three years of torture worthwhile." But what could you do? They went to the U.S. Supreme Court, the next court is the court in Heaven, or God or whatever, and I'm not ready to go there and argue it. So nothing much to do. But I did do a lot of political work in law school. We started a, that organization, helped organize a convention on equality and justice, and did a lot of student organizing.

TI: Good.

<End Segment 13> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 14>

TI: So when you finished law school, what did you do?

PN: I worked, I was a Reginald Heber Smith Fellow at Legal Aid in Portland, Oregon. So it was a fellowship, a national fellowship given to people who wanted to do impact litigation in legal services. So I went there for two years, it was a disaster of an experience, but I did fight my way all the way to the Board of Directors to start a civil rights unit when I was there.

TI: So this fellowship, essentially, gives you the pay so that you can do something in the community, essentially?

PN: Yes, yeah.

TI: And so you did this for two years, and then after that, what did you do?

PN: I went to the Urban Indian Council and started my own private practice and helped start an Indigent Criminal Defense Unit. And I did not think of myself as being a trial lawyer in law school, and I thought about poverty law. And I also did not think about doing criminal law, but I realized, when I got into criminal law, I really liked it. I had no idea, because I didn't... I tell students today, "There was only Perry Mason, and clearly I was not gonna be Peggy Mason." So that was the only role model I had about how to be a trial attorney. But I had a friend of mine who really helped me develop as a trial attorney, and I won a lot of cases. And I believe the reason I won a lot of cases is that I came out of my parents' experience of being incarcerated without due process and equal protection. So I believe in the Constitution, I believe in the democracy, I believe in the jury system, and so do jurors. So in the closing argument, I wrapped myself around the flag and just talked about those principles and those values and really talked, spoke from my heart, and also wrapped the facts of my case around that. And I think that people do still believe in justice, and I think that's why I was successful.

TI: And speaking of justice, about this time, redress was starting to heat up in terms of the community organizing and looking at this. Can you describe some of the things that were happening down in Portland?

PN: Well, Jim, Dr. Jim Tsujimura was the, he's from Portland, and he was the president of the National JACL, and they were starting a National Redress Committee, or had already started one. And there were lots of people before our committee who called for redress. Edison Uno and lots of people that you know and other people know, who were giants and leaders in this area, he appointed me to the National Redress Committee in 1978. I was one year out of law school and very appreciative that he would do that. He was generous. And I got on this committee and met people from all around the country, including John Tateishi and Ron Mamiya, who's a judge from Seattle, and met a lot of people. Probably one of the significant issues was individual payments versus group payments, and that was a real big fight on the committee. I remember attending a National JACL board meeting and realizing, wow, these division go pretty deeply into the Nisei community, that those who did this during World War II versus those who did that during World War II, pretty significant.

TI: You mean sort of around the issue of, perhaps, how they showed their loyalty during World War II in terms of... are you talking more like the veteran path versus, perhaps, people who went to Tule Lake and things like that? Are you talking about those divisions? I wasn't clear what you meant.

PN: Not necessarily those divisions, although that came later, but just personal relationships or personal... I'm not exactly sure, but there just seemed to be long-standing divisions between people. They weren't talking, really, about the issues on the table, they were talking from a historical context that they had that I didn't have. So, and I thought they had to do with their relationships with one another.

TI: Well, as an example, you mentioned earlier the issue for redress in terms of individual payment versus group payments. So there was a, people had different opinions about that. Did people sort of coalesce around that, and is that kind of an example where you saw, perhaps, the most divisions in terms of what side people were on?

PN: Yes. And I can't remember exactly clearly all the machinations. Other people, I'm sure, in Seattle -- because Seattle was really very strongly in this fight. And there were many people from Seattle who had done a lot for redress and spoken out about it. Chuck Kato and Shosuke Sasaki and Cherry Kinoshita and all those folks. And then Ron was on the committee, and I remember he just, he really got hammered a lot because he was representing Seattle, and Seattle really believed in individual payments. And it got down to some pretty interesting and pretty harsh conversations.

TI: And so in these meetings -- this is interesting, I don't think I've, I haven't interviewed Ron yet about this. But in these meetings, so I've interviewed a lot of Seattle people and, yeah, they came out early for individual payments. So there was, at the national level, lots of resistance to the idea of individual payments?

PN: Yeah.

TI: And what was the thinking? Because eventually they came around to doing individual payments. What was the thinking?

PN: I'm trying to remember, and you should definitely interview Ron, 'cause he will definitely remember. But how do you fashion individual payments, what would be the amount of the individual payment, would it look like we were going for it to be selfish and for self-aggrandizement or gaining in our pocketbooks. And I didn't know if behind the backstory was if it's a lump sum payment into a trust fund, then would it go more towards organizations and would it go more towards community groups versus have it dispersed with individuals. So I don't know if that was part of the backstory. I was pretty young and pretty naive. But we did fashion it so that there would be individual payments plus a chunk of money for a trust fund. So that, I think, was the ultimate compromise, but it was a battle right 'til the end.

TI: And the dynamics, how does a body like that shift? I mean, it sounded like initially, Ron was kind of this lonely figure, but eventually that opinion prevailed. What was the, can you recall the process? And if you can't remember, that's okay.

PN: Yeah. I don't remember, and other people would have sharper memories than me about that. I do remember talking to Ron, getting to know Ron, understanding the situation. 'Cause, you know, the theory is that people were individually harmed. And in this country, we do individual remedies. And then if they chose to do what they wanted with it, they could choose to give it to some organization or lump sum or whatever. But because it was an individual experience, then we ought to have individual remedies. Which made sense to me as a lawyer, etcetera, etcetera, so I voted for individual payments. But Ron, I think, would understand the blow-by-blow and the pain-by-pain, because I think he got a lot of pressure from a lot of different areas.

TI: And sort of heading the kind of group payment...

PN: Who was?

TI: Yeah, who was that? Was it an area or was it an individual?

PN: I don't remember that either. But there's a lot of backstory.

TI: [Laughs] I know there is.

PN: Whether or not people are willing...

TI: And that's why it's interesting to get your perspective. Because oftentimes I interview the "players," and I think over time...

PN: They gloss over?

TI: Yeah, they gloss over. And it's nice to be able to get someone who was there as more of an observer.

PN: And who's willing to say there was a lot of backstory? Lot of backstory, whoa.

TI: Well, maybe off camera we can get into this more. I'm curious.

PN: Yes. [Laughs]

<End Segment 14> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 15>

TI: So let's... okay, so national redress, you're involved... go ahead.

PN: I was involved in '78, in '79, the first Day of Remembrance happened in Puyallup, and Frank Abe, Frank Chin, Cathy Wong, helped organize, I think, along with a lot of people in Seattle, that Day of Remembrance in Puyallup with the buses, etcetera. And then they came down to Portland, and I was involved in the JACL in Portland. They were about my age, so some of them stayed with me in my apartment and stuff, and so we started organizing the second Day of Remembrance in the country, which was in Portland, in February of 1979. And that's where I met Min Yasui, 'cause he was one of the keynote speakers. And that's when Frank Abe, who was going through Oregonian articles, found out that my father had been arrested for curfew violation during World War II, which I never knew.

TI: And so I want to ask that. So when you found out that your dad was arrested for curfew violation, what did he say when you asked him about that?

PN: I don't think he said much. I don't recall that he said much about that. I was sort of stunned. And then I realized that Min Yasui had helped get an attorney to get him out of jail. That's my understanding of the story. And then I found out that Yasui's family had helped my father's family get their farm in Boring, they helped with that. And so there were many connections between our families that I had no idea about. I did interview my father after the Day of Remembrance, because I realized, wow, there's a story here that I don't know about. So I did my little oral history project, I think I still have the tape. And one of the things that struck me was my father said, "You know, I've really been, I've been bitter since the war about that experience," and that that, part of that fueled his desire to be a community leader, to participate, to speak out. And I realized then that that's where some of my speaking out came from. It was fueled by anger and injustice. 'Cause after the war, my parents came back, no one would sell them insurance, they would have mass meetings in Gresham, "Don't let the Japs come back," his farmer neighbors shunned him, he couldn't sell his berries to a lot of places. Damn right, I'd be bitter, too. And they had just kind of swallowed that, and moved on, and not talked to us about it, and just gone about trying to rebuild their lives, and that takes a lot of courage to do that. A lot of shikata ga nai and you know, just suck it up and keep moving. So, in retrospect, I was fortunate, I think, to have caught that spirit, even though anger isn't the best motivator.

TI: Now, as part of your dad's being picked up for the curfew violation, was he convicted of that offense?

PN: That is interesting, I don't recall. I should remember, but I don't. It was him, my father, and his brother, Hank, and I remember talking to my uncle about it and he said, "Yeah, your dad didn't seem that concerned. We were here in jail, and he didn't seem that concerned, and I was trying to figure out a way to get us out, calling my high school teachers and things like that." But maybe they just got out because they were... I don't think they went to trial. And they were trying to get their farm leased before they left because they had evacuation orders. But I should go back and research that, Tom.

TI: Okay, so because of the Day of Remembrance, you found out a little more about your dad, had this conversation, you actually interviewed him, which I think is interesting. Anything else going on at this time in terms of, so you were meeting people like Min Yasui who you read about in terms of his court case and others. Tell me about this period for you in terms of, was it kind of an awakening for you?

PN: Yes. When I heard him speak, here was this rather, not tall man with this booming orator kind of voice. I went, "Damn, I've not seen an Asian American speaker like him." He was very cool. [Laughs] And I was, his brother, Homer, was a doctor in Portland, and so I knew Homer a lot, and we were co-chairs of the Portland chapter redress committee together. And so I knew Homer, and then I met Min. And Homer and I actually resigned as co-chairs protesting the lack of individual payments. [Laughs] So Homer and I were buddies. And then we got back on, but... so we did our thing. Homer's very outspoken, too. So caught my eye.

TI: Well, I have to go back to this, then. Because it sounds like, in some ways, when you and Homer resigned, it goes back to that earlier discussion we had, I mean, you were at the table, you were inside, and you spoke out to the point of resigning. It seems like... and then later on you rejoined because you probably, I'm guessing that the committee decided, well, we'll look at this, we'll consider this in a more serious way. So you and Homer had influence in terms of...

PN: Yeah, at least at the local Portland level, we did. [Laughs] Yeah, and Homer's very much like Min, living on principle and believing in principle, and that's what struck me about Min, is that he really was a patriot, he really believed that the courts would vindicate his rights as an American citizen, and he was the first Japanese American member of the Oregon bar. He graduated from the University of Oregon law school, ROTC, Phi Beta Kappa, he graduated from undergrad, and then he was, they call him a "double duck," and then he went to the University of Oregon law school. He was quite young at the time, and when the military curfew came down, he intentionally violated it. And again, like I said, I would sit in the Vassar chapel and ask myself, what would I lay down my life for? And I asked myself, here's a guy who's very young who put his career, his profession, and his liberty on the line for justice, for due process. Would I do the same thing? And I hope I would have the guts to do that, but I don't know. You clearly have to admire somebody who's willing to do that, regardless of if you agree or disagree with their standpoint. The fact that they have the courage to do that says something about their character.

<End Segment 15> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 16>

TI: Well, so this might be a good segue to talk about. Because eventually you got a phone call to consider representing Min in terms of looking at his Supreme Court case. Can you, is this a good time to talk about that?

PN: Yes.

TI: Okay, so let's talk about that.

PN: I think Min was visited by Professor Peter Irons. Peter found some documents in the National Archives and said, "Wow, there's some hot document here. They ought to, the petitioners out to, or Korematsu, Hirabayashi and Yasui ought to think about reopening their cases." He went to visit them, he somehow got in touch with Dale Minami, and I don't quite know how this all worked out. But Dale gave Min my name as one of the only lawyers he knew in Oregon. I know that was one of the connections, and then the other connection was probably with Day of Remembrance where I met Min. And so Min asked me to organize a meeting of Asian lawyers in Portland to talk about the possibility of reopening his case. Which I did do, and I gathered a group of Chinese and... Asian lawyers, Japanese, etcetera. What struck me about that meeting was that those lawyers started talking about his case as though it were an ordinary slip and fall negligence case. They were going over the evidence saying, "Well, I'm not sure it's a very strong case," and I'm thinking, "This is our community's case. This is a case of a lifetime. This is a historical case. Who gives a shit what the -- " excuse me, "Who gives a darn what the evidence is? This is our case." And I was pretty astounded by the conversation. So I said to Min, "I'm in. I don't care who else is in, I will bring your case, I will find other people, but this is a case that I would be privileged to be a part of."

TI: Why do you think those lawyers didn't step up? I mean, do you think it was because it was, they thought it was a minor case, or were there other things going on that prevented them from doing this?

PN: Well, not that I can read minds, but I was on a panel later on with one of those lawyers. Nice guy, well-respected, very good lawyer. And it was a Minority Law Day panel and he was talking about hiring decisions and he said, "I don't really look at the color of people's skin. I really look at their merits." I just had to turn to him and say, "You know, that's bullshit." Because people don't see me as a lawyer like every other lawyer. They see me first as my gender and race, and then they see me as a lawyer. So the fact that we can say that that's what we do is just not true. And so I sort of confronted him on that panel. And two things, one thing that happened before then was that my mentor who was an African American guy said, "Peggy, if you stop being a nice Japanese girl and actually came out with your power, people would remember who you are." And I said, "Okay, I'm gonna do that." And that was at Minority Law Day, and that was that panel. And I said, "Okay, I've got to speak out." And afterwards, Derek Bell, and I don't know if you know who Derek is, but he was the dean at the University of Oregon, he came up to me and said, "Gee, it sounds like you'd like to teach law school. Why don't you send me your resume." And I said, "Hell, no, that was the most archaic educational system I've ever been, it's the last bastion of white male privilege. No." He said, "Send me your resume." And of course I didn't do that, but I did send him a letter saying, "If you're ever in Portland, I'd love to have lunch or dinner with you." And two months later, he sent me a letter saying, "I have an assistant dean position open, I'd like you to apply for it." And it's times like that when I know that it's just my mission to speak out, and that every time I've spoken out, more doors have opened than closed.

And so I guess with Min's case and listening to these other Asian lawyers not want to come forward, wanting to fit in -- and Oregon is a very tough place to be a person of color. Historically it was settled as a white homeland, blacks were prohibited in the territorial charter, there were very few, there are still very few lawyers of color. So it's a tough place to be, and people want to be well-respected in the legal perspective and fit in. I just didn't happen to be that kind of person. But I also that this was the case of my lifetime, so I was going to do whatever it took to do that case.

TI: But you had these two things in front of you. So you had this offer from Derek Bell to be assistant dean at the University of Oregon, and then you had this large case. Was it a either/or? How would you look at that?

PN: Well, that's interesting that you ask that because I said to Derek when he did offer me the job after going through an interviewing process, I said, "I would be happy to take this position, but I have this case, and if I can't bring the case with me, I'm not accepting the position. Because this is the case that I'm going to do." And he, Derek, had worked with Thurgood Marshall at the Ink Fund doing desegregation cases, the first black tenured professor at Harvard Law School. He said, "If my community had wanted me to do that kind of case for African Americans, I would feel the same way. So come down to Oregon, bring your case, it's all great." And to have as your boss this guy who's bigger than life, and the first black dean outside of historically black law schools, to have him as your boss, who said to me, "Asians need to speak out more, go and speak out." And to have Min Yasui as your client, and they at one point met, it was just fabulous. You really can't have a better career than that, and I had just the fortune and the opportunity to be in that position, to be in that place.

TI: Wow, that's a good story.

<End Segment 16> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 17>

TI: So going back to the case, how do you start? Where do you begin?

PN: Well, I started by going to San Francisco and meeting up with all the lawyers from the Asian Law Caucus, and tons of lawyers. And we started by them saying, "We're going to do a motion for consolidation of the Hirabayashi and Yasui cases, so all you have to do is be the lead attorneys in your respective jurisdictions for about six months and we'll bring this case, we'll bring the motions, we'll do a motion of consolidation, hopefully the court will grant it, and then we'll take on the burden of these cases." And so we said, "Fine."

TI: And before we get to some of these other, sort of, things that happened, I'm curious, the first time you went down to San Francisco, so here you had just mentioned you were earlier up in Portland trying to recruit some other Asian American lawyers and pretty much got nowhere there.

PN: Right.

TI: And then you go down to San Francisco and you meet another group of Asian American lawyers. And it seems like the reception is very different.

PN: Yes.

TI: So talk about what it felt like in that room in relationship to taking on these cases.

PN: Yeah, most of us were out of law school ten years or fewer years, and they were clearly people who were into these cases who just had a belief in them. They were not just Japanese Americans but Chinese Americans and Caucasians. So it felt like a big group of young people who were from the sixties who were gonna take on the case of their lifetime. And there was no precedent, so you didn't know what you were gonna do, so there was a lot of legal conversation, obviously, and how we were gonna do this, but there was a lot of socialization and drinking and having a great time. So a lot of camaraderie. So not just from San Francisco, but people from Seattle as well. So we all gathered, I think I might have been the only one from Oregon at that point, 'cause I hadn't gotten my legal team together. [Laughs] So it was great. It was great to meet other people and to get to know them and to work together and to see the passion and the fire and the horsepower, and the brilliant minds in the room. So it was pretty remarkable.

TI: Do you think the group knew what it was getting into when you guys were early on meeting, what it was gonna be like to do this?

PN: I don't think so. I don't think so, 'cause there was no precedent for it. But all of us probably had done some community organizing, I mean, Dale and other people had started the Asian Law Caucus. So we came out of an activist kind of background, and we went to law school for a reason, and we were now gonna have the ability and the opportunity to use our legal skills for our community. So we knew about civil rights from an African American perspective, we knew about the, were involved in the Asian American student movement. But to have cases for your own community is quite different. And to think about the privilege but also the burden and the responsibility and no precedent in these cases was pretty awesome. Because what if you messed up, you know? [Laughs] It's not a great feeling.

TI: Well, and as part of that thinking, one of the strategies of the group was to actually have three cases.

PN: Yes.

TI: Korematsu, Yasui, and Hirabayashi, and that you were the counsel for Yasui. So what did that mean in terms of coordinating or working with the Korematsu and Hirabayashi case?

PN: Well, at the time, Kathryn Bannai was the lead attorney for Hirabayashi. So, and Dale was the lead attorney for Korematsu, Dale and probably Peter Irons. And, well, at the beginning, I thought it meant that I would be the lead attorney for six months, and it would be consolidated and it would to go California. But it also meant that I had as my client a lawyer, which is different than Gordon or Fred. And also that I was his daughter's age. He was a Nisei and I was a Sansei, so there were all those kind of dynamics going on that were interesting. But it meant that my name was going to be on these pleadings and there were going to be decisions to be made as a lead attorney in a different jurisdiction than California or Washington. And so there would be some differences, just because in California, the ability to call a press conference and really publicize a case was quite different than a conservative jurisdiction like Oregon where you could be called an ethical violation or things like that. So there was a different legal/political climate and context of the Oregon case versus the California case and the Washington case.

TI: And so did the San Francisco people understand that? Did they understand that Oregon was different and that you had to do things differently in Oregon than in San Francisco?

PN: Yes and no. I mean, I think we understand that there are different jurisdictions, but I think as issues came up and we had to work through them, we didn't always see eye to eye on specific issues. And you know if you're the lawyer on the case that you have ultimate responsibility for that case, you have ultimate responsibility for your client, we took our roles seriously. And so, and I had been a criminal defense attorney, I had gone toe to toe, I had been in court every day for a year and a half, I mean, I knew how to go toe to toe with people. So in that sense, you knew what your role would be, and if you disagreed, you just had to disagree and keep working on it. It wasn't about social niceties, it really was about a legal case and you were responsible for it.

TI: Well, and it sounds like this case became even a bigger thing because you mentioned earlier, I think the plan was to consolidate the cases, but that didn't happen. They remained as individual cases. So that kept a lot of burden on you in terms of making things happen. So as that change happened, how did that change the dynamics in terms of your role with, say, San Francisco and Seattle?

PN: Then they were three separate cases, but we were working them jointly. The court said that they had to go to the courts of original jurisdiction, their original jurisdiction, so it was the Federal District Court of Oregon. Which we had filed in, but then had moved for consolidation. So that meant I had to get my legal team, I had to get a legal team together, and it also meant that I was gonna need some help and assistance, actually from -- and I got a lot of help and assistance from San Francisco. But it also meant, like, I think Peter had written a book at the time, and he was both the lead attorney on, one of the lead attorneys on Korematsu and he was also going around doing book signings and publicity about his book. And we had a pretty strict rule in Oregon about either press conferences or calling attention to your case to try to get it, to have a sway or to be, influence the decision of the case. And so we had some disagreements about that, 'cause Peter was also signed on as one of the attorneys on the Yasui case. And so one of the issues was, is what Peter is doing going to jeopardize the Oregon case? And I had Min, I presented him with that issue, I asked him to go talk with other lawyers, gave him suggestions, so that it wouldn't be a conflict on my side because I was working with Peter as well, and I wanted him to get independent counsel on whether or not he felt that he could continue to have Peter as an attorney on the Oregon case or not. So he, so Min did get independent counsel on that issue, and then decided that he was concerned about the possibility of it jeopardizing his case, and so I think he asked Peter to step down from being attorney, one of the attorneys of record on the case.

TI: And how did that go over with people?

PN: Well, I don't know exactly, but probably like a lead balloon. Because Peter had discovered these documents, he was front and center in the strategy of the cases and how to bring them, and had a huge voice and a huge role in them. And because it's a different sort of legal context in California, where it's much looser, lawyers can call press conferences, it's hard to understand the backwardness of a state like Oregon in that sense, and the conservativeness of a state like Oregon. And while we don't want people to take things personally, I can understand why it might be taken personally, it wasn't. It was just as a lawyer I felt like I at least needed to at least have my client protect his interests. So it didn't go over well. And again, you just have to make the decision, what are you going to do? What is the, what's the goal here? And the goal is I've got a client and he's got a case, and I've got to represent him to the best of my ability. And I did ask around, Derek was the dean there and he knew a lot of legal scholars, etcetera, etcetera. So that was the decision, we made that decision, I wasn't popular, but we just sort of moved on with it.

<End Segment 17> - Copyright © 2009 Densho. All Rights Reserved.